“What The Frock! has become the UK's most significant nurturer of female talent, and has meant Bristol now gives female comedians a bigger slice of the action” – The Naked Guide To Bristol, 2015
JANE DUFFUS INTERVIEWS KATE
Kate Smurthwaite is no stranger to What The Frock! In addition to having MC-ed two of our first three shows, she was so supportive behind the scenes when we were getting off the ground that she’s earned herself the title ‘Official Friend of the Frock!’.
Fortunately, it’s a mutual appreciation, with Kate enthusing: “What The Frock! has been a joy to play every time. The audience are smart and engaged, and the shows are super well-run so everyone had a good time, including me!”
But enough of the back patting and on with the interview. What The Frock! is delighted to be welcoming Kate back to Bristol in July with her solo show The News At Kate: “an unashamedly left wing, feminist, atheist dissection of the news and the news media”. Although Kate adds: “This year there's a little more to it. It's subtitled ‘my professional opinion’ in a nod to all the TV and radio shows I get asked on.”
She has been touring The News At Kate for seven years, attracting a cult following around the country, and becoming a regular hit at the Edinburgh Fringe. But one problem Kate has always had in her 10 years on the circuit is that while audiences love her, reviewers just don’t know what to do with her. She explains: “People laugh a lot, clap at the end and buy me a beer afterwards. But comedy reviewers can't handle me, most just don't come at all – I've been a full time comic for 10 years, this is my seventh solo show and no UK national paper has ever reviewed me.”
Well, Kate may not have had reviews from the nationals, but her Frock! shows have certainly fared well with critics. In May 2012, Inter:Mission called her “fabulous”, and Student Journals hailed her as “excellent”, praising her “bold, uncompromising humour”. In September 2012, Feminist Performers also described her as “excellent”, adding that Kate’s “high-energy style might almost be described as manic, were it not that she comes across as being entirely in control”.
Yet, bafflingly, the mainstream reviewers continue to overlook Kate, or else, not know what to do with her. She explains: “Last year in Edinburgh, I had three reviews – all on websites. They were all four stars, all referencing how good it was ‘in spite of’ all the feminism, and how surprising it was that I didn't just rant about hating men.” She continues: “The year before, The Scotsman came to my show and admitted that audience members were saying afterwards that it was the best show at the fringe, but that they ‘didn't get it’. Well I think the moral of the story is to come and find out for yourself. Maybe you're smart enough to ‘get it’! If not, just laugh when everyone else does so it's not awkward.”
Bristol audiences will have plenty of opportunity to make up their own minds in July. The show will be a taste of what Edinburgh audiences have to look forward to, when Kate will be doing more than ‘just’ The News At Kate… “I'll be doing my new show at Edinburgh, and I'm also doing a political show in the afternoons with special guests – both comedians and non-comedians. Plus I'll be making guest appearances at lots of other shows.”
As you can see, Kate is not shy of hard work, and at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe she racked up an impressive 93 shows in just three weeks. Although in the whole year she must achieve that several times over. And that’s without including the countless radio and TV appearances she does, on a range of political and feminist topics.
“I am stupidly busy,” Kate agrees. “I work basically all the time, responding to requests for work, writing articles and promoting my shows. It's not unusual for me to be woken by a call about a breakfast news show and, 10 minutes later, be perched on the end of the bed with a cup of tea and a notebook debating the pornification of society on national radio. It is the strangest life I can imagine but I love it.”