Small Town Girl to London Duchess
Comedian, Producer, Actor, Single Mom (Until 2019)
Women often shy away from being funny as they believe it will suggest that they can’t be serious and assume a leadership role or make them less attractive to men. The 2007 Vanity Fair article “Why Women aren’t funny” outlined that women don’t need to be funny as “they already appeal to men, if you catch my drift”. This is an extremely damaging and backwards stance on funny women, one which Katherine Ryan defies.
Katherine Ryan, who has been popping up in the standup comedy world in the last few years, has led the change for women to build power, wealth and career while being funny.
Women not being funny is a rhetoric that has been constructed and fuelled by insecure and threatened men. The same men who laugh at fart jokes and make inappropriate comments about underage girls well into adulthood. Katherine Ryan is these men’s worst nightmare: hilarious, witty, intelligent, independent and of course an outspoken feminist.
Canadian-born and now London dwelling, Ryan has established herself, seemed to many in just a few years, as a highly respected stand-up comedian and panel show queen, . The comedy world has been dominated by men for far too long due to the fear that women will show them up as less funny (which they are). Only recently have women been taken more seriously in the profession, with the ever-wonderful Katherine being one of them leading the change.
Ryan regularly features on the panel shows Mock the Week and 8 Out of 10 Cats. To mark 100 years of women’s suffrage, Ryan replaced regular host Jimmy Carr for an all-female special of 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown in 2018. Ironically, the show previously had a one-woman-per-show rule, underlining the tokenistic nature of female comedians. Matriarch Ryan opened the show stating, “It’s an all-female, cis-gendered, mostly white women line-up. One step at a time” reflecting the resistance towards women being given substantial screen time.
In 2018 Jane Garvey interviewed the producer of Mock The Week for BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on which he suggested female comedians often reject invitations to appear panel shows as they don’t want to be the token female comedian. The consequence of this is that men continue to receive more opportunities and feature more heavily, perpetuating the gap between male and female comedians.
Without women seeing someone who looks like them, someone they can connect with, they are unlikely to feel that they can achieve what that woman has.
Born in the small town of Sarnia, Ortario, Ryan moved to England in 2008 at age 24 and now resides in North London with her husband Bobby and daughter Violet. Ryan recognises herself as a British comic as it is where she developed and all her references are based on her life in London, including her role as a single mum.
As a fellow north Londoner myself (I actually think we live on the same road so if you’re reading this Katherine please come over for a cuppa, I live at 126), I can heavily relate to her frustration with the Range-Rover driving, skinny latte drinking, Waitrose shopping catty mums of the private school playground, which partly-inspired her new Netflix show The Duchess. Her English-born daughter Violet (who comes with an accompanying RP accent) is incredibly emotionally intelligent and compassionate, which I’ve gaged from her cameos on Ryan’s podcast Telling Everybody Everything, a glowing testament to her parenting.
Before stand-up, Ryan studied urban planning at the University of Toronto, a degree she chose at random as a means to escape small-town life in Sarnia. In order to pay for university she worked in Hooters, a restaurant at which waitresses serve customers in itsy bitsy shorts and low cut tops. It was at a Hooters bikini competition, where Ryan acted as compère, that she first recognised her knack for stand-up, reflecting, “I didn’t realise I was doing stand-up comedy, but I guess I was”. She pursued open mic while still at university and by the time she graduated she had found her voice as a comedian.
Ryan’s comedy career was only in its infancy when she moved to London in 2008 with her then-boyfriend. She soon became interested in the comedy circuit, inspired by growing comedians such as Sara Pascoe, but it wasn’t until her relationship with her daughter Violet’s father ended and she became a single mum that she started taking comedy more seriously.
After her ex-partner lost his job in the credit crunch they struggled to get by and she had to pursue stand-up in order to gain an income. In an interview with The Sun she reflects that they “barely scraped by” adding that she ate Rice Krispies for breakfast and lunch, using the free milk from work. Speaking to John Bishop on his W show, Ryan revealed, “I did my first gig with Violet, wearing her when she was 21 days old”, underlining her self-drive and unconventional parenting, which has served as material for her shows.
Ryan didn’t wait around for a broadcaster to approach her, she approached them. She recorded her stand-up shows with her own money and sent the recording to Netflix (they were unsurprisingly impressed). She now has two stand-up shows on Netflix, Glitter Room (2019) and In Trouble (2017), both of which celebrate her unconventional family unit. On 11th September her new Netflix Original The Duchess will be released which she stars in and acted as executive producer.
Ryan also leads the change for women supporting women. She’s very vocal about her personal stylist, Jen Michalski-Bray. She regularly mentions Michalski-Bray on interviews, twitter and instagram. Recently, she tweeted “My stylist & friend @Jen_Michalski did my entire costume design on The Duchess.”
Ryan has a podcast entitled Telling Everybody Everything, of which I’m a deviated listener. Each episode contains musings on recent events, advice to listener's dilemmas and stories from her life. Episode titles include: Buying Sperm Online, Are Women Funny? and My Grandma’s Birthday – She’s Dead.
I admire her tell-it-how-it-is nature and how she is unapologetically honest with her advice. I think some of those who write in expect Ryan to completely side with their issue (often when they are unnecessarily bashing their male partner’s female friend), but instead she puts it back to the listener and asks them why they may be feeling threatened.
As women we have been trained to compete with other women, encouraged to force them down in order to elevate ourselves but this does nothing but harm to those we put down, as well as to ourselves. The only way for women to surpass the cards of disadvantage and discrimination we have been dealt is for women to pull other women up and build a resilient network of support and compassion.
If you don’t know much about Katherine Ryan yet, she’s the one to watch. She’s the one we at Wifa Global chose to spotlight for our first blog because of her resilience, passion and being an all round fabulous woman.
By Sophia Kypriotis, Lead Writer & Wifa Ambassador living in London, UK.
Image credit: @kathbum on Instagram.
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