Nigerian Crowned Britain's Most Talented New Female Stand-up Comic
'I sail close to the wind'
Andi Osho has just been crowned Britain's most talented new female stand-up. She talks to Julie Bindel about unfunny men, Nigerian jokes and why she doesn't do riffs about periods
By Julie Bindel (Friday, July 6, 2007)
A Nigerian married couple are off to work. "What you doing today, darling?" husband asks his wife. "I am going to the local hospital to get some body parts to sell on eBay. What about you, dear?" "I am going to find some rich, white businesses to defraud." "Don't get caught!" they shout. -- Andi Osho, Comedian
Andi Osho thinks in jokes, her material stored in a file in her head that she rummages through when occasion demands. "Which is most times, even serious ones," she admits. "I can't stop myself." And this talent has paid off. It can't have been more than a minute into Osho's act on Monday, before I and everyone else had picked this former actor (career highlight: "telling Amber that Conrad was dead on Footballers' Wives") as a winner. So it proved, when she went on to steal the crown in Funny Women, an annual competition to find Britain's most talented new female stand-up.
Osho is grinning and buzzing with excitement when I meet her, the morning after the awards. Which is as it should be, given that there were 180 competitors for the title, including 10 extremely funny finalists. On stage, she is commanding, but off stage there is nothing of the egotist about her - she gasps in awe as I tell her about another of the finalists who had done only three gigs before the competition and has multiple sclerosis. When I ask her who she thinks bombed on stage, she refuses to be drawn.
Translating Osho's words to the page doesn't do her proper justice - as you'd expect from an actor, her work is visual, narrative and pivots on her perfect delivery. British-born, of Nigerian parentage, Osho bases much of her act on the idiosyncrasies of the UK's Nigerian community, opening with a sketch about the "free bus" (buses where passengers can jump on in the middle and fare dodge). "The only time the 25 bus is empty is when an inspector gets on," she comments, before racing into an acid parody of two Nigerian "princesses" arguing.
I wonder what she thought of Christopher Hitchens' remarks in Vanity Fair earlier this year, when he wrote: "Why are women, who have the whole male world at their mercy, not funny?" He went on to note, equivocally, that there are "some impressive ladies out there", but that they tend to be "hefty or dykey or Jewish, or some combo of the three".
"Who is he?" asks Osho. When I explain, she screws up her face and dismisses him with a shake of her head. "Men think they are so funny," she says, "even when they are not. In fact," she pauses, "especially when they are not."
Set up in 2003 by the producer Lynne Parker the Funny Women competition began as a reaction against a misogynist male comedy promoter that Parker worked with. "When I asked why they never booked any women for the club," she says, "I was told that there were very few good women who could do stand-up." Parker points out that there is still, at most, one female stand-up on the circuit to every four men - a bias reflected in the fact that only two women (Jenny Eclair and Laura Solon) have won the Perrier award in its 26-year history. For minority ethnic women, the biases are twofold. It wasn't until 2006 - when Jocelyn Jee Esien started her series Little Miss Jocelyn - that a black woman on either side of the Atlantic had landed her own solo TV comedy show.
The comic Gina Yashere has noted that "a guy appearing on stage is given longer to establish himself by the audience. Women have to hit the stage running or they're dead". And it's this last area where Osho triumphs, instantly asserting her presence. She avoids the themes most often associated with female comics - weight, menstruation, boyfriends - instead leaning heavily on her Nigerian background for material. She admits that black audiences react differently to this than those that are predominately white. "Black audiences don't laugh and boo at the same time, they just boo if they get a bit offended," says Osho. Those black members of the audience I spoke to on Monday were divided as to whether her Nigerian jokes had the potential to perpetuate racism, although all agreed that Osho is one of the funniest comedians they had seen. For her part, Osho says that she'd hate "to be accused of just using Nigerian people for comic gain" but naturally riffs on the community that's most familiar to her.
Brought up by a mother who had a very dry sense of humour, Osho ascribes her drive to become a comedian to one of her earliest memories, aged seven or eight, of telling a joke "and everyone bursting out laughing. It was the most wonderful feeling." After spending nine years working in TV post-production, she began acting in 2003, aged 30. "I always wanted to do comedy," she says, "but I didn't have the balls." By 2006, the acting work was drying up, and she was persuaded to enrol on a comedy course by friends, signing up for as many gigs as she could manage.
Her idols are Chris Rock and Eddie Murphy ("I love his stage presence"). Her most risque joke? A Nigerian married couple are off to work. "What you doing today, darling?" husband asks his wife. "I am going to the local hospital to get some body parts to sell on eBay. What about you, dear?" "I am going to find some rich, white businesses to defraud." "Don't get caught!" they shout.
"I sail a bit close to the wind sometimes," Osho admits, "but at least I don't talk about periods."
Originally appeared in Guardian Unlimited.