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Katherine Ryan – the Canadian, U.K.-based comedienne who has made a name for herself with the popular Netflix comedy specials In Trouble and Glitter Room, the devastatingly short-lived series The Duchess and her podcast Telling Everybody Everything – has been called a lot of things. Here’s a few choice examples: “cocky,” “dirty,” “ball-busting.” You get the gist.
It’s all part and parcel for a 38-year-old woman who projects confidence, particularly in an industry dominated by male ego. The way she sees it, it’s about choosing to have “the audacity.” Which, as it happens, is also the name of her new, tongue-in-cheek memoir.
“I’m very audacious on stage, and a lot of that came from having to channel that part of me into a medium where it was tolerated,” she says. “It wasn’t cool to have my personality and my types of caustic observations. I and a lot of women get criticized for that in stand-up. People will say, ‘Oh … she’s nasty, she’s caustic.’ They have specific words that they use just for us.”
That this wasn’t the most favourable way to be – at least, in a man’s eyes – was clear during her tenure as a Hooters waitress in Toronto, and in her many difficult romantic relationships, all of which she opens up about at length in her book.
“Growing up, I got a lot of raised eyebrows and strange looks,” she recalls. “When I worked at Hooters, you’re supposed to be a lovely, subservient non-threatening decoration, so that’s certainly not the place to be audacious. And then I had relationships where I wasn’t really able to be myself either. But it had to go somewhere, so it went to my stand-up.”
But those experiences served a purpose, she says, because they helped her channel who she was into her work and, eventually, be that woman full time, on stage and off.
“In my worst relationship, where I was reduced to being like a cartoon woman, that’s when my stand-up really flourished and that’s when I became the Katherine Ryan that I am now. She takes no prisoners, she’s brave.”
But there’s another part to Ryan, too: a more sensitive one that is incredibly endearing. It was evident during our conversation, but also present – if you look closely – in The Duchess, in Telling Everybody Everything and, especially, in The Audacity, which reads much like a sassy origin story being recounted by a close friend. That tenderness feels necessary here as the book functions partly like a self-help tool, telling the reader everything from “how to let your friend’s murder define all your relationships,” to “how to stay booked and busy,” to “how to attract toxic men … and keep them interested!”
“I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to show too much softness or introspection in stand-up, where the rhythm is lots of punchlines,” Ryan says. “But life isn’t that way, and I think with any comedian, if you take them offstage and get to know them, we are softer. When I was doing my podcast in lockdown, I loved the connection that I have with listeners, who write in asking for advice. They really responded in a way that I didn’t expect, I didn’t think anyone would care or listen to my show, but it was the softness, the real me that they connected with. And I realized I had never really shown that before.”
In fact, the more platforms Ryan has given a go, the more authentic she seems. As she says, “comedy is comedy,” which means that as long you’re funny, you can translate your work into any arena, be it a book or a TV show or a film (which is what she hopes to tackle next). The key is opening up and, in Ryan’s case, that’s not a problem.
“You know love languages? For me, the way that I achieve intimacy with people is through disclosure. I love meeting someone and having no small talk. I want to know everything about you, like, how did your dad get sick and die,” she says, only somewhat joking. “I really feel trusted and respected when someone can open up to me, and that’s why I open up. I think the best thing is to be totally transparent and tell everybody everything.”
In Ryan’s case, that includes sharing details of when her childhood friend was murdered, which left her with a trauma that still lingers. And of moving from her life in Sarnia, “where there seemed to be just one way to grow up,” to Toronto for school and then to London to follow a boyfriend. And of becoming a single mom to daughter Violet (now 12) while struggling to make ends meet. And, the toughest of the tough, of getting offstage at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe only for child protective services to call and tell her that they were investigating allegations made about her – allegedly by an ex simply seeking revenge.
Today, after two difficult miscarriages she has, naturally, been open about, Ryan is also mom to son Fred, born this June, and is happily married to high-school boyfriend Bobby Kootstra. This new loved-up family life – one Ryan never thought was meant for her – is already influencing what’s next, including her upcoming U.K. comedy tour, Missus. She also has a new series, Backstage with Katherine Ryan, which will showcase live stand-up sets from beloved and emerging comedians. It’s slated to premiere on Amazon Prime in 2022.
In the meantime, she hopes The Audacity will remind readers of a few important lessons she’s learned throughout her journey.
“I feel like all my mistakes were necessary,” Ryan says. “I don’t regret them, and I hope the message from the book is that your life doesn’t make sense when it’s all in front of you. But I promise in reverse it will, and you should relentlessly move forward no matter what’s going on in your life. I’ve definitely come a long way. … I’ve tried to become this idea of what a likeable woman should be; I put so much energy into being pretty, quiet and sweet. And now, I realize, all my dreams can come true without being those things. You can be authentic to whoever you are and still have your way.”
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