Q&A | New star rising: Kiri Pritchard-McLean is seriously funny

Kiri Pritchard-McLean is quickly climbing the UK comedy ladder, earning herself a reputation for sharp Northern craic, and addressing social ills without losing her audience. As Manchester’s fifth annual Women in Comedy Festival — Europe’s only comedy festival dedicated to gender equality — kicks off, Sarah chats to Kiri about schemas, sexism, and her new show Appropriate Adult.

You recently debuted a new show, Appropriate Adult. Can you explain its premise, and what motivated you to base a show on the topic?
Appropriate Adult is basically me chatting about the fact I want to adopt kids and I thought that make me weird, but us Millennials aren’t breeding as it turns out. I also chat about a life-changing year I spent volunteering in my community. The gist is, I’m trying to save the world and be a good person, but it turns out it’s really hard.

How was the response at Edinburgh Fringe?
It was lovely actually, people came and said nice things and I actually feel like I might have made a tiny difference to the world. I always want to feel like my shows matter, I feel less guilty about chatting about my fanny for a living that way.

I’ve seen you do stand-up at Manchester’s Women in Comedy Festival a couple of times. What has your experience been of working as a female comedian in a male-dominated industry?
I think the circuit is getting much better. There’s still some dinosaurs who think that women aren’t funny around, but I’m not sure they will ever view women as being competent comedians, despite a wave of evidence to the contrary. But, they’re all old now. Give it two more cold winters and we won’t have to worry about any of them.

You directly addressed the issue of sexism in comedy through a previous show, Hysterical Woman. Any good anecdotes where delivering this material encouraged some audience members (or peers) to prove your point and treat you in a sexist way?
Not really… would be juicier if I did, wouldn’t it?

Why do you think sexism is so hard to address?
Because it’s systemic. Sexism exists at every level, we are all guilty of it and it can be tiring to keep battling through it. You can see why people give up, or draw lines, or get angry. It’s almost a full time job, and women have to also hold those down AND get paid less for it, so you can see why things are hard to change.

Image credit: Drew Forsyth

Also, the people with the power — just as with race — it’s in their interests to keep things as they are, so very often you’re trying to coerce or force people to surrender power and of course they don’t want to, particularly as it might uncover some home truths in relation to their own mediocrity.

Comedians are always saying things they shouldn’t, but you seem to also be charged with a social conscience. How do you balance the need to entertain with pointing the finger at things that are fucked up? Why is it important to you to use comedy to do this?
Oh, it’s the hardest bit. I think you can have tough conversations very quickly with comedy and that’s the joy of it. If you make people laugh, they like you — usually — and that means you have their attention. Once you’ve got it you can keep challenging them as long as you keep making them laugh.

Audiences are great; if you keep up your side of the bargain, they’ll follow you anywhere. I’d feel guilty talking for an hour and not saying anything. Comedians have a platform, I don’t know why they wouldn’t use it.

I remember you doing a bit about how humans tend to default to schemas. What are schemas, and why are they so powerful? How can we identify and alter ours?
Schemas are patterns of behaviour and thought that we use as mental shortcuts to streamline how we use and digest information. They’re heavily entrenched, because if they’re social schema, you’ve usually had a lifetime to form them.

Structural racism, homophobia and sexism is stuff we’re taught as kids and the world reaffirms those stereotypes — they’re so hard to spot because you think they’re fact. I’m still working on finding mine and correcting them, so I’ll let you know how you find and change them after I figure it out myself!

It’s not all gender equality and mentoring vulnerable youths — you also have a podcast about serial killers. Why? Have you identified a certain personality type that’s drawn to murder, or are they all their own special brand of bonkers?
I’m fascinated by the psychology of these people and I think most of our listeners are the same. It’s mainly women who are into true crime, I guess it’s because we’re usually the ones who get murdered.

Check out Kiri’s podcast with Rachel Fairburn, All Killa No Filla

Misogyny aside, what’s the Manchester comedy scene like? Is there much support for fledgling comedians?
I think the Manchester scene is very equal and has certainly been a supportive champion of me as a comic. I really don’t think it’s misogynistic at all actually. The Frog and Bucket in particular has a very progressive booking policy, and they’re showing that you can have great line-ups and be representative.

Who are some up-and-coming UK comedians you’d recommend looking up?
Kathryn Mather is irritatingly brilliant, her writing is years ahead of where she should be, I’d hate her if I didn’t think she was so excellent. Simon Lomas is an exciting talent too.

Kiri Pritchard-McLean is a Manchester-based comedian. See her live at this week’s Women in Comedy Festival.

Sarah Illingworth is a freelance journalist and Editor at Impolitikal. She has an MSc in Poverty & Development from the University of Manchester. Read more by Sarah.

Header image by Kyla Wren.