OUTSPOKEN: Ava Vidal
OUTSPOKEN and unapologetic, Ava Vidal has been on the comedy scene for eight years, appearing on BBC shows including Mock The Week and The Last Laugh. But it was her appearance on Michael Mcintyre’s Comedy Roadshow in 2009 that earned her huge prominence and subsequently enabled her to deliver her comedy to audiences worldwide.
Currently gearing up to perform her new show The Hardest Word at the Edinburgh Festival, the 35-year-old mother-of-two talks to Davina Hamilton about working with a golliwog, avoiding racial stereotypes, and the suggestion that Lenny Henry ‘panders’ to white audiences…
When did you get into comedy?
I have been doing comedy for eight years now. It was something I had thought about on and off for years.
What can audiences expect from The Hardest Word?
It’s a fun show and it is a little more relaxed than the show I did there last year.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
The Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow appearance was the one that has made me most recognisable and got me work all over the world.
One of your stand-up routines involves you producing a golliwog in a bid to mock the character and – as you explained in an article you wrote for The Independent in 2009 – “show the ridiculousness of this creature, which doesn't look like any black person I know.” But what would you say to those who feel that the golliwog is simply too offensive to include in a comedy routine?
The golliwog routine is a deconstruction of a story told to me in Scotland that was so offensive it defied belief. I have nothing to say to those who criticise a routine without watching it.
I invite anyone to watch it and then ask questions if they feel there is something in it they don’t understand. I work all over the country and many white audience members have told me that since seeing that routine they understand exactly why a golliwog is so offensive to black people.
Amongst some cynics, there’s the sense that black British comics like Lenny Henry and Stephen K Amos have either ‘sold out’ or that they ‘pander’ to white audiences in order to achieve success on the mainstream circuit. What do you make of that suggestion?
I would ask those people to explain exactly how they pander. I find it interesting how Michael McIntyre can go on stage and not speak about any issues whatsoever and nobody criticises him for that. White comedians are allowed to perform a range of styles of comedy from one-liners to surreal to social commentary. Why should black comedians not be allowed to do the same?
[Those cynics] should be more bothered about the black comedians that go on stage and reinforce stereotypes that black men don’t look after their children, we all eat chicken and we all smoke weed. It never ceases to amaze me how many young black comedians say this kind of thing.
Do you find there’s a significant difference performing in front of predominantly black crowds, compared to predominantly white crowds?
The only difference between black and white audiences for me is that I don’t have to explain certain things like expressions we heard growing up, etc.
There are many black audience members in many of the comedy clubs like The Comedy Store, Jongleurs and The Glee Clubs that listen to and laugh at white comedians. It’s mainstream culture so why would they not understand?
There is a significant difference in performing to a younger black audience but I would have the same problems with a younger white audience. I talk about family and life struggles and younger audiences may not be so interested in this kind of thing.
Is there anything in particular you’d like to achieve personally or professionally?
I would like to tour at some stage and should really think about doing that. And I would like to settle down finally in my personal life but with the way I work I don’t see it happening anytime soon!
Anything else you care to add?
Please come and see my Edinburgh show at 5.05pm at The Stand comedy club. Also check out my website and see if I am appearing at a comedy club near you!
Ava Vidal presents The Hardest Word at The Stand at the Edinburgh Festival from August 5-28. For details, visit www.avavidal.co.uk