Interview: Athena Kugblenu

Athena Kugblenu is currently at the Edinburgh festival where The Guardian has included her in it’s “Ten Best Jokes from the Edinburgh Festival” article, and she’s also in the “20 Best One Liners From The Edinburgh Fringe” Daily Telegraph piece. Described as “A smart, impassioned comedian” by The Scotsman and “An Important Voice” by The Sunday Times, this is all impressive stuff, especially as this is only her second full length Edinburgh show. Here she discusses that show, Follow The Leader, dealing with Trump and Brexit, and the best and worst things about the Edinburgh festival.

Comedy To Watch: What can you tell us about your new show which you’re currently performing at the festival? And has it changed much since the first performance?

Athena Kugblenu: Follow the Leader is about how I would make a great leader if it wasn’t for the mistakes I have made in the past. But it’s also about how (in the Western world at least) we don’t really have any leaders of note who are progressive or care about their people. But we’re not great citizens at the moment (see 100s of England fans trashing an ambulance when they won a game!). So maybe we get the leaders we deserve…let’s not forget the ones we have are democratically elected too.

It has changed since the start, I think this is inevitable. I listen back to every show and make improvements every day. It is a better show in day 19 than day 1 for sure.

CTW: Since Brexit and Trump do you feel your stand up has become angrier? And how do you deal with such horrendously bleak real life political situations?

Athena: No, in fact I have relaxed a little. The racism that I have always seen is now obvious to others who may not have experienced or noticed it. So now it’s easier to talk about inequality. Trump’s victory and Brexit aren’t shock events that happened in a vacuum of time, they reflect sentiments common in the UK and US that have been around for centuries. Fake News isn’t a new concept, the media has always been a construct that has treated people unfairly (hence party leaders in this country only winning elections when Murdoch supports them). In America, it’s really sad this truth is now being used to stifle democracy so effectively but that’s what you get when you take accountability for granted.

CTW: How has Edinburgh been for you this year?

Athena: Great! Nice crowds, good feedback from the audience. Plus I have an en suite. I am really enjoying it.

CTW: What do you feel are the best things about the festival? And what are the worst?

Athena: The audiences are cool. They are plentiful and generally a lot of fun to play for. I love the variety. I try and watch non-comedy shows. I went to the circus this year. I am still so high from it. The more challenging sides…I think it’s too long and the review culture is perhaps unhelpful for anything other than ticket sales. Too many random blogs are appearing. One reviewer just runs a twitter account and tweets reviews. It’s all a bit amateurish but us comedians give it credibility by chasing those stars as a mark of a successful run. Of course, I get average/poor reviews so I would be saying this!

CTW: You’ve recently talked about starting a new podcast, can you tell us a little about what it will be about?

Athena: Yes, I will be taking a break from live stand up for a few months after Edinburgh so hopefully I’ll get a cool podcast project off the ground. It’s a surprise! So watch this space 🙂

CTW: And what are the podcasts you like the most?

Athena: The Guilty Feminist, Mostly Lit, The Receipts Podcast, Made of Human, The Three Track Podcast, Africa World Now Project.

CTW: What’s your opinion on hecklers? And how do you choose to deal with them?

Athena: Some people who don’t often go to watch live comedy think heckling is part of the art form. It really isn’t! especially for an hour show – we write something where every word, pause and physical movement is scripted and designed to make people laugh at very particular points. If you interrupt that because you think that’s your job, it’s so disrespectful. I expect it in comedy clubs but it’s bad form during an hour show I think.

I deal with them by instantly reacting to them, best to go on auto pilot than to try to be too clever. I tend to do quite well this way. I try not to be cruel unless the heckler is attention seeking and unkind. Most of the time they think they are being nice and just want to join in, so I try not to humiliate those ones. Audiences can sense who deserves a roasting and who doesn’t.

CTW: What tv or film comedy are you passionate about?

Athena: The first 7 seasons of The Simpsons and Coming to America. Both hilarious. Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times is an amazing watch too – the physical comedy is incredible. Definitely something I can improve on. I’m aware he married teenagers though so I don’t bang on about my appreciation of that film too much.

CTW: And finally, can you tell us what your plans are for the future?

Athena: Give birth. Write some more jokes. Get back on it sometime in 2019.

Related Links:
Athena’s Official Site
Athena at Chortle’s The Fast Fringe

Alex Finch.

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