In Conversation with Kaitlyn Rogers

Kaitlyn Rogers is a Brisbane-based comedian and performer. Ahead of being the only woman in Queensland comedy to take her show, Can I Get An Amen, to Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival, Emma sat down with Kaitlyn to talk about getting started as a comedian, overcoming preconceived ideas surrounding female identity, the role of comedy in generating important conversations, and whether Shannon Noll really was robbed*.


Emma Kate Lewis: Ok, we’re going to start by pretending we don’t know each other. Though I’ve actually written “Let’s pretend we’re not friends”.

Kaitlyn Rogers: I thought you were going to say that! I actually got a bit nervous. I was like “Oh no, I don’t do method! I’m not trained!”

Laughter

EKL: Right, please can you tell me who you are and what you do?

KR: My name is Kaitlyn Rogers and I’m left-handed. I studied theatre, so I’m a theatre-maker by trade I suppose. But I’ve always loved comedy, so I’m a comedian as well.

I kind of fell into stand up as a social experiment, almost. As a dare to myself, just to give it a go.

It took a long time, but when I did give it a go it was like something snapped. Something crackled and popped. I’ve been doing it ever since! Theatre making, and the nature of my degree, kind of led me towards the fringe circuit, and then after studying I lived in London for a few years and fully fell into the fringe world. I just love it so much. The vibe, the different genres, the communities…

Also, I suppose, the product of my education is that it kind of bred us to create our own work. Which is what I’ve also ended up doing: creating, producing, writing, and performing my own work. On the one hand it’s really exciting, because I have a lot of ownership, but on the other it’s new work and, by it’s nature, it can be difficult to find a place for it. In most cases, you have to produce that place for yourself too.

Because people aren’t going to set it up there with say, a classic text that they’ve seen a hundred times before. Oh, and most recently, I went to clown school. But I got the dates wrong.

Laughter

EKL: Ok?

KR: I went to study as a clown, but I got the dates wrong. So I didn’t do clown.

EKL: What did you do instead?

KR: Greek tragedy. I went to France, I rocked up late… It was… It was my bad.

Laughter

EKL: What did they say? That they didn’t have room for you?

KR: Everyone was in turtlenecks and whatnot. I was like, what the fuck is going on? Why’s everyone crying?!

EKL: Oh my god.

Laughter

KR: It was money well spent.

EKL: So you actually studied Greek tragedy in the end?

KR: 100%. And now I’m just riding off the name of the school, Ecole Philippe Gaulier, because he’s the master clown of the world. People assume I’m a trained clown, but I’m just not.

EKL: I can’t handle that. I can’t believe I didn’t know that about you.

KR: I’m trying to still just be like “Yeah, I went to Gaulier!” and let everyone think I did clown as I walk away. I mean, I just don’t correct them.

Laughter

EKL: Ok, so you said that stand up is a relatively recent shift for you and that you started in it as a challenge to yourself. Why? Presumably as a theatre maker you were already quite confident in yourself, and I think if I had to do stand up it would be because I wanted to improve my confidence.

KR: Or because you were at gunpoint?

Laughter

KR: Um, I dunno. I’ve always loved comedy, and I grew up watching comedy. When I lived in London I worked the fringe, so I worked a lot of stand up shows and saw a lot of stand up. While watching it, I had no intention of ever doing it. But I watched a lot for a long time, so I feel as though I was kind of lucky enough to be educated about it in that way, and learned how to form a set.

EKL: How did you start? Where was your first gig?

KR: It was like removing a Band-Aid. I said it to myself, and then I started telling others that I was going to do it until it got to the point where I realised I either had to do it or stop talking about it. So I made the call in secret, because I didn’t want anyone to know, but a friend of mine overheard and said she was coming. I said “Don’t. Please don’t.” But she did, of course. And thank god, because the place was a dive. It’s notorious – it was known as the worst place to do stand up.

It’s no longer in operation, but basically you were in the middle of a Pokies room where they’d set up a little stage, and you’d spend the entire time having people screaming at you to stop telling jokes because they were trying to gamble. And they were drunk.

So anyway I went, and I walked over to the MC and introduced myself, and just said, “Hello, my name’s Kaitlyn and this is my first time doing stand up.” She looked at me and went, “It’s gonna be shit.”

Laughter

KR: So I was like “Oh I’m so excited! I can’t wait to get up there now!” But I got up there, and I did it, and people listened and they laughed. I couldn’t believe it. This middle-aged man even came up to me afterwards and said, “You know, I’ve been gambling all night, and I only stopped to listen to you.” Now that’s on my business cards.

Laughter

EKL: How does being female impact the way you write your show? What do you draw attention to, and what do you have to be wary of?

KR: This is so important. I remember watching a show with a panel of female artists, and one of them said that for any minority, you have to work twice as hard to get half the credit. And I’ve definitely felt that. I feel I have to be incredibly sensitive to an audience, because I need them to like me.

If you can get them on your side, then you can play. That’s across the board, I think, with all in comedy. But being a female in comedy is tricky, because you are, normally, the only one.

I’ve had incidents… I did a gig once, for example, where I was the only female on the line up. I was in the second half, and the MC, who I didn’t know, introduced me like, “Everyone, I know we’re having a great time, but have we seen the shit one yet? Please welcome your next act, Kaitlyn Rogers.”

EKL: Wow.

KR: And that’s what I had to go onto. It’s really difficult. I remember when I first started, whenever I walked on stage, I almost felt the audience sit back, cross their arms, and go “Prove us wrong.”

You’re walking on and there’s immediately a stereotype against you. You’re walking on, knowing that there’s this stereotype that says, “Women aren’t funny.” And you have to prove them wrong before you can really even start your set.

In order to do that, you can’t go on and berate them. For a long time, I’ve kept my material very neutral and universal. Themes of family or travel… However, now I feel as though there are definitely things I want to say, and I think there are things that only females can say, and that they can be very funny things too. I’m really excited to explore those areas, and to play with those topics that, as a female, I can talk about.

EKL: So how would you say you get to that point? You’ve only got about a 5-minute set. How do you start off without having to pander to those people who want you to prove yourself to them, when as a comedian you kind of have to bring them in, at least to an extent, if you want to make them laugh?

KR: It’s really tricky. I think that ties in to this whole notion of – and this might sound a bit wanky – finding your voice. Because with that, I know there’s confidence that comes alongside.

Confidence sells. It makes people feel comfortable. If you believe it, they’ll believe.

I think my style now is that I just go in and do my thing. If they’re on board then great, if they’re not then, y’know, their loss.

EKL: I suppose in that situation, if you’re going in and not pandering to the idea of first having to overcome that stereotyping, then whether they enjoy your work or not at least in the end perhaps they’ll come away thinking about it. Is that part of it?

KR: Yeah, I really want that. If I go into a crowd that might be a little bit more standoffish and win them over, they sort of end up becoming some of my best gigs. Because it’s like we’ve overcome something, and then they laugh harder because I’m seen as this “under dog”? But it’s against them?!

Laughter

KR: They laugh even harder, and they’re really warm. Like, “Aw, look at you, you did it!” And, like you said, it’s only 5 minutes. We’re just there to have a laugh. But in that time it’s like I walk on stage, they spend a bit of time going “Err, what? Why? How? She?!” and then it turns into “Ah, all right, yeah, she’s actually pretty funny.” But that, I guess, is me being a product of my environment.

I’m doing stand up in a place where I am a minority, however, if I was in a place where I doing stand up for predominantly females who were my age, my comedy might be very different. Because maybe I’d be able to do more… That’s what I wonder sometimes, and that’s why it’s sometimes really tricky.

The majority of our content is generated on the floor on those nights, and it’s really hard to know what material’s good. If you’re constantly going up to people whose preconceived ideas are that you’re bad, how are you supposed to generate content? That’s why I try to do more writing away from the scene now.

EKL: It seems like there’s even a big divide within the scene, at least in Brisbane. You can either go to a tavern along the lines of the one you mentioned above, or to a comedy room set up by comedians that’s frequented by other comedians and people who are generally more like you. Two extremes, almost, because the latter are on board and are going to help you develop your craft but they’re also creating the sort of content that you’re producing, and the former you have to first prove yourself to.

KR: I remember one of the first gigs I did in front of my own demographic and it was just so fun. It felt like they actually “got it”, and that then we could really play.

But then when you do those other really hard rooms, you build resistance and you have to be quick, because you don’t have that much time to get them onside. So, in that regard, your skin toughens out of pure circumstance.

They all feed into each other, but I definitely think a balance is the best way to go.

EKL: We’ve talked before about the comedy we both enjoy, that’s satirical and subtly crafted, and likes to turn the audience’s preconceived ideas back on them. So why do you think that’s important? And in what ways do you think comedy can be used to highlight certain issues in society? Even though it arguably can be for the sole purpose of entertainment. It’s still an artistic pursuit.

KR: I think satire is the best. It’s my goal, and it’s what I hope to achieve in my work, because it makes people laugh but it also forces them to think, “Why am I laughing at this?”

I think this is why art is always relevant, because there are always things we can question, and that’s the purpose of it.

To ask questions of what’s happening in the world, identity… Comedy is just my way of doing it.

EKL: I definitely think comedy can be used to have discussions that would otherwise be more difficult to have.

KR: Yeah, because it’s a lighter approach.

EKL: You find yourself laughing at something that might otherwise normally be uncomfortable, and it forces you to look at it in a different way. I’m thinking of someone like Zoe Coombs Marr, whose work is so layered and offers multiple perspectives.

KR: I think it’s now that I’m creating a work somewhat similar that I realise how crafted it has to be, and how much thought is put into these statements that you want to make and how you want to make.

Because the line between comedy and tragedy is often so fine, it’s just how you play it.

So yeah, I love satire because it makes people question why they’re laughing about a topic. I think it’s cheeky, and fun, and silly. And I also like things that might not serve a purpose! I think that frustrates people, because they often need everything to make sense and serve a purpose. But, like, why can’t we just listen to The Corrs on repeat?

EKL: THE CORRS.

KR: Right? Laughing I love them so much.

EKL: They were my childhood.

KR: They’re my present. And my future. Just The Corrs.

Laughter

KR: But yeah, I think we’re now at a time where women in comedy are really happening. There are all these incredible women, like Zoe Coombs Marr and Luisa Omielan and Tessa Waters and The Travelling Sisters. There are just so many incredible artists out there, and what they’re making is fun comedy.

I think having a female body on stage, someone who’s funny and confident, is in itself a statement. So it’s not always necessarily about making a statement through content, it’s making a statement by just doing.

Their actions are important, and the fact that they’re speaking and getting out there.

EKL: That, in itself, is challenging the old idea that women aren’t funny.

KR: That is not even an argument.

Laughter

EKL: Exactly, but it’s still quite an ingrained stereotype for some as we’ve discussed.

KR: Yeah, and there are just so many people out there who are surprised when I talk about the discrimination that I’ve come up against. They’re always like, “Ah, I didn’t even know!” and that’s because they don’t talk about it, because it’s not happening to them. How would they notice?

Much of it is just about explaining that it is still happening, and that we still are a minority, and that we face discrimination. All the time, some worse than others, some more violent than others. And for change to happen we need to start those conversations. To not be afraid to have those conversations, and the way in which we have those conversations is where, I think, comedy can play a role.

So we need to consider how we have those conversations without being negative or aggressive, or having to pull other people down in order to make our voices heard, because it’s about equality. For me, I like playing with the idea of opposites. So whatever the stereotype is, I love playing against it. Because I think that’s where the satire comes in, that’s where the play comes into it, and that’s where the fun and comedy comes in. In Can I Get An Amen I’m playing with the idea of expectation versus reality.

Instead of poking fun at other people, I’m putting myself in someone else’s shoes.

Someone who has this expectation of herself, when the reality is very much the opposite.

 

 

EKL: Yes, tell me about Can I Get An Amen, and about Cecile the Clown!

KR: Can I Get An Amen is a sermon based on the memoirs of Whoopi Goldberg. Yeah, it’s pretty good. It’s art in its purest form.

Laughter

KR: A woman called Cecile delivers the sermon. She’s a character I play. She’s been given a message from God to deliver this sermon about Whoopi Goldberg to Scotland, at Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival. Don’t worry; I explain it in the show – there’s total logic as to why she’s in Scotland. When the audience meets Cecile, she’s so stoked to be there, and it’s a real high-energy hot mess. There’s a rap at the start of the show, because what better way to begin a sermon? Essentially the sermon is supposed to be based on Whoopi’s memoir, but as soon as the sermon begins it’s clear that Cecile doesn’t have it. She’s very ill-equipped, and she has to do the sermon by herself. It’s kind of self aware, in a way, because the show is happening at 11.30pm, every night, next to a nightclub.

EKL: In the attic of a castle, right?

KR: Yep. Every night for a month. I think why I love playing with this is because I like my style to be really chaotic and sassy, but what comes with that is a lot of mayhem.

So I’ve just been working to find that method to the madness, and I think it’s that method that plays into the satire.

It’s being aware of crafting all these moments. There’s one where I just talk about emus, but everything’s a metaphor because it’s A Piece of Art.

Laughter

KR: So basically they’re a metaphor for women in comedy. Obviously.

EKL: That sounds beautiful.

KR: So yeah, I think the satire and the questioning comes from how the content is played, and that relationship you have with the audience. It’s looking at the audience and connecting. Entering into this world where, yes, they know they’re in a show, but the show in question is about Whoopi Goldberg and it’s my – Cecile’s – whole life. So committing 100% to that world is where the fun really is.

EKL: You’re the only female comedian from Queensland performing at Edinburgh Fringe. That’s a bit of a big deal. Tell me what you’re doing in the lead up, and what’s going to happen when you get there? Have you got your visa sorted? And have you figured out whether you and your roommate are top-and-tailing, yet?

Laughter

KR: Myself and Ingrid, who’s the girl I’m sharing a bed with and who I haven’t ever met? I don’t know, but I’m just not sure I feel comfortable sleeping next to feet for a month.

Laughter

KR: Visa? Yes. I don’t need one after all! It’s permit free. But yeah, from what I’ve been told I’m not only the only female but also the only Queenslander besides Damien Power! So we’ll be waving the flags for Queensland. And I’m so stoked to do that, because I’m a loud and proud Queenslander.

But at the same time I’m disappointed that I’m the only female going, because I don’t understand why. We have so much talent here. I don’t want to be alone, I want us to all be waving that flag together, and I hope that will happen one day.

I know there’ll be female comics from Melbourne and Sydney stuff, though. Maybe even those who’ve moved but are originally from Queensland, but nobody else from Queensland, for sure. So yeah, I’m really stoked and I want to use this opportunity to connect with those other females. I’m really grateful for me venue, The Gilded Balloon, because they’re really supportive of women in comedy. There’s another incredible show on there, Double Denim, which got nominated for The Golden Gibbo award this year at Melbourne Comedy Festival. Louisa Omielan, who did a show called What Would Beyoncé Do?, she’s amazing and in my venue. There’s a panel on every day called Funny Women, and I think I’m going to be a guest on that. So that’s exciting. And there are heaps more opportunities there.

So I’m really excited to network, and generate that conversation, and keep the discussion going. Because there are a lot of funny girls out there, there are lot of funny women out there, who make really interesting work that doesn’t just sit in one genre. And I think what better time than now to do something with it?

EKL: Before we go, you’re currently a resident at House Conspiracy. How have you started making this space your own, and how has your writing process developed since beginning your residency?

KR: Um, so I’m a nester. I love nesting. The first thing I did was hang bunting, against the will of every other person here, and then I hung a photo of Shannon Noll which I don’t plan on ever taking down.

EKL: We haven’t even mentioned Shannon Noll once before this. What’s happening? That’s a joke in itself: an interview with Kaitlyn Rogers, and no Shannon Noll.

Laughter

KR: So true. Well, as soon as his face was up I was like, “Now I can write.” This place is paradise. The timing has just been perfect.

It’s really challenged me, and my process. Because my process is normally to do improve, by myself, in a room, until I can make myself laugh. That’s literally how the show first came about: I just stared at myself while listening to the Sister Act 2 soundtrack. But this time I was actually forced to sit down and write, which is something that’s always scared the living crap out of me.

However, being forced to sit down and actually think before I go has given the show the structure that it needs. By nature I’m very… Makes high-pitched noises. I just like frolicking.

EKL: That’ll be fun to transcribe.

KR: You’re welcome. So it’s pretty much teaming all of that frolicking with the writing so that the show can actually make sense.

This writing has enabled the work to have structure. A through-line. Which has been a huge challenge, but one that will hopefully pay off. I do like to go off, but it’s something to come back to.

EKL: Lastly, tell me about your Brisbane show!

KR: Can I Get An Amen is on Friday, 21st of July. 8pm, at the New Farm Bowls Club. YES. I’m so excited. That’s when the show is going to be put on for the first time, in front of an audience. I also wanted to showcase some local acts who are, in my opinion, are amazing. They sit in different genres; so we’ve got cabaret acts, stand up, theatre, absurdist comedy. We’ve also got award winning international acts, as well as local. So all of those are first, and then there’s the show. The whole place is going to be decked out: shrines to Whoopi, there’s a raffle with prizes, there’s drinks, there’s food… It’s going to A Night. An Extravaganza. It’s going to be LOOSE. And it’s almost sold out! Then it goes to London, where it’s sold out already. And then to Edinburgh, for one whole month.

EKL: Amazing, I’m so excited to see it. This is all brilliant. Anything else that we’ve missed?

KR: Shannon, if you’re reading this, call me.

Grab your tickets to this Friday’s Can I Get An Amen by Kaitlyn Rogers before they sell out!

 

*This wasn’t discussed because it’s clearly not up for debate.


Answers and Images (with permission) by Kaitlyn Rogers

Questions, Edits, and Transcribing by Emma Kate Lewis

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