Si Hawkins Circuit Training

Circuit Training 134: The Isolation Conversations - Jayde Adams

Jayde Adams

First let's set the scene, for anyone reading this in the future (assuming that we have a future, of course, what with bloody everything). It's April 2020, and the UK is in lockdown due to a global pandemic that's closed all the comedy venues, among lots of much worse things. Stuck at home, many of the nation's comedians are knocking out an admirably mixed bag of content, from sitting-room stand-up to cookery and walking tours.

And right at the top of that bag is Jayde Adams' Couch Cabaret, which really raises the show-from-home game. Every Wednesday evening the brilliant Bristolian invites a diverse reverse-diaspora of performers to contribute from wherever they're holed up - cabaret stars, artists, stand-ups and beyond - while Adams and her comedic co-habitants Rich Wilson and Paul Sweeney get creative in their lounge, and maybe loo.

Adams has, crisis apart, had a cracking year, presenting TV shows, acting in the Neil Gaiman/Terry Pratchett global hit Good Omens and Sophie Willan's well-received pilot Alma's Not Normal, and turning her live show The Ballad of Kylie Jenner's Old Face into the Amazon Prime special Serious Black Jumper. Why the name change? We'll get to that, plus her TikTok-fuelled new audience and where the cash was wisely spent.

Time, then, for our first Isolation Conversation (hopefully a limited series, but we'll see), which happened the day before Couch Cabaret's second instalment. It's worth catching up on, if you can.

Jayde Adams

How are you getting on Jayde? You seem to be making the best of the crisis, so far.

Yeah, it's good to keep a level head, that things actually could be worse. A slight bit of perspective; none of us are having that terrible a time, compared to people in hospitals. The comedy industry being on its arse, it's a major problem for a lot of people, but we can't outwardly be upset about it, because it's not a good look.

It's nice to see people supporting comedians' new Twitch/Instagram stuff, although Couch Cabaret I think would have worked anyway.

I don't really want my audience to be supportive - I want them to support me, but by doing something worth supporting, rather than them feeling sorry for me. There's a power imbalance between me and the audience, they know loads about me, but I don't rock up to their christenings, their family events...

Although that would be amazing.

Yeah! 'HEY BABE..!'

I always want to make sure that if I'm receiving any support from an audience, that I've earned it, and that's by producing good content. I've noticed there's a lot of stand-ups sitting at a computer and talking to the audience; I'm still waiting to believe that stand-up works online. You don't know if something's funny without the audience. It's like comedians who don't gig throughout the year - how do you know if you're funny!? How?

I'm connected to so many people: musicians, actors, artists, fine artists, oil painters, illustrators, stand-ups, and drag queens is a huge connection. So I thought it'd be really great to have a platform where I could have all of them on. It's always been a dream of mine.

So for example, Lily O'Farrell, who we had last week, she usually does illustrations online, but what was really great was thinking of a way to let audiences enjoy her artwork. I remembered the Tony Hart galleries, so I thought 'let's animate some, put some bossa nova under it, people will love it.'

It's an amazing mix of stuff. I've had that Phantom of the Opera song in my head, since Rose Matafeo sang it with the sock puppets.

The reason she did that, I'm a huge Phantom fan - pretty much the only musical I love, I've watched it about 20 times - Rose loves it too, and she's got such a great voice. The best thing is to get people who are passionate about something, it always comes across better.

Jayde Adams

I loved the two lip-synchers too - although one of them was actually singing...

Grace Shush - literally the last people to see me at my flat before quarantine were Grace and Margo [Marshall], I invited them over for dinner, few drinks, Grace started singing, and said 'ooh, I can do a really good Bring Him Home and I've changed the words to represent my nonbinary unity.' And I was like 'right!' so we made her perform for us in the kitchen, and it was beautiful.

This is my thing I love to do, drawing out of people things they're good at. It's something that, had I not met the people I've met, I wouldn't be at all cultured right now. But I had one music teacher who said I had a good voice and should do GCSE music. Because of that I've had loads of stuff happen - I wouldn't be on the phone to you right now.

So I think because of those experiences, it's given me this absolute joy for bringing out people's talents, and I think we've really nailed this 'format'. This week I contacted Rufus Hound, because we're quite chummy on Twitter, I still have no idea what he's doing, but it's really fun throwing it backwards and forwards about what he would do.

So set the scene, where 'on set' are you right now?

So, I have like an entire studio in my house. [Mock-boasting] I've had a good year financially, and something I did do cleverly with my money, I invested in a Macbook Pro - because I was lonely at secondary school I just used to spend a lot of time on my computer learning how to do stuff, so I'm really quite tech savvy. I'm being humble: I'm absolutely excellent with technology.

I've got a massive drawerful of wires, I can connect anything. I'm prepared, I've been waiting for this for a long time. Paul Sweeney is staying with us, who usually lives on his own - someone who was homeless is now in Paul's flat, so that's been lovely to do. But while he's been here I've been putting him to work, and he's been basically crucial to making this show work.

It's nice to see you actually using the people in your house - since lockdown it's quite rare to see people actually interacting, together.

Yeah, lots of people are isolated. I don't know if you know, [mock-boasting again] I went viral on TikTok recently, I had 19m views on one clip from my Amazon Prime special, that happened just as lockdown happened, which I'm very fortunate about. What they do have on TikTok is families, together, all larking about with each other. And I'm like 'where's the passive aggression? Where are the arguments?'

Jayde Adams. Copyright: Suzie Larke

Do you reckon, because of TikTok, this next generation will be full of blissfully happy families?

No. I get on well with my parents but there's absolutely no way I'm getting them up on TikTok.

It's been an amazing few months for you. Well, an amazing few years, but this one in particular...

I've been having a great year! It's very disappointing that this has all happened, but obviously I'm philosophical. But it's been great, I've had [TV shows] Snackmasters and Crazy Delicious, the Amazon Prime special, the response to that has been insane. I've been really happy, because I've always been a bit protective about putting stand up online, I don't want stuff to be out there and rubbish.

Stand-up is very unforgiving, the [live] audience either feel sorry for you or hate you, there's a real intense reaction. And when you get on the internet it's even worse. But this show I worked really hard on, and I took myself out of my comfort zone, that's what I've tried to do with all my Edinburgh Fringe shows, do something new.

And that's what I planned for this year... but I'll just move to it 2021. I'll still be very relevant for next year, but obviously with a bit about the current situation.

The Amazon Prime special is based on your live show The Ballad of Kylie Jenner's Old Face. Who decided on the name change?

Jayde Adams: Serious Black Jumper. Jayde Adams. Copyright: Avalon Television

It was a collective decision. We decided that perhaps it wasn't the best idea, stirring that hornets' nest. I don't really have the finances for that, so we decided it would be best to change it - it's still the same name for the tour. It's a great name.

It certainly catches the eye.

The reason for the original title, I wanted to write a show about an important subject, and encourage a younger audience in. I've had so many 13, 14 year-olds, and teenagers, because I put her name in the title it's really encouraged a youth audience.

I've really wanted to write a show that bridged a lot of age gaps, I don't want to preach to the converted. Especially with the TikTok thing, a lot of teenagers have watched the show and are sending messages, telling me how they feel about it, so the thing I wanted to achieve has happened - I wanted to entertain the current audience and bring in a new one.

I believe if you want to change people's minds about something, the only way is to make them laugh first. You can't change people's minds if you don't make them like you - that's why Twitter doesn't work. The wonderful thing about stand-up is that you're able to do that, and that's one of the most positive things about that show, I'm having an effect on teenagers. I'm gonna take that over into my next one as well.

Do you fancy a crack at politics? It feels like a sense of humour is lacking from certain sides of the political spectrum.

To be honest with you, I'm too much of an anarchist to ever want to be a politician. I think politicians have to toe the line slightly, you're trying to encourage all sorts of different people. I'm also a contrarian - as soon as a big group of people start believing in something, I stop. That's what the show's about really, I talk about how people shouldn't be following a leader.

I've had people saying 'Jayde for Prime Minister!' Um, no, but what I can do is entertain people, I use myself as a sounding board for morals and stuff. I talk about feminism as someone who doesn't know much about it, then over the show I develop an awareness of it. And that's where audiences are, turning up to hear new ideas.

I've learned a lot of stuff from seeing comedy shows - or been steered towards big ideas anyway.

The thing I always make sure, with feminism, queer rights, there's a big change that's happened over the last five years. I've got a little line in the show: 'if you're a man worrying about how to be in this current climate, just look at us women, because we never do anything wrong: what we do is psychological trauma but it's not illegal and totally undetectable.'

So it's saying it's important that women are empowered but I believe that equality should be exactly what that is: for me to be a good feminist, I don't want to 'win' over someone else, I want equality with people.

Winning seems to be everything in politics right now.

I was doing the Brexit show at the ENO and this girl was sat next to my mum, giving her a lecture on Brexit. And my mum is super clever and doesn't take any bullshit. I was gonna go over and say something, but my mum turned to her, asked her what her job was, and said 'some people voted for Brexit because their experience of life is very different than yours.'

For example, my mum worked at Asda for 35 years, so her experience of people and how they respond to the world is very different to someone who's been able to go to university and study art and culture and that stuff. I don't know where I was going with that...

It leads us nicely onto Alma's Not Normal - that's just a pilot so far?

Alma's Not Normal. Image shows from L to R: Alma Nuthall (Sophie Willan), Leanne (Jayde Adams)

It's a pilot, I think we're just about to find out whether it goes to series. It went out and went absolutely nuts on the internet, a million views or something.

How long has it been in development?

Sophie told me last year that she'd written me a part. We didn't meet through stand-up, we met in a cabaret show about seven years ago, got really drunk and had a fab night. I really love Sophie because I just think it's really inspiring, to hear where she's come from and where she is.

I think the BBC supporting someone like Sophie is so important, to working class people in this country. It's just fab. Think about all those kids in care right now who'll hear Sophie's story and then think 'oh, I can do it as well.'

And the other thing, she wrote a really great sitcom. And the reason she wrote a really great sitcom is because she knows how to write good stories, and that's because she's had an interesting colourful life.

I met her at the Fringe a few years ago, after she'd had a three-star review for her breakthrough show - not from me - and was incredibly fired up about it.

There's a massive amount of snobbery at the Edinburgh Fringe, and I've experienced it as well. I had to put on a black turtleneck to make middle class people get on board with me, that's literally all I did. I got rid of all the songs, and the other stuff, and I finally got more than a three-star from the broadsheets.

One of the great things about Sophie's sitcom, she manages to make the audience not feel sorry for her. The BBC would be absolute fools to not give her a series. Like, Fleabag was so brilliant, I loved Fleabag, some fantastic moments, the monologue from Kristin Scott Thomas, the speech from the priest about love - but it all came from a place of privilege.

Fleabag's done, but now how do we push the form forward? And it's through girls like Sophie.

You're actually quite reserved in the pilot, almost her straight woman.

Alma's Not Normal. Image shows from L to R: Alma Nuthall (Sophie Willan), Leanne (Jayde Adams)

I'm Sophie's straight woman, that's exactly what I am. I've always wanted this to happen, I've always said this to agents, I want to be in someone else's thing. Sophie's given me a really meaty part, and its great to be in someone else's thing, to flex my acting chops.

I'll let you get on with your things now then - you're on Woman's Hour soon?

I'm about to call Woman's Hour, they're really chuffed with how good the sound quality is here. Basically, I think I've been preparing for this since university.

It's like some of us were primed for the shutdown.

It definitely feels like I've planned this. But I know I haven't - the plan would have been that I'd still be able to perform on stage. That's the thing that keeps me going during the day.

Published: Tuesday 21st April 2020

Share this page