This is Thesis 

I don’t write about doing my PhD very often (at all) on this blog, though it makes it’s way into Facebook posts quite often. 

I’m in my third and final year now and writing up my research. I kept saying to people that I’d turn into a hermit and mainly sit in a room typing. This isn’t quite the case. There has been lots of sitting in my room typing. At least 60 000 words worth since August (which sounds brilliant but I’m only supposed to submit 50 000 and I’m only about half way through the sections I need. ALOT of pruning is ahead). But there is also lots of performing and gigs and poetry and comedy writing. Partly because my PhD is practice-based and this stuff is part of it (including studying the two Radio 4 comedy shows I’m about to record. Meta). Partly because I’m bad at saying no. Not to everything. But to things that sound like they might inform my thoughts about class, gender, northern English regional identity and resistance in stand-up. 

However, I’m also aware this is a time to stop saying the big research Yes. I can’t research everything and know everything. 

But something else is happening. My brain is very awake. To attempt up get it to think about other things than the PhD I have to divert it into equally stimulating processes. Slightly obsessional ones. I’ve been lurking on “web sleuth” sites on two murder cases. Intriguing communities of people solving media murders. I only lurk but it engages my brain. “Who murdered so and so” can temporarily replace “Why is rationalism not always sufficient to explain human actions?” (See above murders). 

Also, my research calls for praxis. A word that was new to me at the beginning. The mixture of practice and theory. Doing stuff informed by critical reflection. My thesis quotes “calls to this” and “manifestos for the other”. It says don’t just sit in a room and think -do. But don’t just do-sit in a room and think first. Preferably with others. 

So I’m trying to balance the Yesses and the Nos. There are also practical considerations. I still want people to offer me work from the autumn when I’m done and 17k isn’t quite enough for a household to live on. 

I’m having about three weeks now in which I won’t often be sitting at my desk for hours at a time. I’ll feel guilty. But I’m living my thesis all the time. Embodying it. It’s like the TARDIS when Suranne Jones became it and vice versa. What are you doing? If anyone asks I’m praxis-ing.

Engulfed by Stand Up and Burning Bridges.

After a recent gig, various people came up to say various things afterwards, as they do. One talked about how nice it was to hear Bradford accents and to see a woman on the line up. One said that my accent had veered a lot between Yorkshire and North East. Another said that I should listen to the Guilty Feminist podcast or in fact be on the Guilty Feminist podcast. Another said he had bought my book for his wife for Christmas as she loved poetry.

It used to be very important to me to believe that my gender was not a big factor in my performance, writing and how people reacted to me- even though I was doing stand-up comedy which is overwhelmingly male (about eight men to every woman on the pro circuit). When I was in my twenties, male comics and audiences were very nice to me. I was very nice to them. I thought it was about being nice and nothing to do with gender. Being a smiley young woman who did knob jokes. At some level, I recognised that women needed extra support and spaces and I ran workshops and women’s stand-up projects and encouraged them but was still in denial about why that was important.

My Mum was a single mother of twins who was abused and exploited by a man who treated her (and me) badly. It was bad enough to admit I was sometimes ignored or abused, how much less of a self would I feel if I couldn’t think that it was personal- if I thought it was because of my gender? Generic abuse, not even personal. Audience responses were redemptive. But I wanted their laughter or their poetry “Hmms” to be particular to me, not generic. My fragile selfhood rested on this. Not that I thought I was fragile. I had lived on my own when I was 16. I argued back. I wasn’t a victim. Feminist “we”s didn’t seem to include me. They talked about sisterhood and motherhood and crying together and being angry together. All of those things could be varying degrees of unsafe or rubbing me out.

Laughing together though… maybe. My funny friends. The gigs and workshops, collaborations. French feminists like it when women laugh together- Cixous, Irigaray- but they don’t really talk about the power of making other people laugh. I started doing comedy club gigs again in 2011 after doing mainly poetry ones for a few years. Now I was older and less inclined to smile nicely while doing knob jokes. I was less placeable by audiences and comics. Not an ingenue, new-starter. Not a confident old hand. At the new act nights, young men were doing rape gags. I still didn’t really like to mention being a woman. I hoped people might not notice. None of us knew where I was. At comedy nights I started to feel like I didn’t exist.

Then I saw Bridget Christie talking about being a female comedian by talking about war donkeys. She said of course she was a feminist, everyone should be a feminist if they believed women should have equal pay and rights. This was a year before she talked about this stuff more clearly, directly and at the right time and was heard by lots of people. That year at Edinburgh she took off  a donkey suit, Rachel Mars took off a wolf onesie and Hannah Gadsby stripped down into an all in one bathing suit and back. I thought that being a female comedian might mean you could still hide yourself and reveal yourself without disappearing completely into a gender. The next year I talked about not wanting to be a mother whilst dressing as a nun and a unicorn. That would make a PhD I thought, though literally only I am interested in studying me, and in the ultimate bid to make sure I don’t disappear: I am. (Studying me in a PhD I mean, alongside class and gender and northern english regional identity and the way that audiences and performers make each other up during each performance event and don’t have to ignore or engulf each other).

I talked online about the lack of women at a comedy festival and lots of male comics got very annoyed and told me I had no right to mention this stuff and that comedy is a meritocracy. Lots of people have told me that stand up comedy is a meritocracy. I miss the camaraderie with the comics who used to be nice to me, though when I told a line up at one comedy club that they were very unrapey compared to the line up at another in the same chain, they were pleased to engage and one of them told me he is secretly glad that he has a penis. I forgot that I wrote an email to this comedy club in 2013 saying that I couldn’t commit to the gigs they kindly offered me and that I would never be a club comic. I forgot and started doing open spot gigs there again this year with my new techniques for being a woman on stage without disappearing, then wondered why they don’t really want to book me even though I’m so much better now. It was as if I had been trying to protect myself from going back to an abusive partner because I knew part of me would always be tempted so I burnt my bridges then to protect myself but forgot now that I think I’m all strong and gender-impervious.

I’m just reading Edmund Gordon’s biography of Angela Carter and identify a lot with the type of feminist she was- mostly socialist, seeing men and women as equally oppressed and reluctant to belong whole heartedly to any group or movement. He sees this as connecting to her relationship with her overly invasive mother in which she feared both abandonment and engulfment. This connects hugely with me and says something about comedy that I can’t quite yet articulate. Something about how stand-up is the perfect form if you fear other people taking you over, getting too close to you and blurring your boundaries. You get close and then you prick it with laughter. You reel them in, send them away, reel them in, send them away. Stewart Lee talks about disliking the consensus of comedy, The giant roar of laughter. There’s a man who fears being engulfed, I think. I’ve interviewed comedians who have none of this fear. They can do intimacy. Hold an audience close. Tolerantly. Close enough to change them. Not me, yet. Except sometimes for about a minute in a poem. Maybe that’s another reason I burnt my bridges at the comedy club and forgot. I think that stand-up poetry is where I can find the perfect balance between revealing and concealing. Getting close and holding back. Or maybe it’s just that the money’s better (and I’m better at it so I’m treated better. Treated as an individual. Not a Generic Comic Next in the Line Up).

Dear Comedy Club, I can’t write, I have learned how to play the game better now. I’ve been studying Bourdieu. I appreciate the spaces in between that I can find a place to resist. That I can find an audience to resist with. I appreciate the training in relaxing my body in front of an audience so that they no longer make me shake or terrify me with their vibrating tonsils, wide open mouths and/or blank faces and angry eyes. I will not again forget that I am a woman and I have now found appropriate ways to address this fact without upsetting my own internal organs. The ones that I have never seen on a scan but I’m sure are appreciably individual and hardly generic at all.



Five Shows I’m Not Going to Make



  1. In “Tether, Release” Kate embodies the post-human by living as an owl for twelve days. She internalises subject-object distinctions in process by hunting mice, eating them and vomiting up their skeletons and troubles linguistic categories by calling rather than speaking. She will extend the technology of her body by wearing wings  and claws as she sits on a perch for five hours a day and allows the public to interact with her as long as they’re wearing gauntlets. This becomes a Foucauldian interrogation of the limits of our biopower and what it truly means to become-animal.
  2. In “Expression Shopping List. Part VII” Kate and six performers who have made work  in Northern cities since graduating, celebrate the place-making and place-destroying element of their practice. They question the ways that belonging has become commodified and implicated in creativity. They will interpellate the audience as ambivalent shoppers by reading out collections of their shopping lists over a period of eighteen hours, whilst improvising comments such as “Pesto is more expensive in Shoreditch”.
  3. Kate’s company “J!zz The?tre” once again explores the limits of performance with its deliberately lo-fi aesthetic and examination of the boundaries between performance and life. The piece “Strictly” sees performers wearing ripped ballgowns watching an episode of “Strictly Come Dancing in real-time. In a searing resistance to mediatised jouissance they destroy the television set at the end of the piece by pouring water and other fluids on it. J!zz The?tre use their extensive performer training to appear not to use performance skills or techniques and reject traditional theatre snobbery. Please see attached PDF for a list of their awards and prestigious commissions.
  4. In “Ste (real) isation” Kate challenges gender conditioning about the categories of inside and outside, production and reproduction as her womb is removed live on stage, while the audience see a live camera feed of her uterus on a screen. During the surgery she performs a stand-up monologue about handbags and, after the operation is complete, she leaves the stage with her womb in a handbag. The audience are suspended in an ambiguous state somewhere between their implication in the staged spectacle of extreme emotional labour and comedic appreciation of her brilliant punchlines.
  5. In a tribute to the seminal work of The Wooster Group, Kate stages a reading of Alan Bennett’s works, with audience members invited to come up on to the stage and read sections themselves. In this multimedia, experimental, groundbreaking and post-post modern performance, all the readers will be invited to ingest Red Bull first. The subsequent readings will play with perceptions of time, speed, vowels and ultimately the nature of reality itself. In the climactic re enactment of “A Cream Cracker Under the Settee”, the whole audience will play the part of the cream cracker.


Speaking as Not a Mother 

Generally  as a child-free person, I don’t think there’s much need to speak out about it.
We’re not oppressed or overtly discriminated against and on most social measures it seems that parents, particularly Mothers, have it worse. Employment laws and work culture generally discriminates against them horribly. Culturally they also suffer from the conflicting pressures of what women are “supposed” to be. Leaning in, having it all, being Madonna, Mary, Yummy, MILFish and bikini body ready. 
Though when I did a comedy show about not wanting to be a Mother. I expected some flak. Especially when it was broadcast on Radio 4 after the Archers on a Sunday night right into the heart of Middle England. But there wasn’t a flicker of annoyance. Not one email. Unless everyone had switched off in disgust the minute my Northern vowels sounded out. I took it as something of a counter to studies which had shown women without kids were seen as “childish, neurotic and selfish”. At a time when 1 in 5 women (and rising) in the UK don’t have children, I thought that social attitudes had mostly progressed. 
I also think that women who want children but can’t have them have a much harder deal. Both when seeing the rhetoric around mothers as “real” women, in issues around arduous infertility treatments and the lack of awareness of the devastating impacts of miscarriage and stillbirth. 
When I performed my show live, young women did sometimes say that it was a relief and a change to hear this presented as a positive choice. But I still didn’t think this needed to constitute a mission statement. It’s, after all, about not wanting something. Not having children doesn’t define my life. 
However, after Conservative leadership candidate Andrea Leadsom’s remarks Here about  feeling that being a mother gives her a “real stake” in the country’s future, as opposed to her childless rival Theresa May, I think there is a reason to speak out after all. 
Especially when the idea of the happily child free person is removed from the narrative entirely and we have the responsible Mother who cares about the future, and the sad Non-Mother who has had her stake in it removed. 
Both are emotional tropes of course and the idea that people only care about the future of those that they’re related to by blood is being easily picked apart elsewhere. 
But I want to represent the idea of a happily childfree woman. One that is resisted by the dominant narratives about womanhood. A New Statesman article  Heresuggested that we’re seen as the Unicorns of society-as in, mythical creatures. Honestly, I sometimes feel guilty about elements of my life that are easier than the women around me juggling childcare, not having much time to themselves, hitting career walls and having to go to Wacky Warehouses. It means I don’t say it often enough. Not having kids is great! It’s just what I want. I can’t tell you how many sighs of relief I breathe when I spend any time with children or parents in any context and know I’m going home to my husband, cocker spaniel and quiet house. 
Unfortunately it is obligatory in these articles to end by saying what a nice person you are, how much you do for society and love people EVEN THOUGH you don’t want to raise humans. I’ll just say that if I supported a party that has presided over the terrible inequalities perpetuated on women, children and everybody else as detailed in this week’s UN report, Here, I would cower in shame at the short sighted lack of concern for the future of all of us shown in policies that privilege profits over people, short term gain over long term sustainability and political expediency over a far sighted tackling of shameful global inequalities. 

Want to use poetry to engage the public? Think on…

Have recently been involved in two discussions where people were saying they wanted to use poetry to engage the public (one in research, one in disability awareness). I felt a bit mean for sounding cautionary notes. Perhaps I needed to put it with more friendly nuance as in:
i) Don’t forget that poetry itself often struggles to engage the public. Lots of people think poetry is “Not for them”. If they think your thing is “Not for them” too then you’re going to need a smaller room. 

ii) However, as a medium for getting people to participate and think and write, poetry is one of the best forms.

iii) Are you sure you want to call it poetry though? Also it’s good to pay poets who have experience of this stuff to facilitate it. Bad poetry* and bad poetry facilitation can put off those remaining people who might have given it a chance. 

iv) “Let’s do a poetry reading at the end” may not bring the crowds flocking.

v) Who do you want your crowds to be anyway? Have you any idea of the low attendance and involvement in arts events generally/among the age or geographic demographic you want to reach? 

vi) Yes, spoken word is increasingly popular. 

No, Kate Tempest is probably busy. Spoken word audiences are still relatively tiny-unless your thing goes viral.

vii) No, I can’t guarantee your research about Latvian nose flutes will go viral if someone does a slam poem about it. 

viii) If you must, put poetry with another thing -pictures/sculptures/film/comedy.

ix) and are you sure you have to call it poetry though? 

x) Bad poetry is worse than bad any-other-art form. Bad ballet for instance would still be sort of compelling.

*Apparently it is very judgemental to suggest there is such a thing as bad poetry. I suggest people thinking this go to a very long poetry reading one day. I generally use the term “Bad poetry” synonymously with “Boring poetry”. Obviously what makes people bored is subjective. My tolerance threshold has been reduced after many years around poetry. It is, however, very rare that someone in an open participatory workshop writes boring poetry. 

Grin Up North- Three Minute Thesis

Reposted from my new PhD blog above:

I’m interested in whether humour and performed auto-ethnography can work in academic settings. There’ve been tiny indicators that it might not always fit at Leeds- the newsletter that didn’t like me mentioning a spoken word cabaret event would be enjoyable and had drinks at the bar (wine and canapés at classical music events are totally acceptable), the panel for the post-grad conference who debated whether my performance paper would be serious enough. On the other hand, I think it can work as a critical tool and I could see the “Three Minute Thesis Competition” would be a good place to try it out. Apparently sixty people entered the heats and I qualified to be one of the final sixteen in the imposing setting of Leeds’ Great Hall. I’d been sanguine about progressing and thought I might not have much chance against the breast cancer curers and atomic clock investigators (It was mostly scientists), but on the other hand knew that engaging an audience was something I’m used to as a performer. Could an actual demonstration of including an audience’s voice work or would it not be clear that practice-led research involves practical techniques and I was using one of them to illustrate one of the properties of stand up performance? I went into Participant Observation mode during the competition and noticed that visceral responses were quite muted across the talks, but mine did seem to generate quite a big audience “Hum” afterwards (as well as laughs where I hoped there’d be). I was also a more visceral audience member than many. In the row of thesis entrants I began to feel a bit like the mad lady on the bus, with my hums and nods and laughs at other participants. I also began to realise that if I was wanting to say I’d experimented with using humour and dialogue to subvert the single voice of academic discourse, it would be handy to prove this by being placed somewhere (Otherwise I’d have to go and ask where in the order I’d come and look overly concerned about results). Happily, my engaging with the audience chimed well with the audience engagement rhetoric of “Impact” and “Outreach” and the buzzwords that motivate this sort of competition and I was placed third and got the bonus of a £100 prize. I also managed to do some vox pops with a couple of audience members (It is quite awkward to go up to someone and basically say “Tell me what you thought of me” but I’ve been thinking a lot about how if I’m asserting that stand up is a dialogic form then my research sometimes needs to include both performers and audience of the same gig. This was just a small step in that direction). The text of the thesis feels like a bit of a simplification of where I’m at with it- but also a useful temporary distillation. Here it is:

Grin Up North

We have a great variety of voices and accents here in this hall, but my own, my Northern English one is not particularly acceptable in academia. Studies have shown that most female academics lose any regional accents entirely in order to be taken seriously. So do some men, but some exaggerate them on purpose.

This probably explains the lack of regional English accents in our public sphere. Have you ever heard a Geordie reading the news or a Brummie announcing the Queen’s speech?

However Brummie, the Birmingham accent, actually came out top when some non-UK natives were asked to rate accents for beauty.

It’s the association with being working class that makes regional accents problematic in serious spheres.

We’ve still got big class and gender issues when it comes to who represents us- for example, 70% of judges went to private schools compared to 7% of the public, 43% of newspaper columnists went to public schools and 42% of Radio 4 Woman’s Hour’s Women of Power list.

Still, I thought- at least Northerners could be taken seriously as comedians? Stand up comedy is seen as meritocratic- it’s just about being funny.

Well, my research is showing me that they’re not. Interviewing Northern performers shows they feel they’re often dismissed or stereotyped as club comics by London based reviewers. Only 2 out of thirty years of winners of the most prestigious comedy award, the Fosters, have had Northern accents.

Across 48 series of BBC1’s satirical comedy Have I Got News For You, only 5% of the guests have had Northern accents.

At a time when comedians have increasing profile as commentators, this is another sphere in which Northerners voices aren’t being heard.

They have different ways to resist this- for example talking openly about class. Gavin Webster saying- “I’m not saying they’re posh but their ice cream vans play Rachmaninov” playing with language-

Hylda Baker saying she was off for electrocution lessons.

Me, storming the citadels of academia with my whippet and my flat cap and my baps- that’s why I’m doing a practice-based PhD and also, talking to audiences.

Stand up is a form in which dialogue undercuts the single voice of traditional modes like academia, science or religion- that’s why it can be powerful and scary.

So I’m going to slightly disrupt academic convention and ask you for the final word in this three minute thesis- since it’s powerful to hear other, diverse voices. On the count of three shout out your own regional or national word for a bread roll (It’s okay if it’s bread roll) 1, 2, 3…

What I Now Know About the Rugby World Cup

Rugby World Cup Poemfor BBC Radio Leeds 18/9/15
I’m no expert on the Rugby World Cup,

but it being held here might wake my interest up.

At the moment I think a Haka 

is someone who listens to your phone messages

and don’t even ask me what I think a Hooker is.
I gather this is a sport England can actually win,

(though the papers would probably blame a loss 

on Jeremy Corbyn)

Apparently it’s William Webb Ellis and line outs

and trying and trying and trying again,

it’s being a flanker,

not being a…flunker

and smelly, sweaty, steely men.
It’s getting together in the middle of the pitch for a big group hug, (I think that’s what it is)

it’s staying stoic 

when someone’s squashed your intestines to a pulp,

it’s being heroic 

and facing bigger blokes with a quickly swallowed gulp.

It’s your bowels feeling squeegy

before tonight’s opening bout with Fiji.

It’s definitely Union, not League but that doesn’t mean it’s posh.

Both types bring the region dosh. 
It’s opposing scrums of muscly boys 

and oggy oggy oggy oi oi ois

It’s tackles and kicks and laying it on thickly,

before injury sends you off

for sequins and suntans on Strictly.

It’s probably giving peace a chance

& not mocking some other team’s native dance- Hakarena- Schmacarena.
It’s big thighs,

and last minute surprise,

it’s rucking and mauling

and never ever bawling.

It’s having wins and losses and showers together,

and secretly liking muddy weather.

It’s in-tune singing from the crowd,

getting anxious and feeling proud,

faces painted with flags and woad,

four nations meeting at Elland Road,

three teams based in welcoming Leeds,

meeting all their off-pitch needs, in Fanzones and manzones, 

Millennium Square, 

it’s being able to say you were there.
From Headlingley to Halifax

as the Swing Low chariot calls,

even I’ll be fascinated by the men

with the funny shaped balls.