Interview with Joe Kirkwood, writer and performer of ‘A Guide to Therapy for Terrible People’

"Mars bars are not worth Prison."

Interview with Joe Kirkwood, writer and performer of ‘A Guide to Therapy for Terrible People’

Could you first introduce yourself to the reader? 

I am Joe, I am a Stand-Up Comedian based in Leeds.

Tell us about ‘A Guide to Therapy for Terrible People’?

It’s a show where I am trying to convince my therapist that I am too far gone for therapy to work. I am trying to provide examples as to why I am such a terrible person. Which gives lots of room for absurd, but totally true stories. 

Our reviewer described it as both hilarious but emotional, and said that it covered a lot of your personal experiences. How did you find the writing process?

As it is my debut hour show, it was a lot of work, which in and of itself is tough, but there is actually a very traumatic story in it, which I won’t ruin, and I found that very hard to write about. Partly the point of the show is to show people that I have moved past this experience, and I can now move on. It’s also the stress every night of, am I going to be able to rescue this show from the depths that I plummet too. So far so good!

The show was nominated for Best Newcomer Award at Brighton Fringe this year. How did it feel to be nominated, and how was performing at Brighton more generally? 

As I said this is my first every hour show, and I had only been doing stand-up comedy for 12 months or so when I was at Brighton, so I was in complete shock. I did not expect it at all, I was already shocked from the review. Delighted, obviously and I don’t think I’ve stopped talking about it since. I just try to write what I find interesting and funny, so it's lovely when people connect with that in any way. I feel incredibly lucky. 

You’ve since taken the show elsewhere, and are soon appearing in Leicester Comedy Festival. How have different audiences reacted to the show, and have you made any changes or tweaks since it showed at Brighton?

I have lost count of the number of places that I have done the show. Most people have reacted very positively. There was one audience in Manchester, where they had to be dragged in from the bar upstairs, had no intention of going to comedy, but they sat and listened whilst I was ill and demolished my show in front of them through nerves and Benadryl. One of the four people donated a tenner to my fringe Crowdfunder though so you never know what can happen. If there is someone there to connect with, I’m there!

What would you hope an audience gets from your show? 

I would hope they laugh. I think that’s the bare minimum that I owe them. Anything else would be a bonus. I think even though the show is me saying how awful I am, I hope when people see it, they realise that I don’t think people should feel this way. I want these silly stories to show that we all have these experiences that make us question ourselves, especially when we’re young. It doesn’t make us awful; it makes us human. One couple on the opening night of Brighton asked me after the show if I was okay, which was so lovely. I am by the way!

Do you have any thoughts on what your next show might look like? Are there more themes from ‘A Guide to Therapy’ that you want to further explore? 

I have already started writing it, it’s called “I should be dead” and it’s an exploration into my experiences with drugs, which are extensive, and how I really am lucky as to where I am in my life, so it has given me a greater appreciation for it than I had before. It will be surreal, sad in places, and most importantly it’ll be funny. I think. 

Could you tell us about your career path to performing? HAve you also worked outside the arts?

I started as an actor when I was a teenager, did Drama at University and have done theatre ever since. I have had probably every job going, from call centre work to being a chef, I’ve done it all. Maybe comedy could be something that I do full time, but I am trying to just enjoy this for now and see what happens later. 

How has your background, upbringing and education had an impact on your artistic career?

As I have said, I had a bit of a rocky upbringing, but now that has given me loads of material, 2 shows at least and I probably have stories that haven’t been used yet. I am very lucky to have been born without the bit of your brain that tells you to not do something. I think all comedians are born this way. If I think I can do it, I will give it a go. Stand up can only be done by doing it as well, there isn’t really any theory that you can get bogged down in, so you just have to do it, and do it, and keep doing it. 

Did you have any role models or inspirations growing up?

Growing up I was always into Vic and Bob which I think massively influenced my style. The licence to just be completely left-field was great. As I have gotten older, I would say my biggest inspiration is James Acaster. His stand-up is a masterclass in everything I love about comedy. He is so in control of everything, and I am very envious, a very talented comedian. 

Can you describe your biggest challenge so far in your career? How did you overcome it?

In comedy specifically, it would be me! Hi, I’m the problem, it’s me. Bit of Taylor Swift there for the cool youngsters. I am constantly my own worst enemy in all parts of my life. Which is partly where the show came from. I always think I should be doing better and I have to really reflect on things and try to put my achievements into perspective sometimes, because that kind of pressure is not good for anyone. 

Have you had a mentor anytime during your career, and if so, how has having one made a difference?

I would say I haven’t really had a mentor, but I do have a wonderful community of comedy friends around me that I can bounce ideas off of, that will encourage me if I am having a bad week, and even call me out if I am being ridiculous. (I usually am). So, other comedians that know what I am going through are super helpful. People like Dan Powell, Alex Mitchell, James Micic, Jack Wilson, and Saul Henry. Without them all, I probably wouldn’t be doing stand-up anymore as it would be too hard. Whatever you’re doing you need a strong, positive community around you. 

If you could collaborate with anybody, who would it be and why?

I mean, I said James Acaster earlier, but there are so many people that I think I would gel really well with. Like Greg Davies. I would love to be on Taskmaster. Can I put that out there into the universe? I would love to be the weird one they have every season on Taskmaster. Make sure you all tweet them so they have to do it. 

Have you noticed any changes in the industry? If so, what?

Like I say, I haven’t been doing stand-up long enough to notice change really, though it is obvious that there are so many people doing it these days. There is also still loads of quality out there so I don’t think It’s diluted it that much, as everyone has a unique voice so you just need to find the people that you connect with, and then you have your audience.

You’ve been granted the ability to send a message to 16-year-old you. What do you say?

Mars bars are not worth Prison.

Header Image Credit: Provided


Tom Inniss

Tom Inniss Voice Team

Tom is the Editor of Voice. He is a politics graduate and holds a masters in journalism, with particular interest in youth political engagement and technology. He is also a mentor to our Voice Contributors, and champions our festivals programme, including the reporter team at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

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