Fern Brady on judging other comedians: ‘It is so hard to choose a favourite’ – BBC


Fern Brady gives us the inside scoop on being a judge for the BBC New Comedy Awards
“The process has been horrible,” says Fern Brady, head judge of the New Comedy Awards. “Everyone has been really good, so it is so hard to choose a favourite.”
This year, Fern has had the tough job of leading a changing panel of judges for the BBC New Comedy Awards, the BBC Three competition show that searches, all round the country from Coventry to Middlesbrough, for the best new voices in comedy. The award has previously discovered big name talent ranging from Joe Lycett, Catherine Bohart and last year’s winner Anna Thomas. This year hosts for each round has included the recent Strictly Come Dancing star Jayde Adams
“I’ve judged in every heat this year. It also means that if the other judges disagree, I can override them. It makes me feel quite uncomfortable,” Fern says.
Fern, a stand up comedian who has appeared on shows including 8 out of 10 cats and Live at the Apollo, describes “over half” of the rounds before the final of the New Comedy Awards as being “really difficult to decide”. This has led to “intense arguments between the judges”, who this year includes the comedians Shane Todd, Darren Harriott, Rosie Jones and Babatunde Aléshé.
But despite the endless dilemmas, Fern initially took the position in hope of diversifying the industry. “The reason why I wanted to be a judge is because I want to see new people, particularly women from working-class backgrounds, coming up through comedy,” she says.
‘Everyone we’ve put through to the final is because they were the funniest’
Still, Fern says that each of the acts in the final has “a really interesting premise”. “Everyone we’ve put through to the final is because they were the funniest in their heat and because they were the most original,” she promises.
So what does Fern look for when she’s watching the new comedians? “You have to bring it back to who makes you laugh the most,” she says. “I didn’t want to just put people through because they were from a certain background or as a box-ticking exercise. There were also a lot of people I bitterly regretted not being able to put through.”
Before going into comedy, Fern had dreams of becoming a news reporter. But after watching who she describes as “a really alpha-male comedian” at the Fringe when she was 24, she felt comedy was a career she had a real shot at. “I’d never watched any stand-up growing up, but this male comedian was shouting on stage about sex, and I thought that was something I could do too. But as a woman.”
Fern never recalls seeing a working-class woman from Scotland like her doing comedy while she was growing up. “No one looked or sounded like me. It’s that thing of, ‘You can’t believe you can be what you can’t see’,” she says. But now, she hopes that other young women might see her and want to give it a go. “I’d like to think that a young girl in Scotland could watch me judging this and think, ‘I hate her, I think she’s bad at comedy, and I could do better’,” she laughs.
Describing her taste in comedy as “wide-ranging”, the acts that stand out to Fern are often the ones that make her laugh “against her will”. “If someone says something that I don’t believe in and I laugh anyway, that is a real skill”.
After judging so many acts in the BBC New Comedy Awards, Fern has learnt what holds many comics back. “A lot of young comics second guess themselves and try and emulate the big famous comedians already in the industry,” she says. But she’s quick to add that it is normal to want to mimic what other people are doing: “When I was starting out, I did it all. The jokes you hear time and time again are about what you look like and online dating.”
Being a judge has also made Fern consider her own work in comedy. “Just watching all the comedians we’ve seen makes me want to be a better comedian,” she says. “A lot of the work is so well written for new acts, it is quite intimidating.”
Fern encourages anyone interested in comedy to “just try” and “keep doing it”. “The money can be incredible,” she jokes. But she also has plenty of horror stories to go alongside her love for her career.
“British audiences are so frightening and so drunk compared to any other audiences in the world,” she says. And she describes the “circuit you come up on” as a new comic as being particularly vicious. “I had people chase me out of clubs, I’ve had people jump over a bar to try and glass me, I was chased out of a gig by a heavily pregnant woman. I didn’t even know they could move that fast,” she says. “There have been too many times that I’ve gone off stage in tears”.
“So, what makes me keep coming back?” Fern laughs. “Other than my deep psychological problems? It is the feeling of when you have a great gig. You’re constantly chasing that feeling. There is nothing like it”.
The winners from each regional heat meet at the St David Hall in Cardiff in Wales to compete for the title this year, and Fern says we can expect to see “the big names of the future”.
“We had shivers watching some of the sets, they really are so good,” she gushes.
You can watch the final of the BBC New Comedy Awards on BBC Three on Wednesday 9th and on the iplayer
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