‘When I pitch shows at TV networks, they say: Can you make white people laugh?’
What got you started?
Being dyslexic. I trained as an actor, but because of my dyslexia I have great trouble sight-reading. So I kept going to auditions and not getting the roles. Then one day I went to a comedy club and asked if I could tell some jokes. It was 27 years ago, when there were no black British female standups. I became the first.
What was your big breakthrough?
Writing my first show, Funny Black Women on the Edge, in 1994. I wanted to write a sketch show that didn’t have black women playing the stereotypical nurse – where we could be a bit glam, a bit sexy. So I wrote this and put it on at the community centre in Peckham, London. It sold out every night and things just took off from there.
Why do so few black or Asian women achieve mainstream comedy success?
I was discussing this recently, while shooting a pilot for my new sitcom, The Ryan Sisters. We decided to make it ourselves and put it up online because we just can’t get TV networks interested. There really is a lot of racism in the industry: they’re not ready for black women. Commissioners say: “Can you make white people laugh?” Or: “Middle England won’t like you.” We just think: “Can we not just try it – and see what the audience do?”
What have you sacrificed for your art?
Myself. About 20 years ago, I wanted to go to America. But I have three children and I wanted to let them grow up first. Also, I wanted to be a pioneer and get a black female TV sitcom made in the UK. But I don’t have that in my heart any more. I don’t feel anybody wants to see it. So I’m going to America soon.
What’s the funniest heckle you’ve had?
I’ve never been heckled much. I was always vicious in return. If a guy said something, I’d get him to stand up and I’d say: “Just like a dick to stand up for no reason.” I wouldn’t get any heckles after that.
Which artists, in any genre, do you most admire?
Is fame important to you?
Not really. I just want people to love the work. A couple of years ago, I wrote a play called Do You Know Where Your Daughter Is? after a girl called my radio show to say that, while she was having sex with her boyfriend, four of his friends had come into the room. They, too, had sex with her. “Angie,” she said, “is that rape?” If just one girl says to me, “I saw your play and I don’t want to be like that character,” then the job is done.
Born: London, 1965.
Career: TV includes The Real McCoy and Get Up, Stand Up. Tours widely as a stand-up and has written several plays. Performs her one-woman show In My Shoes at the Millfield Theatre, London N18 (020-8807 6680), 9-20 May.
Low point: “Having to close my stage school in 2009. I had no funding. It was killing me.”
High point: “Interviewing Whoopi Goldberg. Her agent had given me 10 minutes, but I was there for an hour and a half.”