‘After my first gig, a friend handed me a shot of vodka’: Chorley comic Beth Black on her new show Always Bet on Beth

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Well past her bedtime, a young Beth Black would slowly creep out of bed, careful not to make a sound. She’d sneak downstairs, feet padding softly on each step. As she reached the living room door, she’d wait for the right moment just to nudge it open, creating a crack through which she could watch. It was well past her bedtime, but her programmes were on.

“Always,” Beth replies when I ask if she always loved comedy. “I was a little kid in the early 80s, so peak alternative comedy boom. I grew up watching things like The Young Ones, Blackadder, French And Saunders, and Saturday Live.” These were the shows she’d decide it was worth postponing her bedtime to watch.

“I loved anything comedy,” she adds. “I watched everything from Red Dwarf to Colin's Sandwich and The Real McCoy. I wore through a video tape of one of Lenny Henry's Christmas specials. My family just really valued being funny and it's something that still connects us: when I speak to my dad, it's always what we've seen or listened to that's funny.

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“I'm not even the funniest person in my family… my brother absolutely cracks me up.”

Beth Black on stageBeth Black on stage
Beth Black on stage

Taking to the stage

A comedian, actor, and writer born and raised in Chorley, Beth knew the stage was for her from an early age. A former Parklands High School pupil, she also attended both Chorley Youth Theatre and the Chorley Amateur Dramatic & Operatic Society (CADOS) and, in the two decades since, has gone on to forge quite the career.

An experienced performer, she is equally at-home in small, intimate rooms as she is in the UK’s biggest comedy clubs. Famed for her sharp tongue, a proclivity to overshare, and an acerbic confessional comedic style, her hard-hitting brand has seen her support the likes of Joe Lycett and Paul Sinha on tour, as well as star in various TV and radio productions.

The first openly transgender actor to appear in Doctor Who, Beth also won awards for her leading role in Channel 4’s Cucumber, Banana and Tofu by Russell T Davies. Also a prolific comedic writer, she’s worked on Frankie Boyle's New World Order, Mummy's Big Queer Do, and as a joke-writer for many of the guests on your favourite panel shows.

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Beth Black (credit Shirlaine Forrest)Beth Black (credit Shirlaine Forrest)
Beth Black (credit Shirlaine Forrest)

She’s been on ITV’s Sorry I Didn't Know and BBC Radio 4’s Sarah Millican's Elephant In The Room. She’s beaten The Beast on The Chase. Joe Lycett calls her ‘comedy’s Henry Cavill’, while Russell T Davies reckons she ‘should be on all TV shows’. She’s a veritable tour de force. But there’s been no small amount of hard-work involved, too.

Breaking into the industry

“I'd never considered giving stand-up a go [when I was younger] because I held comedians in such high regard,” Beth says. “I thought it was something I could never do. I did write some stand-up when I was a teenager [but] never did it because I didn't know anywhere you could even perform outside of The Comedy Store in London or the Edinburgh Fringe.

“When I went off to university, I studied film thinking that’d be an easier industry to break into,” she adds. “It was only when I moved back to Chorley in 2002 that I gave stand-up a go and set up a short-lived comedy night at The Adelphi in Preston. My first gig was actually MCing for a live music night there - Club Fuzzy - and I was terrible and terrified.

Bath Black (credit Shirlaine Forrest)Bath Black (credit Shirlaine Forrest)
Bath Black (credit Shirlaine Forrest)

“After my first go on stage, I came off and a friend handed me a shot of vodka and said ‘this should relax you!’ I was so nervous I spilled most of it before it got to my mouth. But, when I got that first laugh for a joke that I wrote, something clicked into place and my brain went ‘you can do this for a living’ and, since then, I've been too daft to quit.

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“After that first laugh, I was chasing it and wanting more and more,” Beth continues. “I love the connection and, doing my own show with my audience, I get to do whatever I want and there's no feeling like it. When they're going with everything you're doing and you're in a state of flow, it's like being a conductor in complete control of an orchestra.

“It's like you can feel tendrils of electricity sparking and arcing off them and through you. In those moments, it doesn't even matter if I get a word wrong because the audience is with me and they get what I meant. It’s great.”

Finding her feet

Bethany Black with Joe LycettBethany Black with Joe Lycett
Bethany Black with Joe Lycett

Nowadays, Beth says she’s equally as happy writing for others or for a TV show as she is acting or performing her own material, demonstrating her keenly-honed comedic chops. But she’s got no doubt that being blooded as a young comic on the UK circuit has toughened her up and armed her with the skills needed to survive in a cut-throat industry.

“I remember going for my first read-through and all these people I recognised were there - heroes of mine, in some cases - and the casting director Andy Pryor told me ‘I know a lot of people get nervous, but you'll be fine, just relax’,” explains Beth. “It was the first time I'd even considered that there might be something nerve-wracking about it!

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“I'd spent 15 years in front of hundreds of drunks and stags and hens without a script, relying on remembering to say the right words in the right order,” she adds. “So sitting in a conference room reading a couple of dozen lines from a page with a cast of 80 seemed relaxing!”

Heading home

And now she’s coming home with stories to tell. Having turned 40 in 2019 and moved back to a small village in her beloved Lancashire, Beth wanted to get away from it all in today’s world of hyper-connectivity. Instead, she got a queer experience of rural living, conspiracies, an unfortunate medical procedure, and computer-building.

She used the rich seam of material to write a new show which she is currently touring called Always Bet on Beth. Her homecoming gig at Chorley Little Theatre takes place on April 28.

Beth BlackBeth Black
Beth Black

“The tour's going great,” says Beth, who won Best New Show at the Leicester Comedy Festival for Always Bet on Beth. “Most of my stand-up comes from the fact that my life is ridiculous - I seem to be deeply unlucky in a lot of ways and find myself in situations that seem like they're out of something like Curb Your Enthusiasm or Friends, so often it's just me reporting back on what's happened

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“Also, when I'm presented with two options, I can't help but take whichever one I think will be funniest, even if it's obviously the worst choice that'll lead to trouble for me,” she adds. “It's such a great fun show to do and, because my family is from this area - my Dad's from Wigan and was a headteacher in Blackpool at Revoe [Learning Academy] for 20 years - the North West gigs all feel like homecoming.

“Chorley Little Theatre is where I did youth theatre as a teenager; I was in Midsummer Night's Dream there in 1995,” she adds. “When I decided to take stand-up seriously, I did a comedy course with Barbara Nice (who played Holy Mary in Phoenix Nights) and we had our performance at Chorley Little Theatre.

“This show's also about moving back here,” Beth says. “I'm so excited to do the show here, and not just because it's only 10 minutes from my house!”

For tickets to Beth’s Chorley gig, head to https://chorleytheatre.com/theatre_events/bethany-black/

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