Dubai Comedy Festival 2024: How family life became Katherine Ryan's biggest inspiration

As she prepares to open the event on Friday, the comedian discusses how being a 'traditional mom' provides a flourish of source material for her routine

Katherine Ryan is coming to Dubai Opera on Friday, beginning a 10-day festival of comedy. Photo: Dubai Comedy Festival
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In Katherine Ryan’s last Netflix special, Glitter Room, the Canadian-Irish comedian celebrated the freedom that comes with being a single mother.

Five years later, she is in relative domestic bliss with a husband and two more children.

Speaking to The National ahead of opening the Dubai Comedy Festival on Friday, Ryan, 40, is surprised at how well she adapted to being “a traditional mom". That journey is also the subject of the new reality show Katherine Ryan: Parental Guidance, airing on British broadcaster W.

"I think it's God's way of just telling you to never say never," she reveals before her gig at Dubai Opera. "As a mother, I am very hands-on and really present and I wasn't expecting any of that. Because in my Glitter Room show, I was advocating for women to focus on themselves, friends, family and education and you don't really need a man ... and then things change."

In an ironic twist, Ryan appreciates she met her former high school boyfriend Bobby Kootstra in 2019 while promoting Glitter Room in Canada and were married six months later.

Her new show in Dubai, Battle Axe!, finds her exploring the insights and uncomfortable truths of marriage and being a parent.

It will also be a chance for Ryan to see if her acerbic style still resonates with today’s audiences.

"I am a self-author of my comedy so I do talk a lot about my life and mistakes but now I do have to consider more people’s feelings," she says. "Like, I want to talk about my family and kids but I don't want to dunk on my husband constantly either because I do plan to keep him around.

"And with all that has been happening in my life I have pretty much checked out of comedy for a couple of years and the landscape has changed during that time. So the challenge for me now is how to still make self-deprecating jokes and not be afraid of this new genre of comedy where people are scared of being cancelled and are very careful. I feel like I have always articulated myself while being a little bit provocative.”

Chances are the crowd knows what they are getting when Ryan hits the stage.

Born in Canada to an Irish father and Canadian mother, she first landed in London in 2008 for a month-long holiday with a former partner. That move eventually became permanent after making waves on the local comedy circuit before gaining national recognition with memorable appearances as a guest in UK panel shows 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown and Never Mind the Buzzcocks.

Behind the zany on-screen persona, however, was a single mother determined to make this comedy career work.

“I was in this country as a young single mother, and there was a certain shame attached to that and I thought I was going to have to go back to Canada with my tail between my legs and explain to my family why I'm a loser,” she says.

“I didn't want to do that. I just thought, no, I am lucky to have robust mental health and youth on my side. I told myself there are a thousand things that I can do and I'm going to do them. And for sure it was that kind of hyper-confidence and hyper-independence that made me just delusional enough to think that I could make something of myself.”

Being a relative outsider also helped Ryan find her niche within a crowded comedy scene.

"The UK is such a small island and to them, I sounded really American but a nicer version because I'm from Canada and I would talk about pop culture and things they really haven't heard before," she says. "So I started giving my take on life in the UK and by doing that I became and continue to be a very gracious student of UK culture.”

With Ryan also venturing into acting with starring roles in British comedy series The Duchess and Romantic Getaway, her profile is arguably as high as it’s ever been. That said, past struggles taught her not to rest on her laurels for too long. Hence her move to add a debut Dubai date alongside other familiar cities in this latest tour.

“I've seen it happen with famous comedians that I love in that they get comfortable and there aren't enough people around to tell them that's not funny," she says. "I miss those days of having to win over a new audience and that is a really exciting challenge. To be sort of anonymous in a new place is a really great way to do that. It keeps you honest, humble and really hard working.”

Katherine Ryan performs at Dubai Opera on Friday at 6.30pm; prices start at Dh195;

Updated: April 11, 2024, 3:04 AM