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Comedian Sara Barron: “Writing porn was my way of trying to figure out sex”

As a ‘tweenager’ (that’s a pre-teenager for those who don’t know), Sara Barron wrote volumes and volumes of porn. For an eleven-year-old who knew nothing about sex, it was quite some feat. “What resulted,” she tells Run-Riot, “was deeply, psychotically funny.”

Profoundly open, Barron says there are some real life experiences she feels “not sophisticated enough yet” to stage, but broadly speaking her performance style is defined by remarkable honesty and self-reflectiveness. She identifies with popular British comedian Sara Pascoe, both as a fan and peer, because of her honest jokes and colloquial style. “I never like it when you feel a comic invented a situation so they could use a certain punchline,” she says.

An American in London, Sara has set up home in Blighty to celebrate and contribute to our acerbic writing style, which she prefers to the lighter, sensitive US touch. “Americans want to hear how great everything is, Brits want to hear that it’s terrible,” she says. “Truth be told, I prefer the British approach.”

Ahead of Sara’s run of shows entitled For Worse at Soho Theatre, she told Run Riot about her approach to romance, the comics that inspire her right now and how she wants Joan Rivers’ old job.

Adam Bloodworth: Hi Sara. Your live stand-up show is called 'For Worse'. That’s a bit of a depressing title isn't it?
 
Sara Barron: Hi Adam. I see how you got there, but let’s go with “brutally honest” instead. I think that’s a fair description. I wanted to write an hour of stand-up about married life and motherhood, something to serve as a contrast and/or antidote to the whitewashed versions that assault us on social media. The subtext of that stuff is always “My gorgeous life! My loving hubbie! My perfect kids!” and I wanted, in effect, to say to an audience, “Come hang with me for an hour. We’ll try to have an honest convo. Let’s talk through what it’s really like.”
 
You know that quote about genius? That it’s 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration? I think that’s true about marriage too, but with slightly more balanced percentages. Like, maybe it’s 75% perspiration (work, effort, logistics, etc), and 25% inspiration (“Oh, right! Yes! This is why I married you! This is why we fell in love!”), and all we see online, mostly, is the inspiration bit, and I wanted to talk about the rest.
 
As a post-script, may I add that anyone who says anything like, “Sorry, actually, but in my marriage, we’re 75% inspiration and 25% perspiration,” that person is, actually, is dishonest weirdo who shouldn’t be trusted.
 
Adam: You moved over to Blighty from America. They say the British sense of humour is more scathing than America’s. Do you think that's true?
 
Sara: Without question. In the States, you have to first get an audience on side with a bit of warmth and positivity, and only then, once they trust you, can you address something dark. In the UK, it’s the opposite. Here, you have to first get an audience onside with some bit of sarcasm/negativity, and only then can you reveal a lick of sentimentality. It’s sort of like the two nations have to be fluffed, if you will, in opposite ways. Americans want to hear how great everything is, Brits want to hear that it’s terrible. Truth be told, I prefer the British approach. It feels more 'me' to me, if you know what I mean, and is no small part of why I chose to live here. (Alongside free healthcare and no guns, obvs.)
 
Adam: Which comics do you recommend we check out right now?

Sara: I’ve got some you may have heard of, and some you may not.
 
Sara Pascoe:
Sometimes you read a book, see a standup set, hear a song, etc and you think, “I’m the centre of this person’s Venn Diagram. I’m exactly who they should be speaking to.” That’s how I feel when I see a Pascoe show: like she was made for me, like I’m her target demographic. She’s always innovative, but never try-hard.  I watch her stuff and, often, feel like she’s inventing a thing… not just a new joke or bit or whatever, but also a new way of telling a joke. She’s like watching in live motion the progression of the art. (Although, she has a bit about how standup isn’t art, SO. Let’s just pretend I didn’t say that last bit.)
 
Nish Kumar:
A maestro of political comedy. A bit of Louis CK, but minus the bad behavior, natch, and plus a bit of Jon Stewart and plus that other X-factor, stardust-y thing that just makes someone magic to watch.
 
Jen Brister:
Holy mother of GOD. I saw Jen’s show at Soho Theatre last week, and she was a tornado of brilliantly hewn lines and observations. The term “brave” is somehow quite annoying, but the show was, quite simply and on no uncertain terms, brave. And yet despite the bravery – or maybe because of it – she was equally, wildly, laugh-out-loud funny. She provided what I think of as a comedy unicorn (a moment so rare, you’re like, “Is it real? Can it be?”): a show that comes to an end, and you’re genuinely sat there thinking you could listen to her talk for another full hour.
 
Adam: Your jokes are seemingly very personal - is there anything you wouldn't ever include in a live show?
 
Sara: Firstly, I read this question initially as “your jokes ARE SEEMING very personal”, and I really liked the active verb tense. Like you were watching my show right this very minute! Right while conducting the interview!
 
Anyway, yes. My jokes are very personal, and still yes again: there’s stuff I’d never include in a live show. Case in point: I have a two-year-old at home, and the path to conceiving him was not fun. Fertility problems, miscarriages, the works. That’s stuff that I wouldn’t include in a live show, but only for now. In other words, it’s not that it’s too personal, generally, it’s rather that I’m not sophisticated enough yet, as a comic, to figure out how to make it work. Hopefully, though, I’ll get there one day.

Adam: Is everything in your performance actually real, or do you make stuff up?
 
Sara: Pretty much everything’s true. There’s not much added. There’s stuff I subtract, for clarity, and ways of rephrasing things to try to get the biggest laugh, but nonetheless all from my own experience. I, personally, never enjoy comedy that doesn’t feel true or real. I never like when you can just sort of feel that a comic invented a situation, just so they could use a certain punchline. You hear that sort of thing, and you think, “There’s no way that played out that way in life. It didn’t happen. It’s a construct.” Conversely, comedy that feels authentic is what I most enjoy, and what I therefore aspire to myself.
 
Adam: You've been likened to Joan Rivers in the past...

Sara: I think I missed that comparison. I don’t read reviews, and I’m thinking that’s probably how that happened. Regardless, I’m delighted to hear it. Because:

1.       I love Joan Rivers’ stand up
2.       My dream gig is hosting Fashion Police on the E! Channel
3.       Joan Rivers looked great in faux-fur, whereas when I wear faux-fur, it wears me.
 
Adam: Nostalgia and innocence seem key to one of your stories about writing volumes of porn as a teenager. Is it always helpful to look back at the past, and what do we learn by doing so?
 
Sara: May I say first of all that we’ve sort of brushed past the “volumes of porn” bit, and it was written, not as a teenager, but rather as a tweenager. I was 11. And I didn’t know what sex even was yet, and writing all this porn was my way of trying to figure it out. And! I feel compelled to say that what resulted – from an 11-year-old who didn’t know what sex was but tried to write graphic sex stories nonetheless – what resulted is deeply, profoundly, psychotically funny. Even if you despise the rest of my show, this tween porn stuff will give you an hour’s worth of laughter in the ten-minutes I spend discussing it, I promise you.
 
As to your question about the past, do I think it’s always helpful to “look back”? No. But I do think that some sort of regular examining of the past is valuable. I think patterns of behavior often emerge, and observing and then understanding a pattern can help you break it, should you want to, in the future.
 
Adam: How would you describe the community of female comedians playing in the UK?
 
Sara: I’ll take one from the Olivia Coleman’s playbook, if I may, from her acceptance speech at the recent Golden Globes when she thanked Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone. In other words:
 
“Ma bitches”.

Sara Barron
For Worse
Tue 22 - Sat 26 Jan
Soho Theatre
Info and tickets: sohotheatre.com

Sara Barron | @sarabarron | facebook.com/sarabarron