Focus on: Angela Barnes

Flawed, sickly, shy – and hilarious. Jay Richardson speaks to Angela Barnes

feature | Read in About 3 minutes
Published 03 Aug 2015

“Oh God, we're in trouble,” Angela Barnes confided in her agent recently. “I've fallen in love.”

With a blossoming reputation as a “world-weary, slightly miserable single woman”, the fast-rising stand-up was concerned about losing her “shtick”; that her new boyfriend would ruin her career.

Fortunately, the Kent-born comic's many failings have survived her loving relationship. “I'm still a dick but I'm a happy dick now instead of a miserable one,” she reasons.

Despite only starting stand-up five years ago, Barnes cuts an assured figure on stage. “Painfully shy” in her teens and twenties, she became a comedian relatively late but scooped the BBC New Comedy Award in 2011, before boosting her profile on television showcases like Mock the Week and Stand Up for the Week. Comedy is “the perfect place for anyone who ever felt a bit of an outsider,” she reflects. “Because we're all outsiders – that's why we do it. I've found the gang I belong to.”

Her new hour, Come As You Are, is about reaching “middle-age—I'm 38—and not giving a fuck what anyone thinks anymore. And that being attractive. I don't care what you're into, so long as you're passionate”.

For the unrepentant Archers fan, a comedian is a "weird marriage of someone with low self-esteem but a burning desire to show off. Yes, I'm self-deprecating. But I don't hate myself. I love who I am. It's the flaws that make people interesting.”

She almost called her show Raggy Doll to reflect her many ailments, allergies and conditions, including lactose intolerance, a glue ear, synaesthesia and ichthyophobia, a fear of fish. “As my mum says, 'if you were a dog they would have put you down,'” she says, with a laugh. “But it's all a good source of material.”

The irony of an ex-nurse being so sickly isn't lost on her. A former social care and mental health worker, she also spent time as a psychiatric patient in her early twenties. “When I started out, I very much didn't want to be the comedian with mental health issues,” she stresses. “Because they're part of who I am but they don't identify me.

“As you get older you realise how many of your friends have been on anti-depressants or had counselling at some point. It's a really common thing, particularly amongst comedians. And it's important to talk about because it's just a part of life.”

Though still deliberating about cracking a psychiatric ward joke, Barnes will be alluding to the death of her first boyfriend during last year's Fringe. The shock at his loss transported her out of the Edinburgh “bubble” and “anchored” her “in the real world”. You Can't Take it With You was already dedicated to the memory of her late father and the recent deaths of two more friends has only reinforced her resolve to be successful.

“All these experiences make you go, 'okay, I know who I am and I know what I want now, I'm not settling for anything else'. Because I just haven't got time.”