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“When the dynamic changes for the next generation, are we still going to have those parties?” | Ruth Cockburn relives the family gathering for Knees Bent Bras Off Ra Ra Ra

Tell us about your show, Knees Bent Bras Off Ra Ra Ra.

In this show, the audience has been invite to take part in games and different silly things, but there is a story along the way. It follows me going through childhood, when I was really shy at family parties and kind of being forced to not be shy. To become loud.

What inspired you to write a show based around celebrations?

I suppose what happened was that two of my aunties who were the matriarchs of my family passed away and it made me question who was going to have the parties next. They were ones who had the parties. They would always sing ABBA songs and they would be the ones that led that sort of thing.

It made think that surely that happens a lot in families, when the dynamic changes for the next generation. Are we still going to have those parties? Are we still going to have that kind of life? Because everyone’s moving away and we’re far more isolated. We don’t have this kind of collective joy – well, I certainly don’t. We do in the form of going to things like music festivals and concerts, but not on a smaller level. If you don’t go to church, then what’s next? How do you have that collective joy? How do you come together?

Most of the people I know live alone and have quite isolated lives, I think. Even if you’ve got kids or whatever. A lot of people move away from their extended family. So we don’t have that, especially in the UK, we don’t follow religion as much as other countries.

I’ve spoken to a good few different people. My cousin became a Muslim so I went down to the Mosque and asked if the celebrations they had were any different and the same things seemed to be happening there. There wasn’t these large celebrations and big parties.

I wanted to kind of re-enact that in a theatre type setting.

Do you think that as society gets more secular we need to come up with new ways of connecting?

I think so. That’s what I love about theatre and comedy. Everyone comes out and laughs together and has an experience together. Even though you might not know the person next to you, you’ve had the same experience together for an hour or two. Somehow, you’ve done something joyous together and it lifts you. You don’t get that from watching telly.

I think it’s seeing a revival. More people are going on small scale tours. Because people need it. You do feel more isolated. More people are working from home. More people are moving away from their families. More people don’t have religious experiences.

I tried to have a regular night in Manchester that was like a family party. Everyone got to get up and have a turn. People loved that kind of thing. It was just silly and they got to let go for a bit.

What elements of the typical family gathering made it into your show?

The Potato Poo. So we have a forced fun section. A competitive game of Potato Poo. We’ve got Name the Tune. We’ve got a bit of a sing-song. Hopefully a party hedgehog. So we’re going back to 1994, to the kind of party we used to have when I was little, when I was 11. That’s the kind of thing we’re going for.

There is a narrative through it. So it’s not all just silliness, there’s a story that ties everything together. That’s it in a nutshell.

Has performing this show made you realise that any of your family traditions are actually a bit weird?

Yeah, the Potato Poo. I thought that was a game that everyone played. But apparently not.

I’ve found more similarities than differences. There’s a bit of nostalgia in there. Tupperware parties. Ann Summers parties, chasing your cousin around with a dildo and not knowing what it was. Those kind of things that seem to be a common thread. Maybe in the north, I don’t know.

Have you learned about anyone else’s weird family traditions?

Not yet. I’m waiting to hear some more stories. Definitely.

I did interview this guy, though. I wanted to talk to people who had moved to the UK to see if different nationalities had very different traditions. So everyone in your family has a role to play. My role was always being silly and singing songs. So I asked “What’s your role in the party?”

And he said, “I had to clean out the intestines of the goat!”

We had a very different upbringing!

He came from a small village where the children’s job was to clean out the intestines of a goat to make other things.

He said the call to prayer, when everyone’s doing the exact same thing, collectively making the same noise, it ties you all together. At the end of our family parties – and I know comparing our family party to a whole village is a little bit dangerous – but the hymns we’d sing together felt the same way. And it wasn’t just the family, but the guests who would stay, our extended family who we had traditions with that made us feel safe.

What made you want to combine poetry, comedy and music in this way?

I do comedy at the weekends, that’s my general work and I enjoy it and I love it. But there’s no freedom to express much more than that. It’s just joke-joke-joke-joke-joke. Which is great. But when you’ve got a bit more of a long form story to tell and when I did Edinburgh Festival, I found that I wanted to play around with the audience a bit more. And the audience will listen. They’re not drunk lads on a stag do waiting for the next gag. They’ll listen to a story and they’ll enjoy that and applaud that.

It came from that really. That I could play around and tell stories.

I added some poems into my comedy set and it worked. People like the light and shade. In an hour long show, you need it.

What do you hope people take away from your show?

A shared experience of having a good time and maybe a few take home games.

What are you looking forward to about taking this show to the Funny Things Comedy Festival?

I like the Midlands. I am looking forward to coming see stuff, to experience a different audience. It’s nice to see what every different town will react to. You don’t realise how different it is. That’s something I’m looking forward to.

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to break into comedy?

Just keep trying. It’s hard. Learn to drive, haha.


Ruth is performing Knees Bent, Bras Off, Ra Ra Ra on 1st November.

Book your ticket here.

Find out more about the Funny Things Comedy Festival here.

You can keep up with Ruth’s other projects by checking out her website and following her on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

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