Katherine Ryan on a lifelong love of comedy: ‘I knew it could get me out of trouble’

It has been said that Canada is the perfect country of origin for a stand-up comedian. Caught between British and American cultures, in terms of music, television and film, we have our noses up against the glass window of the circuses beyond our borders.

The latest to emerge from this Canadian comedy hothouse is the host of The Stand Up Show with Katherine Ryan, premiering Tuesday on the Comedy Network.

The eight-episode series, shot last summer in Montreal on stage at the Just for Laughs comedy festival, features Ryan working her observational and self-effacing act, and introducing comedians such as Colin Quinn, Mark Forward, Rebecca Kohler, Mark Little, Andy Kindler and Todd Barry.

Unlike many other famous Canadian comics, Ryan did not get her leg up in comedy at Just for Laughs or Second City. Being born in Sarnia, Ont., however, did put her across the river from the United States, or at least Michigan, and that American pop culture perspective is comedy gold, she believes.

Her father was born in Ireland, giving her a head start in the comedy gene pool. “The storytelling in my house was always going on,” she says on the phone from her current country of residence, England. “If you wanted respect from the adults then you had to sit at the table and be funny. So I always valued comedy and I knew it could get me out of trouble.”

She moved to Toronto in her late teens where she studied city planning. Around this time she started dabbling in stand-up, tentatively venturing into Yuk Yuk’s — which she did twice and admits wasn’t very good.

“I never really worked the circuit until I became a British comic,” she says. That happened after she followed a boyfriend over to the U.K. in 2007. The relationship didn’t last, but the residency did.

Ryan quickly climbed the comedy club and festival ladder in the U.K. but where her career really took off was on British television. She gained fame on talent and panel shows, especially on How Did You Get So Rich? and 8 Out of 10 Cats as well as BBC efforts Have I Got News For You and Hair.

Along the way a three-year relationship resulted in the birth of her daughter, Violet, now nine and a frequent topic in her stand-up act. Ryan jokes that it surprises her daily that her daughter sounds like The Queen. People back home still ask, “‘Why does your daughter talk like that? Is she just being fancy?’”

Ryan was amazed at how quickly she was embraced by British audiences.

“It’s such a privilege to be Canadian,” she says. “Everywhere you go in the world, people are happy to see you.”

Recently, she co-hosted Comedy Central’s Your Face or Mine with comedian Jimmy Carr, a Just for Laughs favourite. “He’s such an inspiration,” says Ryan. The two also teamed on a British panel show for Netflix called The Fix.

Other mentors include Joan Rivers, Sarah Silverman and Whitney Cummings. “Sarah Silverman was a real breakthrough for me. She was the first comedian that I actually thought, ‘Oh, maybe that’s something I can do.’”

As for today’s strong field of female comics, Ryan sees it as a reflection of society as a whole. “We’re not just seeing more women; we’re seeing comedians from different social economic backgrounds, different heritages, different perspectives, and different gender identification.”

For a long time, she feels, stand-up comedy was seen as a man’s world, “but what it really is is Alpha — and the whole world is coming round to the idea that women can be Alpha as well.”

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