Once upon a time (like, somewhere last year, I think), a grumpy, short-arsed and bespectacled blogger Twitter-met a gloriously funny, curly-haired comedian. Thus, a wonderful friendship was born.
Ros Ballinger is a comedian and slam poet, and this August she’ll be taking her show The Idiot’s Guide to Kink to the Edinburgh Fringe. In the show, she talks openly about her own experiences with BDSM as a beginner – spanking etiquette, dirty talk pitfalls, doms to avoid; no subject is off limits. Except PVC. She’s not into that.
I talked to Ros and quizzed her about her beginnings, what drives her, and why you should come and see her show if you’re headed to the Fringe.
How did you get into stand-up comedy?
Stand-up was the culmination of a number of years of escalating creativity and loudness alongside it. I’d been writing for a long time, and as part of my undergrad degree; writing led to sharing work in public, which led to reading it out loud in public, which led to performance poetry (which I still do), which led to trying improv – something I was never adapt at but which gave me the confidence to act like a complete fool on stage and rid myself of any inhibitions I had left. It’s hard to be self-conscious about much when you’ve pretended to be two inches tall and dangling from someone’s nostril hair. Through improv, I met stand-up comedians connected to my university, and they encouraged me to try stand-up; the first time I ever workshopped material with them, they laughed – and that was the gateway, the first time I ever thought ‘I can do this, I’m good at this.’ I did my first stand-up set, and it was wonderful, and the rest is history.
Did you always love performing or was it something that grew on you?
When you see pictures of me in my poetry-reading days, I’m sat down, my body language is very shy, I’m physically curled in on myself. I’ve never been particularly shy but it look a long time to be able to stand in front of people and have to rely on my own intuition to get them on my side without my legs shaking and wanting to throw up – and that’s still the case, sometimes. The nerves never go away, which is a good thing; they keep you on your nerves, and challenge you. I can always be better, but I feel much more at ease on stage than I was at the beginning – that moment when they all laugh, and they’re all looking at you, wondering what you’ll do next – it’s very addictive, and very powerful.
Who are your inspirations?
I have a particular admiration for female performers who are unapologetically silly, imperfect and filthy – women are placed to a much higher standard in how they present themselves, both privately and on stage, and I aspire to be someone who does not give a shit about looking like a complete idiot despite constantly being under the threat of judgment for being ‘unfeminine’ or ‘unclassy’.
On the ‘mainstream’ side I’m a big fan of Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, both together and separately, and I love Sarah Millican and Josie Long, and Grace Petrie. Amongst performers I know personally, I really look up to Jackie Hagan, Cameryn Moore, the ladies of Sh!t Theatre, and fellow filth peddler Jenny May Morgan(/Pamela de Menthe.)
And, of course, Girl on the Net. If it wasn’t for her and her writing, I don’t think I’d be doing this at all.
How did your show, The Idiot’s Guide to Kink, see the light?
I got into stand-up and kink around the same time, so I was developing my style and types of jokes, and exploring a new dimension to my sex life, and they ended up being interlinked in a big way – I was meeting more and more dominant men and building up experiences, and the more general mishaps and inherent silliness in S&M I was encountering, the more I was realizing that not only did it have the capacity to be really hilarious, but that I wasn’t seeing any other comedians cover the subject a great deal. There was a niche, there, and it was really worth exploring. The show developed to an hour which has been done in various forms at, amongst other places, the Camden Fringe and Greater Manchester Fringes.
What’s your favourite part of the show?
When the audience is responsive, things get incredibly fun – I love when they react in horror/surprise/fascination to the various sex toys I bring out during the show, and I always love introducing the Doxy into the mix and enlightening the otherwise uninitiated. My comedy life and sex life seem to intertwine a tad, because the moments I often find most satisfying are when I humiliate myself in front of a mixed crowd, in action or in anecdote. I must be a masochist. No idea where that came from…
What do you get up to when you’re not talking kink on stage?
I do a lot of slam poetry as well, which takes me across the north, and I go and watch a lot of performance both at the professional and the localized level. I’ve been going to more kink events recently and I’m aiming to go to more munches and get back into the ‘scene’ in Manchester. Beyond that, I desperately trawl for men on dating apps, eat a lot of pasta, and spend time with my baby niece, whose birth I’ve already co-opted for comedy. Poor thing.
What has been your favourite/funniest/weirdest on-stage experience so far?
There’s been a few – the woman who yelled “PINWHEEL!” in an involuntary, I’ve-just-revealed-my-sex-life way when I held one up during a show (whom I proceeded to take the piss out of for the rest of the show), the other, I imagine, drunk woman who thought it was a toothbrush, the reaction I always get when I inform unsuspecting audience members what you can use ginger for (which prompted my favourite ever heckle from a horrified friend, who simply shouted, “WHY?!”), the gig I had last week where I held up a vibrator to a microphone and accidentally fucked it to death, the performance at Eroticon where I had to tailor the show to an audience of experts and, definitely the weirdest – the time my dad came to see the show. The show where I wave sex toys around and talk about dirty talk and spanking. His reaction was to essentially tell me it was hilarious, then never mention it again. If I can do that, you can do anything.
This is your first time performing at the Fringe – tell us why people should come and watch the show.
I feel I have a uniqueness to offer to audiences in what I talk about – although kink is spoken about freely by the sex positive community; by bloggers, toy-makers, sex work advocates, I don’t think it’s been given a decent airing by stand-up comedians, and the feedback I’ve had from audiences is that they enjoy hearing about it on stage, and enjoy engaging with it in a relaxed, non-academic way. It is a shame it’s such a niche subject in that medium, but I do enjoy being known for that, and having a reputation as being fairly shameless. People enjoy the show and come out energized and discussing BDSM more in-depth and openly than they might normally have done. It’s always a lovely atmosphere, and at 10pm each night, what better way to warm up for a night out?
Plus, as mentioned, my dad is coming on the Saturday, so I’ll need a massive audience as a buffer so I don’t accidentally make eye contact with him.
What does the future hold for you? Where else can people catch you performing in the next couple of months?
My immediate future beyond the Fringe will involve a vast amount of sleeping and adjustment to normal life again – beyond that, I hope to focus on getting back into stand-up not focused around my show, and will be doing my usual circulation of the brilliant regular spoken word nights and poetry slams across Manchester and all of the north. If you like filth, I’ll also be doing a spot at Cameryn Moore’s brilliant Smut Slam at the Fringe on 9th August, and have just signed up to perform at an event next year which I’m sure many of the kink/sex positive community will know about and be popping along to. Watch this space…