Cerys Bradley is a comedian, writer, podcaster, and activist. We spoke to them about their debut Fringe show ‘Sportsperson’, the show’s collaborative development with Cerys’ rugby team and LGBTQ+ organisations, and how their comedy has evolved over the years.
How have the last few years been for you?
Strange! Sometimes I feel like I’ve lived the last two years from my bed and it makes the world feel really quite small. But, as weird as it feels to say it, there have been ups as well as downs during this global pandemic. Focusing on the positives, the fact that I’ve been able to work from home is really lucky and it means I get to see my partner a lot more, I’ve set up a small but successful podcasting business which is kind of cool, and I’ve become a lot more integrated in my local community, especially my rugby club. So, on net, good – they have been good! (I mean, sure, when not focusing on the positives, they’ve been pretty bad…)
I think the biggest thing that has happened to me though, is getting my autism diagnosis (which I talk about in the show). I was on a waitlist for so long and so it was quite surreal actually getting to do the assessment. Especially as it happened on Teams, in my bedroom. So the last few years have been getting stressed about the assessment, processing the assessment and relearning about myself and my autism. Because of Coronavirus, and again it feels strange to be putting a positive spin on this, I feel like I’ve had a lot of space to do that and to read about other people’s experiences which has allowed me to Reintegrate Into Society in a way that I’m a lot more comfortable with than I think I was before.
Can you tell us about ‘Sportsperson’?
Yes. Sportsperson is a comedy show about playing sports and fitting in. That’s my tagline. It started as a show about this one time that I tried to run a half marathon and nearly died (I didn’t eat enough and put myself in hospital for five days, it was a whole thing). But the show has really grown into a space where I can talk about labels. I use a lot of labels to describe myself – autistic, non-binary, bisexual… Sometimes I find them embarrassing and restricting and I get anxious about whether or not I really fulfil all the criteria for them and ‘Sportsperson’ has been a fun way of turning all those negative feelings on their head and being really silly and exposing the ludicrous nature of using labels in a way that doesn’t actually help you.
Because this is a “debut show” there’s also an element of ‘Sportsperson’ which is trying to show people who I am and what I can do as a comedian. So there’s a lot of stuff about my family and my body which are some of my favourite things to write jokes about.
Most people would see the writing of a solo show as a solo endeavour, but you’ve developed the show through collaborating with your rugby team and other LGBT+ organisations. Can you tell us about that, and how have those relationships moulded the show?
Ok, so, whilst the show is not a particularly political one, it’s very difficult to talk about sport and being non-binary without talking about how transphobic organised sport can be. It would be weird if I made this show and just never talked about that issue, especially as it’s one that has really informed my relationship with sport. But I was aware that people could come see my show not knowing very much about how lots of trans people are shut out of sport and then my experience would be their only point of reference (other than maybe some terrible pieces of journalism), and I wanted to be able to give audience members something that provided a bit more of a bigger picture.
I was lucky enough to get Arts Council England funding to help develop the show and we used part of the money to run some zine-making workshops that brought together trans sportspeople (and trans very not sportspeople) as well as my rugby team, most of whom are cis, to talk about sports and gender. The workshops were run by Hana Ayoob, who is a wonderful illustrator and great facilitator, and everyone who came made a piece of art that expressed their relationship to sports. We’ve then taken all the pieces and turned them into a little booklet which features some additional information illustrated by Izzie Purcell and I’m going to be giving them away after my show as a resource for people who want to learn more.
In terms of how the workshops have moulded the show, it’s mostly just been nice to talk to people and get crafty and chat. I think it’s also been useful for me when writing because I know that anything I can’t make funny, I can put in the zine so I don’t have to keep it in the show but I also don’t have to lose it completely.
‘Sportsperson’ is directed by Joz Norris. To what extent has having an external (and unusual) creative personality impacted the show?
A huge amount. Because I have spent most of the past two years hunched over a laptop in my aforementioned bedroom editing audio and not really speaking to anyone, I was desperate to work with actual human beings on this project and also pay people to be friends with me.
I was really excited when Joz said he was up for working on the show and figured he’d have time to sit with me for a session or two and suggest I cut the odd line or whatever, but I think he’s really gone above and beyond. He mostly asks questions which has helped me to pin down what I want to say with the show and so I think, thanks to him, the show has a much clearer identity than my first draft.
I guess his other job has been to challenge me to do more with it. The pandemic has really changed my comedic tastes and has made me a lot sillier than I was before and, despite us only meeting for this project, Joz has been really good at knowing when to push me to make things more absurd and when to let me find my own way to nonsense.
You started performing comedy while you were at secondary school. It’s not an obvious extra-curricular activity to take up for a school pupil. What inspired you to get involved, and how has your comedy evolved over the years?
I was a massive keener in secondary school and did all the clubs (except the sports ones) and so when there was an announcement in assembly about a comedy club I was like “sign me up”. Natalie Haynes(!) came to my school to run a short course and then we participated in a national youth competition, the final of which was in the Newbury Corn Exchange. I absolutely bombed – there were maybe 15 people in this absolutely massive venue and everyone was, of course, spaced as far apart as possible and I completely went to pieces. But I crushed the semi-final and when I got home my mum told my dad that I was “surprisingly good, actually,” and I think that started my obsession.
I know that lots of comedians started young in kind of out-of-the-way places and still found their way onto the comedy circuit but trust me when I say there weren’t really any comedy opportunities in Hawkesbury Upton where I grew up (Save for Hawkesbury Upton’s Got Talent – I came second, it was a popularity contest, I am not over it.). So I didn’t do much until I got to university and, even then, my uni comedy society was not the paradise I had imagined – we mostly did poorly attended internal nights and, at the time, I was developing a pretty bad habit for competitive debating so I stopped performing. It was only when I started my postgrad and discovered the world of science comedy that I got back into it.
I always find the question, “how long have you been performing?” a weird one, because I’ve been doing stand-up in some form or another for over ten years. It’s just that it’s often not been very conventional and it’s not been on “the circuit”. As a result, my comedy has been through several evolutions. I’m glad that I did take this very long and windy route though, because the stuff I was writing when I was twenty was, quite frankly, terrible.
Although this is your debut solo show, you’ve performed at the Fringe before. What for you are the best and worst things about the Fringe?
Yes, this is my fourth time at the Fringe. I’ve done two compilation science themed shows and one split bill (with the excellent Rachel Wheeley). The worst thing for me, easily, is flyering. In 2019, when Rach and I did a split bill on PBH, we were in a perfect venue for us, at a great time and we were so excited and then I got stress-induced diarrhoea from the flyering. It meant that I could only flyer within five feet of this one pub that didn’t mind me launching myself into the toilets every 15 minutes. It was terrible and what was most annoying was that the run actually went fine – we had the odd quiet night but we always had an audience and the people I flyered were generally pretty friendly. It was just my butt that had an awful, awful time.
The best part of the Fringe is definitely just seeing loads of things. Seeing things I wouldn’t normally take the time to go see, taking a chance on stuff, getting to see my friends making neat things, finding something you love and then immediately getting to go see it the next night and the night after. I have a list of shows I want to see this year and it’s growing every day.
Are there any other acts at the Fringe that you would recommend audiences should see?
OK. You should go see Joz’s show, obviously. It’s called ‘Blink‘ and is on at the Pleasance Jack Dome at 20:20.
And, I would heartily recommend Jen Ives (Patter Hoose 19:00), Elf Lyons (she has two shows!) and Sian Davies (the Turret 17:40) who are all Gilded Balloon. I’m also looking forward to going to see ‘Best in Class‘ and ‘Comedy Queers‘, both run by Sian, as they’re two great compilation shows to find out who else I want to see more of.
I will stop there before I have recommended half the Fringe.
‘Sportsperson‘ runs from Wed 3 Aug to Mon 29 Aug 2022 (except Mon 15) at Gilded Balloon – The Wee Room @16:40