Cat Laughs-bound Angela Barnes reckons she got some of her humour from her dad, who ran a sex shop in the UK, writes Richard Fitzpatrick
Angela Barnes has come late to comedy but she’s catching up fast on lost time. Her father’s death in 2008 aged 60 convinced her to make the plunge. It was a case of carpe diem, realising that you’ve only one shot in life. She’d been working as a booker for comedy acts around Brighton so she decided to give it a go on stage herself, a year after his death, and already into her thirties.
A decade on, she’s become a mainstay on comedy TV shows like the Dara O Briain-hosted Mock the Week and will visit Ireland next week for the 25th Kilkenny Cat Laughs Festival. O Briain is on the bill with her in Kilkenny.
“He’s a large man,” she says. “That’s the first thing you notice about Dara — how tall and imposing he is.
Barnes got some of her funny bones from her dad. He was a prankster. “I remember it was Father’s Day one year and I took him for a nice lunch in Brighton,” she says.
“He was a diabetic. The restaurant was packed and I had his insulin and needles in my handbag. As we were leaving the restaurant one of his needles fell out of my handbag onto the floor and he just looked at me, in the crowded restaurant, and said, ‘You promised me you’d stop,’ leaving me to pick a hypodermic syringe off the floor in front of all these people. He was a ‘character’ I think is the word.”
Her father’s first name was Derek. His friends used to call him “Del Boy” in reference to the cockney chancer from Only Fools and Horses.
10 years ago today I did my first ever gig. It was the showcase at the end of the @thejilledwards Stand Up course at @KomediaBrighton Tonight I am doing a set at @comedystoreuk for their 40th birthday gig. Quite a way to celebrate my decade of standing up! What a ride... 🍾 🎉 🎂 pic.twitter.com/yJ3ga8PhPB— Angela Barnes (@AngelaBarnes) May 20, 2019
During his life, he turned his hand to all kinds of business ventures — selling whisky, running a sex shop, and in his spare time he enjoyed the local swinger and naturist scenes.
Operating a porn shop meant she had more male friends than most of her female friends as a teenager because they could get lots of freebies, she jokes.
“It was just his job,” she adds. “He was very matter of fact about it. I’ve got some lovely photos of him in the shop. I think my favourite is him sitting behind the counter, with a screen above his head playing hardcore pornography, and my dad’s sat underneath it doing the Telegraph crossword while eating his lunch.”
She never discussed his activity as a swinger with him while he was alive.
"We didn’t talk about that sort of stuff, really. It only became apparent after he died that his life was even fruitier than I thought it was.
“I remember after he died I went through his mobile phone to make sure I’d contacted everyone who needed to know. If you think about your mobile phone if your children or parents got a hold of it they wouldn’t necessarily know who every one of your contacts is.
“I was phoning everyone. Some of them were people he barely knew that he’d just got their number because he’d bought an armchair off them or something. Occasionally, I’d phone someone and say: ‘I’m really sorry to say that Derek Barnes has passed away.’ And they’d say: ‘Oh, that’s awful. He was such a lovely man.’ I’d say: ‘How did you know him?’ Then there’d be a silence. I’d go, oh, I see. Now I know how you knew him. I’d wait for that silence and go, ‘Were you one of his congregation?’ Which always made me laugh.”
Angela Barnes is performing at the Kilkenny Cat Laughs Festival, Thursday May 30 – Monday, June 3.