Katherine Ryan is the Unexpected Voice of Reason in Comedy
Updated: Nov 28, 2020
by Julie Toft Carlsen
Because her podcast is called Telling Everybody Everything, I expected it to be ‘telling everything’ in the typical celebrity manner. A person telling vague stories, which are interesting enough that you’ll listen to the end, but with no real substance or truth. Reader, I was mistaken. In her new podcast, Katherine Ryan shares unfiltered stories from her life and gives brutally honest advice to the listeners that write in. Yet, she always manages to approach everything in a respectful and empathetic manner by highlighting different ways of approaching issues and never uses names unless they’re public knowledge.
Let me give you an example: a listener asked for advice on their 30-something boyfriend of many years who didn’t want to be ‘tied down’ by marriage, which had rather upset them. Ryan often expresses her belief that people always show their true colours - you just have to be willing to believe them when they do. Her immediate response was that the boyfriend sounded immature and the listener shouldn’t feel like they had to stay in a relationship if it didn’t make them happy. She then tried to approach the issue from different angles, by advising the listener to reflect on how important marriage really was to them, and whether their affinity for marriage was perhaps just a need to subscribe to societal standards. However, if marriage really was important to them, then they had to talk to their partner and be honest with him.
Ultimately, Ryan’s message was that compromising your sense of self and your life goals just to stay with a partner are never worth it.
This particular message is a recurring theme in her podcast, stand-up shows, and her new Netflix series, The Duchess. The Duchess is fictional but based on Katherine Ryan’s own life and experiences, and she both wrote, produced, and starred in it as the main character, Katherine. It follows her life as a single mother as she debates whether or not to have another baby with the worst person she knows: the father of her daughter. Much of Ryan’s previous comedy deals with her life as a single mother, but she never addresses this in a negative manner. Rather, she celebrates the life she’s built with her daughter, and The Duchess reflects many of the views Ryan has expressed on single motherhood, female independence, and women over 30.
A big advocate for female empowerment, she openly and publicly resents the notion that women in their thirties are past their prime, or that women have to fill certain roles in society. She wrote an entire Netflix special, The Glitter Room, on dating as a single mother when you genuinely enjoy single motherhood. On The Jonathan Ross Show in April of 2019, she addressed her new relationship with her boyfriend (now civil partner) saying: ‘it’s disastrous! […] I had really designed my life – my daughter and I have the shape of a family that’s very controversial and I don’t want to abandon those women, I really do think that I like being by myself. For so long, women were not allowed to buy a house, open a bank account or carry a passport without the signature of a man. You know? And here I am, having fallen in love with one.’
In The Duchess, the main character Katherine shares these sentiments. To a fault, she refuses to compromise on her worldviews or do anything which she perceives as a risk to her happiness for the sake of any man. And, above all, she always puts her daughter first. Through Katherine’s questionable decisions, the show asks the question: can a bad person be a good parent? While always advocating for equality and empowerment, Ryan and the comedy she writes are never perfect nor preachy. In the opening scene of The Duchess, Katherine wears a jumper that says ‘The Worlds Smallest P***y’. Addressing this on her podcast, Ryan states that the jumper is intended as a ‘pushback against the patriarchal structure that says, “be small, be tight, be little”, and it’s like oh, what do you want? World’s smallest p***y? here you go! It’s putting back into culture’s face what, when you deduce it all, is really expected of us a lot of the time’.
It’s this type of ironic exposition which makes Ryan’s brand of comedy feel so refreshing, and yet it’s so simple that you can hardly believe we ever accepted any lower standards. Katherine Ryan is one of many female and non-binary writers who are raising the bar for everyone around them, with her quick wit and abundance of charm.
You can listen to Telling Everybody Everything on Spotify and Apple Podcasts and stream The Duchess on Netflix now.