She may be in the business of making us laugh, but some of the experiences acerbic Canadian comedian Katherine Ryan details in her new memoir, The Audacity, could make us shed a tear or two as well.
Toxic relationships, cheating boyfriends, botched cosmetic surgery and, most traumatically, the murder of her friend at the hands of an abusive partner while she was living in Canada, are just some of the experiences the comedian, once described as the Millennial Joan Rivers, has charted in her memoir.
"The murder affected everyone in a small town because it was something so close to us and so shocking. It had a hand in informing a lot of my ideas about men. I remember my mother saying, ‘Yes, sometimes if you leave them they will kill you’.
"I know realistically that’s not most of the times but it certainly left an impact and made me afraid. It was definitely a voice in the back of my mind for all of my relationships."
Ryan, 38, star of the Netflix show The Duchess and a regular on panel shows including 8 Out Of 10 Cats, is currently on tour with her live show, Missus.
Talking to her, she is not as caustic as she is on stage, but the dry wit is ever present. What made her write the book? "Cash," she says flatly.
She has lived in the UK for 14 years and is now married to her childhood sweetheart, retired athlete Bobby Kootstra, with two children, Violet, 12 (from another relationship) and three-month-old Fred (with Kootstra).
But although she is now in a happy relationship and also describes her daughter’s father as a lovely man, she confesses she has not always chosen men well.
.@Kathbum my husband just surprised me with this and said "you can't even get this legally in America", like it was a Kinder Egg or single payer health care, can't wait to read it pic.twitter.com/RnahBFDgcH— I call the big one Fright-y (@thebigone_Bitey) October 6, 2021
Describing one of her unhappy past relationships, she writes: "Coercive control doesn’t happen overnight. It can creep up on you through a series of tiny humiliations or degrading acts." He criticised her, she says, for not wearing matching sets of underwear, for not going for pedicures, even for the way she chopped vegetables.
"What you seek you shall find," she says now. "It’s unfortunate that I gravitated towards some toxic situations. I’m not a licenced therapist but my guess is that I thought that men could be dangerous so I would just lead myself towards the dangerous ones. I don’t know why. I’ve stopped doing that, thankfully."
When she was criticised in the past, she says: "I thought I loved him and I wanted to please him. Life was easier when he was not displeased and the worse things got, the more I dug my heels in to make things better. I thought I had the power to turn a relationship around and fix everything."
She went for therapy, with the intention of learning how to fix the relationship by being better herself, but actually learned that she needed to leave.
Relationship advice is the most common subject about which she is quizzed in her podcast Telling Everybody Everything, she says, which is ironic considering the difficult relationships she’d had with men before she got together with Kootstra nearly three years ago.
"Things could have been a lot easier if I’d just stayed with him from the beginning," she says wryly.
"There’s no battle with him. I’m not trying to please him or fix anything or prove anything. He just has the most lovely, calm energy, is kind and really respects me, women and my work. We are just equals. I’d never known what it felt to be equals. I had been a lone wolf because I didn’t trust anybody else to make the right decision. I’m so glad that he’s in my life."
They rekindled their romance in January 2019 – 20 years after first dating as teenagers in Canada – when she was back in her mum’s hometown filming Who Do You Think You Are? and they got in contact via social media. They were married that year.
She’d long wanted more children and had found her perfect partner, but had two miscarriages in quick succession.
"I’m really lucky that I’m as healed from it as you can be. I know a lot of people carry that trauma around for a long time and how common miscarriage is. I didn’t really understand how common it was until it happened to me.
"At the time I felt trapped in that moment, helpless. I wondered if there was something wrong with me and if I would ever be able to have more children. I just couldn’t see out of the grief that I was in.
"Luckily, I’m old enough that I have enough perspective to say, ‘I just need time to get distanced from this event’ but I just felt trapped in it. I felt so sad at the time, but if anyone’s going through something similar, I feel 100% better now.
"I feel like there’s meaning to those miscarriages and those were not the babies that were meant for me."
She carried on working throughout that time. With her first miscarriage, on the day of the news that there was no heartbeat, she performed a gig in Liverpool and fulfilled all of her working commitments until she had surgery.
"On the day I found out about the first miscarriage, comedy certainly helped because in that hour on stage I was focused on the comedy set. I felt a lot better during that hour but then I was sad again afterwards."
She confesses she wanted to tell her audience about it but realised it would ruin the night. And her ability to disassociate from grief and compartmentalise things helped her when she was working.
She has been able to take positives from that traumatic time.
"Now we have Fred and we wouldn’t have had him if we hadn’t had those other miscarriages. I do want more children. In a lot of relationships the dad always wants the football team and the mother says no, but in my relationship it’s me who wants the football team and Bobby is saying, ‘Er, maybe one more’."
Her comedy remains confident, brave and bold, covering everything from celebrity culture to politics and the zeitgeist of the country, ‘wokeness’, the prospect of having a teenager in her home and the shift her life has taken.
"My last tour was a celebratory anthem of being single and I really meant those words. It wasn’t until I was truly comfortable with my company that I met someone who was perfect for me. I have definitely mellowed. There’s nothing that gives me anxiety or makes me stressed. It’s because I have perspective and I know how lucky I am."
Has ‘wokeism’ affected her material?
"You have to accept and even welcome the fact that some people will love your jokes and other people won’t. People take offence to things that I say all the time but I’ve never been ‘cancelled’ because I can always stand behind what I’ve said as having been thoughtful and with the right intentions."
The Audacity by Katherine Ryan is published by Blink Publishing. Available now.