Comic Jo Caulfield talks to KATHERINE MACALISTER about being married, not being married and the joys of stand-up

Jo Caulfield loves the disparities in Oxford between town and gown, none more evident than on her tour. Last time she came to Oxfordshire she did a gig at The Theatre in Chipping Norton, which she described as full of Range Rovers and wellies. “I couldn’t believe how posh it was, like a village for rich people who want to live in the country,” she said.

She feels much more at home at The Cornerstone in Didcot, which she is revisiting on Friday night. “Didcot is the first normal place I’ve been to in Oxford and a really fun audience and completely different. “They don’t all have second homes and I went on stage and thought ‘I can relate to you’.”

The 49-year-old comedienne, who sometimes gets lost hiding behind Graham Norton’s skirts, still loves to go it alone on stage and has been wowing crowds with her new tour Better The Devil You Know, inspired by the recent bombshell that her marriage in New York five years ago was invalid because it had never been registered over here.

“At a recent gig I was talking to a woman who’d done the same thing. “She said ‘Wasn’t it easy? Pay $50, get your licence, three minutes later you’re done. The hardest part is when you get back to Britain and you have to fill in all the paperwork and register it here’. “I felt my blood go cold – I didn't know we had to do that! Then it hit me like a punch in the stomach – I’m not actually married to my husband!” The realisation that she is, in fact, a single woman, got Jo thinking, “If you could make all your big life choices again, would you do the same things?”

The reality is of course that Jo is happy as a married/unmarried woman and having been a Londoner since she was 17 recently moved to Edinburgh with her husband/partner and is loving it. “It’s amazing how friendly everyone is and how everybody seems to know everybody. They don’t ignore you and barge past you which took me a while to get used to. I kept wanting to say “you don’t know me!” The only down side is that going to work is rather impractical.”

But then Jo is used to being on the road, having been in comedy for the past 30 years.

“I always got a thrill from making people laugh, more than normal so when I found out I could do open mic nights it was amazing. I hadn’t realised there was an easy way in.”

It’s still a dog-eat-dog world out there though. “It hurts when you have a bad gig but the desire to do it is bigger – you get hooked on the laughter,” she explains. So even when her first open mic spot followed a bloke whose routine died on stage, she went for it anyway, and found her raison d’etre.

A chap called Graham Norton started out on the comedy circuit at the same time and they became firm friends. Jo said she knew he had something even then, and when his set pieces didn’t go well, he could always turn an audience. So when Graham asked Jo to come and write the gags for his new TV show she jumped at the chance and so began a wonderful working relationship which Jo has cherished.

So why doesn’t she mind that he gets all the glory for her jokes? “Because he’s really good at what he does and I couldn’t do it. If he was rubbish I might be a bit resentful, but Graham deserves his success, he works very hard for it.”

It also enables Jo to tour as and how she wants, having a second income stream which allows her to remain a stand-up, without becoming “just a gag writer.”

Which is all well and good, but the big question remains. Is she going to stay married? “Well I’ve been thinking about that and maybe distance makes the heart grow fonder, because I’m never there at weekends and he doesn’t seem to complain......”

  • Jo Caulfield’s Better The Devil You Know is at The Cornerstone Arts Centre, Didcot, on Friday night.
  • Call the box office on 01235 515144. Tickets are £14.