Caroline Quinlan has had people rolling in the aisles since she decided to pursue a comedy career. KATHERINE MacALISTER reports...

It's one of the hazards of the job, according to Caroline Quinlan. "When people find out I'm a comedian they always say, 'Tell us a joke then'. But as Bob Monkhouse said, if you meet a gynaecologist on holiday you don't ask him to have a look at the wife."

Oxfordshire's newest comedian is heading for the big time after coming runner-up in the BBC's New Comedy Award and second at the Edinburgh Fringe's prestigious So You Think You're Funny competition.

The 22-year-old from Ditchley Park, Enstone, has had people rolling in the aisles since she decided to pursue a comedy career last year.

She is learning fast about the trappings of fame on the comedy circuit, but still has trouble adjusting to her new status.

"I went to a family wedding recently and two uncles shuffled up and said, 'I've got a good one you can use'. I had to sit and listen to these appalling jokes. "And then, when I was on work experience in an estate agency, everyone kept saying, 'You'll get some great material in here. I hope you're not taking notes. We'll probably hear our names on stage.'

"They won't," she says firmly.

Instead Caroline writes her own material. "I talk about myself and stupid people, which is probably the same thing."

And she doesn't stop. The sarcasm just rolls off her tongue and she has you in stitches. She delivers her lines with a wide-eyed innocence and down-to-earth air that is infectious and you can really imagine each scene unfolding.

"I use my experiences, which is why I haven't got any boyfriend material at the moment.

"At least I'm not someone that just goes on about relationships. Someone came up at a gig I was doing recently and asked if I had children. Phew, they said, 'I thought you might go on about babies all night'. No, just periods and sanitary towels."

She's as sharp as Pat Evans's tongue and woe betide any heckler who takes her on.

She may sound hard as nails but Caroline is actually a very gentle person. She hates blue comedy and keeps her repertoire clean. So how did the daughter of a former senior government civil servant get to be a stand-up comedian?

Having attended Cherwell Sixth Form College, where she got involved with drama, she went to Bristol University to do a history degree and was gradually drawn into the comedy circle there.

She concentrated on improvisation and sketches before giving stand-up a go. Her first routine was about Jesus returning home to his Jewish mother from his 40 days in the desert.

Adopting a crisp Jewish accent, Caroline begins: "Look at you, you're so thin, shut the door, were you born in a barn? I hope you haven't been hanging out with those lepers again..."

At the moment she's working on a routine about achievement. "I found a home economics school report recently. After three terms of slogging away in the kitchen making food and sewing, it just said, 'Caroline has successfully made an apple pie'.

"I'm worried that's what my life sheet will look like when it's handed to St Peter.

"But I can't tell you all this - it's my new material and it's not finished yet. I'm letting out all my secrets." Caroline, whose heroes include Joyce Grenfell, Peter Cook, Morecambe and Wise and June Whitfield adds: "My dad has got a very dry sense of humour. I don't think my parents ever expected me to end up doing this but they are very proud."

As for the future, Caroline hopes to branch out into radio and continue on the comedy circuit. Her only fear is getting comedian's block or doing a gig where no-one laughs.

"I keep thinking, what if I can only be funny for ten minutes? You have to do 20 as a stand-up to make decent money."

But Caroline need not panic. She's the one who'll be laughing all the way to the bank.

*Caroline appears at the Mason's Arms in Headington tomorrow at 8pm.

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