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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Comedian Chloe Petts: ‘I thought I’d resolved all of this stuff about masculinity’ | Comedy

“I’m a radical feminist and queer,” says Chloe Petts. “But also a top football lad who wants to go to the darts all the time.” So her new standup set, Transience, has gags about being a diehard Crystal Palace fan and a routine about darts which, she claims, “could be the key to the whole show, but I also could just be delusional”.

Petts hadn’t exactly planned to cover gender and its presentation (she’d already done so in her debut, Alpha) but as Covid-19 restrictions eased and she went out in public more, the comedian decided to explore it again. She is, for example, sometimes read as a man when she wears a face mask. “I thought I’d resolved all of this stuff about masculinity and the way that people respond to me. But I hadn’t. I was just stuck at home and everyone else who had been problematic had been locked inside too.”

The show, she says, includes her recalling a man who – thinking she was a man – pushed her over, and a woman kicking her out of the ladies’ toilets. Through this, she hopes audience members will “find out about something a bit outside their experience, or be affirmed because they haven’t heard someone speak about their experience in that way before”.

‘A moral person and a laugh’ … Chloe Petts.
‘A moral person and a laugh’ … Chloe Petts. Photograph: Matt Crockett

Throughout our conversation, Petts is casual, smart and funny – just as she is on stage. When asked what she enjoys about her job, the standup, aged 28, responds: “I love doing comedy because I’ve always wanted the life of a retiree.” What? “You can potter around and watch a film in the middle of the day, then go off in the evening and do gigs,” she explains. Petts is well respected among her industry peers; fellow standup Catherine Bohart calls her “a moral person and a laugh. Do you know how hard it is to get that balance right? She’s an amazing, kind and loyal friend. Unless it’s match day, then she’s unbearable.”

Born and raised in Sittingbourne, Kent, Petts moved to London at 18 to study English literature at UCL, and got into comedy after initially trying acting in the university’s drama department. “I realised what I’d been doing the whole time was just a version of myself for every character,” she laughs. While gigging on the London circuit, she met other LGBTQ+ comics and, in 2016, co-founded the LOL Word, a collective of queer and non-binary comedians, with friends Jodie Mitchell, Chloe Green and comedy duo Shelf (Rachel Watkeys-Dowie and Ruby Clyde).

The group has proved a success, with a recurring night at Soho theatre. At the start of 2020, Petts was gearing up for Alpha, which explored her masculinity. But, of course, Covid-19 happened, and so that got cancelled, although Petts did incorporate it into an audiobook by Penguin. During the pandemic, she worked in a cafe, gigging whenever restrictions allowed, and going full-time as a comic last August.

When we speak, she is midway through supporting Ed Gamble on the UK tour of his show, Electric. “It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to my career, for sure,” she says. Clearly, the pair have forged a friendship. Gamble says of Petts: “She has an ease about her on stage that I took much longer to crack and she can sell huge topics to big audiences in an accessible way that I am very jealous of.” Still, he jokes: “As a support act, though – a nightmare. She insists on sitting in the back of the car because it makes her ‘feel like a minor royal’. And if we don’t listen back to her sets in the car she threatens to be sick on the back of the tour manager’s head.”

After her tour, Petts will take Transience to Edinburgh fringe. She is also working on a few things with the LOL Word that she can’t talk about (“which feels very showbiz,” she jokes), and is writing something with friend and comedian Ania Magliano. What does the future hold? As ever, Petts is relaxed – wise, even. “You just do what’s in your control and write for fun, and if anything comes of those things then great”.

Ultimately, she says, her aim with Transience is to “speak about my experience in a funny and accessible way”. She concludes: “So that, maybe next time, if they see someone that doesn’t look like ‘a boy’ or doesn’t look like ‘a girl’, they’ll be like, ‘Oh, that’s fine. I don’t have to have any response to it. That person wants to look the way that they look.’”

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