Interview: Jo enright, comedian

JAFFA Cakes, Sainsbury's, Nescafe. Actress turned stand-up Jo Enright has voiced adds for them all. The 42-year-old has also appeared in TV ratings winners such as I'm Alan Partridge, the BBC sitcom Lab Rats and Ideal, with Johnny Vegas.

&#149 Jo Enright

Yet despite those high-profile credits the comedian - who plays The Stand this week - still enjoys a degree of anonymity. And she wouldn't have it any other way.

"I like anonymity," affirms the funny girl, well known for her sketch comedy. "That's the joy of playing different characters, you can be in things, but people don't recognise you. I quite like that."

All that could be about to change, however, as Enright's latest project has all the hallmarks of being something rather special.

"I recently had an audition that I didn't know was an audition," she explains. "I got a phone call to say that Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant wanted to meet me... that really was very special."

As a result of that phone call, Enright has just finished playing the wife of the main character in the pilot of Life's Too Short, Merchant and Gervais' follow up to The Office and Extras.

"I don't know yet whether I'll be in the series, but I have been told to pencil in the dates," she says hopefully, before confessing that the recognition such a part might bring would probably freak her out.

Not that Enright is any stranger to working with the stars of British comedy. One in particular has championed her work on no less than three occasions.

Over the years, Peter Kay has cast her in That Peter Kay Thing, Phoenix Nights and as wheelchair-bound Jackie in Britain's Got The Pop Factor... And Possibly A New Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly On Ice.

"I met Peter on the pub circuit in Manchester, back in the early 90s," she recalls. "He was starting out and I was gigging at the time. We connected because we had similar backgrounds - we were both working class, we both had Irish mothers and had that Midlands/outside of London connection. We also both enjoyed each others material and became friends.

"Then, when Peter began getting offers to write scripts, I suppose, like most writers, he tended to work with people with whom he could connect," she says modestly.

Born in Birmingham in 1968, Josephine Enright, to give the star her Sunday title, attended St Edmund Campion Catholic School, Erdington, before going on to study drama at Middlesex University.

In 1995, she made her Edinburgh Fringe debut as part of the three-strong West Midland's Serious Comedy Squad. A year later she was named Comedian Of The Year at the Leicester Comedy Festival, an accolade cemented in 2001 and 2002 when she won the Best Female Act on the Jongleurs Comedy Circuit and the Chortle Best Female Award, respectively.

Originally however, doing stand- up was simply a way of keeping busy between acting jobs, reveals Enright.

"I started doing stand-up because I just couldn't sit around waiting for auditions. I decided to generate my own work. Stand-up has been a blessing really because so many of my actor friends wait such a long time between jobs.

"Fortunately I've been able to alternate between the two. Most of the acting jobs I've done on TV have taken about six weeks and that has allowed me to slot my stand-up gigs around my acting work. I like to do both because I find it refreshes me. So, for me, the two threads have complemented each other perfectly."

Billy Connolly, Robin Williams and Victoria Wood are the three comedy heavyweights Enright lists as her influences - all have helped her craft her own brand of character driven stand-up.

"Billy Connolly was a big influence when I was beginning and still is," she says, highlighting his ability to capture the inherent humour of working class life.

"Robin Williams' energy and ability to flip in and out of characters also had a major impact on me as did Victoria Wood, obviously.

"A lot of my stuff is autobiographical. Something will happen and a story that I suspect has humour in it will come from that event. I then try to tell that story on stage, usually slotted in between two bits of material that I already know work. It's kind of instinctive."

Nevertheless, she concedes that testing new material can still be a nerve-wracking experience.

"My acting training allows me to mask fear and act as though I'm confident, even when I'm feeling the absolute opposite," she grins.

"I suppose it all depends on how secure I am with the material. If I'm trying new material I always feel a bit vulnerable until I have worked it. The more I work the stories, the less fear there is, and the more enjoyment."

Edinburgh audiences have a chance to catch Enright 'enjoying' herself at The Stand for the next three nights, as she joins the bill of talent entertaining at the long-running comedy club. She's looking forward to it.

"The Stand has an excellent reputation. It's known for its warmth and genuine respect for comedy as an art form and for comedians. That love makes it a pleasure to play there. But Edinburgh itself is a very warm city to play. It's a place comedians look forward to coming to".

As such, it's a place she hopes to return to this August.

"Five years ago was the last time I did a sketch show at the Fringe. I just didn't want to come back until I had a show that I was really proud of. Unless you have a show you truly want to bring to Edinburgh, there's no point. But I'm hoping to come back this year," she reveals.

"One of my ambitions is to write a new show for the Festival that I feel really good about, and that is what I am in the process of doing right now."

In the meantime, get a taste of what to expect at The Stand.

Jo Enright, The Stand, York Place, tonight-Saturday, show 9pm, 8/10/15, 0131-558 7272