Harriet Kemsley: Woman Child.

Gorilla Specials: Harriet Kemsley’s Taken A Hilarious Journey To Becoming A ‘Woman Child’

On stage for her special, Harriet Kemsley radiates hugh-energy as she prowls the small stage like a caged lion. Animated and prone to gesticulating, she lobs jokes like a comedy Andre Agassi, sending one after another into the small audience, crushing each time. Punctuating premises with up-spoken punchlines, Kensley demonstrates again and again what makes her a standout in the UK scene. 

Harriet Kemsley: Woman Child.
Harriet Kemsley: Woman Child. Courtesy of 800 Pound Gorilla.

Harriet Kemsley is honest and brave, sharing her relatable truth with fans.

Early on, Kemsley discusses her marriage, and offers this:

“The problem in my relationship is that I’m a very bad drunk and my husband is sober. The problem is, you drink to forget, don’t you? But he remembers everything I did the night before, and then he tells me the next day, which I think is rude. We’re very proud though. He’s been off the drink and drugs for eight years. It’s quite an achievement. I just can’t wait until he relapses.”

Here, Kemsley smartly sets up her punchline of looking forward to her husband’s relapse with the word “rude.” By hitting that soft joke, it gives the audience a ramp-up to the punchline, which sends the audience howling. There’s a twist to the bit that wouldn’t work without the idea that she finds his sobriety both honorable and irritating, with the word “rude” allowing Kensley to couch the joke in the idea that a relapse would make him more palatable in those hung-over moments. Without it, the joke is too cruel to work for Kemsley’s sensibility, which is bright and clever, not spiteful.

There’s an honesty to the bit that is refreshing, even if it’s just a small bit of truth. It’s the same foundational concept that makes this joke work:

“ I found my old Barbie. I don't think I want my daughter to have a Barbie. I don’t think Barbie is a very good role model. Apparently, if Barbie, with her dimensions, if she was made into a real woman, she wouldn’t be able to keep her head up. And I don’t want my daughter’s role model to be her mother on a night out. I want to aim higher than that!”

The joke deviates here, with Kemsley coating the same base feeling (possible shame or embarrassment) in a new joke shell. Unlike the bit about her husband though, she punctuates it with something that works as comedy, even if it’s confessional (“I want to aim higher than that”). It might not read like much, but there’s a risk being taken here in sharing real anxieties about her married life. 

Kemsley loves subverting expectation in base subjects.

After finding out her love language is acts of servitude and gifts, Kemsley quips that “I don’t think my husband is my soulmate. I think that my soulmate is amazon prime.” In taking this obvious idea (love languages) and figuring out a way to deflate her persona in the process, Kemsley is able to find something clever to offer up. Even in incredibly personal jokes, she finds a way to elevate and surprise her audience:

“They say that when you have a baby, your vagina and your asshole can become one…like that’s a bad thing. Do you know what I mean, I’m a busy lady! I don’t have time for a vagina and an asshole, I’ve got things to do! I’ve got a baby to raise! Yeah, your vagina and your assholer become one, it’s like some kind of fucked up Spice Girls song, isn’t it?”

Moving from pregnancy to the way it wreaks havoc on a woman’s body, Kemsley gleefully lands in a space that doubles-down on that in a grossly silly way. The punchline of being busy both works along with the premise of pregnancy being strange, and also triumphs over it, turning a loss into a win. When Kensley gets to the Spice Girls tag, it brightens the whole bit into something absurd, moving it from personal and slightly off putting into something triumphant and off putting, and finally into something silly. For anyone paying attention, there’s a lot of craft and care that’s going into Kemsley’s work, and the joy of her subversive structure is proof of this.

Kemsley has a sharp eye for small moments that destroy.

After beginning a discussion about plastic surgery, Kemsley lets fly with the throwaway line, ““Now you can change how you look if you don’t like it if you have enough money, or a friend with a steady hand.” In another section about marriage and expectation, she introduces her friend’s observation about being pressured into pregnancy with her experience (“If anything, I think my mom was like ‘NO RUSH!’ My grandma was like ‘some women are never ready.’”)

This last line destroys the audience, possibly getting the biggest laugh of the set. It’s a worthy bit that showcases just how observant and hard-working Kemsley is as a comic. We’re lucky to have a record of her terrific wit in these odd times. 

Harriet Kemsley: Woman Child.
Harriet Kemsley: Woman Child. Courtesy of 800 Pound Gorilla.

Harriet Kemsley's debut stand-up special, Woman Child, is available now exclusively on 800 Pound Gorilla. Watch it here first before it hits YouTube on October 19th!

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.