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Lolly Adefope On Crafting Character Comedy

Photographed by Idil Sukan.
When I saw Lolly Adefope's new show Lolly 2 at Edinburgh Festival this year, the first thing she did was yank me out of my seat, sit me down in the hot seat of her fake quiz show, and ask me a question about race in front of her live studio audience. The question was a lose lose, designed to make the point that sometimes, you're damned if you say one thing, damned if you say the other.

For a lot of comedians, this would be a confrontational gag to kick off with, but Lolly manages to poke fun at the absurdity of political correctness here and at various intervals throughout her show. Lolly 2 is sometimes about race, and at other times is just about silly characters with silly voices; as each skit starts, you quite frankly have no idea what to expect. At the end of an hour, she ultimately asks her audience and her critics whether it's her duty to talk about race, just because she's a black comedian. My opinion is that, of course it's not her duty, but I'm really glad she did it anyway.

Below, we caught up with Lolly Adefope to ask more about how she crafts her character comedy, what she gets out of it, and what the pressures are when it comes to talking about race in your work.

Hey Lolly, so to start, make life easy for us: How would
you sum up your new show at Edinburgh Fringe, Lolly 2?
It's a character/sketch show, but bringing in themes of race, political correctness and the media's representation of blackness. It's really fun lol!

Where do you start from when you’re writing a comedy show?
With a lot of them it tends to be an accent – either one that I've found funny to do or one I've heard from someone else. I find it a lot easier to improvise as a character once I've got their voice nailed down.

You play characters – how many do you have? Is it easier for them to have a little part of you in them, or to be totally foreign to you?
My first show was set at a local community centre talent show, so I played the host and then four characters, as well as “Lolly”, the special guest at the end of the show. This year's show was more of a random selection of characters, I played six, and then played myself again at the end too. Because this second show was more personal, it was easier to slip into myself at various points throughout the show, to show a sincerer side – but I tend to find that the funnier characters are something completely alien from myself, like the call centre character with the wacky voice (you have to see it, guys!) is mainly just an absurd sound that I found funny.

Lolly 2, you talk about this catch 22, don’t address race and people think you’re not taking responsibility for an issue that should be on your agenda; talk about race and you’re playing the race card. Is that based on real life experience?
Yeah, definitely. It's something I found a lot last year – pretty much every reviewer would analyse the show from a racial perspective – the fact that there weren't really any references to my race in the show (just one small joke near the end), and though they weren't necessarily always complaining about me not discussing it enough, or praising me for talking about it a bit, I just found it interesting that they always felt the need to mention it.

Most other comedians don't get reviewed for what they're not talking about – people just analyse the show in front of them. In the wider world though, outside of the Fringe, I think it exists too – people talk about being "colourblind", but the fact that they're needing to talk about that colourblindness sort of negates any point about “not seeing colour”. And, mainly – people should be able to use their comedy to talk about whatever they want to. People are often well-meaning when they praise people of colour for not constantly referencing their race, but it's up to each individual how they decide to create comedy.

What are the challenges in making comedy about race for a predominantly white audience, and how do you get around them?
Sometimes it can be difficult to gauge what exactly it is your audience are laughing at – I have a sketch where I speak in a Yoruba accent, and I can sometimes worry that people are laughing at the idea of the accent, rather than the joke behind the sketch. I definitely found that there were more people of colour in my audience this year than last year – whether that's through word of mouth or just a coincidence, it’s great.

What do you want your audience to leave your show feeling? Entertained, enlightened or both?
I'd hope that they leave considering something they haven't before, maybe seeing visibility and diversity from a new perspective they hadn't considered – but mainly that they've laughed loads.

And what about you... what’s the most enjoyable part of doing a show for you?
Laughter is music to my ears! No but really, if there haven't been at least three asthma attacks from too much laughter in my show then I feel liked I've failed.

Finally, who are some women in comedy you look up to right now/ ever?
Jessica Williams, Michaela Coel, Lou Sanders, Emma Sidi and Lazy Susan.