written by Rowan Howard
After walking into Peter’s Pizzeria for the first time and waiting for half an hour in the wrong room, I soon received a message that comedian Josh Berry was downstairs in the foyer trying to find me. My fellow superfan Kiana and I rushed down the lavish staircase. With a glance and whisper to each other, ‘that’s him!’, like the fangirls we are, we greeted him at the bottom. It was like a scene from The Princess Diaries. He kindly invited us to join him and his girlfriend Lucy in the quaint café downstairs, where we got the chance to pick at his hilarious intellect only hours before his gig…
So, my first question is where are you from?
Originally, I’m from the North-West, in Cheshire.
Yeah, the ‘Posh North’. When I was eleven, I moved to Reading. I guess I would consider myself to be southern, but I do playfully say when I come to a gig in the North that I am a northerner, and they all laugh at me.
So the accent that you make fun of in your videos, is that how they speak in Reading?
No, I would view it as a piss-take of what I perceive the elite to be, but it’s the elite who are my age; the people who have probably become politicians. At university, there were a lot of people around like that, from Eton and such, so a lot of it is based on that. I do know a lot of people like that who are still lovely; it is a fairly loving piss-take. But as I’m sure you can discern, I’m not a million miles away from that character anyway. Normally the characters that I mock seem to be pretty good at taking it on the chin and seeing the funny side. I haven’t ever had anyone who’s been upset by it.
Have you ever had any backlash on Twitter from Tory voters?
I definitely get hate, especially when it’s a more left-leaning character, but I think that’s just classic Twitter. I did a video called ‘Toxic Masculinity’ and it’s saying ‘look how disabling this is for men and how badly they deal with their emotions,’ and so many people, especially from the right-wing corner of Twitter were like ‘oh my god this left-wing bollocks is really not funny.’ But that wasn’t me necessarily being left-wing, that was just me saying that toxic masculinity is a bad thing. I think every comedian gets backlash, but it’s worth it for the joy of being able to perform. I definitely think it’s better than getting no hate at all.
When did you first know you had a knack for comedy and impressions?
I’ve done impressions since I was about six years old. I started doing impressions of tennis players when I was sixteen, and I was good at it but very unfunny. It was very much a counter move to my middle-class upbringing, and I became known for it, but now I do a range of characters. I would probably consider myself a stand-up comedian more than an impressionist though. It was always really nice when people I hadn’t met would be like ‘Woah’ when I did my impressions for them. I don’t do this anymore but there was also that cringe thing of being at parties and nights out with your mates where you’re like ‘listen to his Andy Murray’ and they were like ‘oh god’. People are very quick to tell me when they’re shit as well.
So was it your family that first told you that you were good at it?
My mum is my harshest critic. I’ll be working on new impressions and she’ll be like: ‘Nope, that needs work’, but she is supportive. I have a wonderful relationship with my mum and I think I get my comedy from her, Mo Gilligan says the same thing.
Has it taken a lot of practice with your impressions?
The more time you spend, the better you get at one. You can spend hours trying to do one person and have no luck at all, I’ve definitely had that before where I’ve been asked to do certain people and couldn’t get them at all. Whereas other people you just get really quickly. When I learnt to do Prince Harry, for whatever reason I got that really quick, whereas Russell Brand took me like two years as he has such a rich tapestry of voices – there are 6 or 7 that I use on stage.
What are your top 3 favourite voices to do?
I really like my ‘jolly good chap’ voice, the one we were talking about earlier. It just resonates really hard with me- that terrible Made in Chelsea type of voice. James Acaster has always been really fun, because when no one else does that person it makes it really interesting for an audience. I think Jacob Rees-Mogg is one of my more accurate impressions also, that’s quite a fun one to do. You do get bored with some of them as an impressionist though so I always try to find new ones, Joe Lycett is one I’m doing currently that’s quite new.
You were in Dead Ringers with Jon Culshaw, Debra Stephenson and Jan Ravens. Are you influenced by impressionists like them?
I definitely learnt a lot from Jon and Debra. They’re all amazing but Jan is so good, she’s one of the best. I also really like American comics and the way they use voices. in the UK it feels like we have a bit of a cut-off, like ‘oh you’re an impressionist and that’s it,’ whereas in America there are loads of comics that can impersonate, but they’re viewed as comics first. It’s very useful to look at the craft that Jon and Debra have, but I would say my act is more character-y and sillier and based a bit more on American influences.
How do you feel about playing Leicester Comedy Festival for the first time?
I’m really excited. I’ve played Leicester before, but that was for a more corporate thing, so hopefully, tonight will be more rowdy. I love it here because it’s such a cool festival and you can tell there has been a real effort that has been put into the planning. There’s a lot of creativity and the team look after you – Jeff, who’s part of the team, had kids telling jokes on the stage yesterday to launch the festival and I thought that was great.
One last question, what are your plans for the future with comedy? Are you going to tour around the world?
That’s an interesting question because a lot of the characters and references I make are very British, so I would have to change that up so that other countries like America or Australia could find it funny. I’d love to tour the UK first though. I’d also love to have my own impressions show; I think Chris Lilley and characters like Alan Partridge are so cool. I would love to do something like that for a young British audience. The thing with this industry is that it’s really fast-moving so it’s difficult to set yourself specific goals, so you can’t rely on anything really. But I just want to carry on doing what I’m doing, not put too much pressure on myself and just enjoy it. If I can keep gigging to rooms of lovely people, then that in itself is such a privilege.
Thanks Josh, we can’t wait to see you at another one of your gigs!