Flo & Joan on their new tour, Sweet Release
Musical comedy duo Flo & Joan, aka sisters Rosie and Nicola Dempsey, chat to us about their current UK tour, their surprising Scottish influence and the current state of UK comedy in the middle of #MeToo
“I listened to the new ABBA album the other day and it is a straight up musical comedy album. The lyrics are fucking batshit crazy. The music is so weird and fun,” says Rosie Dempsey, the ‘Joan’ of Flo & Joan. About to embark on the next leg of their third UK tour, they’re bringing their trademark wit, tunes and energy to Aberdeen and Glasgow this month.
“I'll often listen to something on the radio and be like 'This song is funny', like Haven't Stopped Dancing Yet”, by 70s disco band Gonzalez. “That's a funny song. The fact you've not stopped dancing,” Rosie adds. The duo find inspiration in lots of music, as well as other comics. Nicola (Flo onstage) describes Rachel Bloom (from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) as her most recent musical comedy revelation. “I was like 'Oh. This is exactly what I want to see and hear. This is the musical comedy that I like watching.'” Catherine Cohen is similarly notable for Rosie, reminding her of a more traditional cabaret act with comedy songs woven in: “Like a Bette Midler kind of thing.” Her songs “don't feel like these big set pieces, lights up, lights down. They just feel like it's her talking but singing.”
Closer to home, Scottish children’s favourites The Singing Kettle have much to answer for. The sisters grew up surrounded by their family friendly songs and shows. And thanks to a festive visit to Glasgow in the 90s, they saw them live. “We all got dressed up and didn't know where we were going and we got to see The Singing Kettle Live and we LOST OUR MINDS,” Nicola laughs. “So they're fully responsible for a lot of the shenanigans we do now for sure.”
The tour comes off the back of a successful few years for Flo & Joan. Having appeared on Live at the Apollo, Horrible Histories and their own Amazon Prime special, things are looking up and up. Despite this, the sisters had their anxieties about the tour. “You think over the past two years that people forget about you 'cause you're not gigging all the time but no, audiences have been up for it, numbers have been great, everyone seems to be in a good mood. No complaints. So far,” Rosie says, touching everything wooden in sight. The tour’s title Sweet Release “feels very apt” post-pandemic, she continues. “It's a funny feel-good show, I think, without being purposefully feel-good. We're not making everyone clap their hands and shout out things they love about the set. That's very much just not in our wheelhouse to do.” “Difficult to rev people up and make them excited when our voices sound like this,” explains Nicola in a smirking monotone.
And although touring is a joy to them both, it’s still not easy in the era of #MeToo. Most venue staff are men. “It's incredibly rare to find and work with women in those positions,” Nicola notices. Finding the dressing room, ensuring there’s a makeup mirror and not touching your luggage before asking are often neglected. “It's not that the men are doing a bad job at all, it's just [about] working with people who consider things that you know you have to consider as well.” Rosie adds: “Some venues won't have a sanitary bin. You're like 'I think this is because most of these venues are run by men, and it's really important for me actually to not go out with my leg covered in blood’."
Luckily for Flo & Joan, they’ve not experienced the worst of #MeToo. Rosie expects it’s particularly bad for new comics. “You don't have the power to be able to say 'I don't wanna work with that person' or 'I can't take this TV job because I don't want to be on the panel with this person' because they have taken those opportunities.” She’s seen a positive change in that context, for more established acts, at least. If the duo didn’t feel comfortable working with someone, she’s confident they’d be listened to. Their agent “wouldn't be like 'Well, shall we get the facts? Should we find out? Should we prove it?' They'd just be like 'Okay, that's totally your choice.'” And if there’s one change which can be made, both agree that “more non-men in roles in positions of power on lineups” would help. More diversity in these positions encourages diversity elsewhere, making comedy a more supportive and welcoming place for all.
Flo & Joan: Sweet Release tours the UK in May, including Aberdeen Lemon Tree (21 May) and Glasgow Òran Mór (22 May); the show also plays at the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe, Assembly Roxy, 3-28 Aug (not 16), 8.10pm