Lolly Adefope on race, comedy & the Fringe

Talented character comedian Lolly Adefope brings her sophomore hour to Edinburgh

Feature by Craig Angus | 28 Jul 2016
  • Lolly Adefope

In Lolly Adefope's debut show, she introduced a series of offbeat and impersonal characters. Set at an ‘open mic community centre talent show evening’, she performed as Horold (looking for his estranged son, the R'n'B singer John Legend), customer service advisor Gemma ("All my friends think I’m mad") and hapless political activist ‘X’ (“We are the 5%”).

Digging deeper, however, it was more of a personal show than it first appeared; in a revealing moment of meta-comedy, a special guest – the much-hyped 'Lolly Adefope' – arrived at the talent show. This apparent guest didn't live up to the billing, becoming a startled fawn in front of the stage lights, and was soon unceremoniously shuffling behind a curtain. Timidly, peeking out, she offered: "Doing comedy as a black woman is hard."

Lolly II isn't going down such a meta-path, and will instead openly deal with race.

“It was never like, ‘I don’t want to talk about that,’” says Adefope, originally from Sutton in South London. “Last year, there were some critics who said, [puts on faux intellectual voice] ‘Lolly’s actually doing well – but she hasn’t mentioned her race.’ Or: ‘She only mentions her race once, even though it’s actually quite an interesting topic that she could have talked about.’ Because I’m black, it always has to be something that people bring up. There’s no winning really; if you talk about it then people just say, 'It’s not like she has to talk about it – no one cares,' and if you don’t people say, ‘But it would have interesting.’"

“I hadn’t been doing comedy for that long,” Adefope says of last year’s effort, “and the material I had was just lots of silly characters, so that’s what I put in the show. I had one political character, and then the whole idea was that he didn’t really know what he was talking about.” ‘X’, it transpires, was based on Lolly herself, and that feeling of “asking really stupid questions and then listening to myself and going, ‘What you talking about?’”

Dealing with issues of race, and other prejudices (the ‘host’ of last year’s show, Wendy Parks witheringly dismissed the Gemma character, saying, “I don’t really like female comedians”) has always been on Adefope's radar. After last year’s success, and with a wealth of experience behind her, she’s ready and prepared to approach those topics in a more direct manner.

In the aftermath of the referendum on EU membership, Adefope’s politicised material will have particular resonance. A recent appearance on Channel 4 saw her channeling the investigative spirit of Brass Eye’s Libby Shuss (“Things were about to go from bad, to worse than bad”) on a post-Brexit trip to Brussels for Adam Hills’ The Last Leg. It’s something she feels strongly about.

She acknowledges that the arts world can be a bit of an echo chamber for activism, but says, “Within my friendship groups, everyone's confused and angry – but politically engaged, which is the most important thing.” Adefope has no shortage of targets for her character comedy, and it should give Lolly II an edge and bite. "The fact that people are surprised by the fallout,” she says, “and the rise in hate crime are quite baffling to me – and sort of more depressing because I don't think a lot of people really thought this would be the outcome.”

Lolly Adefope: Lolly II, Pleasance Courtyard (Beside), 3-28 Aug, 6pm, £6-10.50