Love 'Peaky Blinders'? Then Consider Going To See Sarah Keyworth's New Show

28 March 2019 | 2:35 pm | Joe Dolan

Sarah Keyworth’s debut show was always going to be something close to her heart. She tells Joe Dolan about honesty, vulnerability and, most scary of all, pop culture references.

While most international comics worry about the staying power of their cultural references, rising UK star Sarah Keyworth already has an upper hand. “I’ve been quite concerned about this,” she laughs, “but one of my housemates is from Melbourne. So, I’ve been quizzing her as much as I can about little references. Just grabbing her in the hall being like, ‘Hey! Do you say this in Melbourne?’ and she often says, ‘No.’ The only thing that might not work... Do you have Peaky Blinders? I have a joke about how people dress little boys at the moment, they all look like ‘Peaky Blinders’ [a 19th century urban youth gang]. But I think if that’s my only joke I have to change, then I’m doing ok.”

The Nottingham-born stand-up is set to make her Aus debut with her critically acclaimed show, Dark Horse, an hour of brilliantly funny observations about gender, identity and societal norms. “If I’m honest, this is my first proper show, and it’s the show that I’ve always had to do first. My whole life has stemmed through things like gender confusion and not feeling like the right kind of ‘girl,’ so much of my early material was about gender and sexuality and my childhood. It sort of naturally was always going to be the first show that I ever wrote.”

While some may assume parts of this show may have been difficult to chop up for short sets at comedy rooms, Keyworth says the process was actually rather straightforward. “I am a stand-up comic at my very core, at my heart, so it wasn’t too difficult to break it up into bits for open mics. They seemed to do quite well at clubs and stuff like that, I think, because my go-to material is fanny jokes and sex stuff. So it wasn’t that hard to take these vulgar chunks of comedy and make it into something slightly sincere.”

"I have a lot of dads come to my shows feeling very emotional, which I didn’t expect. It’s just wonderful."

Keyworth says the idea for Dark Horse stemmed from a single moment while off stage at a festival. “I wrote the show, and it was sort of inspired by a show I saw a couple of years ago at the [Edinburgh] Fringe,” she admits. “It was about how men talk about women when women aren’t there. And there was this specific moment where young boys were talking about girls without girls being there, and saying that girls aren’t as strong as boys and they aren’t as good as boyos and all this stuff. They did a Q and A afterwards and I really desperately wanted to ask: ‘What do you do if you have children in your life? How do you help them? How do you change that narrative?’ But they never called on the question. So, I was just left there with that question hanging, so I wrote the show trying to answer it for myself.

“I hoped [the show] would speak specifically to people with children in their lives, and I hadn’t really thought that it would resonate with people who had similar experiences to me. It did resonate with parents and with teachers and all manner of people. Even dads – I have a lot of dads come to my shows feeling very emotional, which I didn’t expect. It’s just wonderful.”

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Still, Keyworth confesses that the road to perfecting Dark Horse has been a bumpy one. “I think in the show it took me a while to get the tone right and the message right. There were various things I was saying, especially during the work-in-progress shows, where I couldn’t quite get across what I was trying to communicate. There is an element of pressure to that but I think generally people know what I’m saying.

“The first times I tried doing this material as a whole hour, I wasn’t particularly comfortable with being honest, and the responses I have gotten from doing the show over the last sort of year and a half, they’ve enabled me to go, ‘Oh, this is stuff that people actually relate to, and it’s also a fun show.’ My ability to perform it very honestly and change aspects of it so I’m not just skirting around subjects and pretending I’m saying different things, that’s the main way things have changed. I don’t feel as vulnerable anymore.”