Josie Parkinson and her one-of-a-kind comedy show SAUCE have got the whole Berlin thing figured out. The story of her whirlwind move from London, of SAUCE’S first show just 12 days after she had the idea, and all the logistical problems in-between – “they didn’t have enough beers in, didn’t know if a chef was coming in, and the basement we were supposed to be hosting in was just a literal basement full of stuff” – have “poor but sexy” written all over them. At the end of the interview, we’re even chided by the cafe owners for not purchasing anything on our way out – though as Josie is living temporarily above their business, she sheepishly apologies and promises to come back and buy something.
I call SAUCE unique because it’s one of, if not the only stand-up comedy night in Berlin that prioritises female, POC and LGBT+ performers for its six to seven minute slots, with two other five minute slots available which operate on a “show up to sign up” policy.
“I came up with it because I wanted to fill a gap”, she tells me, referring specifically to the open mic scene in the city. Having graduated in 2014 and spent some time working in film production, she believes she would’ve come to comedy earlier had there been more visible female role models in the industry.
“I also think if you don’t see lots of different types of female or female identifying performers, you come to think that there’s only one way to do it. I remember some guy asking me once: “so is the comedy you do, like, female comedy?” It says a lot about my own preconceptions that when she says this I nod, knowing exactly what he meant.
But Josie knows, too, what “female comedy” means. “There’s this idea that you have to position yourself in a really specific way if you’re a female comic. You can’t be too girly… you can’t be sexy at all”. One of her frustrations, too, lies with the way women are treated at gigs where men are also performing. “I mean, I’ve only started comedy in the last year or so, but when you’re at a gig talking to male performers you sometimes get this strange mixture of disdain whilst they’re also hitting on you. It’s weird”.
“It’s something I didn’t really think about more than the normal amount until I did one of those sort of “ladies night special” gigs the day after International Women’s Day. As women we deal with a lot of sexism every day and in a way, get used to it. But after performing there it was like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. And that, really, was the first time I thought about it, and when I first thought about running a show for women performers”.
The journey from that thought to its realisation in an actual show wasn’t smooth sailing, but the story makes great comedy. Like any respectable creative, Josie has held down some eclectic day jobs to support her passion project. She’s cleaned flats, given segway tours to Germans, done paid gigs and even starred as an “extra” in a porn film – which, apparently, entails “being in the background and sort of going… “oh my goodness” at what’s going on”.
“The week that I started the show I had 9 euros to my name, and was trying to decide between food and topping up my phone”, she tells me, as I ask her about the very first SAUCE.
It sounds tragic, but Josie describes the chaotic, miraculous coming together of that very first show with fondness, recounting how she turned up at the venue to find nothing ready or set up, and the owners unaware that the show was happening. “You know when you get so hot that you kind of go cold? Well I was so stressed that I kind of just went beyond the point of actually being stressed”.
As she talks I begin to wonder whether this spirit of manic improvisation and muddling everything together outside of the show is all part of SAUCE’s DNA, and she agrees with me before I even get the chance to ask. “That’s something i didn’t expect to work out actually, that having loads of manic energy and being so terrified every time, I can turn it into a hosting style. Someone once said to me afterwards “I really like your style of hosting” and I was like “really? I feel like I just had a breakdown in front of you…”
Of course, not every show has been such a logistical disaster. Now several weeks in, there’s been a real buzz around the show and the different kind of vibe it offers to standard stand-up nights on the Berlin comedy scene. “What I always wanted was the atmosphere of everyone being relaxed and having a nice time together. Something people say to me every time is that the vibe is so different because of the fact that there’s no space for any of that weird bro-ness you sometimes get elsewhere […] a huge part of the show is making it feel like it’s your own private party”.
Oh, and the name SAUCE? “The place where we perform (sari sari) they’re actually a community kitchen […] so I had to think about something that combined some idea of women and food. One of my friends suggested “sauce” when I was thinking about “saucy” and I don’t know why that works better.. But it kind’ve does”.
You can keep up with the latest SAUCE events on the SAUCE Facebook page, which can be found here.