IMAGE BY GREG BAILEY
How long have you been performing and how did you get started?
I originally started performing as a street performer, as a living statue and also performing songs on the accordion. It’ll be 11 years this year. In one of my first ‘big’ gigs back in 2007, I entered an annual battle of the bands event at The Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth. The Wedgewood Rooms was the place in Portsmouth to see the touring acts and I have such special memories of it as a teenager. I did my 10-year celebration there last year and it was wonderful to go back as a fully fledged adult/cabaret person to have my own show there. Rather than a mixed bill of acts all competing for… well, I don’t even remember the prize!
Tell us a bit about how you’ve developed your signature style?
I’ve developed and changed a lot over the years, all completely organically.
I’m not massively interested in pop culture and it doesn’t really have an effect on what I do (it probably does, I’m just happy to live in denial). I’m sort of stubborn and like what I like, you know?
There’s this ongoing joke with friends that whenever they mention a current pop act they always explain who it is to me and what they do – Grandmother Joe!
I’m interested in aesthetics and what they say to me. So, I’ve developed what I do from what I see and how it makes me feel. I like paintings and images of old Berlin cabaret bars, they make me wonder, “what would that ACTUALLY be like?”
Is cabaret your life’s work, or do you have other ambitions you’d like to explore?
Cabaret, probably unhealthily, is my life’s work. I love the art form so much. I love the scope and depth and literally anything it can be.
I do also love making hats, though. Which ultimately I make a way to tie in! I started learning millinery which was a great side project for me. Not to do professionally, just for my own head and heads of friends.
Is the Joe Black we see on stage similar to your personality off stage?
To a degree, it has to be. Once the makeup and costume are on I feel I can get away with a lot more than I feel I could get away with without it. I’ve been doing this for 11 years, so eventually, it seeps in and you end up just becoming that person all the time.
We’ve heard you like snakes and reptiles. What’s it all about?
Snakes have always been my favourite animal, ever since I was a little kid. My mum has this photo of me on her fridge, I must be about six years old. With this GIANT snake on me. It could have eaten me no problem.
The story goes that they tried to hand me a smaller snake and I threw a bit of a hissy fit and insisted on having the biggest one they had. They tried to get me not to but apparently, I wouldn’t listen (nothing has changed), and it took two adult men to hold the snake either side of me to get this photo opportunity. I look SO happy.
It doesn’t influence my work at all. Being the proud mother of two snakes, I can tell you they really don’t do anything. Unless I decide to do an act where I stare at a plastic plant for four hours or am surprised at a water bowl being changed.
Maybe a performance art piece where I eat something the size of the widest part of my body every two weeks and I strip out of my clothes to reveal the exact same clothes underneath. Then I just get longer and longer, until eventually whoever is looking after me realises they weren’t ready for that kind of commitment so sends me to the RSPCA reptile place in Brighton!
Where they do amazing work, btw! with no main RSPCA help. Go visit them. Give them some money. Adopt an adorable Royal Python (IF YOU CAN COMMIT!), they stay reasonably small and they look like wide-eyed happy children and the most docile little angels in the snake world.
ANYWAY. Snakes. They’re just beautiful and fascinating and they make me very happy.
Drag You Under The Bus is a very weird show. Can you share with us what we might expect from your coming performance?
Weird is subjective. I think commuters are weird.
I’ll be singing a selection of my favourite songs from my back catalogue, accompanied by my hapless assistant Friederich Hollandaise on piano.
Which other performers in Brighton do you admire?
Alfie Ordinary, Lydia L’scabies, Rococo Chanel, Cherry Shakewell, Missy Macabre. The list could go on! All for very different but entirely valid and special reasons!
What do you have coming up in your diary?
I’m spending the whole of December in America. Though I can’t say what for yet! Announced soon though I believe…
I was invited to Drag World in London in August as one of their headline UK guests, which was very nice. Lots of bits here and there. October is always jam-packed, what with Halloween on the horizon that month!
Drag You Under The Bus is exciting too, of course. Come to that whoever is reading this. I’ll sing in incoherent German and sit on your lap.
Can you share any advice for up and coming performers who want to get noticed?
Don’t do what everyone else is doing because someone else is already doing it. Do what genuinely excites you and that translates to an audience. What’s better to watch than someone having the best time and being amazing at it?
Catch Joe Black at Drag You Under The Bus, Komedia, Fri 26 Oct