Twayna Mayne, from Croydon, who performed at the Soho Theatre was taken into care aged three and adopted by a middle-class white family at 14.
Last year, she was the only black female solo comedian at the Edinburgh Fringe and she forms a new space with her story charting a life between roots and privileged black woman.
Here, the multi-talented rising star adds another string to her bow – interviewing. The unusual thing is that she’s interviewing herself, which requires even more skill.
So, Twayna, where should we start first? How to pronounce your name or why you called your show Black Girl?
Let’s start with my name. The y in my first name is silent, I don’t know why, it just is. The y in my surname isn’t. People find it easier to pronounce if they haven’t seen it written down first, the y’s just confuse the whole situation.
Where’s it from?
I haven’t a clue. I was given it by people who didn’t bring me up. I’m from London though – I was born in Greenwich and grew up in South London
Do you work your unusual name into any of your sets?
I do a joke about phoning a friend at work and the receptionist never quite hearing my name right and finally introducing me as Shania Twain. It’s based on a real event and was one of the first jokes I wrote when I first started doing stand-up comedy and I still do it now – it always gets a laugh.
I’ve just noticed that the middle letters in both your names are the same, did you know that already?
No. Thanks for pointing that out.
My pleasure. Oh wait, I think you’re pulling my leg.
Possibly. Shall we talk about my show Black Girl now before it gets weird?
Okay, so Black Girl is about me, I’m the black girl in the title. It’s a comedy show about how I found my own black British identity through popular culture and did this because I didn’t feel black enough. And the reason I didn’t quite feel black enough was because I’m adopted by a white woman from north Devon and was growing up in South London. In the show I look at issues surrounding identity and what it’s like growing up in Britain if you feel you don’t fit in anywhere. Most people feel like that at one point or another, so I think it’s quite a relatable theme. I also talk a little about being in care and getting adopted at the grand old age of 14 and introduce everyone to Keith, my imaginary six-year-old son.
I read somewhere that you got into stand-up comedy by accident, is that true?
Yeah, sort of. I wanted to write comedy for television and radio and found an evening course where I could learn a bit about it. On the day I decided to enrol there were no spaces left but I was told that there was a space left on the stand-up comedy one. I thought I might as well give it go.
So you never wanted to be a stand-up comedian?
No, never. I thought I’d do the evening course and that would be that. I didn’t think eight years later I’d still be gigging.
Do you enjoy it?
Yes, for the most part. It’s nice making a room full of strangers laugh.
What don’t you like about it?
Leaving the house on cold wet evenings is no fun, neither is gigging when it’s hot and sunny. Basically my enjoyment of performing comedy depends heavily on what the weather’s doing.
Do you get nervous?
What’s your worst heckle?
I never really get heckled. It’s happened a couple of times over the years but I tend to ignore them. Hecklers never have anything useful to say, so why listen?
Where do you like gigging?
Anywhere and everywhere. In South London the best places are Up the Creek in Greenwich and The Cavendish Arms in Stockwell and across the river Angel Comedy is good, too.
What’s the worst gig you’ve done?
Most bad gigs are not that bad. The worst time I had in comedy was when I didn’t make it to a gig I was booked for, in Manchester – because I got stuck in traffic on the way up, missed the last train back to London and then had to take a coach back at midnight which took twice as long as would in the day because it made lots of stops along the way.
Some Twayna jokes:
- At my work we seem to have loads of meetings which consist of talking about the last meeting and whether we would have another one next week.
- We were told to introduce ourselves and say something about ourselves. I said my brother used to comb another bloke’s hair with a fork.
- As a joke I answered a survey about improving my workplace by putting “less violent sexual assaults; less non-violent sexual assaults; fewer murders”.
- At interviews when asked what I can bring to the role I say ‘Energy and enthusiasm, at least in the probationary period. After that, I think the best you can hope for is casual indifference’.
- A teacher at school used to get all the white kids to surround me then sing Boney M’s Brown Girl in the Ring.
- For my birthday I asked my mum to get me six chicken legs, a bottle of vodka and a kilo of MDMA. No one’s seen her since.