The queen of the caustic punchline talks about plastic surgery, embarrassing her daughter and turning her life as a single mum into a sitcom

Katherine Ryan is busily scrolling through a neighbourhood Facebook group when we meet. Someones dog attacked another dog today which was sad, she says, but mostly people are just selling things. However, her days in north London might be numbered. Im just ready to be a bit country, she explains. Back in 2007, when she arrived in the UK, Ryan headed straight for Crouch End, where a gaggle of fellow Canadian comics had already settled down, and where she now spends her days mooching around in a velour Juicy Couture tracksuit she bought when Paris Hilton was at her peak.

But the 35-year-old is now ready for a change. Her itchy feet are particularly understandable when you consider just how much has happened in the last 12 years. Previously a staff trainer for the Hooters restaurant chain in Canada, Ryan arrived in London with her then boyfriend, didnt think shed stay long and flitted between London and her tiny home town of Sarnia, Ontario. Her comedy career was in its infancy (I was definitely doing an impression of Sarah Silverman) but watching the likes of Sara Pascoe made her fall for Londons standup scene, and put down roots in the city. She worked a 9 to 5 job, had a daughter, Violet who is now 10 and became a single mum when her relationship with Violets father ended. I didnt even have a phone when she was born. A poor mum is a good mum, she deadpans.

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I talk about my daughter on stage, but thats becoming more and more fictional Ryan doing standup. Photograph: Idil Sukan/Netflix

However, Ryan was also slowly ascending from open mic nights to panel shows such as 8 Out of 10 Cats and on to her current position as Gen Ys answer to Joan Rivers. Shes best known for caustic punchlines verging on the unsayable, and gigs on programmes like (the fairly mean-spirited) Your Face Or Mine?, where couples have to decide whether theyre more attractive than one another. In a meta twist, she also presented the UK reboot of Rivers gilded doc series Howd You Get So Rich? Ryan once quipped that the late comic got exactly what she wanted from that final surgery to stop ageing.

Ryans own appearance is rarely out of the conversation. There are all these jokes about me having plastic surgery but I havent actually had any on my face, she explains. She has had fillers though not for a year now. I think I got a little lost in the game, I had a bit too much. I was watching The Fix [the US panel show she appears on with Jimmy Carr]. I saw that my eyebrows were always up and thought, Ooh, yeah, definitely not doing that for a long time!

We are snatching an hour at the Ace hotel in London amid Ryans busy schedule, ostensibly to talk about her new Netflix special, Glitter Room, but Ryan is soon giving her opinion about everything from Cardi B (Shes just like, yeah I was a stripper I love the fact that shes so open) to her tiny, unethical teacup dogs. Shes got an animal rights event lined up straight after, and is a big fan of the kind of canines her mate Danny Dyer describes as dogs that shiver and piss from their eyes.

Ryan is warm, lightly cynical, and a bit of a magpie she marvels at our waitresss luminescent makeup, and is herself dressed in a diamant-studded denim jacket and black tutu with big, Lady Gaga-esque sunglasses by her side. She is unusually interested in the harried freelancers hunched over their laptops in the hotel lobby, a situation she can relate to; as well as the Netflix special her second, following 2017s In Trouble shes currently writing a sitcom for the streaming service. The Duchess, a heightened version of her life, will, she says, offer something a bit different from the sadcoms that have dominated TV in recent years. My character is a bit of a fish out of water shes this brash, disruptive, North American mother who doesnt act like you would think a mother would act. And shes happy about being a mum! I dont feel like its a drag. I think you can still be taken seriously, you can still be fashionable, you can still have fun, she says, before pausing. Do you think we should sadden it up a bit?

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Katherine Ryan with Jimmy Carr, as co-hosts of Your Face or Mine? Photograph: Steven Peskett/Comedy Central

However, even if the tears are few, theres a realism thats never far from the surface with Ryans work. In both her sitcom and Glitter Room previously seen on tour and in the West End her hyperbolic, cutting gags often centre on motherhood, and single motherhood in particular. The Glitter Room is Violets bedroom, Ryan explains. The show is about how proud I felt when I bought us our first property ever, a tiny flat. We decorated it to be really feminine, yet still in 2018 builders would notice that I was alone and be like, Thats so sad, wheres the man? Or You dont want all those flowers no man will want to live here.

The builders lack of insight, which also extended to insisting that Ryans male cat was definitely pregnant, provided the basis for her show, but its also about some more universal themes. Its about the ridiculousness of that and our shape of family, but its chiefly about just celebrating whatever your family is, and [the fact] that you dont have to conform, she says.

In her own experience, theres still a sense of judgment around single motherhood, even within showbusiness, where she says shes constantly asked, Whos watching your daughter?, or How have you explained your dirty mouth to her?

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Katherine Ryan. Stylist: Jennifer Michalski-Bray; hair and makeup: Fiona Eustace; jumpsuit: Ong-Oaj Pairam; shoes: Malone Souliers; jewellery: Annoushka. Photograph: Catherine Harbour

Single dads are like sexy heroes, she says, a subject she expands on live. But if youre a single mum theres still a stigma.

The special was filmed in LA, where Ryan is less known than in the UK. It really felt like proving myself, like you would do at an open mic or a comedy club, she says. But I think thats always the way it should be. Ive seen shows where you can tell people have been laughing at a comedians jokes for a while and they shouldnt have been. I think you always want to be able to show up and be treated really fairly ruthlessly even by an audience and thats the only way youre going to know if youre really funny or not.

Ryan compares having been a single mum to being in the Brie Larson hostage film Room, except at least in the film the mum had someone bringing her groceries. While she and Violet are supremely close, Ryan is also careful to give her daughter as much privacy as possible, and refrains from posting pictures of her online.

I talk about my daughter on stage, but thats becoming more and more fictional, she explains. I love Kevin Hart, but he was talking about his daughter getting her first period [in his last special] and I was distracted. I was like, did that really happen? Did she sign off on that? Besides, she knows that in due course Violet might not want to be as closely linked with her as she is now. Im a very embarrassing figure. Right now she thinks Im cool but any minute, shes going to be disgusted by every word that comes out of my mouth, everything I do on telly, everything, she says. I want her to have the option to not be too humiliated by my work, even though it pays for her entire life.

Meanwhile, there is a chance Ryan may move home and that wouldnt be the only change in her life right now. While filming the upcoming series of Who Do You Think You Are? back in Canada (I was just like, please do not let my ancestors have slaughtered the indigenous population, please!), she ran into her high school sweetheart, Bobby, whom she hadnt seen in 20 years. I genuinely have always loved him, always, she says. I dont know if thats the nostalgia of your first love and being 16, but he walked in and I was like, wow. Then I just slept with him for an anecdote. I thought, hell go back to his friends and tell them and have a laugh, Ill tell my friends, theyll have a laugh, but no, I just really liked him. She pauses, before adding a pained Uh oh!

Bobbys still in Canada so theyre taking things slowly. However, Ryan feels conflicted about the whole thing given her current projects. Its annoying because I have the special coming out where Im going, right Im not going to have a boyfriend again until Im in my 60s. I also dont want to abandon people. Ive spent all this time talking to women who feel there is this culture thats like, She has all these cats and she says she doesnt want a boyfriend but shes lying, shes incomplete. I hate that, because I felt very happy and very complete.

In any case, she isnt about to start extolling the virtues of being coupled up. Men are like dolphins best enjoyed on holiday, she quips in Glitter Room, and shes still keeping Bobby under review she says. Im like, whatever happens, I dont want to be in love, I dont want to be in a relationship and I dont want to get married. Then she bursts out laughing and flashes a sardonic smile.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2019/jul/03/katherine-ryan-interview-comedy-single-mum-glitter-room