Big in Britain: Canadian comedian Katherine Ryan aims to make a name back home

She’s built a career on being Canadian but Canada’s never heard of her. Now, U.K.-based comedian Katherine Ryan is hoping to make her mark in her native country — and around the world — with her new Netflix special, In Trouble.

Stand-up special to receive global release on Netflix Feb. 14

British-based Canadian comedian Katherine Ryan, backstage in London, hopes her first major foray back home will be well received. (Jared Thomas/CBC)

She's built a career on being Canadian but Canada's never heard of her.

Now, U.K.-based comedian Katherine Ryan is hoping to make her mark in her native country — and around the world — with her new Netflix special, In Trouble. She's only the second Canadian, after Russell Peters, to have a stand-up show released worldwide on the video-streaming service. 

Ryan, 33, grew up in Sarnia, Ont., and studied urban planning at Ryerson University. She moved to London a decade ago and only later began focusing her career on comedy. 

"People from my school are going to be like, 'so anyone can just get a Netflix special? I didn't know what she was doing; I thought she died,'" Ryan joked. Actually, "I just moved away."

She's performed at Just for Laughs in Montreal and, alongside stars Amy Schumer and Aziz Ansari, at the Oddball Festival in Toronto. But Ryan remains largely unknown to Canadian audiences. 

A well-known face on British TV 

Ryan spoke to CBC News in the dressing room of a London television studio as she prepared for an appearance on The Fake News Show. This type of panel show remains ubiquitous on British TV, with BBC's Mock The Week and Have I Got News for You attracting weekly audiences of more than a million viewers.

Ryan has performed stand-up comedy on stages throughout the U.K. but may be best known here as a regular on these programs, providing witty commentary on current events. While on The Fake News Show she responded to a bogus story about Donald Trump identifying Canadian women as a threat by quipping, "Canadian women start each day with a Labatt's and an abortion."

Ryan calls her panel appearances "the reason I eat."

Canadian comic in Britain aims to make her name at home

5 years ago
Duration 1:32
Katherine Ryan tells CBC’s Thomas Daigle about her Netflix special and being branded a 'Canadian' comedian in Britain.

"I don't know that I'd be a comedian if I stayed in Canada," Ryan said, pointing to a smaller national comedy market and longer distances to travel between shows. In Britain, however, Ryan often underscores her Canadian identity. "I do have a silly accent," here, she said, "and that helps me. It makes me feel special to be a minority. It's something to use."

In the one-hour Netflix program, recorded last year at London's Eventim Apollo theatre, Ryan skewers celebrities from Bill Cosby to Taylor Swift. She jokes about her now seven-year-old daughter's English accent, the U.S. election and romantic encounters gone wrong. Many of the punchlines are too crude to be quoted here.

She acknowledges her comedy has been described as "nasty" ("they say I'm Joan Rivers but older," she quips on stage).

"I'm not a nasty person," she said. "I've always been attracted to comedy that was really close to the line and made people a little uncomfortable, because that's where progress comes from."

Hometown humour

Where Canadian viewers may be the most taken aback is in her portrayal of her hometown. "Sarnia is a terrible, horrible, awful place," she tells the crowd. "We are the teen-cancer, teen-suicide and teen-pregnancy capital of Canada."

Although the Southwestern Ontario city has bore the brunt of Ryan's jokes in the past, it will be the first time the gags make it to ears of many locals. 

Ryan previously performed much of the show's content on tour throughout the U.K. It was recorded and geared toward a British audience before she knew it would be released in 190 countries, including Canada.

"When I talk about Sarnia, I'm more talking about me, who I was and the tumultuous teenager who didn't want to be there anymore," Ryan explained. "I think some people won't get it and they won't like it but others will go, 'oh hey, nobody else is talking about our town on Netflix.'"

Going global

She's already writing another stand-up special — this time, geared toward a more global audience — that she hopes will also be released on Netflix. Ryan has no immediate plans to tour Canada, but hopes to perform in her native country soon.

She's anxious to see how In Trouble — her first major foray into North America — will be received.

"I hope Canadians really like it," she said. "It would be special to me if they were proud."


Thomas Daigle

Senior Reporter

Thomas is a reporter for a variety of CBC News programs, currently based in Toronto. Previously at CBC's London, U.K. bureau, he reported on everything from the Royal Family and European politics to terrorism. Thomas filed stories from Quebec for several years and reported for Radio-Canada in his native New Brunswick.