Just what makes Scots comic Karen Dunbar laugh?

Karen Dunbar is one of Scotland’s most accomplished comics and actresses.

Originally from Ayr, Karen came to prominence on BBC Comedy show Chewin’ the Fat, before getting her own programme, The Karen Dunbar Show.

Since then, she’s become an accomplished actress on stage, and is currently appearing in the UK tour of Calendar Girls.

I laugh at anything that is clever. But that doesn’t necessarily mean only intellectual humour – you can very cleverly slip on a banana skin. And I also enjoy the other side of that – unconscious humour.

I love to people-watch, if I’m on the bus, say. When people don’t think they’re being funny, they are often at their funniest.

I was always a confident, quirky kid. My birthday is April Fool’s Day, and I often wonder if that infl uenced my funny nature.

I’d always wanted to act, but I didn’t have a clear route into it. I worked in clubbing entertainment, hosting karaoke, quiz nights and DJing, which was actually a very lucrative business, but I didn’t know how I was going to get into television. Eventually I went along to an audition with the Comedy Unit, a production company who put me in a comedy sketch radio show which went on to be commissioned for television.

Most of my work has been in Scotland. I did have a fantastic experience at the National Theatre in London, and I did a month in Adelaide at the comedy festival, which was brilliant.

Dark humour is definitely a universal trait. I’ve come across it everywhere I’ve been. The ability to laugh in the face of adversity is a great asset; the fact that we can cheer ourselves up in dark times is a valuable thing.

I have always been pretty quick-witted, sometimes to my detriment in the classroom. I would be the one who said the joke that was in my head, when the teacher would quite clearly have preferred it to stay in my head.

Pantomime is incredibly rewarding. There is honestly nothing like the kids’ reactions. I love how you can improvise as long as you keep the story pushing through. I was in The Guid Sisters at the Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh and you certainly couldn’t deviate from the script, but you can really have fun with a panto. You’d be surprised how adult-friendly a panto can be – a lot of the jokes go straight over the kids’ heads. Look at the Shrek movies and The Simpsons; they are enjoyed by adults just as much as children; panto is like that.

If I had my own fairy godmother there’s personally nothing I could wish for. I came to that conclusion a while ago. All my needs are met: I’ve got a great relationship with my partner and an amazing family, which is very important to me. So my wishes would be for other people – things like for everyone in the world to have enough to eat. That might sound a bit Beauty Queen, but it’s what I would ask for!

Humour can be a generational thing, but it can also transcend all ages. A lot of the humour between Gavin and me, say, is referential, but some of the funniest stuff is the simplest stuff, the kind that kids can appreciate. Continue relentlessly, not ruthlessly, is my advice to those wanting to break into the entertainment industry. Keep pushing what it is you want to do and don’t give up believing in it, which is a very hard task.

  • This feature was originally published in 2013.