Shake it Up! Comedian Athena Kugblenu challenges class and British politics in her new one-woman show.
“It’s about the graft and the craft,” enthuses Athena Kugblenu. Since being awarded the prestigious Felix Dexter writing bursary in 2020, she’s certainly proven that she is a rare talent that’s not afraid to put in the work.
In the last two years, Athena’s career has rocketed, establishing her as a multi-talented comedian who can appear on television panel shows, present podcasts, host a radio series and perform at live stand-up shows. You may be familiar with Athena’s humorous blend of personal storytelling fused with politics, race and identity from her appearances on BBC 2’s Mock The Week, and from her 2021 four-part Radio 4 series Athena’s Cancel Culture but this May you’ll have a chance to witness her live in action in her new one-woman show.
Shaking Her Class (Soho Theatre in London from 16-21 May) is Athena’s tale of how class has shaped her journey. She says: “It’s no secret that my mum was a dinner lady, but I didn’t understand the significance of that within the class system of this country until recently. I’ve been asked to take part in working class panels and talks to encourage young people to get into the arts, but I would decline as I’m not working class. But whilst that is true in this present day, I come from a working-class background. Those conversations really started the seed for this show.”
“I come from a working-class background…”
When asked if she’s nervous about taking such a provocative topic to a live audience, Athena says that her passion is to make people think: “I haven’t seen class spoken about in an elaborate way. The way class intersects with race doesn’t make any sense in this country. I hope to open some eyes and start some new conversations amongst people that are working class, middle class, upper class, but actually it’s way more sophisticated than that so I use my personal stories to explain that to people.” Opening up about her personal life has always been central to Athena’s comedy persona. In a previous show she performed while pregnant, inspired by her experience of expecting a baby with a man she barely knew.
Though Athena has been on the live scene for over a decade, it wasn’t a career that she imagined she’d succeed in. She reveals: “I remember what my life used to be like. I lived in London but drove to Bedford, Guildford and Birmingham working crazy hours. Now I get to create art for a living. They say if you do something you love you never work a day in your life. It’s a bit corny but this is my chance to do it.”
“Making people laugh who disagree with you is very satisfying.”
Athena grew up watching American comedians like Chris Rock and Joan Rivers alongside ‘90s British TV shows such as Red Dwarf, Desmond’s and The Mary Whitehouse Experience all of which informed and inspired her. She says: “I was a fan of comedy, but I had to become a much bigger fan of comedy once I wanted to be in it.” She spent every moment of the Felix Dexter bursary learning, working and networking and this commitment paid off.
Athena says: “I spent six months within the BBC reading scripts, writing, watching TV, meeting people and being able to amplify what I do to people who can employ me to do it, it’s been massively beneficial. I’m very grateful that I’ve been in constant gainful employment in the comedy world since that bursary ended. I think it’s about the graft and the craft. If I keep making people laugh and people keep wanting me to make them laugh, I’ll keep going. I genuinely love performing. When the audience isn’t open-minded it can be challenging but I aim for anyone to find my comedy funny. Making people laugh who disagree with you is very satisfying.”
Athena Kugblenu’s one-woman hour-long show Shaking Her Class is on at Soho Theatre from Monday 16 to Saturday 21 May at 9pm.
This article was written by Momtaz Begum-Hossain