Humourist Olga Koch brings her uproarious show Just Friends to the Junction – Miriam Balanescu speaks to her in the build up
Olga Koch did not have the most common start to her career in comedy. The Mock the Week, Pointless Celebrities and Radio Four regular started out in computer programming, a topic that she often touches on in her sets.
“It made my parents happy because I was doing a real thing at university, which was a prerequisite with Soviet parents,” Olga says. “In a small pool of things that my parents think are real, which are economics, business or finance, I thought I would be doing maths – and then I tried computer science. What I enjoyed was that it scratched that itch – it’s an elegant solution to a logical puzzle, or just a thing that makes sense.”
Drawing comparisons between her two careers, Olga says both are like finding “a blank you need to fill in. And it needs the most elegant, most beautiful way to fill that blank. The feeling of everything clicking into place is very similar in both computer science and comedy.”
In Olga’s now-touring show, Just Friends, technology is pretty much off the table – except where dating is concerned. The piece was born out of Olga struggling to find her subject. “I knew that, when I was writing, it was important to cover subjects I felt I had something to talk about,” she explains. “I had done three hours all about my own USPs. It was the first time I looked at myself as a blank slate and thought, ‘Well, I’ve got nothing else to sell in terms of angles.’”
This all changed when Olga was touring her last show, Olga Koch: Fight. “Something pretty spectacular happened. My real life started essentially giving me the plot to the show, whether I wanted it to or not,” Olga muses. Making wry observations on female sexuality, Just Friends dissects what it was like to grow up at a certain point in media history, where on-screen representations of women were skewed.
“I get most excited when young women enjoy my comedy,” Olga asserts, “because I feel like I am writing stuff that I would have loved to hear when I was younger. Also bisexual men – those are the two groups of people I cater to.”
Her comedy is concerned with taking down myths surrounding womanhood, namely the idea that clinginess is the evil of all evils for girls. “From age 15 to 25, I was held captive by the pressure of being the cool girl,” Olga recalls. This was all changed by an Alanis Morissette song. “I remember distinctly clicking when I heard it and I thought, ‘Wait a second. The cool girl doesn’t exist. The coolest girl you know isn’t even cool herself.’ I felt so liberated by that one thought.”
Beginning life at the Edinburgh Fringe, Olga says the unique format is unlike her shows that have come before. The show was crafted with her director and best friend, Charlie Dinkin – “the greatest person in the world.”
“A lot of the time, what happens is I have a bunch of either jokes or sporadic thoughts and we write them all on index cards,” Olga explains. “Then she makes sense of the soup that happens in my brain, because she gives me the perspective and distance that I don’t have. It’s almost like a scavenger hunt. It’s like an Easter egg, Taylor Swift-esque, Marvel-esque universe interweaving different layers.”
After Just Friends, anything is possible for Olga – after all, she did transition from computer science to comedy. “I want an end-of-life retrospective at the MoMA,” Olga laughs. “We can all dream. I’m not saying it’s going to happen – but it’s nice to have goals. I would like to write a musical. I just finished a master’s degree and thesis, which wasn’t very good as an academic paper, but I think has legs as a musical.”
Olga Koch brings Just Friends to the Junction on 5 November. Get your tickets here.