Jayde Adams is frowning at a group of obnoxiously loud men. Their laughter is drowning out our conversation – but she’s not buying their guffaws. “I know what a fake laugh is and that is a fake laugh,” she says, brow furrowed. “That is a, ‘I’m really trying to make the people that I’m sat with comfortable laugh.’” After many years on the stage – as a cabaret performer, Adele drag act and now a stand-up comedian – she’s become something of a “sommelier of laughter”. And she doesn’t have time for fake laughers. On cue, the loudest man cackles again. Adams rolls her eyes. “I can tell. You know how? Because it’s exactly the same every single time. That is quite a male laugh. He’s sat with men and he’s showing off.”
Adams has been thinking about men a lot lately: her latest show Men, I Can Save You, sees the Bristol-born comedian transform into an all-white wearing, Russell Brand-esque self-help guru. It’s her fifth Edinburgh Fringe show as a stand-up, after a decade of performing at the festival. The world beyond the Royal Mile seems to finally be catching up too. Her 2020 Amazon Prime comedy special The Ballad of Kylie Jenner’s Old Face (rebranded as Serious Black Jumper “so I wouldn’t get sued by Kris Jenner”) pushed Adams out of the “Fringe famous” bracket. Clips circulated on TikTok, where they’ve been viewed 156 million times, making her a star on the platform. Along came presenting gigs (Crazy Delicious, Snackmasters) and acting roles (Alma’s Not Normal, the forthcoming Take That movie) with her own sitcom Ruby Speaking out next year. And of course, there’s a spot on Strictly Come Dancing, announced last week. “I manifest stuff like you wouldn’t believe,” she tells me, pre-Strictly announcement. Turns out, she wasn’t kidding.
Expect the nation’s legion of Strictly fans to be instantly charmed by her. When we meet, it’s the hottest day of the year; London’s public transport system has melted into a puddle. Adams arrives, pulls me into a hug, and explains apologetically in her strong west country accent that she had to take a tuk tuk to get here.
Despite this sweaty journey, Adams seems relaxed. There’s an air of confidence to her - not just in her new show but in her standing in the comedy world. These days, she’s a self-proclaimed “boujie b****”, playing in theatres rather than on the club circuit. Audiences have bought tickets to see her specifically. “I haven’t been in a working men’s club that hasn’t been taken over by drag queens in quite a long time,” she says. The one in Bethnal Green? She nods. “Last time I was there I damaged my ACL doing a scissor kick to PJ and Duncan’s ‘Let’s Get Ready to Rhumble’.”
But those venues, she says, are a blessing for stand-up comedians. After all, there’s nothing like a rowdy audience to teach you the “little tricks” of the trade on your way up. “It’s part of the job,” she says. “The job is to entertain people and you become a better comedian when you learn how to handle that stuff. I don’t want to preach to the converted in shows that I’m doing… and actually, an audience quite likes to be dominated as well. They love it when you get ’em.”
In Men, I Can Save You, Adams is exploring her own saviour complex. For her, men were an obvious choice as the group in need of her help. “It’s not women, women are nailing it. And then the gender-free people, they seem to be having a great time as well,” she says, gesturing at the Pride flags on the walls. “We’re smashing it, babes… Everyone’s just really coming into their own and men are having to work a bit harder.”
The problem, she’s observed, is that men regard a move towards equality as a loss to their own position; subsequently, they feel wounded. “Your average man doesn’t know he has privilege and now everyone’s going, ‘You’ve got it and we want it back.’” She’s careful to add that Men, I Can Save You is not “a man bash-y show”. But she learnt one thing from Serious Black Jumper, and the people online who accused her of bullying Kylie Jenner: “If I can’t even criticise billionaires, then who’s left? Straight white guys. No one’s going to come for me if I start doing jokes about Gregg Wallace.”
Adams says this with her tongue clearly in her cheek – she quips: “What’s better for [men] than having a comedian-slash-actress helping them through these difficult times?” But the special does have a more serious side. It also taps into the very real topic of loss. Adams describes herself as ”somewhat of an aficionado” on the subject, after her older sister Jenna died of a brain tumour in 2011.
As children, Adams and Jenna would compete in freestyle disco dancing competitions together. They remained close throughout adulthood. The comic has talked about her sister’s death on stage a lot, always with the mindset that neither of them should be pitied. Even today, she recalls their bond through an anecdote in which Jenna punched herself in the face – she was trying to get a boy who was attacking Adams at school into trouble. “Everyone’s like, ‘Oh my god, she must have been such an angel’ and she was… but she was also tough and working-class and sometimes a bit of a bruiser,” she says. “I refused to let anyone be romantic about her.”
There was one moment in lockdown where her perspective softened. Adams depicts a movie-perfect scene: she’s writing a script and gazing out of the window, Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde Part Three playing in her headphones. “It’s the music that Romeo and Juliet swim around in the water to at the end [of Baz Luhrmann’s film]… I was thinking, wouldn’t it be amazing to have a working-class character die in the arms of someone that they love, having an epic moment like something from a movie. And I had this realisation that my sister had actually died in the arms of someone she loved. Because she died in my arms.”
She wells up. “It was at that moment in 2020 when I realised that I’d focused all on the loss and these funny stories. What I didn’t understand until 11 years later [was] I’ve been loved. I have searched my whole life to be loved and then when I realised what love was, I was like, I don’t need to be searching for it anymore because I had it and I had it in the purest possible form… I realised when it had all been stripped away that I have been loved and I need to stop looking for it now. I need to just start living.”
Grief, she says, would be her specialist subject in a “very sad” episode of Mastermind. “Eleven years later, I’m still talking about it,” she says. “The early stages of grief are the most intense and romantic and brutal of the stages, but what happens to loss and grief 11 years later? For me, it turns into love and confidence and self-assurance.”
I have been loved and I need to stop looking for it now. I need to just start living
A week after our interview, it’s announced that Adams will be hitting the Strictly dancefloor. From my years of watching the show, she seems to me like a shoo-in for the glitterball. We talk again and she admits that audiences might not like her dance background, but “I just think if Ashley Roberts from The Pussycat Dolls can go on the show, then Jayde Adams can go on it… I have not got a dancer’s body anymore. It’s gonna be hard work for me as it was for Bill Bailey.”
When I heard she was joining the class of 2022, my mind initially went to comedian Bailey – the dark horse of the 2020 competition and eventual champion. Adams is equally confident she can go all the way. After all, she says, “I’ve never entered a competition I didn’t think I could win… I am heading into this with as much ambition as I did for freestyle disco dancing when I was 11 years old.”
She continues: “One of the visually impressive things about me is that I do have a lightness in me even though I am not light… Being my size, doesn’t –” She pauses, choosing her words. “I don’t want this whole journey to be me talking about my size because no one discussed this with Bill Bailey or with anyone else. They didn’t discuss it with the men.” But a victory for Adams, showing that people of all body sizes can move and be talented dancers, would be groundbreaking. “I think it would be a very powerful message about body positivity. Not there on a pulpit preaching it but actually putting this into action.”
And, of course, dance was a huge part of Adams’s relationship with her sister: it’s easy to see how much competing on Strictly must mean to her. It’s an objectively huge mark of success, “everything I’ve ever worked towards”. But for the comedian and her family, the emotion behind it is profound. She recalls a childhood “plodding along behind [Jenna], holding her back in our dance competitions”. In fact, “the last time I ever danced with anyone was with Jenna,” she remembers. “So this is a huge thing.”
Jayde Adams is performing her show ‘Men, I Can Save You’ at the Pleasance Courtyard, Cabaret Bar as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe from 3 – 28 August at 8.20pm. More info and tickets available here