KATY Brand may be television's hottest new comic talent but she stops laughing the moment I mention the recent re-eruption of the debate about whether women can be funny or not. And specifically, why more of them are not being funny on television.
"Ah, the old 'gender glasses' problem," says the 24-year-old, rolling her eyes. "I don't want to talk about it. The more you talk about it, the more it becomes a problem.
You end up giving women an excuse not to try. Comedy can be intimidating but it is intimidating for men, too." That's me told. And there is arguably a flotilla of budding female talent following in the wake of pioneers such as Catherine Tate and Ronnie Ancona.
There is Sharon Horgan, who wrote and starred in the BBC sitcom Pulling, Ruth Jones, who co-stars with Steve Coogan in Saxondale, Shelley Longworth, who has her own sketch show this autumn, and Brand's chum from her Oxford student days, Katherine Parkinson, who stars in The IT Crowd.
Then there is Katy Brand herself. You might think comedy would be all the more intimidating if, like Brand, you are a lapsed "fundamentalist Christian" (her phrase) with a figure that could politely be described as Rubenesque.
But Brand's confidence in her own talent has led to a meteoric rise. Having only begun performing what she calls her "insane monologues" pinsharp take-offs of celebrities intercut with acutely observed characters of her own creation in comedy clubs in 2004, she stars tonight in her own vehicle, Katy Brand's Big Ass Show, and is being promoted as ITV's answer to Catherine Tate. "I tell people I'm Russell Brand's estranged wife, and I've gone into comedy to win him back," she deadpans.
"Or sometimes I tell taxi drivers that Jo Brand is my mum." Like Catherine Tate and the Little Britain boys, all of whom she admires, Brand delivers a gloriously monstrous form of 21st-century satire.
In her view, this is a country obsessed with celebrity, body fascism and shopping, and she skewers it with a cruel wit that is part-Swift, part-Viz.
But it is her inspired spoofing of stars that sets her apart from the likes of Tate. There's Kate Moss as a naughty school bully, conspiring in the playground with Sadie Frost and Stella McCartney. Or Kate Winslet as a neurotic housewife, vacuuming the walls and struggling to turn on the oven in an increasingly desperate bid to appear "normal".
Best of all are her musical send-ups, such as Amy Winehouse slurring her new single, Booze on My Face, in a disgusting pub toilet, or the pop-reggae tune Banal, which mercilessly punctures Lily Allen's aspirations to workingclass cred. "I can't help it if I grew up on a council estate ..." Brand trills, "well, I walked past one." She has a particular animus against Allen, it seems. "I just have a bit of a thing about very posh kids pretending they aren't posh. Be fine as you are, stop pretending you are something else," she says. But she is plainly delighted that when Radio 1 played Banal, many mistook it for the real thing.
"Scott Mills played it without saying it 'I tell people Russell Brand's estranged or that Jo is my mum' was me and more than 20,000 listeners texted in thinking it really was Lily Allen. One even said it was 'a return to form'. Louis Walsh loved it," Brand cackles.
She denies that her parodies are cruel, insisting that she lampoons only the wider, weirder fringes of celebrity life. "I just try to latch onto a particular comic aspect. The thing I like is the gap between what stars are actually like and the constant press package being rammed down your throat. So you have Jennifer Aniston going 'I'm fine', and you want to say, 'Jennifer, how can you possibly be fine, you were married to Brad Pitt and he ran off with a minx?' "Stars are constantly weaving a web of bullshit around themselves and if you keep building this web eventually the spider is gonna eat you. …