Wanted: funny women
With Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Amy Schumer doing it for the girls on the international stage, the question of whether women make good comedians seems to finally have been put to bed. Here, we meet four of their up-and-coming Irish counterparts. Photography by Patrick Bolger
It is a common misconception that anyone who gets a few laughs can be a stand-up comedian, which is what I thought when I made a joke about a drum kit and a seagull a few years back that had everyone rolling in the aisles. But, it's a truism that stand-up is so much harder than it looks, which is why it's a skill best reserved for the professionals.
I've always admired those who can walk out on stage, alone, and divulge their innermost secrets. Comedians are fundamentally selling their personality and asking a room full of strangers to validate them. It must be both terrifying and exhilarating, but in the words of Tom Hanks, "when you get the laughs, it's like crack cocaine".
That's all very well and good for comedy veterans, but for new comics it is akin to that common nightmare of arriving to sit a school exam only to find you've no clothes on. Many learn to be funny by finding out how horrible it feels onstage to not be funny. There is no time to dawdle, you must deliver laugh after laugh. Yet, this is the process, it sorts the fighters from the fleers.
Comedy has a reputation for being a boys' club but female comedy is having a moment. If you want to see women being funny, you are now spoilt for choice. There is a new wave of female comedians on the march in Ireland and many will be taking to the stage over the next few months, all looking for laughs. Here, we meet some of the hilarious new names you need to know…
A writer by day, '28'-year-old Monaghan native Niamh Marron divides her time between Dublin and Sligo, where she lives with her partner John. When she's not writing jokes, she's using her degree in photography (which she got in DIT, Temple Bar along with a 'keen taste for liquids') to pay the bills. After the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, she's bringing her own show to Whelan's, Dublin on Friday, September 11. Her favourite one-liner? "Why did the turkey cross the road? Who cares, pass the gin!" niamhmarron.com
Five minutes on the phone with Niamh Marron is enough to deduce her comic juggernaut style (she admits she doesn't get heckled because her audience has no time to get a word in). She's recalling the moment she came back fighting after a disastrous gig with fast, furious and very funny results. Barred from a venue after some people complained of her 'racy' set, she returned some time later to the same stage introducing herself with: "The last time I was here I was told not to come back, some people don't know when to f*** off."
"I'm bold and brassy but all I'm trying to do is make people laugh so people shouldn't take offence," Niamh says. Sometimes, she tells me, she'll find something funny but an audience won't. "You have to keep trying new stuff out, and if it bombs you just admit it - that always gets a few laughs when you're dying on stage." Even in primary school, teachers would urge her to get up and read her essays in front of the class for amusement value.
But starting out in stand-up 10 years ago, Marron admits to 'doing it all wrong', going out after gigs, spending all her money. "I copped myself on a few years back and took the advice of some fellow comics who told me to treat it like a proper job, rock the stage and go home."
This year she's taking her solo show Niamh Marron - Stand Up Chameleon to The Edinburgh Fringe Festival. "I'm nervous, but on the upside, the last time I was there I lost two stone so if I come back skinny, it'll have been a success," she laughs.
A Swords native, 26-year-old Andréa Farrell did Irish studies at Trinity College before becoming a full-time comedian. Her favourite one-liner? "For years I honestly thought the term 'put your keys in the bowl' was an anti-drink driving initiative... That was a rough weekend." @anerdabags
"The lucky thing is," says Andréa Farrell, "that although you hate those embarrassing moments, I happen to have a lot of them and there is some part of you thinking 'I can't wait to tell a room full of strangers what just happened'. It's good fodder," she tells me with her droll, deadpan delivery. She is referring to being 'caught' on the toilet by a room full of English students who lived opposite her and whom she believed, couldn't see her. "They all waved at me so I waved back."
A finalist on RTÉ's comedy awards and part of the Lads of Comedy show that sold out 40 venues around Ireland last year, Farrell is just off the proverbial comic boat but secured herself a well-earned spot at this year's Vodafone Comedy Festival which took place in Dublin last month.
Ironic since she was once told she would 'NEVER' set foot in a comedy club. "I was a student in Trinity and was asked to sell tickets to a charity comedy gig headlined by David O'Doherty. I ended up giving away the last 20 tickets to my mates who were getting drunk in the Pavilion bar. What I didn't realise is that it was a non-alcoholic gig. The organiser wasn't amused."
But recently she was asked back to perform a stand-up show at the college. "I was bricking it but people loved the show. It's definitely one of my proudest moments. I felt like a cool lecturer making everyone laugh."
In her words, laughter is the best medicine - unless you're sick, she says, then you take medicine.
London-born Alison Spittle (26) grew up in Westmeath and now lives in Dublin. She attended Ballyfermot College of Further Eduction before landing her job as a 'professional bad ass'. You can catch her stand-up antics at the Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival from September 7-12. Her favourite one liner? "Which deceased Australian Oscar-winning actor has the best handwriting? Heath Legible RIP." alisonspittle.com
"I'm a crisp sandwich in human form," laughs Alison Spittle. "I'm a bit of a guilty pleasure, enjoyed rarely but ultimately nourishing and nice."
Alison considers herself on the bottom rung of the comic ladder but the affable performer's reputation has been steadily growing since she started out four years ago.
She refers to her comedic style as 'just lots of talking, ye know', in a soft Westmeath lilt.
She's bashful, in her words 'quite shy' but not when it comes to stand-up. "Doing stand-up comedy is the one thing I know I am good at so confidence isn't an issue." Even when faced with drunken hecklers? "I've had a lot of hecklers this year. The worst was a gig in Limerick and one very drunk guy kept shouting sexual obscenities at me. I hate that they think they got the better of me so what did I do?
"I embarrassed the hell out of him. I pretended to the audience that he fancied me and told him to go with his heart despite what his friends thought. It was a proud moment," she laughs.
Stand-up was never on her radar as a child. But working in a regional radio station brought her to the attention of DJ and Republic of Telly's Bernard O'Shea who urged her to try gigging.
"I thought it would be like a skydive, something you do once for the craic but I loved it." Thankfully her TV debut - a breast-judging competition for Off the Rails - didn't deter her from pursuing her career. "There was free wine so I got 'mouldy' then had to spot the fake ones in a line-up. It was weird."
Nowadays she's writing Comedy Bites for RTÉ Player, and cites Whelan's and Vicar Street on her venue wishlist. "But sure that's mad talk," she concludes. The top of the ladder is in view.
Joanne McNally (32) lives in 'her mother's attic' which is why she admits to having no husband, boyfriend or kids. "There's no room." She did 'Orts' at UCD and is now a fully fledged stand-up comedian and contributes regularly to 2FM and TV3. She will play at the International Comedy Club, in Dublin, on August 13 and 15. Her favourite one-liner? "There's no I in denial." @jomcnally
As a PR executive, Joanne McNally spent 'enough' time writing press releases about shampoo and beer until a director friend offered her a part in a show called Singlehood. At the time she was 'chronically' single and felt compelled to have a good 'bitch about lads'.
It wasn't until comic PJ Gallagher was cast in the line-up that she considered stand-up.
"I had decided I didn't like PJ, he was going to lower the tone of the show," she laughs. But they hit it off and paired up to write and perform their acclaimed show Separated at Birth.
This all started a mere six months ago and McNally has been writing and gigging since, developing shows for RTÉ and her own stand-up set Girlos; it's been a swift rise to the comedy circuit.
"People don't expect a posh person to be funny," says McNally from Killiney. "And people are very precious with their laughs, they won't give them to you unless they feel you really deserve them. Earning laughs can be hard, I sometimes feel like a seal looking for claps."
Thankfully she hasn't had any tumbleweed-across-the-stage deaths… yet. "It's in the post," admits McNally. "PJ said if it happens on tour he'll be waiting at the side of the stage with the Prosecco."
Her parting advice for anyone thinking of taking on the comic stand-up stage, "do the opposite to what I did," she howls with laughter. "PJ once said to me that it's better to die on stage with a new joke than get a few laughs with an old one. Don't get stuck in your set and try new material, that helped me build confidence. And, if you die on stage, there's always Prosecco."
Shot on location at The Premium Club, 3Arena, North Wall Quay, Dublin 1. For membership details, see thepremiumclub.ie