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Comedy's new Queen

KILDARE Comedienne Aisling Bea is having the last laugh after her win at the Edinburgh Festival





Eight minutes isn't a particularly significant amount of time, by most people's standards. Yet a short set at this year's Edinburgh Comedy Festival has proved to be something of a game-changer for comedienne/writer/actress Aisling Bea.

Known to her mum and the taxman as Aisling O'Sullivan, the 28-year-old Kildare town native snapped up this year's So You Think You're Funny? award at the festival. In the cut-throat world of comedy, gongs don't come more prestigious than this: Bea follows in the footsteps of former winners Peter Kay, Dylan Moran, Lee Mack, David O'Doherty and Tommy Tiernan. Better still, she is only the second woman to bag the award in its 25-year-history (following Scottish comedian Rhona Cameron's win 20 years ago). Judge Ruby Wax hailed her as a standout winner for her eight-minute routine at the competition, beating seven other finalists at the event.

Bea promptly tweeted about her win, saying that she was "overwhelmed", and had "sat beside the bins (at the venue), had a cry and rang my mammy".

The bin bit aside, it was a glorious end to a gruelling festival for the rising star.

"I had done a play across town and I was doing my own show every night, too," she explains. "It's tiring, doing the festival. It's great fun, but God, it's tough work. I'd done 26 plays and 27 gigs.

"I had to leg it across town, all the while getting texts that were meant to be encouraging but were more like, 'make sure you win!'" she laughs. "I came off the stage and wanted to go discoing, but I had to do a few hours of photos. I got tired of being looked at, which is why I went behind the bins."

Unforgiving

For most comedians, the Edinburgh Festival is an unforgiving, hugely competitive event. "It's like starting a business and any business is hard," reasons Aisling. "You have to lose money to make money in this instance and you have to earn your stripes in a sense.

"Winning the competition is great, but there is that pressure now, like 'let's see what the fuss is about then!'" she muses. "It'll probably freak me out completely. I kind of fear doing gigs in Ireland now; before I could just show up, but I think if you show up as a winner of something like this, there's an expectation that you'll have all guns blazing. It's like New Year's Eve ... if you think it'll be the best thing in the world it's probably going to be crap."

While at Trinity College studying Philosophy and French, she constantly had her eye on a career in comedy, swapping coursework for plays and comedy events.

"I think people felt sorry for me when I got Ds and Es in college," she smiles. "But it all worked out great because when everyone was worrying about where they were going to go after fourth year, I never questioned what I wanted to do."

Still only 28, Bea has racked up an impressive CV. Among her acting credits are E4's Cardinal Burns, The Savage Eye, Holby City, Lewis, Fair City and Come Fly With Me.

This week, she returns to Irish screens in the new series of Trivia, opposite Keith McErlean. Add to this a number of writing projects for stage, TV and the internet and it's safe to assume that Bea would rather sidestep instant fame and celebrity, preferring to keep an eye on long-term, sustainable success.

Ahead of her momentous Edinburgh win, Bea's career had received a major boost, after she was cast as Sharon Horgan's sister in a major role in Dead Boss. Written by Horgan and her writing partner Holly Walsh, the prison-based comedy also starred Jennifer Saunders.

"I love playing that character," gushes Bea. "Jen there has really upped everyone's game. We'd all be 'la-la-la' in rehearsals and then she would walk in and we'd get serious."

For all her 'la-la-la' moments, it's clear that Bea has no shortage of laser focus. Apart from myriad projects in development, she also writes short stories, and short plays for Phil Nichol's Comedians' Theatre Company in London. And, as part of her Einburgh Comedy Festival prize, there is a slot at Montreal's Just For Laughs festival to contend with.

"I just want to keep working," she notes. "Someone like Sharon [Horgan] has about seven projects on the go all the time, on top of being a mum-of-two, and she's really well respected. I'd like to have work that I'm proud of, but still be relatively invisible."

And then, perhaps mindful of the bumper year that she's about to have, she appears to have a change of heart. "Actually, I want to fade away and come back in 10 years," she laughs.

Bea stars in Trivia on Thursday, RTE1 at 10.15pm


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