Aisling Bea is the second woman in 20 years to win the ‘So You Think You’re Funny’ competition at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and has been quietly working across all the creative fields as a stand-up, writer and actress. We decided to catch Ireland’s next big comedian before she blows up.
So how do you feel about people honing in on you being a female winner?
Well, I think it helped the interest afterwards, I don’t go on about being a woman, if anything I go on about being Irish, I don’t feel like I should have to on stage – it’s pretty obvious I’m a girl. I was in a sketch group with boys (the members of Dead Cat Bounce) and you just get on with it. In my set I didn’t refer to being a woman at all and yes I’m the first woman to win it in 20 years but I think that means that it’s starting to matter less that you’re a woman and more that you’re funny. I think there’s a tendency to apologise for being a woman and I don’t do that, if I play a terrible gig it’s because I wasn’t funny on the night, not because I’m a woman. Aisling wasn’t funny, not all of womankind – there’s a tendency to generalize because of one example but hopefully that’s changing.
This could really be it that catapults you into proper fame though…
Hopefully….not because I’m not sure I could handle it. I’m dubious of anything that can be seen as a catapult because it means you can fall quicker. That’s why I keep so much going as an actor, a writer and a stand-up to make sure that if anything nose-dives I still have something – the aim is to work for the rest of your life rather than be famous. I really like the idea of being known for your work instead of being known for your name. I’m never recognised from anything because I look like everyone’s cousin: one minute I could look like the back-end of a bus and then the next they put make-up on me and I’m playing somebody’s girlfriend. I prefer being good at the work I do and then walking away from it and being invisible again.
And what about big TV appearances and panel shows?
You have to make sure that when you do them that you’re ready so that you don’t take on an opportunity and end up ruining it. I suppose I’m lucky in that I’m a bit older and I came into the process with awareness from the acting industry to take everything with a pinch of salt. What winning does is puts a spotlight on you developing as an act and when you’re developing you don’t want that you just want to go out and make your mistakes and learn from them. Plus, you feel like afterwards you have to work harder or else someone will take it away from you or they’ll say ‘oh she won it and now she sits carving wooden figurines on a verandah somewhere in America never to be heard of again.’ You want to make sure that you’re still good in the aftermath.
It’s kind of like the ‘difficult second album’ now?
It’s true! The spotlight is on you and suddenly you feel like you need to come up with all this new material and prove yourself. It’s amazing to be on a gig with a big bill with people like Phil Jupitus and to be the pleasantly surprising addition but now people are actually coming to watch you and that’s a bit of pressure. I like coming up with lots of new material and I have quite a high turnover. Luckily I have my sister, I do little gigs for her in the sitting room and she’s quite tired of it. She just sits there and looks at me with cold, dead eyes and just goes ‘yeah that’s not funny…yeah, that is’. She enjoys telling me that something is shit.
Words: Emily Carson