An actress, comedian and singer with “flair…energy and a strong Edinburgh twist”, Awards Alumni Coordinator Gemma Higgins talks to the multi-talented 2017/18 Funny Women Awards finalist Megan Shandley about The Haunting of 47, musical bucket lists, tapping into dark humour, returning to the Fringe for Leonardo DiCaprio fans and why Nicholas Holt technically owes her popcorn…
Photo credit: Trudy Stade
GH: “One house, three storeys, four stories, five decades, nine ghosts, twenty-three orgasms, thirty-one Showaddywaddy jokes”…you’re about to kick off a run of award-winning horror writer Si Spencer’s “supernatural sex comedy” The Haunting of 47. How did that come about?
Megan Shandley: I had worked with one of the actors who is in the play – he had directed me in a duologue as part of the Comedian’s Theatre Company at the Edinburgh Fringe. He was looking for actors to be part of The Haunting of 47, and now, here I am!
GH: It’s been billed as “misogyny, mansplaining, toxic masculinity, male fragility and the #notallmen apology.” Can you tell us a bit about the character you play and how they fit into that narrative?
MS: I don’t want to give too much away, so this section is a bit tricky to answer! The play is divided into three sections, and I’m on in the first section, so as actors, we do have a pretty big job in terms of setting the tone of the show. I play Stella, and am married to Chris. Our marriage has broken down and I think our piece is really, mostly, about our relationship and how we’ve dealt with what’s been thrown our way. Stella is a strong woman and, like any human being, I have my flaws. I’ve been through something quite traumatic, and because of that it’s a particularly interesting character to play. There’s so much that’s not said. The dynamic between myself and Chris is really enjoyable to play around with.
GH: You’re a formally trained actress, a writer, musician and super talented singer with an “effortlessly witty manner”, so were evidently always destined to perform. When did you realise you were funny?
MS: I made people I cared about laugh; my friends, partners, other comedians. Through a number of different circumstances, I found myself in social situations with other comics, and I didn’t feel out of place. I thought “maybe I could go on stage and make people laugh, too…?”
GH: You’ve been described as an “assured performer with a mischievous streak”, and “an unexpected, curt humour [that catches the] audience off guard”. What is it that attracts you to satire and darker comedy?
MS: It’s different, and often very clever. Dark for the sake of dark is a bit pointless, but when you tap into something that’s relevant, it’s often fresh and exciting.
GH: You’re a seasoned film and TV star, are working on short film Scum and began recording a feature film adaptation of The Sopranos (currently the ‘Untitled Michael Caton-Jones Project’) at the end of last year. How different do you find the process of being on camera to that of a live stage performance and do you prefer one or the other?
MS: I love the subtlety of film – how one muscle moving in your face, one eye flicker, one hand gesture, can change the whole dynamic of a scene. Being on the stage is amazing, and the buzz is undeniable, but I also like that film is in stages… Like, you can take one scene at a time, and then once it’s filmed, it’s done. You can take it in bits and tap into the different stages of your characters at different points. You’re able to focus on incredible detail to each point of your character’s journey. It feels like it’s broken down into little chunks for you, the actor, but by the end it’s something fully whole with so much depth.
The ‘Untitled Michael-Caton Jones Project’ should hopefully be out by the end of this year. It was an amazing experience and he was an incredible person to work with. We’re hoping for a cinema release but I’m not too sure of details yet, so keep an eye out!
Scum should be out in the next few months… No release date yet, but it was a great (albeit quite serious and hard hitting) film to be part of.
GH: What convinced you to enter the Funny Women Awards?
MS: Why not?! Nothing to lose, everything to gain! Comedy competitions are difficult – they’re so subjective. I think as long as you have fun and know that comedy is such a personal thing, it’s a great thing to do. Don’t read too much into it. If you’re funny, there’s a place for you in this industry.
GH: Who was your mentor and did they influence your comedy – both writing and performing?
MS: Phil Nichol was my mentor and I love the bones of him! He was a friend before the awards and also runs The Comedian’s Theatre Company. He’s a very warm and gifted person, and it was a pleasure to have him help me out.
GH: How do you feel your comedy has evolved or changed in the past two years since you reached the final?
MS: I’ve come so far since the Grand Final! I was INSANELY nervous before performing that night, and as a result, don’t think I performed as well as I know I could have. But that’s the nature of comedy competitions, and it was a great experience to be part of.
GH: You’re pretty full-on gigging in Scotland between February and April – what can we expect from your show? Will you be taking it to the Fringe later this year?
MS: I’ll be performing a 45-minute show called Megazoid this Edinburgh Fringe as part of the Scottish Comedy Festival. It’s on at 8.30pm for the full month of August at Nightcap Bar, just next to The Stand Comedy Club on York Place – it’s a great wee venue and I performed there in a split bill show last year, so I’m super pleased to be back.
It’s a show about communication, technology and modern day relationships. It’s silly and full of stories and observational anecdotes and really relatable material, and I think it has something for everyone. Especially Leonardo DiCaprio fans…
GH: I briefly mentioned your singing earlier, but you really do have THE most phenomenal voice (if you haven’t heard Megan’s rendition of “Burn” from Hamilton that has to be the first thing you do when you’ve finished reading this), do you have more vocal performances in the pipeline?
MS: That’s very kind! I’m learning the guitar, so it’s definitely something I’m going to keep pursuing. Musical Theatre is how I got into acting, so it’s definitely an itch I want to keep scratching. My dream role is Elphaba in Wicked or Jenna in Waitress… watch this space!
GH: Over the years since we’ve seen new comedy partnerships, friendships, even relationships start at the Awards. Have you kept in touch with any of the Funny Women?
MS: I’m back in Edinburgh now, so don’t see many of the English based ladies too often. Maisie Adam makes me laugh an awful lot on Twitter, and I’m so pleased to see Louise Young smashing the circuit. It goes without saying that I love Chloe Petts – always have, always will.
GH: What would you say to anyone out there thinking about entering the Awards?
MS: Just do it! Have fun, enjoy it, don’t overthink it. It can be a huge stepping stone, but regardless of how you do in the competition, it opens lots of doors. Funny Women have been ever so supportive of me since I started performing stand-up, and I’m ever so grateful.
GH: Who are your favourite funny women right now?
MS: Olivia Coleman is just glorious. Someone told me the other day that’s when she was filming The Favourite and Emma Stone’s character had to stick her hand up her dress for the first time, Olivia put a wet sponge up there, just to freak Emma out – glorious! Olivia’s career trajectory is super inspiring, and her Oscar’s acceptance speech was brilliant and warm and REAL. Also, The Favourite has the most wonderful alternative to the phrase ‘Love Struck’ that I’ve ever heard in my puff! Nicholas Holt has the line… You’ll know it when you hear it! I literally spat out my popcorn in the cinema!
GH: What else have you got coming up in the next few months pre-Fringe?
MS: I’m gigging all over the place, but this coming Sunday I’m recording for the new BBC Scotland channel for the telly! It’s a new show called The Comedy Underground, showcasing up and coming comedy talent from Scotland… Pretty exciting!
GH: Watch this space indeed, people; the woman is about to be EVERYWHERE…
The Haunting of ’47 is on at The Hen & Chickens Theatre London between 19th and 23rd March. For tickets and more information, click here!
To listen to that rendition of ‘Burn’ from Hamilton here.
For details of all Megan’s upcoming gigs, check out her website.