Ahead of her debut show Vol: 1 hitting Soho Theatre, Awards Alumni Coordinator Gemma Higgins talks to 2014 Funny Women Awards finalist Stevie Martin about gaining confidence as a solo act, the best advice Gandhi ever gave her and why the start of anything is the best bit.
Photo Credit: Idil Sukan
Gemma Higgins: Congratulations on Vol:1, Stevie! How are you feeling about taking a debut described as a “polished gem” (and is on the Evening Standard’s list of the funniest shows to see this month) to Soho Theatre?
Stevie Martin: I can’t wait to do the show again, and getting a run at the Soho Theatre was a real treat. I love it there. The show in Edinburgh was really fun, but I was absolutely knackered and also doing two other plays so this time round I won’t look (and feel) like I’ve recently been dug up.
GH: Consisting “entirely of openings”, we’ve been promised comedy, laughter, a stage (always a good start), but no live horse. No doubt your trademark characters will be vying for attention, but can you tell us a little more about what to expect from the show?
SM: It’s basically an hour of beginnings. The start of a stand up show, the beginning of a cute kids show, the first scene of a horror play, the first few minutes of a seance. It means that nothing outstays its welcome – the start of anything is the best bit!
GH: Your first two Edinburgh Fringes were sell-out shows with Tessa Coates and Liz Kingsman as one third of critically acclaimed sketch group Massive Dad. How different was it to return to the Fringe as a solo act?
SM: It was terrifying and now, thankfully, I’ve got used to it and am much more confident being on stage by myself for a full hour. The new show I’m taking up has been a little easier to put together because it’s not undercut with me screaming ARGH BUT CAN YOU ACTUALLY DO THIS. I now know I can! I won’t run away! That gives me confidence!
GH: You’re an established and hugely talented – not to mention hilarious – lifestyle writer and have written about everything from witchcraft, horrendous hen parties and the history of the word ‘vagina’ to whether chickens are the new chihuahuas and what the return of Louis CK says about culpability in the industry. Your journalism is always perceptive and insightful. Do you approach developing a stand up show in the same way you’d approach an opinion piece?
SM: I didn’t approach Vol: 1 like a piece at all, I basically panicked for a year because I couldn’t figure out how to start it – which is why it’s a bunch of openings – but I could have saved myself a lot of stress if I’d just approached it like an article and wrote the beginning, last. But as it turned out, I’m proud of what the show became even if I did stress eat a lot of Doritos while making it.
GH: In your comedy you slip “seamlessly in and out of the maddest of character creations” and grew up in the era of game changing female-heavy sketch shows like Smack the Pony and The Fast Show. Which funny women inspired you as a kid?
SM: I absolutely loved Smack the Pony, but oddly all of the stand ups I watched were men. Billy Connolly, Eddie Izzard, Robin Williams, Steve Martin (obviously). I think that’s why I came to comedy later (I was 26 when I went to Edinburgh with Massive Dad) because I subconsciously didn’t think it could be a job a woman could do. I hadn’t come across someone like me. Now, thank god, that’s changed hugely and there are so many female comedians on TV and doing stand up specials.
GH: You’ve been described as having “natural flair for clowning around” and a “gift for goofery”. When did you realise you were funny?
SM: I definitely didn’t grow up being like “Hello I’m hilarious”, but when I was a full time journalist all the pieces I did that were silly did really well. So I started to write more funny stuff, and thought I’d quite like to start a sketch group. It was terrifying at first, going on stage and announcing to people that you think you’re funny. Genuinely horrific. But every show I do, and every time someone laughs at something stupid I thought of on the train it gives me more confidence that I’m funny. I just cringed when I said that. Unpack that, therapists.
GH: As a regular on the stage circuit, we’ve also seen you on our screens in Channel 4’s Damned, ITV2’s @Elevenish, BBC3’s Quickies, Russell Howard’s Good News and Comedy Central’s Brotherhood. Do you find your comedy lends itself to those two mediums in different ways?
SM: Yes definitely. TV is often more toned down and live comedy is more amped up, more dangerous. Anything can happen on a stage and you have full control over what does – whereas with TV or filmed stuff, the editor has control. I like both for different reasons though! Live is more exhilarating and TV is more of an art form that I’d love to improve at.
GH: What convinced Massive Dad to enter the Funny Women Awards in 2014?
SM: Our director pointed it out and we thought it was a great idea. At that point there were so few women only bills and nights that we just thought it’d be a brilliant thing to be involved with. And it was!
GH: How do you feel your comedy and performance has evolved or changed since then?
SM: I think the main change has been that I’ve now become a lot more confident trying out new jokes and material. It used to have to be finished before an audience saw it, which causes so much more stress than necessary.
GH: Over the years since we’ve seen new comedy partnerships, friendships, even relationships start at the Awards (and of course you entered with two of your best friends in tow). Have you kept in touch with anyone you met through the competition?
SM: Jayde Adams won our year and I’m good pals with her still!
GH: So much of your work is about collaborating with other funny women and you share your celebrity with the infamous Dr Alison Martin. In non-tortoise circles, who do you think we should be keeping an eye out for right now?
SM: Ooh it’s actually Dr Alison Parker – she keeps getting called Martin in articles and is a right diva about it… There are so many great people doing great stuff. Jenny Bede, Gabby Best is doing a show this year, Rose Johnson from Birthday Girls is doing a solo work in progress too. There are loads of excellent shows going up!
GH: Nobody Panic (the hit podcast Stevie co-hosts with fellow Massive Dad member Tessa Coates) is all about how to navigate things in life that, every week you give us great advice. When it comes to comedy what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
SM: Just do it. It won’t be perfect, it won’t be the best, but it will be better than what’s in your head because that doesn’t exist. I can’t remember who said that so let’s say Gandhi.
GH: The 16th Funny Women Awards have just opened for entry! What would you say to anyone out there thinking about putting themselves forward?
SM: It’s a great thing to do, excellent experience and just have the best time. Also, be yourself – don’t try and do what you think anyone else would want. Do what YOU find funny!
Stevie Martin: Vol. 1 is at Soho Theatre at 8.30pm, 17th-20th April. For tickets and more information click here!
Stevie is on the line-up for the Charity Comedy Gala at the Streatham Space Project at 7.30pm, 23rd April. Although it’s sold out you can join the waiting list here!
To subscribe to Stevie and Tessa’s podcast Nobody Panic (and check out all the available episodes), click here!
The Underbelly Festival will also see Stevie debut her second solo show, Hot Content! Keep an eye out for dates and tickets here!