“You can’t predict who will respond to your material so make it as good as you can and get it out there”
Gearing up to take more playful one liners and quirky observations to the Fringe, a month into previewing her WOP show Ninety-Five, Alumni Coordinator Gemma Higgins caught up with 2013 Funny Women Awards finalist Saskia Preston to chat persistence, opportunity and how comedy taught her she was weirder than she thought.
Photo credit: Steve Ullathorne
Gemma Higgins: There’s quite clearly a lot of comedy to be found reflecting on your childhood experiences. Growing up, what were your comedy influences? Who made you laugh? What made you fall in love with it?
Saskia Preston: I feel lucky that I remember so much laughter from my childhood. I had funny friends and a funny family who I remember actively trying to make each other laugh – there’s love in the effort and that’s a big part of the joy for me. I loved Blackadder and Faulty Towers. My grandma would send us VHS tapes to Hong Kong of British comedies and weirdly Children’s Ward which wasn’t as funny. I think I can drill down what I find funny to a really specific kind of humiliation and threads of that are all over the stuff that I write.
GH: Your infectious quirk has seen you described as an “alien weirdo with odd observations”. What do you think makes you able to spot the stranger idiosyncrasies in life that might go unnoticed by others?
SP: I don’t think I’m a weirdo but comedy taught me I’m weirder than I thought and that’s weird.
GH: One of the things that, however bizarre the narrative might be, makes your performance so charming and relatable is the unaffected nervous charm in your delivery of mic-drop worthy one liners. Many comedians speak about the fact that they are introverts who find their voices on stage – is this something you can relate to? How do you feel nerves influence, shape and fuel your comedy, both on and off-stage?
SP: Nah, I’m not an introvert. I’m just not that close to that many people. Stand up is definitely a way I’m more comfortable relating to people I don’t know, however. The first layers of acquaintance have always been the most challenging for me.
GH: Your “superb” gag writing lends itself equally brilliantly to both circuit gigging and broadcast. How different do you find developing scripts for TV and Radio to creating comedy material for your own shows and are there personal processes you use for each? Do you feel a more instinctive connection with either medium?
SP: Yeah I find it’s much easier to write your own stuff. Over time you learn how to deliver your material in a way that elevates it and if necessary, saves it. Sometimes it feels cheap and like a trick but it’s as born from experience as a written joke. One key difference is that with stand up, you have to be relatable in some way but in scripts, the jokes have to be relatable which cause of the aforementioned ‘much weirder than I realised’ thing is harder.
GH: What – or who – convinced you to enter the Funny Women Awards?
SP: Early on you just want to get better so any opportunity to do bigger and better gigs seems sensible. Also – I got rejected by the Funny Men Awards.
GH: 2013 saw you hit the scene packing one serious punch, as not only did you reach the final with us but also in the Max Turner Comedy Award and Comedy Knights Fresh Comedian of the year competitions, plus deservedly nabbed yourself a spot on the BBC New Comedy Award shortlist. How do you feel your comedy has evolved or developed over the past six years?
SP: I mean, that’s a big question. I think my stand up is less panicked – I was genuinely really nervous for the first few years and infused everything with this really intense energy. I always wrote a decent one liner but it wasn’t evolved enough to handle bigger ideas – even though I spent a while trying to force a joke structure only capable of a pullback and reveal to handle more challenging ideas. Content has to match form and often early on, form isn’t as developed.
GH: Since then you’ve gone on to reach the Laughing Horse New Comedian of the Year Final, received consistently rave reviews for those trademark one liners, established yourself as a seasoned broadcast writer and last year you were selected for the prestigious AAA Stand Up showcase. You’re doing what you love and absolutely smashing it. What’s the best thing about having a career in comedy? Looking at all the things you’ve achieved, what makes you feel most proud?
SP: Persistence. Your question is very generously phrased but I really consider it a process that I’ve committed to for a while – I hope in August I’m proud of the show. I’m proud of myself for continuing to try a thing which is quite hard.
GH: Registration for the 16th Funny Women Stage Awards has now closed (and the heats are well underway so come and check out some amazing brand new acts on their way to stardom at one near you), but both the Comedy Shorts and Comedy Writing Awards are open for entry until the end of July. What would you say to any aspiring content producers, filmmakers or writers out there thinking about putting themselves forward?
SP: Why haven’t you applied for that, Saskia? This is exactly the sort of thing you need to be on top of – what’s wrong with you? To other people I’d say, most things that seem intimidating ultimately represent an opportunity – you can’t predict who will respond to your material so make it as good as you can and get it out there.
Saskia will be at 2Northdown with Ninety-Five THIS FRIDAY 24th MAY. What are you waiting for? Go get your ticket!
Not in London this week? Check out all the dates and venues of the Ninety-Five tour on Saskia’s website.
Heading to Edinburgh? For details and more information about Saskia’s Fringe run, click here!