“Stop talking about yourselves – talk about me.”
Relying on a tried and tested method of total delusion as she prepares Don’t Mention It for Edinburgh, Awards Alumni Coordinator Gemma Higgins talks to 2009 Funny Women Awards finalist Tania Edwards about oversharing, trout pouts, the surprising practicalities of gigging with a new baby and dreaming of being able to go to bed before the washing machine.
Photo Credit: Idil Sukan
Gemma Higgins: Tania, what a difference a decade makes! A year after the hilarious Not My Dog won the Amused Moose Comedy Award, you’re heading back for your tenth Edinburgh with a brand new hour called Don’t Mention It. Billed as a “sideswipe at our vanity in a social media-saturated age”, you’re making a bold stand against self-obsession, armed with impeccable comic timing as standard and a stiff upper lip of “quivering intensity” in your arsenal. Sounds like we should be prepared for another heavy hitter! What can we expect from the show?
Tania Edwards: I’m a stand up. I tell jokes about domestic bliss – and sometimes I tell the truth. I’ve noticed everyone is preoccupied with their truth at the moment and they don’t feel obliged to serve it with jokes. I’m challenging that zeitgeist for oversharing. The stiff upper lip has been swept away by a tide of trembling trout pouts. This is an emotional appeal for stoicism. My message is repress, repress, repress. Stop talking about yourselves – talk about me.
GH: “An irreverent look at love, marriage and parenthood”, themes of dating, relationship compromise, narcissism and the difference in women and men’s trajectory of career progression once again shape the “cynical, self-aware, razor-sharp dissection of middle-class life” that has become your trademark over the recent years. When starting out, what were the catalysts that influenced this being the narrative you came to pursue?
TE: This definitely wasn’t the narrative 10 years ago. I was having a wild old time. I thought settling down was for losers. And I would have happily sold my womb to science. In fact, that was something I liked to say. A lot. Then I fell in love. When I moved into my boyfriend’s flat I found out his washing machine had a curfew. You couldn’t use it after 10.00pm in case it upset the neighbours. What can you do? I got used to it. Now I dream of going to bed before the washing machine. Jokes evolve with circumstances – and practice. Once you know what you’re doing you loosen up a bit. You don’t have to stick to the truth like a child writing in their first diary.
GH: It’s evident you’re in your element on stage. There’s sheer effortlessness in your “pacey”, sardonic wit and when you banter with the crowd you’re as quick and whip-smart as you are endearing. It all just feels so natural. When did you realise you were funny?
TE: There was a lot of laughter in my family. I don’t think I realised some people aren’t funny until I was older. It turns out loads of people don’t have a sense of humour. You’ll find them online complaining about jokes they don’t like – as if there’s one out there they might get. I’ve always loved the stage. I can’t sing or dance so I did a lot of acting. Then one night, I was busy trying to make my friend corpse backstage when I realized I was supposed to be on stage weeping over the imminent death of my sister Antigone. She had to die alone. Once you’ve ruined tragedy, stand up is the obvious option.
GH: You’ve said, “undiluted jealousy” led you into stand up when a guy on the Royal Court Theatre’s young writers’ programme with you started doing stand up and you immediately signed up to open mic nights out of sheer panic. Two years later, was there a similarly pivotal moment that instigated you entering the Funny Women Awards?
TE: Ha yes. I was temping between writing jobs, worrying that the temping was going better than the writing, when I found out a friend of mine from the Royal Court had won the Perrier with his double act. At the time I was working in reception, listening to another temp blather on and on about her boyfriend and her Louis Vuitton handbag, there wasn’t even a window for me to dream about jumping out of, and then this devastating blow haha that my friend had made it. Worse, he was now a stand up, that was obviously superior (in my opinion) to a double act. Everyone had told me to try stand up but I never had the balls. God. I had to leave the building. That week I went and saw him do a gig and signed up to a bunch of open mic nights. We work together a lot at the Cutting Edge now – Luke Toulson – very funny guy. That was the pivotal moment, there’s only one. Or maybe two if you quit, that would be pretty pivotal too, I know a lot of people who have. Entering the Funny Women Awards was just an obvious next step.
GH: Anyone thinking about stand up should “stop thinking [and] just try it” Although registration for the Stage Awards has now closed, both the Comedy Shorts and Comedy Writing Awards are open for entry until the end of July and there are regular opportunities to try out stand up or test new material at our TOTM events and Stand Up to Stand Out workshops. What do you think makes Funny Women such a great route into the industry?
TE: We’re very lucky in the UK, in London especially there’s a huge scene, it’s why everyone comes here. Famous open mic nights like Downstairs at the King’s Head are a good way to start. And at all the new act nights you’ll meet other new acts who will introduce you to more new act nights. It’s a friendly circuit. Once you’ve done a few shows there’s the notoriously brutal King Gong at the Comedy Store which I always loved. And enter all the competitions of course. Funny Women is well organised, professionally run, packed with lovely people – and it’s a genuine launchpad for quality acts. As for the TOTM nights – well, before you dare 400 people at the Comedy Store to boo you off stage, it’s helpful to practice and know what you’re doing.
GH: Your first Edinburgh was less than a year after your first gig, in 2015 you went to Edinburgh a week after getting married and now you’re hitting the Fringe not long after the birth of your second child. Society puts a huge amount of pressure on women to ‘have it all’, when in reality juggling any personal commitments – be they relationships, children, family – with an intense career is seriously tough, and given what an exciting time it is for women in comedy, what do you find helps you keep on top of everything without losing your visible, infectious love of the craft?
TE: What a honeymoon. Alone. Haha. And I’m not on top of everything. My trick is total delusion. I say yes to stuff as if life is an improv exercise, and I panic afterwards. Besides, I’m not a surgeon, committed to crazy hours in life and death situations – I’m zipping out between feeds to tell jokes. Stand up with a new baby – it’s actually quite practical. And the only person I need to not die (on stage) is me.
GH: Your 2015 “joke-packed exploration of offence” Electrifying saw you named in James Acaster’s top comedy picks for The Guardian and Glamour magazine’s top female comedians to see at the Fringe. Which funny women are you most looking forward to seeing this year?
TE: I love Candy Gigi Markham, she is wild, very funny. I’m also looking forward to Laura Davis, Tiff Stevenson, Lou Sanders, and Jen Brister. Obviously, if you have a night in you should watch Katherine Ryan’s brilliant Netflix special Glitter Room.
Tania will be performing Don’t Mention It at the Monkey Barrel 2 as part of this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Catch her at 4pm, 2nd – 13th and 15th – 25th August at 4.00pm. For tickets and more information, click here!
Not off to the Fringe? Find out when Tania’s taking her razor-sharp cynicism to your neck of the woods here!