CB: How long have you been gigging in comedy?
LP: I’ve been doing improv and sketch comedy for many years but it wasn’t until October 2012 that I plucked up the courage to go solo. My first gig was a 20 minute spot so it was definitely ‘do or die’! Thankfully it went down really well and I haven’t looked back.
CB: How would you describe your comedy?
LP: I’m a musical comedian and perform mainly at the piano, although I sometimes whip out other instruments or go hands free and just chat. I’m energetic and also quite bendy so I like to add physical humour and lark about in different personas. It’s cheeky adult stuff, very silly and a bit macabre. Sex and murder mainly.
CB: Which comedians influence your comedy?
LP: I’ve never seen a comedian and gone ‘yes that’s exactly what I want to be like’ but I’m always seeing comics at different levels and thinking ‘that’s cool. I’d like to add a bit of that flavour to my act.’ I love Flight of The Conchords – they are masters of parodying musical genres whilst maintaining their own identity. The Pajama Men (yeah, its the American spelling. PAjama! Good to know when you’re trawling the Ed brochure!) knock my socks off by how physical and silly they are and I like the variety and energy Bo Burnham injects into his shows.
I remember watching Victoria Wood at the piano when I was a kid and being amazed. She was so relaxed and chatty and her fingers were playing music at the same time. What wizardry! At the time I was squinting and grimacing through my grade 1 and I remember thinking I’d love to do that but I’d never be able to. Luckily I’ve got better since then and have been compared to her on more than one occasion, which is nice.
CB: Did you always want to go into comedy?
LP: No. I loved making up silly French and Saunders type stuff when I was growing up but being a stand-up never crossed my mind because it seemed like the most frightening job in the world. I wanted to be an actress (and at one stage an underwater archeologist but that was mainly becuase I liked to imagine myself as a mermaid, which is a different thing entirely.) I trained and spent a few years going after acting jobs of all genres but I wasn’t really interested in getting a lot of them. Then after a disastrous meeting with an agent I had a light bulb moment. I just wanted to do comedy. It was such a relief! I was always the one stifling a giggle in terribly serious, adult moments and finally I didn’t have to worry about being good or worthy. I could just make people laugh.
I threw myself into sketch and improv whilst secretly writing songs and resurrecting the fantasy of being a modern day Vic ‘the wizard’ Wood. Firstly it was just songs and then I got more at home on my own and realised ‘oh shit. I am a standup comedian. WTF?’
Now everything feels right. The broad world of comedy is where I fit. Weirdly, I have occasional moments when I think ‘I want to write a sad song like Adele. Why does everything I write have to be funny all the time. boo hoo’ but we are a curious breed, humans, and never satisfied.
CB: How do you go about writing your material?
LP: I wake up full of great expectations then I stand in different parts of my flat for several hours, looking lost, until I find my mojo just before I have to go out!
Generally I’ll improvise off an idea and go back and refine it so I have to be in a private place where I can be noisy and fidgety.
Panic is a great trigger. If I’ve got a good gig coming up I’ll spend a lot of the week thinking about writing and then power write in the last few hours. Recently I went into a sauna on the afternoon before a gig and wouldn’t let myself out until I’d come up with the stuff. I’m not sure I recommend torture writing but it worked on that occasion.
CB: Do you gig as a stand-up full time or is it more of a part-time hobby?
LP: My work life comprises of gigging solo or with my improv company, The Maydays, teaching improv and doing any acting nuggets that come in. Last time I had a proper office job I hid in the recycling bin because I hated it so much.
CB: What do you find the most enjoyable and frustrating parts of the amateur comedy circuit?
LP: I like performing and meeting other comics. I get frustrated by how expensive and annoying all the travel is, especially dragging around a big old keyboard.
Competitions are a great way to move yourself up the ladder and get noticed but I do get weirded out by competitive comedy. Those two words don’t go together in my head. It’s such a subjective thing yet you can’t help spending the night comparing yourself to the others rather than focusing on making your own funnies. A lot of my worst gigs have been at competitions! Plus they are usually 5 min spots. With the sort of comedy I do, I need a little more time to get snuggly with the audience.
CB: What’s your favourite type of audience to perform to?
LP: Audiences that are up for a laugh and paying attention. That’s it really. I’m amazed when I see people at comedy nights with a face like thunder, determined to have a bad time. Cock off and go and have no fun somewhere else. This is the official fun zone!
CB: Have you been heckled a lot since you’ve started gigging? Do you enjoy being heckled? What’s the best heckle you’ve had?
LP: I don’t really get heckled, though I do remember one gig where I’d done a bit about Ikea and this man kept coming up to the stage and shouting stuff in a really strong accent. I tried to engage with him but I couldn’t tell what he was saying so I gave him a few ribbings and left it. Turns out he was saying he worked for Ikea and he was sorry they’d upset me because he loved me. Then I felt bad for being mean to him.
Some heckles can be fun, a bit of banter keeps it all alive and in the moment but when you can’t tell what someone is shouting, the only thing it does is break up the flow. So I’d say ‘no heckles. ta’.
CB: What advice would you give to new acts thinking of starting out in comedy?
LP: Get a network railcard. Do gigs. Be nice. Accept that you’re going to beat yourself up a lot but don’t go on about it too much because hearing about low self esteem is boring. Realise that all the comics you admire probably beat themselves up too. And talk to the audience’s faces, not the floor or the space above their heads.
Liz will be performing her debut show ‘Toybox’ at Brighton and Edinburgh Fringe this year.