From horses to hilarity
Award winning comedian Aisling Bea to perform at Galway Comedy Festival
By Kernan Andrews
SHE GREW up in the Irish equestrian heartland of Kildare, in a family that loved telling stories. She earned her comedy apprenticeship at university, moved to London, and found it made her more Irish and more determined to become a comedian.
She is Aisling Bea, actress, screenwriter, short story writer, and award winning comedian who is coming to Galway where she will perform at three different shows at next month’s Galway Comedy Festival.
From the Curragh to comedy
Aisling Bea - born Aisling O’Sullivan, Bea is in honour of her father Brian - was not necessarily destined to become a comedian. Growing up in Kildare, where her mother was a jockey, an equestrian life seemed a more likely career path.
“In Kildare most people’s parents are jockeys, horse trainers, or are in the Army and work with horses,” Aisling tells me during our Tuesday morning interview, “so no one in Kildare would blink that my mum was a jockey. Outside of Kildare though people do find it unusual.”
However her family did inspire an interest in writing and performance. “I come from a family of storytellers,” she says. “My aunt is a nun and a wonderful storyteller. She knows when to pop out her teeth at the right moment! Growing up every one would be expected to tell a story, it was a case of ‘Get up and dance for your granny!’”
Aisling’s grandfather Micheál O’Suilleabháin and grandaunt Siobháin Ní Shúilleabháin, both of whom were writers, were another inspiration.
“I write scripts and short stories as well as being an actress and comedian,” says Aisling, “so they would have been influential from that point of view. Siobháin passed away only five months ago. She was Galway based - in Salthill, and was married to a lecturer at NUI Galway.”
It is a generalisation, but many comedians path to their vocation tends to be either ‘I was the class clown’ or ‘never thought about comedy until a friend dared me at an open mic’. Which does Aisling fall into?
“I was the class clown,” she admits. “I don’t think I made trouble, I used humour to get out of things, ‘Agh now don’t be fightin’, let’s have a laugh instead!’ I used to write school plays and write myself big parts.”
Comedy became a possibility once Aisling went to university. “I became involved in a comedy sketch group,” she says. “At home we only had two channels and the Curragh Races. I didn’t know anything about comedy, Reeves & Mortimer or The Two Ronnies, the fellahs I was in the group with were much more comedy literate than me. I then went to drama school but thought two years ago, that if I didn’t give the comedy a go I would regret it. I knew I could die on my arse but in comedy you are being yourself, not playing another character, and when people enjoy it, it’s a good feeling.”
Adding comedy to her talents - Aisling has acted in The Savage Eye (RTÉ), Come Fly With Me (BBC1), Dead Boss (BBC3), Cardinal Burns (E4); she pens short stories (www.aislingbea.com/weetales.php); and is writing a film script, Beachslap, commissioned by the Irish Film Board and Grand Pictures - was an inspired move as she won So You Think You’re Funny? 2012, the first woman to take the prize in 20 years. This led to praise from The Guardian which said, “Bea’s certainly got an eye for a good gag that could lead to a very promising stand-up career” and slots on Jack Dee’s Don’t Sit In The Front Row (Sky) and Russell Howard’s Good News (BBC3).
She admits however, that winning the award creates a certain amount of pressure.
“It’s hard not to feel you have to work extra hard as you don’t want people to think you didn’t deserve it, or ‘she won an award, but she’s not that good,’” Aisling says. “The pressure is often inside your own head. Often people are coming because they have heard about you rather than have heard your comedy. They’re just discovering you and you are warming them up to who you are and hope they’ll have a laugh.”
C’est La Bea
This year has also been a good one for the Kildare woman. Aisling’s debut solo show, C’est La Bea, was nominated for a Best Newcomer Award in Edinburgh. Then there was an inspired performance on Seann Walsh’s Late Night Comedy Spectacular on the BBC, where the highlight of her set was an inspired rant on women’s magazines, weight, mothers, and botox.
“I remember talking to this woman who said ‘I’m so fat!’ and she was the most beautiful looking girl!” says Aisling. “Women’s magazines are all about making us look a certain way and rather than concentrating on us being healthy, it makes us concentrate on impossible dreams of how we should look, and on pitting us against each other, ‘What is she wearing? Do I look as good as her?’ We’re being attacked on all sides every day!”
C’est La Bea will be part of Aisling’s run at the Galway Comedy Festival, starting with her appearance at the Town Hall Theatre with David O’Doherty, Lee Mack, and Joe Rooney (Friday October 25, 8pm).
“David O’Doherty’s a good friend,” Aisling says, “I’m looking forward to coming to Galway. It’s my number one choice to get away as I don’t have to worry about the sun too much - I’m not that fond of the sun!”
C’est La Bea will be performed in the Town Hall Theatre studio (Saturday 26, 6.30pm). “I brought the show to Edinburgh where it sold out three times!” she says. “I also ran it in the Dublin Fringe festival and Gay Byrne came to the opening night. I couldn’t believe it, I was looking out into the audience and there he was! Gay Byrne!”
So what can Galway audiences expect? According to the comedian, the show is about “life, death, hip-hop, raving, and riding”.
“I’d say ‘Come along if you fancy a laugh!’” says Aisling. “I like to chat with the audience. I like when people are in good form and shout - I don’t mind hecklers - and are a bit rowdy. I don’t want people who enjoy it, but who enjoy it in their own silence. Well that doesn’t help me missus!!!”
Finally, Aisling will plunge into the comedy tightrope walk that is Set List (Róisín Dubh, Thursday 24 to Sunday 27, 11pm). “Set List is scary,” she declares. “It’s a good roller coaster ride. You have no idea what you have to talk about before your set. They will write some strange, random, words on a card, show it to you, and you have to start talking. It works the improv part of your brain.”
Apart from improv, what are Aisling’s working methods when preparing for a show?
“Being funny is a kind of musicality,” she says. “You hear the timing and act on that. When I prepare new material I record myself and then hone it. It’s always nerve wracking. Every comedian has a different method. Sarah Millican writes from nine to five, and will do out whole sentences. I prefer to write bullet points as you don’t know what will come into your mind on the night, but you do need some structure.”
Aisling’s sister also provides a good sounding board when she is running through new material. “God love her!” declares Aisling. “She has to hear it in my living room, sitting with a sandwich on her lap that I’ve made her.”
Aisling has been based in London these past couple of years and being away from home has only served to strengthen her sense of Irishness.
“I think we’re the Riverdance generation,” she says. “I played at the London-Irish Comedy Festival and the Irish community has a strong voice. The Irish come together when abroad and people will be excited about meeting someone that, at home, they mightn’t bother with. Your sense of your culture also becomes more heightened. Also home is just one, terrible, Ryanair flight away. There is a very strong community here and I’m proud to be part of that. I think a strong sense of community is a big part of being Irish, but we don’t realise that often until we go away.”
For tickets to see any of Aisling’s shows go to www.BulmersGalwayComedyFestival.com Follow Aisling on Twitter @weemissbea