“I JUST like anything fun and colourful. My favourite jumper right now is a huge woollen one which says ‘Time Fun’ on it. Not ‘Fun Time’ or ‘Time for Fun’, just ‘Time Fun’.”
Whatever time it will be, there will be plenty of fun when Australian born, London based, comedian Bec Hill makes her first, “but hopefully not my last”, appearance in Galway, during three shows at the Vodafone Comedy Carnival Galway.
In South Australia I was born
Originally from South Australia’s principal city Adelaide, Bec’s comedic talents were first noticed and encouraged by her high school drama teacher, although Bec suspects he may have had ulterior motives.
“My teacher Mr T - no relation to the A-Team character, but he does have a Face - suggested I give it a go,” Bec tells me. “It wasn’t for several years that I realised it was his way of saying, ‘I can see you like being on stage, but you’re a terrible actor’.”
She also found her home city a good place in which to cut her comedic teeth.
“If you grow up in Adelaide, you either become really boring, or a bit crazy. Or both,” she says. “Because of that, we have a really supportive comedy community. It sort of acts as a therapy group. The Adelaide comedy scene is very forgiving, so you have space to experiment and find your voice. I think it definitely helped me find what direction I wanted to go in.”
Otherwise Bec defines Adelaide as “a great place if you want to raise a family or die of old age. Or any age, really. We have a reputation for being the murder-capital of Australia. Not because we have loads of murders, but when we do, they’re always really creative, with bodies in freezers, or barrels, or that sort of thing.”
Shortly after starting stand-up Bec moved to Melbourne, and at just 19 reached the national final of the Raw Comedy Competition, with Australia’s The Age magazine declaring her “likely to find fame and fortune”.
In 2008 her Melbourne Comedy Festival show, If You Can Read This My Cape Fell Off, was nominated for a Critic’s Choice Award. The following year, Bec’s Edinburgh Fringe run prompted The Stage to say she “has a glorious future ahead of her”, and led to a residency as compere for Paramount Comedy On Tap. After this, she relocated to London where her reputation continues to grow with further shows like Bec Hill Didn’t Want To Play Your Stupid Game Anyway, Bec Hill Is More Afraid Of You Than You Are Of Her, and The Pun Run comedy nights she co-founded and hosts throughout Britain.
Puppets and puns
For her Vodafone Comedy Carnival shows, Bec will perform “a few favourites from YouTube and some new bits too”. Her comedy is based around what she calls “paper puppetry”, where she uses a flip board, and upon white paper draws cartoons and creates and manipulates puppets. Through these she regales audiences with “a quirky mixture of stand-up and anecdotes”.
“It allows me to expand outside of the usual stand-up shtick,” she says of using cartoons and drawings. “I get distracted easily, so I like to mix-up styles of comedy to keep the audience and myself interested. I admit embarrassing things about myself in conversation and people say, ‘You should tell that onstage.’ Fortunately, I’m enough of a failure to make a living from it.”
Although Bec says “I don’t intentionally write jokes”, but the puns she delivers as part of her Pun Run nights have won many laughs.
“I thought it would be fun to put on a night where comedians could only tell puns,” she says. “My inbox was filled with emails from comedians wanting to get involved and I’ve been running them in London, Edinburgh, Leamington Spa, Belfast and, most recently, Dublin, ever since! One of my puns was voted fourth best Joke of The Fringe by TV channel Dave. It was: Last Christmas, I was given sudoku toilet paper – toilet paper with sudoku puzzles on it. It’s useless. You can only fill it in with number 1s and number 2s.”
Bec’s career is certainly on the ascendant, and along with Scottish writer Gavin Innes, she is developing a sit-com. “Someone’s done their research!” she says. “We’re at pitching stage with the pilot. I can’t say much, but it’s fairly auto-biographical. We also have a few other treatments up our sleeves.”
So in her comedy career so far, what has been her best moment and her most embarrassing?
“I won Best Show in the Performers’ Choice Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe this year,” says Bec. “That was definitely a highlight. Most embarrassing, I think, was about four years ago. I did a 30 minute set in a little seaside town near Edinburgh and just got stares. For the entire half-hour. Not even a pity-laugh. Just a lot of exchanged glances and looking at the floor. It felt like I died on stage and then proceeded to MC my own funeral.”
We would never describe Tommy Tiernan, Judah Friedlander, or Reginald D Hunter as ‘male comedians’. It would never occur to anyone to do so. Yet, Bec, or Shappi Khorsandi, or Eleanor Tiernan can often be labelled ‘female comedians’ - a bizarre phenomenon when women in comedy has long ceased to be a rarity.
“That perception is often held by people who have little-to-no experience with the current stand-up scene,” says Bec. “I don’t really get it in London, but when I gig in smaller cities or towns, I’ll occasionally get people who approach me after shows and say, ‘I don’t normally like female comedians, but I liked you.’ I ask who else they’ve seen and more often than not, it’s just a few names they’ve seen on telly. It used to make me angry, but then I realised I’d rather people said that, than, ‘I don’t think you’re funny because you’re female.’
“When people say, ‘I don’t like female comedians, but I like you,’ it’s their way of saying, ‘I had a perception, but you briefly made me change it.’ I just hope people don’t see me as the exception to the rule. Or, if they don’t like me, I don’t want to be ‘proof’ of the rule. It’s a lot of pressure to think the reputation of an entire gender rests on my performance. The more variety of ‘female comedians’ people see live, or, hopefully, eventually, on TV, the less we’ll be seen as a separate category.”
Bec Hill will play the Spiegeltent Paradiso, South Park (along with Après Match, Tom Rhodes, and Colin Murphy ) on Saturday 25 at 9pm; the Comedy Club 4 Kids (with Howard Read and Tiernan Douieb ), also in the Spiegeltent on Sunday 26 at 2pm; and The Black Box Theatre (with Abandoman, Milton Jones, Rob Delaney, and Colin Murphy ) on Sunday 26 at 8pm. For tickets go to VodafoneComedyCarnival.com