The funny side of the political, the personal, and the social

Comedian Tiffany Stevenson on sexism, missing Jeremy Corbyn, and pet cats

Tiffany Stevenson.

Tiffany Stevenson.

GALLANT it was not. Neither was it dashing. Even less was it sophisticated, but in spite of all that, Tiffany Stevenson admits that Galway was where she was treated to "the best chat-up line I've ever heard".

"It was about four years ago, in the Róisín Dubh," the London born and based comedian, actress, and writer tells me during our Wednesday afternoon interview. "I was doing a show with The Rubberbandits, and afterwards this guy came up to me, punched me on the shoulder, and pointing to his friend said, 'Would you not go out with him, he has an iPhone 4?' That was a unique approach to the chat-up line."

Tiffany returns to Galway next week for the Vodafone Comedy Carnival Galway, to appear at The Black Box on Sunday October 25 at 8pm, on a bill including PJ Gallagher, Abandoman, Carl Donnelly, and Andrew Maxwell.

Provocative, political, Left-leaning, and strongly Feminist, Tiffany's comedy pulls no punches, and is as stimulating to the mind as it is to the funny bone. It has won her critical acclaim, with The Sunday Herald declaring her comedy "a heartfelt, hilarious, provocative, important hour of stand-up from one of the best in the business". One of her most provocative routines sees her emerge onstage, holding a glass of wine, declaring: "I've had three glasses of this…", before adding, while patting her stomach, "but the baby's loving it…Relax I'm not keeping it," before the punchline, "…and that's how I open shows in Ireland," concluding in a sing-song voice, "and I'll keep doing it 'til you make it legal!"

Can comedy carnival audiences expect Tiffany to use that at the Black Box? "Of course!" she says. "It's a political issue for me. I was booked on a political show in Ireland on the basis of it. The producer saw it, thought it was hilarious, got in touch, and asked me to come on. I think my comedy is at its best when I'm doing the political, with the personal, with the social. That line gives you a starting point, and from there you're aware of what to expect."

Beauty comes from our differences, and imperfections

Tiffany is currently touring her new show Mad Men - which received rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe, earning five stars from the Sunday Herald, The Mirror, and Funnywomen.com, not to mention the 'honorable mention' on Comedy.co.uk, alongside Stewart Lee - which looks at sexism, misogyny, objectification of women, the gender pay gap, and the pressure on women to maintain a youthful appearance.

"There is huge pressure on women as they age, and the question is, 'Where does that pressure come from, and why do you feel this way?'" she says. "Men are told they are relevant all their lives, whereas women have a shelf life, but beauty comes from our differences, and imperfections, and our individuality, otherwise we'll just become a race of clones, losing our sense of self. It's almost Orwellian. I know the major element of 1984 was about the way we thought, not the way we dress and look, but society is starting to make the way we look uniform, and to dress the same, people start to think the same, it becomes the way we think."

With such pressures coming from, not just the beauty and film industries, but the media, augmented through the internet, as well from a society constantly absorbing these messages, how is it possible to resist?

"It's like what I say about the Kindle," Tiffany replies, "I love the creases on a book jacket, the folds of a page, those imperfections can be nice, rather than trying to iron the world smooth. We need to embrace and accept every part of our lives. We aspire towards youthfulness but we should value maturity. In my end of the business, we need to keep women in their 40s, 50s, and beyond, visible. Why is it OK for Bruce Forsyth to present programmes on TV at 80, but the woman beside him needs to be 30?

"There is no easy answer. Everyday it's a battle as you see a new wrinkle, but when you get older you also give less of a shit what other people think of you. When I was 19/20, and into my mid-20s, I was very confused and concerned about other people's opinions were of me, not what my own opinions were, and stand-up is a great way of getting to know yourself, and combatting that."

Sexism is not just confined to the corporate world, it exists in every fact of life, as highlighted by the fact that the recent resurgence of Feminism has been predictably met by a backlash. "Every now and then women get a voice and people begin to listen and some men - not all men - see this and get afraid. I would be too if I was in danger of loosing my position of privilege. The more we shout and speak up the more they'll batten down the hatches, but that only encourages you to fight even harder. Women are 51 per cent of the population, so we are the majority."

Snubbed by Corbyn and the cat?

Tiffany lives in Muswell Hill, close to the constituency of Islington North where the Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the British Labour Party, is MP. Given her stance, it comes as no surprise she is "pro-Corbyn, pro-Labour", although she was rather annoyed not to have had a chance to meet him recently.

"In Edinburgh, during the Fringe, a number of comedians went to meet him," she recalls. "Mark Steel [comedian and commentator] asked me to come along, but the meeting was at the same time as my show. Typical selfish Corbyn! Clashes with my show and he won't sing the national anthem!"

As well as sexism and gender, Tiffany's comedy also deals with class, primarily the tension of having a working class background but now living a middle class life. "I work in the arts, which is not a working class profession," sys says. "My mum's family are from Wales and we have Roma gypsy blood and my Dad's side of the family were well-off Scottish Presbyterians. I grew up in a rough part of London, but it wasn't on an estate. So am I upper working class? Arty intellectual class? Maybe you could say I'm aspirational? I could say I am somewhere in the middle, straddling both worlds. That's a long way of saying 'I don't know!'"

During our conversation, Tiffany mentions, on two occasions, areas where she feels more comfortable with Irish attitudes to both class and women, rather than with British ones.

"In comedy, there can be opposition to female comedians and comedy is still very male dominated," she says, "but I've noticed it's better in Ireland rather than England. In Ireland people take me more on the basis of whether I'm funny or not…it could also bee the fact I'm not from here so people think you're more exotic and exciting. Comedy in Britain can still be very middle class, it can still be Oxbridge dominated and again that's something you find less of in Ireland. Audiences are not interested whether or not you went to Trinity, but more about, what have you got to say and can you make them laugh?"

Away from comedy and politics there is Tiffany's cat, subject of a recent Tweet: "The cat just told me to go f**k myself not with actual words but by refusing to turn around whilst I repeatedly shouted his name". Indeed her experiences with the little fellah will strike a chord with cat owners everywhere.

"He's part Persian and part Norwegian Skogcatt," she says. "He's long haired and very, very vocal. He talks non-stop and most people who meet him say they've never known a cat to chat quite as much! He makes certain sounds for when he wants certain things. If it's 'Buurruuuppp!' it means 'I'm here!' or 'Rwaaooorr!' it means 'I want things!'. I try to interpret all these sounds but I think I'm on a hiding to nothing."

For tickets and booking see www.vodafonecomedycarnival.com Tickets are also available via OMG @ Zhivago, Shop Street, and www.ticketmaster.ie

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