GEORDIE COMIC Sarah Millican is now a regular face on British television through her appearances on Mock The Week, Have I Got News For You, and Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow.
However it wasn’t until the age of 29, and after a very painful divorce, that she first ventured into a comedy club. Sarah began doing stand-up after her husband of seven years suddenly announced he was leaving her. That was in 2004 and since then Sarah has become a BBC New Comedy Award finalist and Best Newcomer at the Edinburgh Fringe.
The native of South Shields does touch upon her marital breakdown in her shows, although it is not the centre piece of what she does. She looks like the village librarian but her material can often be crude, controversial, and shocking. As The Scotsman wrote: “Her sing-song Geordie accent is as liable to be heard reciting routines about rape as cake.”
Sarah explains that this is just the way she normally is in her everyday life.
“It wasn’t an intentional thing to look quite ordinary and go up on stage and say rude things,” she tells me. “It just happens to be the way that I talk and the way I dress. I think if it was contrived then people would see through it straight away”
Sarah frequently pokes fun at herself in her shows. Her parents and siblings also get mentioned very often in her routines and are a big comedy inspiration to her.
“They’re all very funny,” she says. “Every one of them is bonkers and daft and when they all get together there’s always loads of banter and fun. My dad used to work down the pits around Newcastle and so he’s loads of hilarious stories. Mam’s humour is quite rude and dark and a little bit twisted. So, I suppose I’m a kind of combination of the two of them. That’s where I get my funny from.”
Prior to taking to the stage as a stand-up comedian Sarah toyed with the idea of being a film critic and saw herself as Newcastle’s answer to Barry Norman.
“When I was about 16 or 17 I started writing film reviews,” she says. “I’m obsessed with films and I really wanted to write for Empire. I sent one review to Film Review magazine and they suggested I send it to my local newspaper.
“Anyway the local free sheet ended up taking me on as their film reviewer and that was a brilliant experience. I did also send them a piece on Whitney Houston but they weren’t as keen on that!
“I studied film production at college and I started to write some short film scripts. Then I moved on to plays and did a playwriting course. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process of writing and producing stuff for stage. Then when I got divorced I decided to actually be the performer rather than creating scenes for other people. That’s when I started doing stand-up.”
In 2005 Sarah was runner-up in Channel 4’s So You Think You’re Funny competition and three years later won Best Newcomer in Edinburgh with her debut show Sarah Millican’s Not Nice. The promotional material for the show featured images of a ‘Nice’ biscuit but the show’s title had a much more shocking revelation behind it.
“It had two meanings really,” Sarah admits “Obviously people do think that I’m a nice person and I suppose I am fairly nice but, like everyone else, I can be a bit of cow sometimes too. The other reason why I called the show Sarah Millican’s Not Nice is because that’s what me and me sister used to call our ‘lady parts’ – our ‘not nice’. When I told the audience the real meaning some of them were genuinely horrified.”
The British comedy scene has been rocked in recent years by negative reactions to risky material from Russell Brand, Jonathan Ross, Frankie Boyle, and Ricky Gervais. Sarah feels there’s is a fine line between what’s funny and what’s not funny.
“I think it’s all about the angle that you’re coming from,” she points out. “Anything can be covered, if it’s funny enough. You can do a joke about racism but you can’t be racist or you can do a joke about sexism but you can’t be sexist.
“The trick is to be slightly offensive but also funny enough that you can get away with how offensive it is. It’s about the opinion behind the joke rather than the subject matter. You can write a brilliant joke that’s not offensive at all.”
Sarah is a fan of Tommy Tiernan and was thrilled when she shared the stage with the sometime controversial Irish funnyman at last year’s Kilkenny Cat Laughs Festival.
“I’d seen him on telly a number of times but I’d never actually seen him perform live,” Sarah states. “Then suddenly we ended up doing a show together in Kilkenny. I did the opening gig and Tommy did the middle slot and Reg D Hunter closed the show.
“After I’d done my 20 minutes Tommy went on and midway through his set somebody slipped him a piece of paper to say that Reginald was running late. Anyway he ended up doing an extra 15 minutes and for the whole 35 minutes of his set he just nailed it.
“The amount of respect and attention he got from the audience was amazing to watch. When you’re on the road as much as I am you don’t get to see your favourite comics. It was a real treat for me.”
Aside from watching her favourite comedians perform live, the other thing that really makes Sarah smile is cakes, chocolate, and puddings. She has a vast gallery of confectioearies on her website and admits her most pleasant dessert experience also occurred in Kilkenny.
“It was a raspberry cheesecake and it was absolutely wonderful,” she salivates.“I decided to put all the pictures of the cakes I’ve eaten up on my website because usually on the web people are looking for money or for you to buy their latest DVD. I thought it’d be lovely to log on and just look at a load of puddings and cakes. It’s much more interesting than a load of publicity shots.”
Sarah’s most recent Edinburgh shows tackled the subjects of gender politics and gender stereotypes. Her accent also comes frequently in to play and many have commented upon the fact that suddenly Geordies have become fashionable.
“It’s kind of like when fashion magazine say that boobs are fashionable this season,” she chuckles. “Now you’ve got people like Cheryl Cole and Ant and Dec with pronounced Geordie accents on the telly. I suppose I’m a bit more noticed for my accent because there aren’t many other female comics from the UK northeast. Unfortunately though I can’t change with the next trend, I can only do the one accent.”
Sarah Millican will bring her acclaimed show Chatterbox to the Róisín Dubh on Sunday April 3 at 8.30pm. Tickets are available from the Róisín Dubh and www.roisindubh.net You can also see Sarah on RTÉ 2’s Stand & Deliver, recorded live at the Róisín, which will be broadcast on Monday January 31 at 10.20pm.