SHE LIVES in LA, is “mildly in love” with Galway, but at heart she is a Southerner and a proud Alabamian who was inspired to become a comedienne - not by anything as predictable as another comedian - but by her Baptist preacher grandfather. She is Heather Le Roy.
Glamourous, engaging, and with an effortless ability to infuse everything she does with humour, Heather Le Roy is in Galway this week, and will play two shows this Saturday.
At 1pm, she will take to the stage of Gerry Mallon’s Laughter Loft in The Ruby Room in The King’s Head, as part of the Galway Arts Festival. At 8pm she will perform at Comedy Comedy, upstairs in the Róisín Dubh. The bill also includes Ballymun comic Willa White and MC John Donnellan.
Heather is no stranger to the city, having visited and performed here a number of times since her first visit five years ago. Today she admits to being “mildly in love with Galway”.
“I’ve been back three times and I love Galway but I wish there was a little more sunshine,” she tells me as we sit for the interview in Elles Café on Tuesday morning. “The sun is always daring to poke through the clouds and people step out before the clouds come warning ‘Get back in your house!’ It’s so different to where I live in LA in West Hollywood, which is all desert and really dry.”
Heather was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee and raised on the Alabama state line. Her Southern upbringing and identity is key to both her comedy and her identity.
“I’m a storyteller. I talk about what I know and what I’ve experienced. At the shows on Saturday there won’t be any props or watermelon smashing! I’ll talk about my view of things coming from Alabama and I might do excerpts from my one woman show The Battle Of Wounded Me.”
The Battle Of Wounded Me has enjoyed successful runs in the States, including six weeks in Hollywood in 2007. It is due for another series of performances when Heather returns to the US.
“It’s a one woman show with 30 characters in 18 scenes in 70 minutes, where I talk about growing up among preachers, moonshine, and Hillbillies,” she says. “It’s about how you end up being what you try to escape from and about embracing your inner Redneck. I wanted to get it into last year’s Galway Arts Festival but I missed the deadline. Hopefully I’ll get it in next year or for the Galway Comedy Festival.”
This Southern Belle was always destined for a life as a performer and she has the example and inspiration of her mother and grandfather to thank.
“When I was little my grandad was a Baptist preacher and when I went to church he’d make jokes in his sermon and make people laugh and I’d look up at him and think ‘I want to do that’. My Mom was a country music DJ and she also used to commentate on wrestling matches. I used to be at the radio station with her writing commercials. So as a child I’d always be entertaining people and no one told me to stop!”
While Heather is now based in LA and has lived in Boston, New York, and South Africa, she remains a Southerner through and through - although she did not always feel this way.
“It may be a cliché but it’s true; home is where the heart is. From a young age I knew I loved it but that I couldn’t stay. Yet I also hated it growing up and it took me living in big cities to realise the beauty and simplicity of going home. Everybody knows you and there’s comfort in that and in the mountains and the farms. It’s a bitter-sweet relationship but Alabama is who I am.”
The South is arguably the most fascinating region in America. It is the birthplace of blues and gospel, country & western, Bluegrass, and Appalachian music. It is also the land of the rodeo and The First Families, but also of the Confederacy, the slave plantations, and segregation - it’s as if all the positive and negative sides of US culture and history are here, and such a history has produced an independent identity, which makes Southerners very aware and proud of their difference.
“When I come over to Ireland first people called me a Yank. I’d say ‘I am not a Yankee! I’m not from the Northern States. I’m from the South!’” she says. “People tend to think America is New York, Chicago, and LA, but there is this grey bit in the middle and then there is The South. That’s what America is.
“In the South we think we’re our own country. There are people there who have bumper stickers on their cars saying, ‘Lee surrendered but we didn’t’. People there are family oriented and church involved. I’m definitely from rural, backwoods Alabama. As soon as the plane lands I hit the first barbecue joint. I was home a couple of days ago at a funeral and three people had mobile phones with a mule braying for a ring tone!”
Heather, Hugh, and Hillary
Before Heather devoted herself full-time to comedy, she was a chauffeur to movie and music stars in LA and she recalls getting a little excited at meeting English actor Hugh Laurie.
“I can’t do an office so I thought I’ll drive,” she said. “I was in a company of 80 men and three women. One of my clients was Hugh Laurie but I didn’t realise who he was at the time. He’s very attractive and I was in the front giggling and getting all girlie. I made him feel very uncomfortable.”
An even bigger name Heather has rubbed shoulders with is Sen Hillary Clinton. Heather’s Myspace page has a photo of her with the former First Lady.
“I was pro-Hillary and I went to the Hillary Rally in LA,” says Heather. “I wasn’t gutted when she lost but people are not ready to see a woman as president and commander in chief of the armed forces. I think people are ready, though, for a Black man. It’s interesting to be in Europe right now. With what has happened under George W Bush you feel that as an American it’s best to stay under the radar. It’s really sad but if Obama can change all that, more power to him.”
Tickets for the Laughter Loft are only available at the door which opens at 12.30pm. The shows begin at 1pm sharp. Admission to Comedy Comedy at the Róisín Dubh is €10. See also www.heatherleroy.com