Alison Spittle: “It’s Weird, Trying to Make a Career as a Comedian”

She’s arguably Irish comedy’s brightest light, with the first series of ‘Nowhere Fast’ doing well on RTÉ, and a weekly podcast beloved by her cult following. Alison Spittle sits down with Mike McGrath-Bryan for a chat about telly, podcasting, and sharing with others.

Life for a stand-up comedian is vastly different from that of the genre’s cultural highpoint during the onslaught of the Celtic Tiger, with a number of different hats to be worn and headspaces to occupy, to stay active and engaged. As we chat over the phone, Alison Spittle is relaxed, on a bus from Dublin to Belfast ahead of a gig there, before bisecting the country for a gig in DeBarra’s the following night. The tour, for new show ‘Worrier Princess’, follows the debut of her RTÉ Two show ‘Nowhere Fast’, whose first series wrapped up on Christmas Eve. Spittle is happy with how it’s been received, and how her ideas have been brought to life. “It’s been lovely. On Twitter, people have been excited about a comedy set in the Midlands. I never really had an ‘identity’ before this, I just wrote about stuff I observed, but there’s a kinship there, with my village that I come from. Everyone’s so nice there, my mam still texts me with what someone said in the local shop, etc. I’ve been overwhelmed by the positivity I’ve received, and it’s given me a lot more confidence to go and do other stuff. I’m proud. Not many people get to make a TV series.”

The show focuses on the emergent pop-culture trope of the ‘boomerang generation’ of undergrads, returning home to live with family after the current job and rent situations proved too much. Were there any misgivings that ‘Nowhere Fast’ might come a tad close to home for people our own age, considering the current circumstances and apparent tone-deafness from on high in recent weeks re: deposits, etc? “I feel there’s a massive lack of empathy in the media for people of our generation. It’s like, ‘we all partied’, even though I was fourteen when you partied, so I wasn’t really involved in the party! If we bring that up then, we’re seen as moaners, or whingers. It’s just ridiculous, to shut up and take it and live in austerity. But we make stuff. I made a TV show. But I didn’t think I was being very zeitgeist-y when I was writing, I just wrote about moving back home with the parents, because that’s what I did! D’you know what it feels like? Ireland was like a great house party, and we managed to get a taxi at four o’clock in the morning, and the hosts just wanted us to leave. ‘Would ye not go to Australia?’ Sometimes I don’t feel welcome. But the people who chose to stay are very hardy, and are trying to make a life for themselves.”

Spittle’s new live show, ‘Worrier Princess’, is a show about just that: worrying. Examining the likes of anxiety, fear, and alienation must surely have presented a challenge to get across in a relatable, never mind, funny fashion, but in the tradition of observational humour, Spittle pokes gentle fun of personal and societal experience. “I worry, like I was worrying about whether comedy is a ‘proper job’, and writing a stand-up show about that seems like a natural thing to do. I was worried about having a TV show, because when you’re doing stand-up for €15 a night for five years, you think, ‘oh, I’ll get the TV show, and the tour, and it’ll be grand’. And then you get that and you realise you’re not grand, because it brings a whole set of new worries. It’s weird, trying to make a career as a comedian. You’ll get in a taxi and you’ll mention to the driver that you’re a comedian, and they’ll turn around and say, ‘y’know who I don’t like?’. People are very negative about comedy, you don’t get that with music, you don’t say ‘I hate them’. Comedy is very different, but when you’re doing it and people start coming to see you, it’s the best feeling in the world, that your job is to make each of these people happy.”

Spittle is best known to the Irish internet sphere for her podcast with Dublin on-demand audio network Headstuff. A lot of the show’s success is down to Spittle, free of broadcast restraints, getting to engage in the scutting that a raw, off-the-cuff interview format allows for. And it is off-the-cuff: Spittle takes a point of pride in going out on stage with an empty sheet of notes. “Y’know what? When I’m doing the podcast, I just love having the chats with people. I feel that being researched or prepared would make it less chatty, but I also don’t know if that’s just me giving myself an excuse for laziness. I do sweet F.A. about prep. I’ll get someone like Tommy Tiernan on as well, I had him, and they’ll turn around and interview me! When you get off the notes, it’s more interesting… sometimes I’m not good at interviewing, too, sometimes I’ll be tired or angry at myself. Like, if I don’t do it in front of an audience, I mean, it’s enjoyable, but it’s far better in front of an audience, because I try to be better. You can actually feel the energy off a crowd (when you’re chatting with) Colm O’Gorman or someone, and being reverential on stage, but also funny.”

Spittle’s fantastic journey stops at Quarter Block Party on February 3rd, where the ‘Worrier Princess’ stops into the Spailpín Fánach on South Main Street, and furthers a rapport with the city built over years of gigging. “I’ve seen their website, really well-designed and put together. Really interested to see how it goes down. Normally at a festival, you’re up on stage early in front of people that are nursing themselves back to health, having a lie down and a good laugh. But I’m doing my own show (with people there specifically for it), so I’m super-excited. I just can’t get over how packed Cork is, how full of great independent restaurants and independent shops, it’s a beautiful city. Every time I go to Cork, I always find a place I think ‘I have to come back here next time’. Incredible.”

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