Was there a defining moment where you realised you were good enough to be a stand-up comedienne?
Not really - you just get addicted to gigging because you realise there’s something in it that makes you feel happy. It’s not that they’re going especially well at the start - in fact often quite the opposite - but there’s enough in every gig to make you want to do it again, and you very slowly improve and realise what you want to do onstage.
You are also an accomplished musician. When writing a show, do you think about the jokes first or think about how your music can be incorporated into the show?
I think more about the general sway of the show, but I often start with a song that I feel has scope and work outwards from there, so I’ve got some kind of start or end point. Often when I try to incorporate existing songs into shows it feels a bit wrong, like I should write stuff particularly for that show. There are some exceptions, but I know when my instincts are telling me I’m just being lazy and need to write new stuff rather than thinking, "Hmmm - if I do that in a Scouse accent maybe it’ll fit in". It’s important to be ruthless and discard stuff with hour long shows.
What can we expect from your show at The Machynlleth Comedy Festival?
The show I’m doing at Machynllech is a show I have done at Edinburgh Festival and on tour - it’s called Love Lost in the British Retail Industry, it contains 5 different characters and it’s set in a supermarket in my hometown of Matlock in Derbyshire. It’s about the romance between a checkout girl and a shelf stacker and the turbulence they encounter. It’s also got a fairy godmother and my attempt at a Welsh accent!
You’ve been learning Welsh. Can you pronounce the word ‘Machynlleth’?
I can now, although it took repeated attempts along the motorway. I reckon I’ve got it nailed now and could do it on cue, even if very drunk. I absolutely love learning Welsh and believe I’ll be fluent one day - although I’ve got a very long way to go, it’s one of the highlights of my day. Elis James, whose show I would thoroughly recommend, and I are writing a bi-lingual sketch to be performed at some point over the weekend so watch out for that!
Is the world of stand-up comedy dominated by men?
Not really these days. I very, very occasionally feel aggression towards me from male acts but I can count those times on one hand - in fact one finger - in 8 years. I feel excited about stretching myself and thinking of new ideas; I feel excited when I see new brilliant, innovative acts and it’s not useful or interesting for me to think about gender.
Being a female comedian and musician from The North has drawn comparisons with Victoria Wood in the press. Is this a fair assessment or just lazy journalism?
I understand that journalists like to put us in a box, and I’m very happy to be in a Victoria Wood-shaped box. Also, if it gets bums on seats, no worries!
Most people associate you with the role of IT geek Dobby in Peep Show. Are there any similarities between yourself and the Dobster?
Indeed - I think she’s like a more hardcore version of me. I can’t do IT and have never done Live Action Role Play, but I think we’re both quite spontaneous and follow our hearts, sometimes against the odds. I tend to wear Ugg boots a bit more than her though.
Peep Show is filmed POV – was it difficult to begin with, especially with the two main character’s internal monologues?
That took a bit of getting used to - you’re taught not to notice the camera when you’re doing television and suddenly you have to look down the barrel. I’m too used to it now - when I go for castings I sometimes look at the camera then remember I’m not supposed to. The monologues are a bit easier to get used to as the 1st assistant director reads them in, whereas the actor feeds you his or her lines, crouching down behind the camera. It sometimes gets very cramped but I know them all quite well now and it really is a joy to work on.
After so many spectacular fall-outs with the hapless Mark Corrigan, why does Dobby keep giving him a chance to redeem himself?
I think she knows there’s a bit of him that’s courageous enough to commit to her, so she keeps trying to access it. I just don’t think she can resist him. Despite herself, she finds herself drawn to him as they have a similar world view and sense of humour and despair that she can’t find from another guy, so she’d rather take the risk of being let down again. And again.
Peep Show has never been a ratings winner but it has run for seven series. What do you think is the key to its longevity?
Sam Bain, Jesse Armstrong and Simon Blackwell’s writing and also their ideas. Also I think people either identify with Jeremy or Mark. I think often people want to think they’re like Jeremy, but they’re actually like Mark.
Michael Took was asking the questions.