Sophie Willan: Comedy Spotlight

Blending politicised comedy with the occasional dance routine, Bolton standup comedian Sophie Willan has marked herself out as one to watch. We shine our spotlight in her direction

Feature by John Stansfield | 09 Oct 2015
  • Sophie Willan

Though she has been an active theatre-maker for some seven years, Bolton’s Sophie Willan only turned her hand to standup in the last year or so, and has immediately made her mark as one to watch after flying into the finals of two handfuls of new-act competitions with her easy charm and insightful observations.

Her softly spoken, almost maternal style is peppered with hard-hitting social commentary, which on occasion is reminiscent of Northern comic legend Barbara Nice – both of them are also prone to the occasional uplifting dance routine.

Honest, thoughtful politicking is always a welcome addition to any comedy bill and as we enter a strange new Corbyn era at Westminster, Willan may just find herself an even bigger audience.

First gig:
“Well I suppose my first performance is my first gig, isn’t it? I was eight and I’d just gone to live with my gran – she’d recently got divorced and decided to take us to Ibiza. She went clubbing in a zebra-print onesie and I joined the hotel drama club. I was cast as the ‘Crying Clown’ and gave an Oscar-winning performance... according to my gran and Dave, the hotel manager!”

Best gig:
“I recently did tour support for Luisa Omielan when she was filming her DVD at Bloomsbury Theatre. Her audiences are so much fun and it was really inspiring to see her filming her DVD having raised all the funds herself! I love it when people do things their own way, take risks and achieve something great as a result.”

Worst gig:
“I did a gig at a festival a few years ago with my best mate, Lydia. I had to dress up as a garden gnome and she was dressed as an Avon Lady. We performed to seven confused strangers gurning in a yurt! One audience member tried to pick me up so Lydia rugby tackled him to the ground.”

Favourite venue:
“I love the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, a legendary queer arts pub in Vauxhall. The audiences are wild and you get treated brill; I arrived to a 20-pack of fags and a bottle of gin on ice – what more do you need?! It’s a melting pot for avant-garde, cabaret, standup and punk performance and has been home or haunt for some of my favourite acts – David Hoyle, Zoe Lyons, Lily Savage, Scottee, Bryony Kimmings, Dickie Beau, Bourgeois & Maurice.

“I also really like The Frog and Bucket – staff really friendly and audiences lovely. I feel very at home there!”

If you were on death row, what would your last meal be? And why are you on death row?
“Gonna have to be a cliché Northerner and say, steak pudding, chips and gravy or a pasty from Ye Olde Pastie Shoppe in Bolton. I'm probably on death row for my unorthodox dance moves – once had my hips compared to a sensual piece of donner meat slowly working their way around a skewer!”

What’s the largest animal you think you could beat in a fight? No weapons. 
“A walrus if it didn’t have teeth.”

Question from past Spotlighter Adam Staunton: Women in Comedy. Discuss.
“All I’ve got to say here is Women in Comedy Festival. October! It’s gonna be fantastico! So many amazing acts from across the UK taking part. Brilliant shows and great parties to be had!”

Here's where you'll find Willan performing in Oct:

New Stuff, The Comedy Store, Manchester, 11 Oct, 7.30pm

Women in Comedy Festival, The Frog and Bucket, Manchester, 15 Oct, 7.30pm

Women in Comedy Festival Showcase, Gullivers, 17 Oct, 7.30pm

Manchester Comedy Cocktail, Gullivers, 22 Oct, 7.30pm