Coming of Vague: Meet Maisie Adam

Ahead of her debut hour Vague, 2017 So You Think You're Funny? winner Maisie Adam chats about launching her comedy career at an idyllic literary festival

Feature by Ben Venables | 12 Jul 2018

"In my last year of uni we were doing a module on a form of theatre called commedia dell'arte," says Maisie Adam. "The teacher came in and wanted us to lose all our inhibitions – to look like a tit on stage, basically." 

Within an hour, Adam and her class had each performed one minute of looking like a tit on stage, or as it's better known: stand-up comedy.

"It sounds quite psychopathic, but I loved having that power to make people laugh. It feeds the ego... I got up, did my minute, and it was literally just like that click in your head, where you know: this is what I want to do."

Adam started looking for open spots wherever she could. But, there isn't much of a comedy scene in the spa town of Harrogate. And the northern clubs weren't always obliging: "There were a lot of clubs, particularly up north, I have to say, where you send an email and they literally come back with replies like: 'oh, we have a few good females already,' or 'females don't go down well at our club.' Are we in the '70s here? C'mon!"

She had more luck arranging gigs in London, but before she caught the Megabus south, Adam realised she might need a few jokes.

Most comedians start with five minutes of material. It can take a long time for those five minutes to evolve into a 'tight-five' routine. A 'solid-twenty' set is an eternity away; and an 'Edinburgh hour' may as well be an hallucination. But nobody told Adam any of this.

"I thought how London is the big smoke and I've got to get a gig in somehow beforehand. I saw there was a festival in Ilkley, which is a local town half an hour from me. They were calling for submissions from artists." And so it was that Ilkley's tranquil literary festival played host to a rookie stand-up booking in to do a full show.

"I just wrote what I thought was funny, as much as possible, and it ended up being 40 minutes," she says. "I made it free and invited everybody I knew, going back to my youth club. I look back on it now and think, 'God that was such a stupid thing to do...' It was a packed theatre of people who knew me, who couldn't believe I'd been so stupid as to put on a stand-up comedy show without having done it before!"

Only ten months later, Adam found herself in Edinburgh, after winning a place in the So You Think You're Funny? semi-final. Not that she spent her time thinking too much about the Gilded Balloon's celebrated new act competition. For Adam, for all comedy fanatics in Edinburgh, August is like Christmas: "Those two days, I just saw back-to-back shows. I looked through the programme for who I liked – I literally had an Excel spreadsheet! I had to work out how to get from the Pleasance to Gilded Balloon, and all that sort of thing."

Days after, Adam returned to Edinburgh to win the competition. One of the first people who congratulated her was Suzi Ruffell, whose show she'd sought out as a fan on her original trip. "I told her how I went to see her because I didn't think I would be back in Edinburgh for a long time. I just really wanted to see a great female stand-up. It was so weird how she was saying congratulations to me."

Now, a year on, Adam is back. Her debut hour Vague touches on epilepsy, a condition she's had since she was in her teens. "It's the kind of thing where you have to make sure that you get at least eight hours sleep, and regular times of going to sleep. And sometimes I'm doing gigs where I'm not back until two or three in the morning.

"With epilepsy, it does become better to just have a lifestyle where there is a bit more reserve, and you become a 'Sensible Susan', as it were. Of course when you're 14 or 15 you don't want to be doing that – you want to be going out. The show is about finding a balance for a very particular lifestyle, when the two couldn't be more opposite really."

Maisie Adam: Vague, Gilded Balloon, Teviot Row House (Wee Room), 1-27 Aug, 4.30pm, £6-9