Interview: Sarah Millican

<strong>Sarah Millican</strong> tells to <strong>Siân Bevan</strong> about the fickle finger of fame

Feature | 28 Jul 2010

Siân: So I’m guessing you’re excited about the Festival?

Sarah: Oh yeah, really, really excited, can’t wait.

And you’ve sold out

I’m just astonished by my ticket sales. It’s so rare to go to Edinburgh knowing if anybody’s going to come. Anybody. Literally anybody. You go up there and there might be four people in one day, the next day there might be none. So the fact that I’ve sold out the whole run is ridiculous. And also puts more pressure on to make sure that my show’s really good because there’s actually going to be people to see it. I just love it. As a comic who does it regularly, your whole year revolves around Edinburgh so as soon as it’s done, I drive back, have a couple of days off and then I start writing the next one.

I just love being up there, I love turning a corner and there’s someone you know. Like, most of my friends are up there. How good is it, when you want to have a cup of tea with that person, instead of saying well I’m in London in a fortnight, just saying ‘Are you free for lunch today?’ Excellent.

What made you choose The Stand this year?

I’ve always loved The Stand as a venue, and it just feels like a family. The fact that they keep the staff so long is such a testament to how good an employer they are. I’ve been to The Stand since I started, just doing five spots and so on, and they’ve always treated me well. They’re very good at progressing comics. If you do well then they’ll offer you ten minutes next time where other promoters just aren’t like that. And they’re very pro-women in an amazingly non-patronising way; where some do it to tick boxes, they do it because they like having women on the bill.

Nobody I’ve spoken to, who’s been at The Stand over the years, ever has anything bad to say which is so rare. The other good thing about The Stand is that you’re treated as if you’re valuable, but also as if you’re an employee so you get paid, rather than paying for the privilege of using a venue.

And then maybe getting your money five, six months later...

...and then not all the money you put in. The fact that I should break even, and might even make some money, well you think I’m working, so I should. It’s not about the money, but it’s quite nice to have taken myself out of that, even if it’s just for a year or two. I’m really flattered that The Stand thought I was good enough to be in that room because, to me, it’s quite prestigious. I’m just really looking forward to it.

[Stand I is] pretty much the only room in the Festival that’s used for comedy, all year round, nearly every night. And, also, this is going to sound really pathetic, but there’s a toilet backstage. It really matters to me that there’s a toilet backstage. How many times have you had to queue with your audience to have a wee before your show? And if the queue’s a bit long that you start worrying that you’ll be late for your own show.

And there’s nothing worse than the audience knowing what the sound of your wee is like.

Aww...the sound of your wee.

That could be next year’s show?

Hmm... that was a long one. It sounded strong.

I mean, it’s not the main thing, the toilet, but it’s definitely in the top five. I can have a wee whenever I like. I could even have a little pump at the same time and no-one would know. None of the audience would be any the wiser that I’d had a little pump when I had a wee.

This year (I think in school years, with The Fringe as the main summer holiday that everyone looks forward to) has been pretty amazing for you. Are you feeling more confident coming up to The Fringe this year?

I think I’m more confident generally but you have to keep that in check so you don’t become a dick.

I’ll tell you if you do.

Yeah, please do. It’s round the corner. I’m round the corner from becoming a dick and I keep poking my head round and saying: I don’t wanna go there, don’t wanna go there! So I have got people – you can be one if you like – who are ready to say: yeah, we need to have a word. So I hope I’m not a dick, but clearly the ticket sales have given me confidence. But then, the ticket sales come from telly performances so it’s sort of indirectly given me confidence. It’s all been a bit hard to take in, because it has been a fairly ridiculous year.

I am really aware that all this could go, and I’ll be back in the call centre. But I’ve got the perfect voice for a call centre.

You have got a lovely call centre voice

I could get a job in a call centre like that. I’d be straight in with BT, or Orange and they’re all based in the north-east so I could move back in with my Mam and Dad...’d be like it all never happened.

You do have to be aware that you might be flavour of the month, but that a new flavour could come along. So I think it’s all about making sure I’m good at things and making sure I get better at things. And I think that’s how you get longevity in the industry.

So is that your ambition? Longevity?

God, yeah. To still be doing in this in thirty years’ time, that’s all I want, just to be constantly getting better. I just want to be constantly improving. I want to be able to play the Albert Hall and nail that, but then be able to nail a gig that’s got four people in a pub who haven’t paid to be there, and there’s snooker and slot machines in the want to make those four people wee themselves as much as the people in the Albert Hall, you know? Just to be able to turn your hand to any room and make it work.

I think I’m a long way off, I think most comics are a long way off, there’s only a handful that can do it. But that’s the ultimate aim.

So apart from longevity, what else would you like to achieve? The radio series has got another run and the gigs are selling out – is there a point where you’d have ticked all the boxes...?

...and give up and open a launderette

Or you could go into Hollywood?

They wouldn’t understand a word I said. They’d be saying: she’s lovely, but is she foreign? Actually one of my main aims – and I don’t know if you’re aware of this? – is to have a Nando’s for Life card.

As a vegetarian, I’m not a huge Nando’s fan...

Oh, no no. A few high profile comedians have got a Nando’s for Life card. You can have free Nando’s whenever you like, up to five people each time.

Bloody hell.

Exactly. And apparently it’s black and quite slick. And I love the idea of having a Nando’s card. It’s sad that should be my ultimate aim, well my next aim.

Comedically, I’m doing my first tour and I want that to be a success because if that goes well there’s a chance I might be able to do another tour. It starts at the end of September and runs to December. I’m a bit worried that I won’t be with other comics, and there won’t be anyone to say ‘ooh, that was hard’ to. I was thinking of persuading the sound tech in each venue that I go to to say: ‘Well, I think you’re funny.’ Maybe if I give them a Twix?

Totally. And they should say things like: ‘That was a weird audience tonight.’

Yeah, or: ‘I don’t care what anyone says, I like you’. Although it could go wrong, if I come off thinking I did really well and they say: ‘Well I think you’re funny.’ I’ll be thinking how this has totally backfired. I’ll see – I’ll let you know how the Twix thing goes. You just always want to do good things so you get the option of doing other things.

I could easily coast it now, and do the same material, but I don’t want to, because I love writing new jokes and I love it when a new joke works. You don’t want to ever go off the boil, so that people know if they ask you to do something, you’ll do a good job. Well, that and the Nando's card.

Sarah Millican: Chatterbox, The Stand 4-29 Aug (not 16,17) at 8.20pm. Main run sold out, extra performance at Assembly@George Street, 24 Aug at 11.15pm.

See Siân at various gigs around town, including as Mme Myfanwy at performances of Kabarett: Alternative Variety, The Voodoo Rooms