Jackie Hagan on her new show, Some People Have Too Many Legs
Comedian, poet, theatre-maker and all-round local legend Jackie Hagan explains how a tremendously difficult year helped her hone her craft
Creating a new comedy show isn't easy: you’ve got to jot down your jokes, practice your punch lines and hone the whole thing until it causes even the most serious sides to split. Back in 2013, comedian, poet and performer Jackie Hagan was working on just such stuff, having won Contact’s Flying Solo competition, a prize that comes with funding for a tour of rural venues.
“It's the Arts Council trying to get artists into places where people don't engage with the arts very much,” explains Hagan. “I think they thought I was quite cosy – like a dinner lady – so I’d work in rural venues.”
One thing you don’t normally have to contend with, though, is having a limb cut off – which is exactly what happened to Hagan. Just two months after Flying Solo, she was rushed to hospital when her right leg turned white; eventually, she had to have it amputated at the knee.
Not that she let that stop her.
“My original pitch was about what it means to be a proper grownup, because I didn't feel like one,” says Hagan, “And then all this stuff happened and they were chopping bits off my leg and I thought 'My God, now I do feel like an adult.' So I ended up doing a show about having my leg off instead.”
Some People Have Too Many Legs was the result, a heartfelt, hilarious and slightly eccentric show that dealt with Hagan’s problematic year in a positive way.
““You’ve got to learn fast: how to sell a joke to audiences who are shocked by your presence" – Jackie Hagan
“Solo shows are such a self-obsessed thing to do anyway, so you've got to make sure you're entertaining,” continues Hagan. “So that meant I was just thinking of the best side of it. Instead of going 'woe is me,' I was dressing my stump up as celebrities.”
This make-do manner is typical of Hagan, whose artistic output has always embraced lo-fi aesthetics, and who describes 'fancy' clothing to The Skinny as “Putting on a T-shirt that doesn’t have toothpaste on it.”
What really impresses, however, is not so much her bravery or her humour, but rather her ability to turn an ordeal into an opportunity. In less than a year she has toured the country, published a book, run a ton of workshop sessions and even appeared in the pages of Chat magazine. She’s currently working on a script for Graeae Theatre about non-conformity called Mark E Smith Was My Mum, as well as a documentary piece for Bluesci – a Trafford-based organisation that supports mental health and wellbeing – and Sale Waterside Arts Centre that looks at how working-class people cope in the face of adversity.
“It’s been a mad whirlwind of a year doing all the stuff,” she reflects. “When I look back on it I think, 'God, you didn't have to do all that, you didn't have to be superwoman, you could have sat down for five minutes.' Well, actually I was sat down because I was in a wheelchair, but you know what I mean.”
As a result of all this hard work, Hagan feels she has taken her craft to the next level. “You’ve got to learn fast: how to sell a joke to audiences who are shocked by your presence. In the first 20 minutes I could just feel the audience looking at me and thinking 'what is that?!'” she laughs. “I just learned another level of charm. I mean, it is already a hard sell anyway – amputee comedy – so I just had to get better [at it] really quickly. And be shameless about self-promotion.”
The next step for her now is to re-work the material from …Too Many Legs into a format suitable for the grizzled cynics of city centre comedy clubs and pubs. “My new stuff is also more accessible – my comedy used to be a lot weirder,” she concedes. “But you can't be snobby – if you've got to make a joke about Jedward or go the places they need you to go, then you can.
“I've got better at meeting the audience halfway,” she reflects. “I used to think that was selling out, but it’s not: it’s just being better at what you do.”