Interview: Stevie Martin
As the Edinburgh Fringe Festival arrives, this year will see Durham University graduate Stevie Martin make her solo comedic debut
How are you feeling ahead of your fist solo run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival?
It’s all sort of started to kick in in terms of stress! My friend (and fellow Massive Dad member) Tessa Coates is also doing a show, and we’ve both started to be like: ‘oh, I’m not sleeping’, or ‘wow, I’m suddenly crying all the time!’ It’s not the greatest environment to put yourself in for writing jokes, but it certainly gives you a kick up the arse! So I’ve just cancelled everything else now and I’m just working on getting the show to be as funny as it possibly can.
How does your show come together?
I record everything on my phone and listen to it after a show, which is the most awful thing in the world, I hate it! The only thing worse than listening to the sound of your own voice is listening to the sound of your own voice telling a joke to silence. It’s awful! Especially when you know that bit that you got wrong on the night is coming up on the recording and you just have to sit there and listen to it – because the only way to get better is to listen to yourself be awful! But then it can also be lovely – the amount of times I’ve expected something to sound really bad and then listened back and thought actually, they were laughing a lot more than I thought they were at the time. So it works both ways.
Do you think the Fringe is a bit of a right of passage for comedians?
Yeah, maybe not just Edinburgh Fringe, but to do some sort of festival, I think, is really important. Edinburgh Fringe is so good because it’s so intense and the competition is so high – not that it is a competition, but there are always five shows that are picked out that do incredibly well each year, and everyone obviously wants to be part of that. I think the main thing is the psychological nerve you have to have to keep going every single day; you get reviewed constantly, you can have bad days and good days, and you can’t really escape. So I think it makes you a better performer and a better writer, just by going there and experiencing it.
On a very personal level, I’ve always wanted to do a show. Well, that’s so not true! I’ve always thought I’d never be able to do a show by myself, I’m not good enough, I don’t have anything to say, I’m only really good in groups. But last year I was miserable and I just felt like I needed to prove to myself that I can do this. If it’s a disaster, it’s a disaster – but I need to at least try and prove that I can have a really good go at it. So that’s what I’m doing.
When did you first realise you were funny?
I think probably the first time that I realised going into comedy was something that I would really enjoy doing and might not be bad at was when I was working full-time as a journalist. A lot of the stuff that I was writing (and still write now) is for women’s magazines, and I started to notice that most of what I was writing, that I really enjoyed doing and that did the best, was the funny stuff. Even if I brought humour to the serious topics, it just worked better.
I was in a university sketch group called the Durham Review and we were the token girls – we had some nice parts, but it was mainly the boys that would get all the good jokes. So I left university thinking – right, I’m going to be a journalist. Weirdly, I didn’t even think that the whole comedy thing was something that I could do as a woman. A lot of the boys in the group went straight on to do comedy, but it’s so weird that you only really realise that you can do something if you see someone else doing it. So it wasn’t until I went to the Edinburgh Fringe and I saw this three-woman sketch group called Birthday Girls (who are still going and who are absolutely excellent – we’re now very good friends with them) and I watched their show and what they were doing looked like so much fun that I felt I could have a real go at it. So me, Liz Kingsman and Tessa Coates, (we were all at Durham University) started Massive Dad.
After the first couple of little gigs we did, we started to believe that we were actually funny! It was absolutely toe-curling awkward to make that step to saying: ‘ok, so we think we’re so funny that you should now pay to see some jokes we’ve written!’ It was so embarrassing! But you get over that – we had worked really hard and we’d written all of our material, and we did really well, especially because it’s difficult to push through as a sketch group.
How did your time at Durham University prepare you for a career in comedy?
Well I did English Literature because I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so everything else other than my degree helped me! I’m so glad I went to Durham, I wouldn’t have gone anywhere else. The theatre in Durham introduced me to performance – I’d never even considered being in a play before, never considered being in a sketch group. And the Durham Review (which is still going now and goes up to Edinburgh every year) taught me how to write sketches and what it was like to go out on stage in front of people and hit jokes and be as funny as possible. It also showed me how the Edinburgh Fringe Festival worked, because we went up regularly. So it meant that the first time we went up in 2014 as Massive Dad, it wasn’t this terrifying experience – we knew where all the venues were and all the blogs and magazines that you could only get up there. So Durham shaped pretty much everything for me. Durham as a city is so small but there’s so much going on in it, so there’s so much opportunity to figure out what you want to do and try stuff out.
What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t a comedian and writer?
I just don’t know! I think whatever I’d be doing I’d be very unhappy, because I have to be doing at least 17 different things at once! At the minute I have a podcast, I write, I act, I do voiceovers for adverts, I’m constantly doing a million things at once. So I think one job would drive me totally mad! So maybe, like, a farmer?! Something completely different. A farmer in Wales, there we go.
What’s next for you after the Fringe?
Well if the show goes well, I’d like to have lots of meetings – I’ve got some ideas for radio and TV shows that I’d like to talk to people about. I guess just world domination is next. But first, I think it’ll be nice to go on a really big holiday in September! Because I’m just doing this show for myself, really, and to have as much fun as possible and to make people laugh as much as possible, I haven’t really thought ahead in terms of what this means for the rest of my career. So anything positive that comes from it will be a lovely surprise. I just hope that I look back on the Fringe and think: I made loads of people laugh. That would be such a lovely thing to have done.
Stevie will be performing her show – Stevie Martin: Vol. 1 – at the Pleasance Courtyard between 1st–14th and 16th–27th August. Tickets are available at www.edfringe.com