Where y’all from and where y’all at?
Siân: I’m originally from the suburbs of Brussels, Belgium, so yes I am very exotic.
Zoë: I grew up on the Isle of Arran in Scotland. We’ll leave it up to you who won in the ‘mildly unusual hometown’ category. We’re both now based in London.
Can you describe in one sentence the experience of performing at the Fringe?
Siân: “Zoë I’m so sorry about eating the props.”
When did you first realise you were, well, funny?
Zoë: I was about 16. I wrote a comedy play about a murder on the set of a kid’s TV show. I’d written sound effects into the script like I had the full BBC Radiophonic Workshop in the tech box, but actually it was just my mum. She obviously messed up one of the cues, so I broke character and said: “I knew I shouldn’t have asked my mum to do the tech”. The music still wasn’t playing so I kept improvising, which was much funnier than what I had written. That’s when I first thought: “People laughed when I said something that wasn’t pre-prepared”. My mum still comes to our shows and heckles us so we can make jokes about it. Actually maybe it’s my mum that’s funny. Maybe the act should be Siân and Zoë’s Mum?
Why comedy, what is it about being funny in front of other people that makes you tick?
Siân: The first time I did stand-up was after auditioning for a Footlights gig I didn’t get into. There were two guys outside the audition room who told me they were organizing a fundraiser comedy gig, and did I do stand-up? I lied and said “Yeah, sure”. The ten minutes of “comedy” I did was resolutely average, and probably better just described as “words.” But I got the bug for it. I’d also done odd bits of sketch comedy about things like IKEA furniture having a nervous breakdown, sex guru post-it notes and various other haunted-office-equipment-related material. Which has kind of just kept going. The reason it makes me tick may well be that I ill-advisedly swallowed a desk clock during a sketch at some point and the battery poisoning made me forget all about it.
Upon which life-experiences do you draw your own comedy?
Zoë: I also absolutely love horror films, which I hope comes across in our show this year. I once made Siân watch ‘The Exorcist’, and she still thinks the girl is climbing down the stairs backwards to get her. To be honest, Siân’s better at using actual life experience than me; her solo stuff manages to explore personal identity in a way that isn’t annoying. And that’s high praise from me as I am easily annoyed, especially by Siân.
So Siân, you are currently doing some serious acting in “Queers” at the King’s Head Theatre. Is this experience influencing your comedy act with Zoë in any way?
Siân: It has, in the sense that I think all performance experience is valuable and teaches you something. The “seeryuss ahhcting” has pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I’ve had to convey all these emotions without the safety of making a joke about it. It’s pretty exposing and I’m not sure if I like it. But I love the show. And I do think – in a way that possibly borders on the obnoxious – that it’s important to be visible and honest as an LGBTQ person, within the limits of what’s possible for your own safety. This is the second time I’ve performed in “Queers”, and for a while I was the frontwoman of a feminist cock-rock drag band called “The Dykeness”. So yes, it has influenced our act, in that it has made me an expert on “keeping it subtle”.
How did S&Z come about?
Zoë: Siân auditioned for a stand-up comedy night I hosted at university. I thought “Wow, she does what I do but better. I should 100% drag her down to my level”. We’d never written any sketch comedy together so obviously we wrote an hour in a week and ran it for five nights in a row. We’ve been working together ever since.
So Zoë, can you tell us about your dayjob as a researcher?
I work in TV as a researcher for comedy panel shows, finding props, pictures, clips and anything else that can lead on to gags. I’m delighted someone wants to pay me to be a comedy nerd, because before this I’d been doing it unpaid since I was 11. We also develop games and sketches, which means when I’m working I have to keep contacting Siân to ask: “Have I accidentally stolen this idea from our writing session last night? And if so, please can I carry on stealing it?”.
What are the ingredients to a good sketch?
Siân: Every sketch is different and every sketch act is different. But I think a key thing across the board is to have one core idea for each sketch, and see it through. Having said that, the original ingredient in a sketch is your own voice. Sketch groups we really like can both write sketches that anyone could perform, but also have a style that is distinctly theirs. And that comes down to the personalities, interests and idiosyncrasies of the writers/performers. I felt like there were two or three sketches in our show last year that were really “ours”, which was cool. It can take ages to figure that out. But it’s the most fun.
You are bringing Sugar Coma Fever Nightmare to this year’s Fringe, can you tell us about it?
Zoë: Sugar Coma Fever Nightmare is a dark sketch show about bad dreams, and two people made of liquorice who want to eat flesh allsorts.
Siân: It’s still very much an alternative comedy show, so there’s lots of visual business and the offbeat stuff that we like. But the dream setting has given us loads to play with in terms of characters and sketches that exist just outside of reality. Please note that although the show is dream-themed, we have put a lot of work into it so having a nap through the show will not produce the same effect. (HI DAD.)
This is not your first time at the Fringe, what have you learnt in the interim about your set?
Siân: The Fringe has something for absolutely everyone. One year I was in a folk-punk opera version of “The Bacchae,” mostly about binge-drinking, aimed at ten year olds. It did alright. Also, there are pretty decent £1 sandwiches in Boots. Artistically, this is very important.
Was constructing this year’s show easier or more difficult than your first?
Zoë: Much easier! Obviously we’re more experienced but the theme of dreams and nightmares works perfectly for sketch so I think we’ve had more fun with that – moving between sketches is much more natural if it’s happening in a dreamscape. It’s been exciting to pull characters from different parts of the show into each other’s sketches, as we move through the hour, to build the effect of a nightmare. I’ve also enjoyed pushing our bubblegum characters into horrible situations.
Siân: Previous years have been nightmarish so we’re delighted we can finally put that extensive bank of experience to use.
Photography : Nick Rutter / Jon Bailey
Aug 3-13, 15-27
Just the Tonic @ The Community Project (Venue 27)