COMEDIAN ALISON SPITTLE
Alison Spittle is a stand-up comedian who has now written and stars in her own sitcom, and she has some very simple advice for people who want to further their own success...
Ahead of her new six-part RTÉ comedy series Nowhere Fast, Westmeath comedian Alison Spittle is ‘trying to meditate to take some of the pressure off’. When she does stand-up ‘if anything goes wrong it’s in my power to change it. I don’t have the power when I’m doing television and it’s hard to be at peace with that’.
Then there’s her fear of what people might tweet about it because sadly Alison, 28, is no stranger to vile trolling.
So she uses The Headspace App ‘and you lie back and you hear this English lad just telling you to imagine clouds. And you’re like, “Okay!”
‘It’s an odd situation I got myself into,’ she adds, of her rising profile as a comic, panel show guest and, now, sitcom star. ‘I definitely burned out last year, I worked really hard. Sometimes I worked so hard I couldn’t stop myself physically from crying but I didn’t feel that sad. I was just panicking loads. And I want to prevent that,’ she explains. ‘It’s about being an adult and eating well and all that jazz. It’s like flossing your teeth. Meditation is like flossing; I’m glad I got to that analogy before you!’
In person Alison is tiny, smiley, warm and polite – and, of course, very funny. She arrives in the hotel in the kind of quirky clothes you might expect, including a T-shirt with kittens on the front and vivid orange sweater.
Apart from meditating, she has had counselling both in recent years and when her parents split up when she was 15.
‘I didn’t take to that very well,’ she admits, of the separation, when her father returned to England. ‘And I suppose when parents get divorced they pay more attention to their children’s mental health, so they were keeping on top of it. My school were very good because they organised a psychotherapist.
‘I’d be telling my friend I was missing double German, “I’m just going off to see the counsellor!” and there wasn’t a bother.’
Alison offers that she was never made to feel different – because she felt different anyway. ‘I think it’s because I was known as a bit mad anyway when I was a young one because I used to wear mad clothes. I grew up on a council estate and I used to go around listening to Morrissey and I liked rap too. I was a fat kid in a big hippy dress running around having a great time.’
She includes a tour of that council estate in her hilarious Republic of Telly sketch, Alison Spittle’s Guide to the Midlands. Her sitcom sees her returning to the familiar territory of Westmeath. Nowhere Fast tells the story of radio producer Angela, played by Alison, who loses her job in Dublin after accidentally libelling someone live on air (spoiler alert: you may never look at peat briquettes the same way). She returns home to ➤
➤ live with her younger sister, her mother and her mother’s new partner and tries to start over. The inspiration came when she remembered how a lecturer in her Radio Production course in Ballyfermot would regale the class with stories of people who ‘never worked in media again’.
Her best friends are played by Moone Boy actress Clare Monnelly and Pondling actress Genevieve Hulme Beaman.
‘When they auditioned it just felt right. They were so kind and generous to me. I’m writing it, I’m under a lot of pressure as well and I had a lot of self- doubt about doing acting because I’m not a trained actor. Genevieve would cook a roast chicken and Clare would give me a lift to Genevieve’s house and then on the Sunday we’d go through all the lines and I’d be talking to them about “What emotion am I supposed to convey here?” even though I wrote the thing. They were so patient and so lovely.’
Her mother, played by Red Rock actress Cathy Belton, keeps expressing her fear that Angela will kill herself.
‘God love her, Mam didn’t know what to do when I was a teenager listening to Morrissey, depressed, and she was so worried all the time. And she’s got nothing but love as well. When you’re a teenager you don’t appreciate that. So it’s a bit of a p***-take but a homage. Everything I do about my mother comes from a place of love.’
The producers are Deadpan Pictures, the same people behind Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope. Has Alison met Stefanie Preissner?
‘We met very briefly about three months ago. When I was meeting her first I was very scared because I’d heard so much about her. You know if someone goes, “I’ve this friend, she’s exactly like you…” She’s like a twin in a way, so I was afraid. She’s writing, she’s acting, she’s incredibly successful and she’s very ambitious and I’m very ambitious too. She was very nice, but I don’t know her, do you know?’
Millennials are often referred to as snowflakes for being lazybones with a sense of entitlement, but neither woman is afraid to work hard and push for what they want.
Alison started her career as an iRadio intern where she met Bernard O’Shea and Keith Walsh, who now work on 2FM’s Breakfast Republic with Jennifer Zamparelli.
‘Bernard is really great, I’ve a lot of time for him. He gave me my first stand-up gig in Portlaoise. I didn’t really care about stand-up before, I didn’t watch it or anything. I went up and did seven minutes on my granny.’
Alison had such an adrenaline rush when the gig went well that she has been ‘chasing it ever since’. She met comedian Simon Mulholland on the circuit five years ago, they began dating and now live together in Dublin’s Smithfield. But marriage isn’t on the cards because ‘it doesn’t seem that craic to spend 12 hours of your life waving at people and constantly entertaining your family… No, I don’t want to do it’.
But, she adds: ‘I love living together, I love commitment’. Co-writing the sitcom with Simon was a natural progression from their everyday conversations.
‘All we do in our spare time anyway is talk about comedy. We love the structure of jokes. We’re all the time making each other laugh. We’ll watch stand-up comedy and then we’ll do our homework and write on that subject and try and make each other laugh. So writing the TV show with him was great. He’s so clever and he’s so lovely and he’s so kind. We never row or anything like that which is mad. I sicken myself. It’s hard not to gush about him.’
She jokes that living together is ‘actually grand because I’ve been living in box rooms since I was a kid so I was never used to personal space anyway’. The eldest of four girls, Alison was born in Harrow, North-West London, where she lived until the age of nine, before the family moved to Ballymore.
‘It was full of white people - that was weird. When I grew up in London I was the only white girl in my class.’
Her father remarried three years ago, her mother remarried this year.
‘ Their partners are lovely. Their partners are perfect for them as well. My parents loved each other but they were just two personalities that didn’t...’ she trails off.
‘I’m an adult now. When you’re 15 you don’t see it. When you’re 28, you’re in a five-year relationship, you know how difficult it is just to make it work month to month and fair play to them for not fecking me up that much by
divorcing. I think I was a bit fecked up before they divorced. It’s like when you’re in a car crash and they discover something else is wrong with you.
‘It was never over them,’ she says, of the low feelings she had as a teenager. ‘ They were adult and mature about it and I love their partners. I’m lucky.’
She hasn’t always felt so lucky. Two years ago Alison wrote a viral blog post for Headstuff about street harassment, in which she told of being called a ‘fat b****’ and joke-propositioned by laughing groups of young lads.
Now she says it happens less because she feels more confident in herself. ‘I think it’s the way you carry yourself,’ she muses.
It probably helps that her dress size does not preoccupy Alison’s thoughts as much as it used to.
‘I always felt when I was young that my life would be so much better if I lost weight. I used to think, “If I lost three stone then I’d be happier”. And that’s not true. I lost a lot of weight when I was young and I wasn’t any happier.’
The thought of dieting again now is ‘very hard because you’ve got a boyfriend and you just don’t care. Because someone loves you unconditionally anyway. And I’m good at doing comedy. So I’m good at my job and I’ve got a boyfriend who loves me. I’m not one of these fat people that says, “I’m proud!” Like, I’m grand,’ she clarifies.
‘It would be more convenient if I could get a better range of clothes in the high street and there’s only one way to sort that out and that’s to lose weight. But I’m just not a***d at the moment. And it feels like a statement but I’m not trying to say anything.’
In fact she wonders whether not tackling her weight made her focus more on her writing and comedy.
‘I always had a chip on my shoulder. I felt I would get more opportunities if I lost weight and I was going, “Your life would be so much easier if you just lost weight.” But then it just made me work hard at other aspects, like writing and making my own roles. I’ve written my own sitcom, do you know what I mean?’ she says, defiantly.
‘I’m going to the gym now and stuff and it’s because I feel lethargic. I want to be healthier. It’s the same with the mind; now I do meditation and I do a bit of exercise. And it’s grand.’
Alison is touring her new stand-up show Worrier Princess which she brings to Dublin’s Vicar Street in January. She supported Catastrophe star Rob Delaney in the same venue last year.
‘He’s super-lovely and he’s got hairy arms. I love hairy arms, it’s almost like a sleeve...’
Her first show in Vicar Street came about when she asked to be included on the bill at the Vodafone Comedy Festival.
‘It was one of those things where I made a New Year’s resolution, “I’m going to ask for stuff I’m not ready for”. So I emailed Aiken [Promotions] and said, “I think I should be in your festival!” And they said, “Okay!” And I did it and I loved it. If I’ve got advice for anyone, ask for stuff you’re not ready for and learn and you’ll be grand. The other thing as well is when I worked in radio I worked very hard but I’d never ask for anything. I thought, “If you work hard, they’ll see it. They’ll pick you.” That does not happen,’ she says, firmly. ‘You’ve to work hard and tell people you want stuff as well. That’s just the way I go about it. If you work hard, you owe yourself the chance to make it happen.’
Along with that newfound air of confidence that keeps street harassers away, Alison has finally allowed her nascent ambition to blossom.
‘When I was in college I kept not thinking about the future because my self- esteem was so low that I didn’t think it was fair for me to have ambition – so weird,’ she sighs, shaking her head. ‘Any time I thought about what I wanted in life another thought would come in and think, “Who do you think you are?” Now I just accept that I want things in life and I’ll try my hardest to get them.’
She agrees that she must be growing a thicker skin and is not as troubled anymore by couch critics on social media either.
‘ Twitter is good, they’ve got a good net now where they catch all the bad Tweets. I don’t seem to get as many as I did before. I think there’s a new algorithm. Sometimes I get, “You have four replies”, but you can only see one. And maybe that one might be something nice.’
NOWHERE FAST starts on RTE2 this Monday at 9.30pm
“MY SELF-ESTEEM WAS SO LOW IN COLLEGE THAT I DIDN’T THINK IT WAS FAIR FOR ME TO HAVE AMBITION – SO WEIRD”
Alison on stage and, inset right, in her new sitcom Nowhere Fast