It’s as close to hot and pas­sion­ate as you can get be­ing a Catholic Ir­ish per­son

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -

Ali­son Spit­tle is in high de­mand. The co­me­dian is in the midst of an un­com­monly busy pe­riod: she’s tour­ing the coun­try with her standup, record­ing her suc­cess­ful pod­cast, The Ali­son Spit­tle Show, work­ing on a doc­u­men­tary on what makes a ‘culchie’ and pre­par­ing for the launch of her RTÉ2 sit­com, Nowhere Fast. Af­ter close to a decade of beg­ging for gigs, the 28-year-old is hav­ing a mo­ment.

“I wasn’t a ‘full-time co­me­dian’ a year ago, but I am now. It takes up ev­ery inch of my time; I don’t have week­ends any more. I love it, but some­times it can be ex­haust­ing. I get styes in my eyes now, my body is break­ing down!” she hoots with a peal of laugh­ter.

Ali­son is quick to laugh, and her mis­chievous chuckle is in­fec­tious. She’s easy com­pany, bright and breezily chatty, and of­ten gets car­ried off on a ram­bling tan­gent or pauses mid-sen­tence to quip about nosy passers-by out­side the win­dow.

She’s also ef­fu­sively apolo­getic: she’s sorry she hasn’t had a chance to use the bath­room all day (it’s 3pm), she’s sorry she’s eat­ing a cookie while we talk, and she’s sorry she asked to meet near her home in Smith­field, Co Dublin.

“It’s just been fierce busy, it’s mad,” she ex­plains. “The other day I did an interview on the phone while cy­cling a bike, and she couldn’t hear me, so I had to wait un­til ev­ery time I was at a traf­fic light to go on about this and that, and then I’d be off cy­cling again.”

Thank­fully, to­day we are both seated in a café, to dis­cuss Nowhere Fast, which she stars in and has co-writ­ten with her part­ner Si­mon Mul­hol­land, who runs the Fire­house Film Con­test.

RTÉ has had a patchy track record with com­edy in re­cent years, but based on the first of six episodes, we are in for a real treat. Nowhere Fast fol­lows An­gela (Spit­tle) as she moves home to West­meath af­ter a spec­tac­u­lar gaffe on-air sees her lose her dream job in ra­dio. Back in her child­hood bed­room (now the of­fice where her step­fa­ther makes mo­ti­va­tional posters), An­gela nav­i­gates how to main­tain her long­est-run­ning friend­ships and living with her mum (Cathy Bel­ton), step-dad (Mark Do­herty) and teenage sis­ter (Clara­belle Mur­phy, daugh­ter of Fair City ac­tress Clelia).

The very, very funny se­ries es­chews the bright lights of the city to ex­plore the comic po­ten­tial of the midlands, more of­ten the setting for dreary lit­er­ary fiction, and Ali­son en­dear­ingly cap­tures the minu­tiae of vil­lage life and the ec­cen­tric­i­ties of the Ir­ish fam­ily with a light comic touch.

Like An­gela, Ali­son grew up in West­meath, but she was born in Lon­don and spent time in Dres­den, Ger­many, be­fore her fam­ily moved to Bal­ly­more when she was eight.

“I al­ways felt like this out­sider when I was at school,” she says. “I had a big English ac­cent, and peo­ple would tell me that I’m not Ir­ish, and oth­ers would tell me that I am Ir­ish and why am I pre­tend­ing to be English?

“I was al­ways a bit odd as a teenager, but that didn’t mat­ter, be­cause the great thing about living in a vil­lage is you can’t travel any­where.

“You’re stuck with the friends you have, so it doesn’t mat­ter if you’re a goth, you’re into rap or what­ever, you still hang around do­ing noth­ing to­gether.”

At 15, she man­aged to land a weekly seg­ment on RTÉ 2fm af­ter a chance text into her favourite pro­gramme, The Rick O’Shea Show. She quickly got a phone call from a pro­ducer, which turned into an in­vi­ta­tion to re­view films on air. When the show moved from evenings to af­ter­noons, Ali­son de­scribes mitch­ing dou­ble Ger­man on Wed­nes­days to phone in her film re­views.

“I’d be in the girls’ toi­lets just wait­ing for RTÉ to ring, then I’d be like ‘So I didn’t like the Teenage Mu­tant Ninja Tur­tles film…’” she says with mock-se­ri­ous­ness. It in­stilled a deep love of ra­dio, and Ali­son headed to Bal­lyfer­mot Col­lege to study me­dia. On grad­u­at­ing, she ended up mov­ing back in with her mam and tak­ing an in­tern­ship at iRa­dio in Athlone.

“That was a weird time. I was 21, and I’d con­vinced my­self I was go­ing to live in Dublin and have a great cos­mopoli­tan life. But I just couldn’t af­ford the rent,” she re­calls.

“I felt so bad back then for mov­ing home, be­cause peo­ple that were older than me and had grad­u­ated be­fore the re­ces­sion had a mort­gage, they were en­gaged, they had a life. I thought, what have I done? But I just de­cided not to care about what any­one thought, and once I did that I felt so much bet­ter. Even if you’re 28 and living with your mum, don’t beat your­self up about it — beat­ing your­self up about it won’t get you out of that house.”

When her men­tor at the ra­dio sta­tion, co­me­dian Bernard O’Shea, urged her to take a stand-up slot ahead of a PJ Gal­lagher gig, she was hooked.

“I’d never seen stand-up com­edy live be­fore, so I just did 10 min­utes of talk­ing about my granny drink­ing hot tub wa­ter. I got a good re­ac­tion and it just felt like the best feeling I’d ever had. I still haven’t felt that way, ex­cept maybe fall­ing in love. It’s this hot, pas­sion­ate thing that I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” she says earnestly, then bursts into laugh­ter. “Maybe de­scrib­ing it as hot and pas­sion­ate is a bit weird… it’s as close to hot and pas­sion­ate as you can get be­ing a Catholic Ir­ish per­son!”

She de­scribes Nowhere Fast as “a lit­tle bit” au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal, and look­ing back on her ado­les­cence in West­meath, she says, “I loved it,” be­fore cor­rect­ing her­self: “I hated it, but I loved it. It’s weird, be­cause I re­mem­ber it mostly as a neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, but I’ve talked to peo­ple in Bal­ly­more and re­alised that half the things I thought were just me pro­ject­ing my in­se­cu­ri­ties on to other peo­ple. Maybe I pushed my­self to be a bit of an out­sider more than them re­ject­ing me.

“I’ve al­ways been fas­ci­nated by vil­lage life and the fear that you have a rep­u­ta­tion. You move to Dublin and then you re­alise it doesn’t mat­ter. But no mat­ter how far you move, when you go home you’re still that 18-year-old you were when you left that place.”

Four years ago, a pro­ducer from Dead­pan Pic­tures saw Ali­son per­form at the Dublin Fringe Fes­ti­val, and asked if she’d con­sider writ­ing a sit­com. She agreed to write a page, and from there, “it was three years of just con­stantly writ­ing”. She cites Sharon Hor­gan’s Pulling and RTÉ2’s Pure Mule as her

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