If I hadn’t stopped being jealous of other people, I wouldn’t have got the TV show. It’s not nice, and it’s not fair
biggest inspirations for the show, but says she couldn’t watch scripted series while she was writing: “I’d study it too much or get sad or jealous.”
Last June, the team were granted funding, and Alison and Simon were handed a short writing deadline. “I rely on Simon so much,” she smiles. “We’ve been going out five years, and he’s just so clever and talented, and I think we complement each other’s strengths. We have a similar dream of what we want to make.”
The pair initially wanted the show to be darker, but Alison says she’s learned to pick her battles.
“There was a lot of input from RTÉ,” she admits. “Eddie Doyle [RTÉ Head of Comedy] has been a great support… he really did champion me. But they do have an involvement in it, and so do the international distributors like BBC Worldwide — they have to make sure it’s not too colloquial.
“The whole process is all about compromise,” she explains. “When I did radio, I was like a little worker bee. I loved doing it, but you’d do every little job possible. You’d go down and get the boss Lucozade, and you’d think one day you’d be rewarded with a proper job. But then when you do stand-up, you’re no one’s worker bee. You’re your own person, and it was very hard to let go of that, very hard.”
She adds that it’s also been difficult having to step back and wait for the show to be released. “When I do stand-up and it’s going badly, I have the control to make that gig not bad by changing my routine, talking to the audience, doing all these little tricks. With the TV show, my job is done, and I just have to let it out there,” she says nervously.
Since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, stories of sexual harassment have been pouring out about every facet of the entertainment industry. The Irish scene is no less toxic, Alison says.
“You can get some bad eggs in comedy. But a lot of bad eggs aren’t good comedians, and they don’t stay doing comedy long,” she notes.
“I remember I was going to my first show away from Dublin, and when I got in the car this other guy was like ‘you’re very fat’. I thought, ‘oh, OK, hello’. He fancied himself as an edgy comedian,” she says, rolling her eyes. “I thought I just wouldn’t talk to him and talk to the other people. He was in his 50s and I was 19 or 20. Then later that night, he wouldn’t leave my hotel room. He just slept in another bed and was trying to wake me up — I just said ‘I’m going to sleep now’. He was a very pushy guy, but he doesn’t do comedy anymore.
“I felt so weird and so bad. In the morning, the guy who was driving asked me to breakfast, and this man walked out without his trousers on and went ‘oh, I forgot my jeans’, and he laughed. I stopped him and said ‘are you trying to tell that guy that we f***ed? Did we f***?’ and he stammered ‘no’. He thought I wouldn’t say anything.”
She continues: “It’s hard to talk about, because Ireland is so small. Some men won’t believe any victim because they think a man’s reputation is so important and you’re taking away from [that]. I’m only talking about that guy because he doesn’t do comedy any more.”
Alison describes how women in Irish comedy have banded together, with many comics renting offices together or organising all-female stand-up gigs. But she admits she wasn’t always so supportive of other women in the industry — she has spoken on her podcast about feeling jealous of Joanne McNally’s success, saying: “If Joanne McNally was a lad, would I have given a s*** about her rise to fame? I’ ll tell you the truth, no.”
“It’s so poisonous,” she says today. “But you can choose to block out those feelings. If I hadn’t stopped being jealous of other people, I wouldn’t have got the TV show. It’s not nice, and it’s not fair.”
In January, Alison will headline her own show at Vicar Street, with support from her friends Sofie Hagen and Ruth Hunter. She has long described it as her dream venue, and now that she has landed top billing, she says she’s still grappling with that peculiarly millennial feeling of ‘not good enough’.
“People are constantly saying ‘you must be so happy, you’re so successful’. Inside, I’m going, why am I not happy? This is when I thought I’d be happy. I’m working since I’m 19 chasing some sort of dream, and I always had this almost religious belief that if you work hard, you will be rewarded in the future. After putting up with s***heads for seven years of my life, my reward in my head was the TV show and the tour, and, I’m like, are you ever actually going to be happy? What is wrong with you!” she says with an exasperated sigh. “But I think I’m just protecting myself.
“When Vicar Street is done, then I’ll have a big think about what I want to do next, because you’ve got to savour the stuff you like. When I was approached to do Vicar Street, it was a big surprise to me. Part of me says ‘you’re not able’, but you just have to ignore that and keep going. Everything I’ve thought I wasn’t able to do, I’ve done.”