The­comic­swho gave­upthe­day job

Philip­paFord­ham and Si­monLip­son used to have sen­si­ble ca­reers in law and prop­erty. But they gave it all up to make peo­ple laugh. They talk to Alex Kas­riel

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS -

PHILIPPA FORD­HAM and Si­mon Lip­son are the an­tithe­sis of the Rus­sell Br a nd and Si­mon Am­stell fast-liv­ing, rock’n’roll school of com­edy. But the sketch-show duo — who have chil­dren, spouses and sen­si­ble ca­reers to fall back on — have their own sin­gu­lar sell­ing point: they are one of the few male/fe­male dou­ble-acts work­ing in the hu­mour busi­ness.

The­yare­cur­rentlystar­ringintheir own Ra­dio 4 se­ries, He Barks, She Bites (bornout­oftheirEd­in­burghFes­ti­val show of the same name), and have more BBC projects in the pipe­line. Their mid­dle-class com­edy will not ruf­fle any feath­ers, but will nev­er­the­less make you tit­ter into your tea and bis­cuits.

Both Ford­ham, 47, and Lip­son, 49, came to the busi­ness rel­a­tively late, af­ter some time do­ing “nor­mal” jobs. Ford­ham went to Has­monean school — “I was a fish out of wa­ter,” she says. Her par­ents re­jected her idea of be­com­ing an ac­tress, so she wound up work­ing as an es­tate agent, among other things, be­fore hav­ing two chil­dren.

Lip­son, a Hab­er­dash­ers’ old boy, qual­i­fied as a so­lic­i­tor, hated it, and started per­form­ing stand-up on the side.Atal­ente­d­im­pres­sion­ist,hewas re­cruited by the BBC to work with Alis­tair McGowan and Jon Cul­shaw on the Dead Ringers show.

Mean­while Ford­ham, who had kept up her in­ter­est in per­form­ing by work­ing in ama­teur dra­mat­ics, won a place in a com­edy sketch group, TBA, which in­cluded Alexan­der Arm­strong and Ben Miller.

“My friend asked me to help her with the au­di­tion,” says Ford­ham. “I read the script and said: ‘That’s ter­ri­ble, that isn’t funny at all’. So we wrote some funny ma­te­rial and I got the gig, not know­ing any­thing about what it was about. I was com­pletely out of my depth. I hadn’t writ­ten a thing ever in my life.”

But she was ob­vi­ously do­ing some­thing right — since then, she has put on a suc­cess­ful Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val show, Girls With Big Jests, in 1995 and 1996. That too was a dou­ble­act, which ended when her com­edy part­ner de­cided to have chil­dren. “She didn’t want to come back to com­edy,” com­plains Ford­ham. “I was re­ally gut­ted when it hap­pened, be­cause I didn’t know how to work in­de­pen­dently. That was when it was re­ally hard.”

Lip­son, mean­while, was get­ting bored with the im­pres­sion­ist niche he had carved out for him­self. “They were re­ally ded­i­cated im­pres­sion­ists, those guys,” he says, re­fer­ring to McGowan and Cul­shaw. “In terms of want­ing to spend time work­ing on the im­pres­sions, per­fect­ing them, it wasn’t for me. I felt what I needed to be do­ing was broad­en­ing out a lit­tle bit.”

Lip­son and Ford­ham even­tu­ally met at a voice-over au­di­tion, hit it off and de­cided to join forces. “Most co­me­di­ans know each other and we just got chat­ting,” says Ford­ham. “Like ev­ery re­la­tion­ship, we have our ups and downs. But we know each other ex­traor­di­nar­ily well. It works bril­liantly.”

So how does it work, ex­actly? “I’m prag­matic, she’s the wacky one,” says Lip­son. “She’ll come up with an in­sane idea, and I’ll say, that is rub­bish. Then I’ll come up with an idea and she’ll say, that’s re­ally straight. If it makes us both laugh, it’s prob­a­bly funny.” And the fact that they started in this busi­ness rel­a­tively late is, by their reck­on­ing, a big ad­van­tage.

“We­come­fro­mad­if­fer­ent­per­spec­tive,” says Lip­son. “Standup tends to be per­formed by trendy peo­ple in their early thir­ties, but what they can’t pos­si­bly have is the range of life ex­pe­ri­ence that we have had. It’s a big ad­van­tage. In that re­spect, I think that is what Ra­dio 4 wanted.”

Their Jewish­ness may not be im­me­di­ately iden­ti­fi­able in their act, but Lip­son does in­sist there is a “haimishe” qual­ity to their work.“Botho­fus are very keen on Amer­i­can come­dies like Se­in­feld and Curb Your En­thu­si­asm. We have never con­sciously writ­ten a Jewish sketch, but some have a def­i­nite Jewish flavour.” He Barks, She Bites is on Mon­day at 11.30pm on Ra­dio 4

Comic duo Philippa Ford­ham and Si­mon Lip­son

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