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
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