Spit­tle’s next big move

Ali­son Spit­tle moved to Lon­don when her RTÉ show was can­celled. She tells Una Mul­lally about her ‘ cathar­sis’ com­edy, the scale of her am­bi­tion and the dark af­ter­math of the abor­tion cam­paign

The Irish Times Magazine - - COVER STORY -

One word re­curs in re­views of Ali­son Spit­tle’s work: charm. It’s a valid, catch- all de­scrip­tion, but it also falls short. Yes, Spit­tle’s com­edy is charm­ing, but “charm” is a con­tained king of thing, and fails to cap­ture the ex­pand­ing, wan­der­ing qual­ity that her com­edy takes on.

Any­one can get up on stage and do one- lin­ers or gags, and too many do. But Spit­tle often seems to op­er­ate with­out scaf­fold­ing, even with­out a safety net. On stage, it some­times ap­pears as though ob­ser­va­tions have just landed in her head for shar­ing. As a re­sult her com­edy teeters on that magic thresh­old be­tween amuse­ment and be­muse­ment, the au­di­ence brought along by some­one who is half a know­ingly hap­less spirit guide, half a draw­ing- room racon­teur. When she clicks into a flow, the up­draft is bril­liant. Her me­an­der­ing anec­dotes can ap­pear to start out ( and some­times very much are) se­ri­ous or dark or rooted in trauma, be­fore the taut at­mos­phere that forms around them is deftly popped.

Some­times the jokes emerge like de­light­ful Dis­ney- like wood­land crea­tures pranc­ing around. Some­times they land at the back of the throat like a chunk of poi­soned ap­ple. Her jokes can call to mind dio­ra­mas, minia­tures or doll houses, ini­tially ap­pear­ing in­no­cent and cute but then twist­ing your head a lit­tle to con­sider: wait, is this bad? Should I be laugh­ing? If more moody or ni­hilis­tic co­me­di­ans set up jokes to jump out of the dark­ness, Spit­tle has a way of mak­ing the dark­ness jump out of the joke.

Spit­tle has also hit the emer­ald ceil­ing. At the tail end of her 20s, she has head­lined what is pretty much the pin­na­cle of the Ir­ish com­edy cir­cuit, Vicar Street in Dublin; she has writ­ten and starred in an RTÉ com­edy se­ries, Nowhere Fast; her pod­cast is pop­u­lar; her name pop­u­lates fes­ti­val line- ups in in­creas­ing font size. Thank you, next.

At the end of Oc­to­ber, she moved to Lon­don with her part­ner, Si­mon Mul­hol­land ( Spit­tle’s co- writer on Nowhere Fast.) She’s still set­tling in. “It’s scary mov­ing over to the UK,” she says. “Most of my ref­er­ences are Tayto and vil­lage adul­tery.”

The mo­ti­va­tions for mov­ing to Lon­don are man­i­fold: “I did Vicar Street, and I’m not 30 yet, and I don’t know what I’m do­ing with my life . . . If I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it. I have lots of friends over in Lon­don. The rental cri­sis here . . .”

She was do­ing shows in the UK, get­ting op­por­tu­ni­ties. If she’s be­ing hon­est, she should have gone two years ago, some­thing she re­grets. She didn’t move then be­cause she was afraid.

She loves Dublin, her friends in the city, the life she made in the cap­i­tal. “I was never un­happy liv­ing here. If Dublin wasn’t so good, I’d be gone straight away.” But more broadly, Spit­tle says she didn’t par­tic­u­larly know how to ne­go­ti­ate a path for­ward in Ire­land, a sit­u­a­tion many cre­ative peo­ple find them­selves in when they go down all the roads avail­able to them be­fore in­evitably find­ing them­selves in the small coun­try cul de sac.

“I’m not Tommy Tiernan, I don’t have the com­mer­cial ap­peal of Tommy or any­thing like that. I’m to­tally fine with that. I just have to give it a go over in Lon­don.”

Spit­tle grew up in Eng­land be­fore mov­ing to Ire­land at the age of seven, do­ing the bulk of her grow­ing up in Bal­ly­more, Co West­meath. She con­nects most of her idio­syn­cra­sies to mov­ing around a lot as a child. None of these are nec­es­sar­ily neg­a­tive, which she un­der­stands: “I’m fine with my­self. It’s grand. I treat my­self like that weird friend that you have that’s a bit of a prick and you’re like: ‘ Ah sure, I’m with him years.’ Know what I mean? That’s what I’m like to me. ‘ I’m 29 years with this per­son now, let her off. Leave her be.’ ”

The Dublin Fringe Fes­ti­val pro­vided a frame­work within which Spit­tle could de­velop, with four stints at the fes­ti­val be­tween 2014 and 2017, tee­ing up her Wor­rier Princess show for that Vicar Street head­liner last Jan­uary. She re­turns to the venue on March 30th.

Spit­tle’s steady rise over five years also fea­tured runs at the Ed­in­burgh Fringe (“Ed­in­burgh was a slog with mas­sive highs, tear- in­duc­ing frus­tra­tion and loads of tedium,” she wrote in 2014. “Voda­fone Fes­ti­val and Kilkenny Cat Laughs were a mas­sive high for me this year. I felt fully looked after and like a proper co­me­dian, my name on a note­book, wel­come packs, big nice open- minded au­di­ences. I was spoiled and Ed­in­burgh brought me back down to re­al­ity”); mul­ti­ple fes­ti­val spots; a re­la­tion­ship with the Guilty Fem­i­nist pod­cast, where she has been a guest and co- host; a role in Com­edy Bites on the RTÉ player in 2015; crop­ping up in var­i­ous places as a talk­ing head; her pod­cast, which is about 70 episodes in; and an ap­pear­ance on The Late Late Show, where she spoke for the count­less num­ber of young peo­ple in Ire­land who still live with their par­ents well into their 20s thanks to the hous­ing cri­sis.

“You do feel like a bit of a failed adult in a way,” she told Ryan Tubridy. “But you shouldn’t re­ally feel like that. Loads of

‘‘

I’m not Tommy Tiernan, I don’t have the com­mer­cial ap­peal of Tommy. I’m to­tally fine with that. I just have to give it a go over in Lon­don

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