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
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