Sarah Kendall: Interview

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Sarah Kendall has returned from a sabbatical revitalised

  • Aussie stand-up Sarah Kendall has made a big impression on the comedy scene since she moved to London six years ago. She’s been shortlisted for a TO Comedy Award. At the Edinburgh Fringe, she’s been nominated for the Perrier and she won a Herald Angel. There’s a dryness and subtlety about Kendall’s humour that’s hugely appealing. She radiates confidence on stage.

    It wasn’t always so. Kendall began performing stand-up while she was studying for an Arts degree at the University of Sydney. When she came here in 2000, she felt intimidated: ‘To be honest, I was afraid of the circuit. I didn’t know how I was going to break into it because it’s so immense. The biggest thing was losing the fear. I used to get terrible stage fright before gigs. I threw up quite a lot.’ The best cure, she discovered, was to endure some truly awful experiences: ‘Then you realise that, even when every single thing goes wrong, it’s not actually that bad. Then you can start to relax and have a good time.’

    Kendall’s reputation rests on her full-length shows for the Edinburgh Festival as well as on her club gigs. ‘The nice thing about returning there each year is that you can build up a profile and a following. The really hard slog is at the start when nobody knows who you are. On the first night of my first ever show I had three people in. There was my agent, a journalist, and someone on drugs who needed somewhere quiet to rest.’

    Since then she’s gone from strength to strength, so it seemed surprising when she decided, early last year, to take time off. ‘I wasn’t enjoying myself any longer. At the end of 2004, the idea of writing another show and doing another festival felt like a chore. Stand-up can be a trap. You can lead a very cloistered life. That’s why comedians end up talking about airline food and hotels. But there’s a whole world out there.’

    Kendall sampled some of it. She went hiking in the south of Iceland. She spent almost two months in Chicago, visiting a lot of jazz clubs and signing up for tours explaining the city’s architecture. She went to the weddings of a couple of her friends. ‘I’ve missed so many in the past because of work.’ She spent time with her brother and his family in the Australian outback. ‘It was like living on another planet with red dust everywhere.’

    In late summer the sabbatical came to an end. ‘I wish I could say that was because my head was bursting with ideas and I needed a creative outlet. The truth is I ran out of money. I’m a naturally lazy person, so anything that involves not working makes me extremely happy.’ She’d done occasional stand-up spots to avoid getting rusty. Going back to it full-time was a different proposition. ‘I’ve realised what an odd profession it is. When you’re doing it every day, you forget that.’

    Inevitably, Kendall turned to thinking about a new show for this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. ‘I won’t tell you anything about it yet. I’m still writing it.’ She sounds relaxed. ‘The best thing about taking a break is that you get perspective. I think that applies to any job. You realise the rest of the world is going about its business, oblivious to the fact you exist. You’re completely irrelevant. If you died tomorrow, few people would ever notice that you’d ever been here. The other good thing about a break is you get a tan.’

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