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Maxine Peake: My Guide to Playing a Stand-up

The 'Shameless' star plays a ’70s comedian in ‘Funny Cow’. She shares her five tips for killing it at the mic on screen

Written by
Anna Smith

1. Swallow your fears
‘I’d love to say there were months of prep for this role but no, I didn’t shadow Sarah Millican or anything. The writer tried to make me do an open mic and I told him I just couldn’t. But when I was being filmed on stage as Funny Cow, I got up and just sort of went for it. I didn’t really prepare – you know your lines [and you] see where it takes you. When somebody started laughing, that adrenaline gave me the confidence and I just went with it.’

2. Draw on your own experiences
‘The first live performance I ever saw was a woman comedian at a working men’s club, so when the writer of “Funny Cow”, Tony Pitts, asked me if I had any ideas, I told him I’d always been fascinated by the idea of a woman doing stand-up.  I’ve always held a bit of a candle for [’80s comedian] Marti Caine, this beautiful, modelly-looking woman who could take the mickey out of herself.’

3. Pre-empt the heckles
‘You have to put the audience in its place. You know the judgments that will come your way, so you say, “You might have thought it, but I’ve already said it.” It’s a thing women do quite a lot: that self-deprecation which drives me mad but I’m still guilty of. I do it in life all the time.’

Maxine Peake as the titular stand-up in 'Funny Cow'

4. Don't be afraid to talk about periods
‘People tell female comedians not to talk about periods and personal parts and underarm hair, but I think we need more of that. We need be able to laugh at ourselves, and at the beauty industry. There’s this idea that’s been perpetuated through time that women aren’t funny – Alun Armstrong’s character says it in the film – but now women are selling out huge arenas. I love Diane Morgan as Philomena Cunk; Jo Brand and Victoria Wood too.’

5. Make sure you have a favourite joke up your sleeve
‘There’s a line in the film I always liked where Funny Cow says, “I’m pleased to be here tonight but then again I’m from Rotherham so I’m pleased to be anywhere.” Nothing against Rotherham – it could easily be Bolton – it just always made me chuckle.’ 

‘Funny Cow’ is in cinemas on Fri Apr 20.

Photo credit: Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

Funny Cow review

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