Sara Pascoe: interview

Following TV success on both sides of the Atlantic, Sara Pascoe talks stand-up with Ben Williams

Sara Pascoe Sara Pascoe

Back in July 2008, our previous Comedy editor (and now editor-in-chief) Tim Arthur picked six young comics who he predicted would be stars of the future. Among the group was Sara Pascoe, a recent Funny Women Award runner-up and cast member of the Canal Café Theatre’s resident topical variety show, ‘Newsrevue’. Four years later, the 30-year-old actress-comedian is working on her third Edinburgh Fringe show, preparing for her second series as a regular on Channel 4’s ‘Stand Up for the Week’ and has popped up in ‘Free Agents’, Armando Iannucci’s ‘The Thick of It’ and David Cross’s ‘The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret’. Seems like Mr Arthur was bang on the money.

So, which came first – acting or comedy – and how did one lead to the other?

‘Acting came first. I’ve been an actor since I was 18. So that’s my proper job. But I was not a very successful actor, if you consider being able to afford your rent successful. I did lots of old people’s tours; reminiscence tours. I actually did love doing them, but it wasn’t glamorous. And then I ended up doing “Newsrevue”, which was as an acting job, cash in hand, but I also had to do some comedic writing. My mum will still tell you that I’m “not a funny person”. I’m very earnest. But with “Newsrevue” I started doing some characters, and I just loved how you were in control. You could write something that day and go and do it that night, rather than waiting for a job that involves other people. So I did character stand-up, and then proper stand-up, and I loved it; I got addicted.’

You’re faux-arrogant and self-important on stage. Have you always adopted that persona?

‘No, I started off just calling myself fat on stage, and doing that thing of going “so I haven’t got a boyfriend. Big surprise!”, like everyone does. But when I realised how much that happens, not just in women’s stand-up, but in men’s as well, I decided not to. I think I became too arrogant, or “faux-arrogant”, as a response to it, but it’s come back down now. I’ve been doing stand-up for five years, so there’s less of a persona on stage than I did have.’

Sara Pascoe Sara Pascoe - © Idil Sukan

Has it ever backfired? I guess the audience have to understand it’s a persona for it to work…

‘Well, that’s what happened in Edinburgh. I got nine two-star reviews for my first Edinburgh show. Nine two-star reviews! But all the reviews said, “How ironic: a show about how brilliant someone is from someone who is not brilliant at stand-up”.  If anyone ever Googled me before seeing one of my shows, they wouldn’t come!’

There’s a surreal quality to your stand-up, and you occasionally do oddball characters, which doesn’t make you an obvious choice for the slick topical observations of ‘Stand Up for the Week’. How did you get the gig?

‘I was really lucky. I did a try out for the show at the Comedy Store called a “Channel 4 Showcase” and it was just after I found out that “Campus” [a Channel 4 sitcom Pascoe starred in] hadn’t got a second series. So I started, really badly, by going, “Lovely to be here at the Comedy Store, a gig that won’t book me, for Channel 4, who will never give anything I do a second series.” Nobody knew what I was talking about. Every other comic was doing their best ten minutes. I struggled through my ten and didn’t think any more of it. Then Addison [Cresswell, Director of Open Mike Productions, who make ‘Stand Up for the Week’], went “I like her, she’s a comedian’s comedian.” I think he thought: We’re doing a really accessible show, we’ll get somebody who’s not like that.’

Did you have to adapt your writing or style at all for the show?

‘Not at all. I did think: I’m not the kind of comic for this job, I don’t want to tell anyone else’s jokes. So when I had the interview I was like, “Sometimes I play the ukulele; can I play the ukulele on the TV show?” and they went, “Yeah, if you want.” I went, “Sometimes I do drawings. Can I do bad drawings and put them up on the screen?” and they were like, “We’d love that, no one ever uses the screen” and I went, “Oh… can I end every set with a musical about the week’s news?” “Yeah, if you want to.” It was lovely. It was really liberating, actually.’

On the acting side of things, you’ve worked with some incredible people…

‘It’s amazing.“Twenty Twelve”, the next series, I did two episodes of that. I’d met Jessica Hynes briefly at a couple of things, but we’d never worked together. And I just spent all day as a sycophant: wherever she was, I wanted to be next to her, laughing at whatever she said. It doesn’t feel real. Like, I worked with [‘Arrested Development’ stars] David Cross and Will Arnett, and then I watched “Arrested Development” again afterwards, and I didn’t watch it going, “Oh, there are my friends! They text me sometimes!” I watched it and went, “I can’t believe I was even in a room with them I think they’re so amazing.” ’