Sarah Millican: interview
Tim Arthur discovers that the break-up of Sarah Millican’s marriage turned her into She-Ra and made her realise she could do and say anything. And she frequently does…
Geordie comedian Sarah Millican smiles infectiously as she chats away, nine to the dozen, in her distinctive, high-pitched, sing-song voice. She is clearly enjoying life. And why not? 2008 saw her become only the second woman, in more than 17 years, to win the coveted if.comedy Best Newcomer Award for her bittersweet show, ‘Sarah Millican’s Not Nice’, at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Previous winners and nominees include Harry Hill, The Mighty Boosh, Dara O’Briain, Michael McIntyre and Tim Minchin – all of whom are now either household names or well on the way to becoming one. So she has every reason to be optimistic about the future.
How has life changed for her since winning the award? ‘I suppose there are things that people might not have considered I could do before, that they now consider I can. I find that slightly annoying because my stuff hasn’t changed, and I haven’t changed. But now I’ve got a label they can put that on their posters and websites,’ she laughs. ‘There are a couple of tiny
bookers in London who wouldn’t give me a slot for love nor money before and now they’re like: “Oh, do you want to come and do a £60 gig in London?”. And I’m like, “I wouldn’t have done it before for £60, I’m certainly not going to do it now.” Nothing’s really changed just because I’ve got an award though, with regards to my material, how I write or who I am. It just opens a
couple of extra doors that might not have opened before.’
Like? ‘The Comedy Store has just booked me to do 10 days in Dubai, which is quite cool. And, given that I don’t plan on having sex on the beach with a strange man, or indeed a familiar man, and I don’t drink, so won’t be flicking the vees at the coppers, I should be fine. People have been telling me how dangerous it is out there, but I think it’s only dangerous if you behave like a slag!’
It’s the first time in the conversation that she’s even come close to delving into some of the filthy subjects she touches on in her stand-up routines. Although you wouldn’t know it to look at her, she is one the bluest female comedians on the circuit, but because of her overriding jolliness, constant self-deprecation and innocent, plain Jane appearance, she can say things that would make a crack whore blush, without them sounding dirty.
‘Because I’ve got a flowery top on, I can get away with a lot. It doesn’t feel crude. But how I look wasn’t an intentional thing. When I started, I didn’t know anything about comedic personas or stuff like that. I’d go on stage wearing whatever I felt comfortable in, which was normally a flowery dress over trousers. I’d always wear trousers because otherwise I’d feel too vulnerable, but mainly because I don’t really like my legs.’ She pauses for a moment. ‘Don’t get me wrong though, I did want to look feminine. I think a lot of female comics try to look slightly androgynous because they don’t want to be seen as different from the men. But, I clearly am different from a man, and would rather use that. I want to look feminine but not sexual. I happen to be rude and happen to look a bit mumsy and that works for me because no one is expecting someone in a flowery top to talk about the things I do.’
In ‘Sarah Millican’s Not Nice’, she touches on all sorts of risqué subjects from masturbation to bad sex to her peculiar fetish for fancying gorillas. However, the reason the show is such a success – apart from the fact that she is almost relentless in her pursuit of making the audience laugh – is that it is almost brutally honest about the pain she suffered during and after her divorce, and this adds genuine pathos to the piece without ever slipping into mawkishness or ‘performance therapy’. In fact, it was this break-up that led her to stand-up comedy in the first place.
‘The end of our seven-year marriage came as a hell of a shock because I didn’t expect it at all. He’d given up smoking, and I thought he was just being a bit tetchy. Turns out he was being tetchy, but it wasn’t the tabs. My whole world just crumbled. I just wanted the world to swallow me up. I felt paralysed to begin with, like I couldn’t function at all. However, after a few weeks, I began to have these other days, when I felt like I could do anything. It was really weird. I used to call them my “She-Ra moments”, because I felt like a Princess of Power. It was so empowering. I didn’t have to compromise anymore; I could just do whatever I liked. Then, I saw a workshop advertised on the internet for people who had written but never performed and I thought: I’m going to do that.’
There is little bitterness in her voice when she talks about the initial emotional impetus that first got her to stand-up in front of a microphone. And while her show is littered with wonderfully barbed, venomous bon mots about her former husband and their relationship, she definitely feels like a woman who’s fully exorcised the past and is now merely drawing on it for material, and ready and able to move on to the next phase of her life and career.
‘Pain got me up on a stage. I think that was what it was for in a strange way. I’ve been divorced now for four years. I wanted to do this show about it and put it to bed. I haven’t seen him for years. I don’t know what he’s up to and in my head he doesn’t exist. What I like now is that, in my new sets there’s less and less about him and more and more about my current relationship and things I’m up to now. And that’s just great.’
'Sarah Millican's Not Nice' is at the Soho Theatre, Dec 17-20.
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