Posts Tagged ‘Ed Miliband’

11th October 2012

Here’s a blog I wrote for The Independent during this year’s Labour Party Conference…

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It is the last full day of the Labour conference and despite a full timetable of events, there is an end of term feel to proceedings. The high light of today is Ed Miliband’s Q&A. Ed’s ability to think on his feet, answer questions thoughtfully, often going back to the questioner for their thoughts and remember everybody’s name is incredibly impressive. He banters with the crowd and flirts with some of the older female delegates. As an MC at any late night gig, he would hold his own.

Throughout the conference I have been really missing comedy. I think it was all the earnestness, formality and sincerity of the political debates that made me nostalgic for the laid back, gruff cynicism and silliness of the comedy world. Comedians look at the world and either say: “this is awful we should be angry” or “this is nonsense, we should be silly”. Politicians say: “this is not working what should we do instead?”

When it’s over, Ed and the other senior members of the shadow cabinet go for a meet and greet around the conference main hall, stopping for photo opportunities at the various special interest groups and corporate sponsors that have set up stalls there for the week. An awkward group of fresh faced delegates and determined middle aged women follow them around, swooping in for a quick photo op when possible.

Then everybody pops back to their hotels rooms, the gentlemen stick on their favourite red tie, the ladies into their best fitted red dress and it’s back for the last hurray: the annual Labour Youth Reception. It’s the final night of the conference and the only place left giving out free wine. For most young delegates, this is not only their final chance to see their political heroes, it is all their last chance to pull.

I chat to a lobbyist who has been to the Lib Dem conference in Brighton. It was he said, one of the most depressing weekends of his life. He is looking forward to the Conservative conference as the food will be better and parties more fun. Vote Labour but shag Tory, he explains, an expression I have heard three times at this conference already.

The room is the size of a medium-sized hotel reception room, making the event feel like a family wedding. Ed Balls takes to the stage, to the kind of enthusiastic applause only a room full of slightly drunk young men can create. He recounts a prank call made to him during a cabinet reshuffle, where – for a few moments – Tony Blair let him believe he was heading to the Northern Ireland office before giving him a post in the Treasury. Every shadow minister will have one off-the-cuff joke that they will tirelessly recycle at every event. From most people’s indulgent hoots, this seems to be his.

Then Harriet Harman takes to the stage. I adore Harriet, she reminds me of the sort of secondary school teacher that you would worry about letting down. She gives a rallying call to the young people in the room, praising Ed’s speech and warning them not to fall for the St. Vince Cable nonsense; The Lib Dems are getting no love from her.

Then bizarrely it’s my turn. Two months ago in the throes of the Edinburgh festival I got an email asking if I wanted to do a short set at the Labour Conference. I thought it would be at some daytime event and that I would maybe get a few free sandwiches out of. I didn’t think I’d have to follow the Deputy Leader.

Yet here I am. After half an hour of heartfelt rabble rousing speeches, I’m about to go onstage to a room which may possibly include the future cabinet and do a tight ten. It was the most terrifying gig I have ever done in my life. I cannot breathe, white with bone-chilling fear. I get to the stage and after about two minutes of startled confusion by the audience, where they must have worried that I was some truly bizarre protester, they get on board and it is one of the most wonderful gigs of my life. Maybe I’m still on a high from Ed’s speech, maybe it was the hopeful earnest faces looking up at me but doing that gig was one of the proudest moments of my life. I look at their little hopeful, earnest faces and I am in love.

I am followed by man of the hour Mr. Ed Miliband. It is like a rock star has entered the room. There are shouts of “Ed! Ed! Ed!” and I overhear relieved party members reveal how happy they are to see the Ed they campaigned for in the leadership elections, after a few years worryingly MIA, coming back.

Afterwards I meet a young Labour party member. Her name is Kaya Makarau Schwartz and she is an incredibly clever, funny woman in her twenties who has campaigned in her Islington constituency for years. She has come close to being selected for counsel several time but always just missed out. She still volunteers in local elections, trudges along to conference every year, has plans to set up her own community group to help young women, all the while having a full time job.

Anybody who thinks that you can sail up the political ladder without putting years of hard work in must be the same people who think Michael McIntyre was an overnight success. When she makes it into the House of Commons, which if there is any justice she will, will it be my job as a comic to dismiss her off hand? To label her a shameless, self serving careerist? It wouldn’t be biting satire, it would just be bizarre.

Afterwards, everyone skips to the final night student disco. There, conference friendships will be cemented, allegiances made, delegate romances will reach fruition. I also know that hangover or not, half the crowd there will be up the next morning to see Ed give a special Q&A for Labour Youth and then sing along to the Red Flag after Harriet’s Final speech. As a comic maybe I should have some witty zinger to dismiss them all as out of touch weirdos but I just don’t have the heart to.

It’s at that moment, I realise after five days with the Labour party family, this comedian has probably drunk the Kool-Aid.

11th September 2012

Here’s a blog I wrote for the Young Fabiens

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For as long as I remember, I’ve always wanted to be a comedian. I thought comedy was magical, I remember watching Blackadder and Yes Minister with my Mam and Dad and wondering how they managed to flip normal words and situations inside out and turn them into something magical. As teenagers, friends and I obsessed over Alan Partridge and The Fast Show and, when I moved abroad for the first time, it was Father Ted that stopped me getting too homesick.

The town that I’m from has produced a startling amount of comedians for a place that is little more than a shopping centre surrounded by a housing estate. Tommy Tiernan, an Irish comedy God went to the local boys’ school alongside fellow comedy legend and star of Black Books, Dylan Moran.  Both comedians went on to win stand up comedy’s most prestigious prize, the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

I thought comedians were geniuses and never dreamed that it was something I could do.

After leaving university, I spent a year working in Spain.  I had a vague idea of auditioning for a drama school there but I no longer really had the heart for it any more, instead I just taught English and worked in an Irish bar. It was fun but I found just working and going out at night boring and a bit depressing. I started going home early from parties just so I could listen to Radio 4 comedies on my flatmates computer. There I would be, at 4 am in the morning, in Madrid, listening to stand up comedy from the Edinburgh festival, feeling like I eavesdropping on a magical kingdom.

One night, homesick and miserable I heard Tommy Tiernan interview my old drama teacher. He had also taught Tommy too. He had run a drama club after school and had been one of the most inspirational and wonderful people I had ever had the privilege to meet. Here he was chatting to my hero about how important and special comedy was. It was like a lighthouse beaming through a long cold night. I knew even if I failed horrifically, I had to at least try. I moved to London, enrolled in a stand up course, did my first gig and I haven’t stopped since.

Stand up comedy is not a glamorous job. I still have a part time day job temping so it involves working from 9-5, then either jumping on a train to some place in the middle of nowhere to do a twenty minute set or arriving at a club in London to try out new material. I also write occasionally for Radio and TV shows; which is stressful but very exciting.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a “political comedian” although I do have material attacking the coalition and have a few jokes about my love for Ed Miliband. It can divide rooms; Conservative older crowds tend not to like an Irish girl criticising their government and lots of younger, student gigs don’t like any suggestion that a mainstream political party might be alright.

If I’m booked to do gigs in certain areas in the South East and suburbs outside of London I prepare myself for audiences that will not share my enthusiasm for Ed’s leadership choices. I joke that Labour HQ could use me as a budgie to gauge which marginal areas are returning to Labour on the basis of their responses to my set. I’m in a privileged position, in that I can communicate what I think to new audiences every night; if you are laughing at someone’s joke you are temporarily seeing the word from their angle, but I am ultimately a clown not a politician. A comedian that wants to be taken seriously should be approached with as much caution as a politician trying to be funny.

Comedy at its best is about reassuring people that they’re not alone, that the worries, insecurities and embarrassing failings that we think are ours alone are shared by a room full of strangers, laughing along in recognition. A really great comedy gig is a truly cathartic, beautiful life affirming experience that briefly transforms how you view the world and affirms the dignity of being human, the wonder of being alive and the importance of silliness and joy.

I’m very proud to be a stand up, when you have a bad gig, it can feel wretched, but when a really good one comes along, it feels like a landslide victory.