Tiffany Stevenson: “We’re losing personality and we’re losing history.”
This time last year, Tiffany Stevenson was a finalist on ITV’s Show Me The Funny. Billed as comedy’s X-Factor, contestants were expected to write five minutes of new material, each week, and perform it to a variety of different crowds: children, Scousers, the armed forces, etc.
It was back to basics for many of the veteran comics, as they traded their glowing reputations on the circuit for a batch of new material that, more often than not, wasn’t ready for public consumption, let alone the type of exposure ITV offered. Yet unlike many of her rivals, Stevenson appeared unphased by the challenge of Show Me The Funny. As she tells Giggle Beats, it’s all in a day’s work…
This time last year I was very much in the phase of high-pressure writing. On Show Me The Funny I was writing material during the day and then performing it for the TV recording on the night.
I respond well to pressure, and I actually really enjoyed the challenge, so I can’t say I didn’t like working on the show. It did wonders for me in terms of letting other people know about the kind of work I do; and some lovely things have come from it, like bits of TV and stuff like that.
[pullquote_left]“You’re working on different levels every time, and that’s the challenge. But I really enjoy writing so that first flourish of an idea keeps me going.”[/pullquote_left]It was quite a difficult format, obviously, because you were ultimately playing to three different crowds: the audience in front of you, the audience at home and, of course, the judges. The judges were looking for stuff that was more revealing about you, and the stuff that they think is structurally sound. The audience just wanted to be pleased, and sometimes they wanted the material to be about them. You’re working on different levels every time, and that’s the challenge. But I really enjoy writing so that first flourish of an idea keeps me going.
On Show Me The Funny, it seemed to just click into place: we had to perform five minutes of new stuff every week, and that comes naturally to me because I run Old Rope [a new material night in London.] We get a regular audience there and they know my material; so every week I tend to go with a new idea or a couple of jokes to workshop.
Getting stuff together on a weekly basis, trying to find the beat in your writing, is what I enjoy most. On Show Me The Funny, I decided to just treat every show like it was a corporate; write a few jokes tailored to that crowd, but also get a bit of personality in there too. You had to write scenically, and you had to employ different skills for different audiences.
At this time of year, though, almost every comic in the country is going through a similar experience. Edinburgh’s coming up, so the pressure’s on to get everything in place for August. Sometimes I think, ‘Where do I even start?’, but I tend to look at the type of material I’ve been doing throughout the year, look at some of the new stuff I’ve written and then look at the themes that are emerging.
This year, I’ve written a show about getting older and everything that brings. It’s also about a few things that I’m angry about. I think my best comedy comes from something I’m angry about, or something I feel strongly about. Audiences can sense passion and they respond to that.
At the moment, I’m angry that we’re losing old people’s faces. I remember my gran’s face and her wrinkles and all her features – and we’re losing those faces. I have a joke in my set: “I have so many creams in my cupboard; I have one to get rid of spots, one to get rid of bags, one to get rid of wrinkles. I’m basically aiming for no face.”
That seems to be the beauty ideal at the moment, though; we’re losing personality and we’re losing history.
I experienced it first hand as an actress in my twenties. Now I think, ‘Is no-one going to comment on the fact that these people can’t act because they can’t move their faces? Is no-one going to comment on the state of this?’ In terms of the arts, visibility for women quickly becomes diminished. It’s not high enough in all walks of life, though, and until there’s more female writers, directors or producers out there it isn’t going to change. I do feel like it is changing – and we are getting more recognition – just not quick enough.
As a woman, I’m more aware of that now than I was, say, in my twenties. Life is different. I’m angry that we tell women that they can’t look their age yet we’re sexualising children.
There’s plenty of border themes to my show, though; what becoming older means, when you switch house parties for dinner parties and spend all day wondering what kind of coffee you’re going to drink. I’ve always worn my working class badge, but am I becoming a bit of a middle class twat in my older years? Do you become more right-wing as you age? I’m looking at all of these things.
But I think a lot of what I’m feeling right now comes down to not wanting to be ignored.
[pullquote_right]“There’s a certain point in your life when you begin to feel like you’re becoming invisible. When you’re not this young, attractive thing anymore, what use are you?”[/pullquote_right]Not just in a political sense, but in any age. There’s a certain point in your life when you begin to feel like you’re becoming invisible. When you’re not this young, attractive thing anymore, what use are you? As a pretty young actress you’re the secondary character: the girlfriend, the damsel in distress, the girl in the background. But I realised in my late twenties that what I really want to do is the interesting character stuff; because you can do that until the day you die.
All anyone wants is to not be ignored, and so I’ve decided that when I’m older I’m going to walk around wearing all kinds of different prints; I’ll probably wear a sandwich on my head, too.
As an actress in my twenties, I may have been more confident about the way I looked, but I certainly wouldn’t tell people what I really thought. And that’s one of the joys of getting old. You don’t have to engage in things you don’t care about.
As Rich Hall once said, getting older is funny.
Tiffany Stevenson was speaking to Andrew Dipper.