First Gig Worst Gig

Beth Vyse

Beth Vyse

If you were embarking on an epic search for one performer to sum up the rich hive of largely-untapped talent currently doing fascinating things on the British comedy scene, Beth Vyse would be a handy act to stumble upon early doors, so you could call it done and knock off home.

The RSC-schooled actor turned absurdist stand-up is a darn good representative of alternative comedy in the late 2010s: she makes shows that swoop skilfully between silly and inspired and often dig deep into hugely powerful topics, too.

You may well be aware of Vyse's show As Funny as Cancer, which explored her own illness in an impressively entertaining manner, which is no mean feat. Her latest, The Hand That Rocked the Cradle, takes a ludicrously stimulating look at the struggles of early parenting, with the aid of a real live baby. It debuted at last year's Edinburgh Fringe, and is now at The Vault Festival in London, this Saturday.

"I'll be playing Olive Hands, my alter ego, she's a daytime celebrity wannabe who will stop at nothing to be famous," Vyse explains, of the leopardskin-sporting warped Lorraine Kelly-alike. "I mean she'll even have a baby if it gets her more screen time. The show is ridiculous, obviously - it's me. But it also delves into larger themes."

It's Vyse in the 'hood: motherhood. But now, let's delve into her live archive.

Beth Vyse

First gig?

At the Albany, Great Portland Street, I was in a double act with Anna Morris. It was a sketch and character night, we'd emailed and asked for a slot, they said yes, sooo we were on! I think the night was called The Sketchy Collective, others on the bill were Holly Burn, Kerry Gilbert and Hayley Jayne Standing. I think there were 10 in audience. It was very, very, very scripted... a bit like a mini Chekhov. I hasten to say my style has changed - a lot. Ha!

Favourite show, ever?

I think it was when I was when I was touring As Funny as Cancer. We were in Huddersfield, it was freezing. Snowing I think, so I just assumed no one would come cause of the snow (I never check ticket sales). And it was packed - warm and friendly.

After the show - after my crowd surf - I used to thank everyone for coming, and I discovered a number of the audience had been through breast cancer and were all at various stages of treatment. They really needed a laugh (and a cry), we all stayed chatting after the show, sharing stories and experiences. Sometimes comedy is magic eh?

(I'll stop being a wanker now, but you know what mean).

Worst gig?

ME have an horrendous gig? Ummmm... 'Nope never have. Never will.' Ha ha ha. People always go for a female, in a wig, who's a character, who's ridiculous, who doesn't mind talking about very personal things, whilst still in a wig and whilst wearing a foot as a penis. No, I stand by this, I've never had an horrendous gig! Wink.

What's the weirdest thing you've ever done onstage?

I don't do weird! Oh apart from that time when I when I played Arse Eye, a take on Bullseye, and had people throwing hands into a giant arse, with an audience member blindfolded onstage while Olive Hand's son Jazz Hands (Ali Brice) ran around dressed as a prostate. There was that.

Who's the most disagreeable person you've come across in the business?

Mr Promises and Mr Lies.

Is there one routine/gag you loved, that audiences inexplicably didn't?

I've been watching a lot of Netflix over the Christmas break and got obsessed, like I do, with Making a Murderer.

So me and my director Matt Peover decided one afternoon to make an Olive Hands version, Making a Marble Cake, and just put it out on the interweb. It's had a lot of views, but not many likes, ha ha ha ha, so I'm guessing the public hate it. Still it makes us laugh a lot.

Beth Vyse

You've turned serious life experiences into shows - would you recommend it to comics who've been through heavy stuff?

I think nowadays it's what the audience want to see, well that's what I have found after my experiences of doing personal shows, people are grateful, they want to get to understand the person in front of them, see their cracks and know they're human.

I think As Funny as Cancer was a one-off though - well I hope so, touch wood (like that makes any difference).

It was an experience which affected my life enormously, in ways which I hadn't realised, I didn't do a marathon after, or a sky dive, I decided to do what I do best with it and share that experience on stage. It was certainly the hardest thing I've ever done, but therefore, ultimately, the best.

I'd imagine that material might be quite hard to go back to afterwards?

I have gone back to Olive Hands now, I want to be stupid again, but this time it's all about the next chapter in my life, my son, another life-changing experience. So I haven't let go of the personal story, just developed it into something lighter and more stupid.

The most memorable review, heckle or post-gig reaction to your stuff?

"An extremely talented performer" - one star, Broadway Baby. Idiot.

How do you feel about where your career is at, right now?

Well I'm doing less gigs and writing more - did I mention I have a baby? Ha! - but when I'm out, I'm out OUT, right?

I have some exciting writing projects, directing projects and I'm starting work on my next show, sans baba this time. Edinburgh was hard work last year.

I am working with new comics, alongside Richard Gadd and John Kearns, on my Finding the Funny course, they are all wonderful and very unique performers. I've run the course twice before and the alumni have gone on to great, great things, Olga Koch with her Edinburgh Award nomination and Sam Lake winning the New Comedian of the Year competition.

Gosh... such exciting times we live in.

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