First Gig Worst Gig

Kathy Maniura

Kathy Maniura

It was the first of times, it was the worst of times. This week we're anticipating an excellent time at the Brighton Fringe - which runs from early May to early June - with Kathy Maniura, who's taken an out-of-the-box approach to character comedy. Inanimate objects!

Her debut show Objectified enjoyed a successful run at last year's Edinburgh Fringe, with the one-time Sketch Off! winner embodying everything from an earnest paper straw to an uber-cool lamp. How did this all happen?

"I'm honestly not sure!" Maniura admits. "Initially when I started doing solo character stuff I was writing human characters (as is traditional), and then I did a couple of animals (a make-up testing pig, a moth in the front row at fashion week) and through that somehow transitioned to objects.

"I started finding writing and performing the objects more fun - perhaps because they're more specific, and really help me hone in on weird character traits. And after I had a few objects I almost made it a challenge - could I really do a full show that's all me pretending to be different objects? Turns out yes, yes I could."

That show is on May 25-26 at The Actors pub/theatre, and between her characters Kathy also gets paying punters involved in the objectification, with illuminating results.

"I've had so many fab people in the audience," she says. "One of the things I love about the show is I ask people how much the objects I perform resonate with them, and for some I try to guess their spirit object. It's a really silly and fun way of getting to know people.

"One of my characters is the red budget box, and when I asked a woman if she identified with it she said absolutely not, because 'I would never let a Tory touch me'. Iconic. Another guy described himself as 'unforgiving' and then self-identified as an ice pick."

Cool. Now let's head back to Stockwell in South London, and this time the character is an artisan sexy-object creator.

First gig?

My first gig as a solo character performer was at Comedy Virgins at the Cavendish Arms, sometime in 2019. I'd been doing sketch comedy for a while, but it was my first time going it alone.

I remember the room being pretty packed (half performers, half their reluctant friends) and being very nervous, then being startled to find a mirror directly in front of the stage and trying very hard not to look in it. I performed a posh dildo whittler with lots of homemade props and it was a fun blur.

I even took home the little trophy for the night. It made me think - hey, perhaps I'm alright at this.

Kathy Maniura

Favourite show, ever?

I performed as my drag alter-ego London Cycling Man in the final of the drag king competition Man Up! last year at the Clapham Grand. It was amazing - packed out room of super supportive queers, a pumping sound system and a huge stage for me to mime-cycle around like a prat.

I opened the show and then got very drunk watching all the other amazing performers, many of whom are now good friends of mine. It was such a special night, the range of ideas and talent was mind blowing. It happens every year, you should go!

Worst gig?

Hands down the time I performed on the outdoor stage on the Royal Mile at the Edinburgh Fringe. Anyone can book a slot to promote their show - it was when we were doing our show Witch Hunt in 2017 where I played J.K. Rowling (pre fall from grace). We were desperate for any stage time to shift tickets, but that stage is really only good for acapella and juggling.

I sang a very wordy original parody song with additional verses I'd never performed before. It was raining, there were about three people watching, and my comedy partner Derek pissed himself laughing at me as the light left my eyes the longer the song went on. A bonus? Two of the audience members were my parents!! Praise be!!

Which one person influenced your comedy life most significantly?

A bit of a soppy answer but my wonderful comedy partner Derek Mitchell. He's such a talented writer and performer, and when we met as lil student sketch comedians I was in awe of him - I couldn't believe he wanted to keep making stupid things with me.

Horseplay. Image shows from L to R: Kathy Maniura, Derek Mitchell

It's been a joy how our partnership has evolved - writing Fringe shows together, online content and TV writing, to now supporting each other as we do our solo shows. I've learnt so much from him, and if it weren't for his belief in me I probably wouldn't still be doing this now.

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

Thankfully most people in this industry are very funny, kind and supportive - there's a real sense of community that got me through my debut solo Fringe last year. That said, you do come across some real stinkers, especially when you're just starting out, especially (sorry to say it) as a woman.

One that sticks in my mind is an older pub owner at an open mic who asked me 'are you a comedienne?' then put his arm around me and offered me a whiskey after the show. Reader, I married him!! We're expecting our first-born dickhead in September <3

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

I originally had an object in my show Objectified that was an armchair who'd been left on the street - a grumpy old man who kept complaining about how he'd been cancelled for being too rickety. To this day I think that's very groundbreaking and clever, but audiences begged to differ. On reflection perhaps that is one joke and not the 3min character monologue I subjected those audiences to. Now I only pretend to be a chair in private.

Kathy Maniura

Your favourite object to embody?

Part of what's so fun about the show is getting to do a full range of objects. I'd say my current favourite in the show is an Airpod. She's sexy and gross and loves having earwax in her mouth. The more I do it, the rowdier the audience is, the more saucy and horrible she becomes. I slid down the back wall of The Stand in Glasgow last week, it was magic.

Any reviews, heckles or post-gig reactions stick in the mind?

The first review Derek and I ever got opened with 'this is my first foray into both reviewing and comedy' which is really what you want to hear. Another time, as I unlocked my bike after performing as the London Cycling Man, an audience member pointed and screamed 'SHE'S CYCLING' as if it was the ultimate betrayal.

I do a lot of accents as my characters, and recently while hosting Sketch Off! (the sketch comedy competition) a very drunk woman shouted 'why are you talking like that?' I explained the concept of character comedy to her and she left the gig - fair play babe, it's not for everyone.

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

Pretty good - I feel like I'm still making progress, which is the main thing for me. I'm working on a new show as the London Cycling Man which I'm very excited about and doing some tour dates of Objectified. Other than that, I'll just keep writing and gigging and see what happens.

Who knows where I'll be in a year? Maybe breaking America like my hero James Corden! Maybe handing out half cups of lemonade to children like my hero the Oompa Loompa in the Willy Wonka Experience! This industry is a roller coaster.

Kathy Maniura: Objectified is at The Actors in Brighton on May 25-26, part of the Brighton Fringe's Big Queer Weekender. Tickets

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