There's something pleasingly alchemic about the comedic life. Whatever the world throws at you, however plentiful the poop that hits the fan, comedians will probably make something positive from it, eventually.
Take Zahra Barri, who would normally have spent 2020 doing lots of stand-up and fielding enquiries about her novel, The Bird in the River, which did rather well in last year's CWIP awards. Instead, she got cooped up with partner and fellow comic Russell Hicks, and so decided to make the best of their cranky nest.
"The great writer Toni Morrison said that 'if there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it' - I think the same applies to podcasts," Barri explains. "I found myself really wanting to be a fly on the wall to couples fighting over lockdown, so we made a podcast about it. Move over Esther Perel!".
You can find every episode on Audioboom. So what's Barri's elevator pitch for it - if elevators are even a thing anymore? "Domestic Disputes is your new podcast that makes you feel better about your own relationship/being single."
Perfect. Now, let's hurtle back to some not-always-harmonious gig memories.
My first gig was how my sister described childbirth to me. Sheer panic, no control of bladder or bowels, and voicing anger towards your partner. But like my sister said of giving birth, "I have completely forgotten how much of a car crash it was and only feel warm feelings towards the experience". Others, sadly, probably do not.
Favourite show, ever?
Hamburg. Russell and I travelled to Hamburg for a weekend of gigs there. It was refreshing combining a romantic trip away with performing to Germans who didn't know what a Boots Advantage Card was (I did a long 'bit' on my frustration towards not being able to get Boots Advantage points on the morning-after pill).
It was also memorable because Russell doesn't like to fly, so we got the train which was so expensive we didn't actually make any money. Now that's love.
This answer contains trigger warnings, do not read if you have also been a victim of complete knobheads.
I did a gig at a football club full of eighteen-year-old boys and their parents. Long story short, as I stepped on stage I was immediately heckled by a group of lads who proceeded to tell me that one of their mates also in the crowd had been given a very offensive nickname. Let's just say it rhymed with 'Grapey Dave'. The entire audience including their parents thought that this nickname was 'hilarious'.
To this day I wish I reacted differently. I often re-run this gig in my head and imagine myself like Rose McGowan, making an impassioned speech about feminism and the effects of toxic masculinity in our society. But sadly I just pretended I didn't hear them and started doing my bit about supermarket self-checkout machines.
Which one person influenced your comedy life most significantly?
Russell. Most of my material is in somehow connected to him and the daily frustrations he causes me.
And who's the most disagreeable person you've come across in the business?
I am the most disagreeable person I have ever come across. I call myself the Master Debater because in our flat I will always argue the opposite to what Russell thinks, no matter what.
If Russell says Piers Morgan is a dufus-brain I will argue that he's actually said some very nice things about the NHS. If he says feminism is the best thing ever I will argue that actually it's not the best thing ever because the very notion of feminism existing means that inequality exists. If Russell says he thinks the sky is blue I will tell him that it's actually cerulean.
I'm not very competitive but I am quite argumentative. I always have to be right even when I'm not; a trait I get from my dad who still to this day thinks I lied when telling him the ingredients to my banana bread.
Is there one routine/gag you loved, that audiences inexplicably didn't?
Yes!! Ever since lockdown this has been happening to me all the time! Man! Zoom gigs are hard. I'm always forgetting to unmute myself.
How have your lockdowns been, creatively and generally?
At first, during Lockdown 1, Russell and I were in a slump. We were arguing all the time and shouting at each other, getting into squabbles and generally each other's throats. But then we turned a corner. We just pressed 'Record' and all of a sudden we were feeling a lot more productive.
Any reviews, heckles or post-gig reactions stick in the mind?
Still traumatised by 'Grapey Dave' gig.
How do you feel about where your career is at, right now?
I'm in a much healthier space with my career right now. I like how lockdown has chilled me out. I think comedians can take comedy too seriously. We feel like if we're not gigging seven nights a week then we're not working hard enough. I enjoy a lot more free time now and it's made me realise that career success isn't the most important thing. The most important thing is having a laugh and chilling the hell out.