Sarah Millican has shot to the top of British comedy. The South Shields-born comedian is now returning to our screens with a third series of her hit show, The Sarah Millican Television Programme. In this feature, the star answers some questions whilst backstage...
Hi Sarah. What can you tell us about the TV show this time around?
We're never mean to guests, but we want to be a bit cheeky, so you need people that have the wit and the intelligence to know that nothing's meant seriously.
Any format changes?
The format remains the same because we realised that what we had worked, and just did more of that. It's a matter of having as good quality jokes and guests as last time.
What are the highlights of filming?
Those great, unexpected ones where I have to roll with the punches because something's happened off-script. They are a bit livelier. Guests are planned, questions are planned, but sometimes the moment takes you a different way.
Is it nerve-wracking when the action deviates from the script?
Everything worthwhile is always scary, but in a good way. Somebody said to me, 'Don't think of it as nerves, think of it as excitement.' It's the same chemical in your system; it's just looking at it in a more positive way. Whenever I get out in front of any audience, until I get my first laugh, I'm nervous, because nothing is 100% certain. But once you get a couple of laughs under your belt, you can relax into it.
Do you meet your guests beforehand?
I say, 'Hi and thank you for coming on the show', but I never rehearse with guests. I rehearse with the production team and they pretend to be the guests, and the production team pretends to be me as they rehearse with the guests. The worst thing would be if something hilarious came out during a rehearsal and you tried and recreate it later on. The sparkle would go. So I need to keep my powder dry.
You've been a comedian now for nine years. What would you say is your unique selling point?
I think it's that I could be sitting beside you in the audience. So many people go, 'Oh my God, my auntie's just like you' or, 'My neighbour's just like you,' and I take that as a real compliment. I'm a kind of Everywoman - I don't look like a star or behave like a star, so there's not that big chasm or moat between us.
I'm talking about things that have happened to me, and it's stuff they can relate to, because I'm not Elton John - although I did once buy a seven-pack of socks and wear a new pair of socks every day for a week and felt a little bit like Elton John. I can see why he does it, because they just slide on.
Who makes you laugh?
I love Frank Skinner. He's so naturally funny. I did a few episodes of Frank Skinner's Opinionated, and you know you've really made him laugh when he slaps his leg. When he does that, I'm thinking, 'I've got him!'
I also think Jo Brand is wonderful - I did a gig with her in December last year, and the audience was so excited she was there. There's a lot of love for her.
What are your favourite sitcoms?
I love watching old Blackadders and Father Teds. I think Graham Linehan is a comedy genius - if you think, he wrote three of the best sitcoms ever: Black Books, Father Ted, and The IT Crowd. They're all so different and yet all came from the mind of one man.
How do you get inspiration for your comedy?
By living a bit more of a real life, to be able to relate to my audience... not to mention for your sanity. Now I've got a house [in Cheshire] I think I can't be away too long because I've got two cats and a lot of tomatoes that need looking after. Oh my God, if I'm away for a couple of days it makes me so happy to go into my little greenhouse and see if the plants have changed. I'm also learning to cook, at last, and my attempts are making their way into my comedy.
I also get inspiration from other comedians: I've just been listening to Tig Notaro, an American who did a set immediately after she found out she had breast cancer in both breasts. She went straight from the appointment on to her gig. It's been released on iTunes and it's an astonishing piece of comedy. Something like that just blows my bloody socks off.
You mention your cats... you only had one before?
For my boyfriend's birthday, he chose to go to a secret but alarmingly well signposted nuclear bunker (don't ask). There was a beautiful and affectionate cat there that I stroked and cuddled while he sat in the air raid shelter. That day, we decided to get another cat.
We rang our vet who said they had a cat who needed rehoming. She had been abandoned outside the vet's two and a half months earlier and when we visited her, was the purriest cat in the world. A week later she was at our house. Three weeks after that she stopped shouting at her new brother and started spooning him instead.
What did you grow up watching?
A lot of Victoria Wood. Whenever she was together with Julie Walters, it was wondrous. And people didn't watch Victoria Wood and go, 'Oh, she's a woman' - they just watched her because she's hilarious. I love her.
Was a she a role model for you when you considered taking up comedy?
Not really. It was circumstances - my divorce in 2004 - that got me onstage, rather than other comedians. I just got up and had a go. I didn't really know it was stand-up at the beginning. I was just talking to people about my divorce.
Who is your current favourite comedian?
Rhod Gilbert. He's always hilarious and a sweet man.
If you could be in any TV show, which one would you pick?
Glee... just putting the chairs out for the nerds who can actually sing and dance.
If a film was made about your life - who would play you?
David Walliams, because he looks better in a dress than I do and I bet he can do a good Geordie accent.
'The Sarah Millican Television Programme' is on Tuesday nights at 9:30pm. On Saturday there is also 'The Sarah Millican Slightly Longer Television Programme'.