Comedian Alison Spittle celebrates the debut of her acclaimed sitcom, Nowhere Fast, and the Worrier Princess stand-up show, which lands in Dublin's Vicar Street tonight. Interview: Pat Carty
Alison Spittle is in a good mood, as she should be, 2017 has really been her year. Her highlight? “I was asked to headline Vicar St, I got that phone call while I was making my own TV show. That’s hard to beat.” The TV show in question is Nowhere Fast, a riotous comedy based in the wilds of the midlands. Hot Press spoke to Alison only a few days after the first episode aired, but the show is already a hit, lighting up social media. Spittle, who co-wrote the show with partner Simon Mulholland, plays Angela, whose media career hits the skids after an ill-advised on-air comment (“He’s the kind of fella who would wank over a pile of briquettes” – a line that shall live in infamy), forcing her to move from Dublin back to the family home in Athlone. Two characters stand out straight away, the over bearing Mammy (Cathy Belton), and the loud of mouth and loose of moral mate Mary (Clare Monelly). The obvious question, are they based on actual people? “I think we all have one of those pals that we grew up with whose behaviour is unacceptable but because you used to play curbs with them, you explain it away to strangers with a ‘don’t worry about it, it’ll be grand!’ And bits of the Mam are based on my own, she’s very supportive. She was very soft on me in my teenage years, I’d mitch off and light up a fag and have a cup of tea with her, and her friend would come along with all the gossip, and we’d go at it like football analysists.”
The show does go dark – suicidal depression, abortion, binge drinking – but Alison puts this down to the minutia of small town life. “Abortion happens and I know so many people who have attemped suicide. It’s too common to be taboo.” Should we be able to laugh at these things? “Yes! The biggest laughs I’ve had have been at funerals!”
“The last comedy show based in the midlands was Pure Mule which came out when I was in school, and I remember that they filmed the nightclub scenes in Moate, and we thought Hollywood had arrived, so I’m proud to be able to bring it back! The problem is I can’t live there ‘cause I can’t make my living. I love Dublin but I grew up in a small estate in a small village. If I had to emigrate to the UK or America that would break my actual heart.” It’s where a lot of Irish comedy writers end up though? “I know, I guess I have to be open to that as well.” Is it possible to make a living at it here? “I don’t know, Dublin’s very small but I’ve said to my partner, we have to make it work.”
Alison first gave stand a go while interning on local radio, and loved it, prompting her move to Dublin. “I don’t drive which makes it impossible to do it from Westmeath”. Hard work led to spots with Des Bishop, Republic Of Telly and a short for Sky Arts. Producer Ailish McElmeel, co-founder of Deadpan Productions (Moone Boy), saw Spittle performing in the International Bar, and felt there was mileage in the Spittle mother/daughter relationship. Mulholland and Spittle were persuaded to write a pilot. “There was two years of going back and forth over it and eventually we got somewhere. It was a lot of work when you don’t know where it’s leading to, but when you’re given the opportunity…”
It hasn’t been all butter, Spittle has her men behaving very badly story too. “It was my first gig outside Dublin, an older comedian was headlining, he was terrible. I invited loads of people back to my hotel room, but he wouldn’t leave. I was half asleep but he kept poking me and telling me I was attractive for a fat girl. He took off his trousers and the next morning, he had stayed in the room all night, he left and then very theatrically went "Oh! I forgot my trousers!" So I stopped him in the hall in front of people and said to him "Are you trying to say we rode?" and made him say ‘No’ and that was that.” Jaysus! “Yeah, and that was the Disney version!”
Spittle is currently on her Worrier Princess tour (“Naas was class!”), which includes that daunting Vicar Street show. “It’s a massive worry, but hopefully the TV show will sell it. Either that or I’ll be e-mailing everyone I ever met! I’ve already made sure the in-laws and friends have bought tickets” They had to pay? “Oh yeah.” Sell us the show. “It’s about me getting the TV gig, and breaking up with my therapist” That’ll do.
Aside from the personal triumphs then, how was 2017 for you? “I love Everything Everything’s fourth album Fever Tree, and for a movie I’ll go for Boy, directed by Taika Waititi - his Mum is dead and his father comes back from prison, it’s so funny, although it mightn’t sound like it! The best gig was Chris Rock, we weren’t allowed to use our phones, so I had to try and actually remember things. It changed my perspective on what to expect from gigs, and there was a fight in the crowd!”
And your hopes for 2018? “That I’m still able to do stand up comedy in Ireland, and I hope people aren’t sick of me” There is little chance of that.