Brexit. Trump. Climate change. We think it’s time we all had a bit of a laugh, don’t you? Which is why, last Monday, Refinery29 joined forces with MALTESERS to throw the comedy event of the year, featuring four of the UK’s favourite stand-ups: Rachel Parris (The Mash Report), Mae Martin (Russell Howard’s Good News), Sadia Azmat (Funny Women finalist) and Jenny Bede (Catastrophe). After the event we sat down with them to learn more about how they broke into the industry and what they've got in-store for 2019.
Have you always wanted to be a comedian?
Rachel: I wasn't a class clown, but I've always loved acting and music and being on stage so I guess the answer is no but… I’m glad I… am?
Jenny: I wanted to be a very serious actor and be in lots of period dramas but rumour has it, I wasn't good enough.
Sadia: I didn't even know being a comedian was a job, I didn't believe it was possible!
Mae: Weirdly, I did! I went to see a stand-up show on my 11th birthday, became deeply obsessed and never looked back.
If you weren't a comedian, what would you be?
Mae: Maybe a mediocre musician, or I wouldn't mind working in drug rehab for teens.
Sadia: You know those lucky people who know they want to be a vet? I wasn't like that. I wasn't even into the stereotypical things Asians are led into, like doctors. I had no idea what I wanted to do!
Rachel: Well, as a comedian you spend a lot of time thinking about this during the many years where you’re making no money and needing to, y’know, live, so I’d like to do what I used to do back then, and teach the piano and singing! But something I’ve never tried, and would like, is to be a journalist.
Jenny: Probably a brain surgeon. I say that having watched 14 series of Grey's Anatomy in less than three months. I was also PA to a brain surgeon for five years so I like to think I'm halfway there?
What was your first gig like?
Jenny: It was on the evening of Will and Kate's royal wedding, at Udderbelly in London. It's nice to be able to trace the beginning of my comedy career back to the day the world found out about Pippa Middleton's excellent bum.
Rachel: There was an artist in the corner painting the evening, an actor in a cupboard in another room doing one-on-one cupboard-based plays, and a miniature piano on stage where I did some songs. People laughed! If they hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have done it again.
Mae: I was 13, wearing my school uniform, smoking a cigarette. I absolutely bombed.
What's your favourite part of the holiday season? And your least favourite?
Sadia: I don't celebrate Eid as much as I should; the first holiday is after 30 days of fasting so I’m just glad I can eat! I think sometimes, as a single woman, the holidays can be very lonely. Especially Christmas. I know it's just a day, but everything shuts down!
Jenny: I love how the whole of December feels like we're all collectively in our last week of school. It's not all 100% peachy for comedians; gigs around Christmas can be notoriously rowdy, but it's balanced out with all the eating, drinking and watching It's A Wonderful Life in your pyjamas.
Rachel: I like wearing hats. You can wear hats at other points in the year, but they make more sense around Christmas.
What's the funniest thing that's ever happened to you at a family dinner?
Mae: I was a nudist at home until I was much too old to be a nudist at home, and one Christmas I insisted on having Christmas dinner naked, surrounded by my fully clothed extended family.
Jenny: The oven exploded one Christmas Day. Glass and sprouts everywhere.
Sadia: My grandpa choked on a chicken bone once and it was quite funny. He was fine so, actually quite anticlimactic; someone did the Heimlich manoeuvre, something flew out of his mouth, and it was all over.
What's the worst present you've ever received, or the worst present you've ever given?
Jenny: I received a ring that looked a LOT like an engagement ring one Christmas... I said yes but there was no question. We broke up two months later and I think he took the ring.
Rachel: My mum once gave me some shoe polish and a brush as one of my actual main presents!
Sadia: For Secret Santa one year at work I got some fluorescent cloth you cover your shoes with to stop them from getting dirty at a festival. I don’t go to festivals.
Mae: A DNA testing kit was given to me by my family, presumably to trace my lineage but it seemed in the moment like they had doubts I am theirs.
Do you have any advice for someone trying to survive an office party?
Jenny: Don't book to go to a stand-up comedy night if you know you're going to be drunk and disorderly!
Sadia: Leverage. If you know some dirt about someone, then they won't cross you... it's survival of the fittest in those environments.
Mae: Be a true altruist and find the person who looks the most nervous and uncomfortable and focus on making sure they have a good time, bring them into conversations, get to know them.
Rachel: Repeat the mantra "How will this feel sober next week?" but also you’re allowed to make embarrassing mistakes at an office party – it’s what they're for!
Women can often be outnumbered by men on panel shows, mixed bill nights or in writers' rooms – how do you navigate that and how did it feel to be part of the MALTESERS event alongside such brilliant comedians?
Rachel: I’d say stick to your style, don’t try and copy anyone else and don’t up the aggressiveness just for the sake of it. The MALTESERS show was so lovely - it was just a room full of pals!
Sadia: We have to be careful about the noise we put out there because people stop listening. If I’m the only woman on the bill, I might do something practical like going to the promoter afterwards and recommending two women who would work really well for the night.
Mae: Call people out when they interrupt you! And the gig was so great, it’s always so nice when women are on the bill because we don’t get to see each other often!