“I keep getting compared to Miranda Hart,” comedian Lindsay Sharman told me when I met her in Soho yesterday.
“Tall, posh voice, y’know,” she said. “The other week, Time Out called me the bargain bucket Miranda Hart. I thought Well, at least I’ve been noticed; at least I’m not speaking into the void completely. On the other hand, there’s Is this what people are actually going to start thinking? I do get hit with the ‘posh’ stick quite a lot and I don’t know whether to live up to that or to drastically change my act.”
The first time I saw Lindsay was at the always extraordinary monthly Pull The Other One comedy club in South East London (where she is now their regular compere). She was performing as a very angry poetess with a strong Scottish accent. Is she really Scottish? I thought and, by the end of her act, I had decided she either definitely was or, if not, she certainly had Scottish blood relations.
She is not and has not.
There is a clip of her on YouTube.
“I did a gig recently,” she told me, “and there were a couple of Scottish people in the front row, rough as anything, and they were loving it until about two minutes before the end when one of ‘em said to the other: I don’t think she’s fuckin’ Scoootish! and they looked like they were about to beat me up, so I ended with Thankyou very much, goodnight! and got the hell out of it as quickly as possible.”
“Why is the poetess character Scottish?” I asked.
“Because I knew I couldn’t do a really aggressive character in my own posh English voice,” said Lindsay. “It would just sound like I was terribly angry about the lack of Waitrose shops in the area. So I went for an accent I was comfortable with – and the Scottish accent is more characterful. There is an element of aggression it… It allows you to have a bit more bite and…” Then she started to laugh and corrected herself… “But it’s still friendly at the same time!…” she added. She leant towards the microphone on my iPhone and said clearly: “I like the Scottish people very much…
“You see, I’m doing my first hour-long Edinburgh Fringe solo show in August,” she explained. “Madame Magenta: Libris Mystica.”
(There is a video of her as Madame Magenta on YouTube)
“That’s your other character,” I said.
“I think it’s just me in about 20 years,” she laughed. “It’s me but not giving a shit about what people think – and in a turban. She’s a fortune-teller, a psychic, a medium and just a shyster, really. She’s doing it for the money. In a way, it’s exploring those folk who exploit the vulnerable.”
“Comedians?” I asked.
“No, they exploit themselves,” said Lindsay.
“Would you go back to being an actress?” I asked.
“I hated being horrendously unsuccessful,” Lindsay laughed. “I’d like to be able to balance doing acting and comedy. But I do like generating my own material and I like the camaraderie on the comedy circuit
“I was an actress years ago, when I was aged about 18-23, but very unsuccessful, so I gave it up. Height was a problem too. Most actors are absolute midgets (Lindsay is 5’10”) and they’re not just short, they’re perfectly scaled-down. They’re these weenie little people. I think I could probably beat Tom Cruise in a fair fight.
“As an actress, I always got cast in comedy parts – if I was ever cast – and I always felt ridiculous if I was ever cast in anything that wasn’t funny. I did an acting course in Reading for a year. We did a play every two weeks so, inevitably, I was going to have to play a serious role. I remember having to deliver this godawful rape speech, feeling ludicrous and wanting to stick in some inappropriate jokes. I managed to stop myself although, on the second night, they decided they wanted some atmospheric music and one of the other actors started humming Babooshka behind me.”
“Actors are of a type,” I said, “and comedians are of a type. Comedians are all barking mad.”
“I think we’re just more honest with our neuroses,” said Lindsay. “Actors have got this hard, shiny exterior when they’re moving through life.”
“There’s the cliché,” I said, “that actors have to always be someone else.”
“When they’re not acting,” suggested Lindsay, “they’re playing the part of being actors. I used to be a member of The Actors’ Centre in Charing Cross Road and I always felt deeply uncomfortable there, because someone would ask how I was doing and I would say Oh awful! Can’t get arrested for work. Just being honest. Then I would ask How’s it for you? and they’d go Last week I had a meeting with blah blah and I’ve got a really exciting project I can’t tell you about and they’d give you their potted CV and tell you all the exciting things that were going to happen. And I’d believe them. I’d think Wow! You’re doing really well! Actors just have a different basket of neuroses from comedians.”
“And you stopped acting because?” I asked.
“Because I got to such a level of poverty and disillusionment,” Lindsay explained. “I had a job touring musicals round old people’s homes which was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Then I decided I was going to become a lawyer.”
“Eh?” I said.
“I signed up for a law course then, about a week later, thought What the fuck am I doing? I’m not interested in the law and changed it to an English course at Greenwich University. Later, I worked in the Business School where no-one spoke English. Greenwich has an office in China that just takes on anyone and promises they’ll teach them English when they get to Greenwich. But the English Department was very good; I had some great tutors there.
“After that, I got on the BT graduate management scheme where they train you to be a leader. It lasted about 18 months, then they paid me to go away. Then I became a stand-up.”
“You tend to hide behind characters,” I said. “The angry Scottish poet and Madame Magenta the psychic.”
“Well,” said Lindsay, “I didn’t for the first three years, but then I realised everybody seemed to think I was being a character when I was being myself anyway.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because when I go on stage as me,” explained Lindsay, “I get even posher-sounding. I used to start with a couple of posh jokes which didn’t relate to my real life at all – Yes. I know what I sound like. Let’s get that out of the way and move on – I’m not posh but, when I say I’m not, no-one ever believes me.
“I was born in Great Yarmouth and my entire family are from Great Yarmouth. My surname goes back to the Domesday Book in Norfolk. Sharman means ‘shearer of sheep’.”
“How did your posh accent come out of your Great Yarmouth background?” I asked. “Did you have speech therapy?”
“No,” replied Lindsay. “We moved around a lot and I lived abroad for seven years. I went to Brunei when I was 8. And then I went to boarding school in Singapore for a couple of years. Brunei didn’t have any schools for foreigners beyond the age of 11, though it did for the locals. When we got there, my sister was 11 and tried the local school, but it was educationally all over the place; she had a range of ages in her class. A lot of people in Brunei send their kids to boarding school in England but that’s a 14-hour flight away, so we were sent to boarding school in Singapore instead. I suppose I’m the product of social mobility.”
“Like a gypsy,” I said.
“Actually,” said Lindsay, “I do have gypsy blood in me from way back – my great-great grandmother got together with someone from the travelling fair that used to come to Great Yarmouth every year and had a baby in great shame.
“My dad worked for the Shell oil company. Well, he did loads of different things. He was manager of a Kentucky Fried Chicken shop at one point. And he was a damp proofer. They had a terrible damp chicken problem.
“I’m in a bit of a weird transition period at the moment. I’m trying to cut out a lot of the really depressingly shit gigs because they’re not even helping me develop new material… but I’m not a club comic, really. They don’t entirely embrace character acts at the moment.
“The clubs where you can earn a living are the slightly tougher hen and stag night ones and you’ve got to go in there quite aggressively with gags, which isn’t really my style. I’m more of a chaotic meanderer. I have sort-of Get Out of Jail Free card with my act by being deliberately chaotic.”
“Your act isn’t chaotic,” I said.
“There is an element of Oh! What am I doing? Bwahh!! Bwaah!!” said Lindsay.