Samantha Hannah got in touch with me in July to plug her newly online NextUp Comedy show – How To Find Happiness in a Year – it’s her 2019 Edinburgh Fringe show shot in her living room at home during the UK Coronavirus Lockdown with her partner as the sole member of the audience. NextUp had been going to film it on stage in front of a live audience until COVID-19 intervened.
But, when they saw her living room version, they snapped it up.
Hello. I thought. That’s interesting.
And also Samantha comes from Perth in Scotland. My mother was born in a village just outside Perth.
That’s interesting, I thought.
We met on 30th July in a pretty much deserted Covent Garden Piazza.
It was very interesting.
I have been lazy.
Lockdown Lethargy hit me.
And her back-story is so interesting, she is not getting much of a plug for her NextUp show here…
SAMANTHA: I performed on the UK comedy circuit for about two years, about six nights a week. Then I gave up in 2009 for about seven years. Didn’t do any stand-up.
JOHN: You had always fancied being a stand-up?
SAMANTHA: Well, I studied Performing Arts at university then went more down a directing route – youth theatre, helping adults with learning difficulties…
JOHN: Adults with learning difficulties? The comedy circuit…
SAMANTHA: (LAUGHS) No!
When I moved to London, I didn’t have the connections to do the work I’d done in Scotland, so I auditioned for A Christmas Carol at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre in Kentish Town and did that for several weeks, but I always loved writing comedy sketches. I was writing them and putting them on the British Comedy Guide forum… Someone saw one of the sketches online and asked to film it.
The sketch never got filmed, but the director of A Christmas Carol asked: “Who was that guy you were meeting?”
“Oh,” I said, “he does comedy.”
“You do comedy? Why don’t you put on a show here for the next six weeks after this run finishes?”
So I was basically given a space above the theatre to do whatever I wanted… I got a few people together and put on a show that was about 3½ hours long with so many acts and so many intervals and Aaron Barschak did like a full hour of stand-up at the very end.
It was a most bizarre experience but, because I did it for about six weeks, I met lots of actors. I wanted to take the show to the Edinburgh Fringe, but everyone dropped out, so then I did a stand-up course to meet other people to write and perform with.
Then I realised: Oh! You can just do it on your own! You don’t have to rely on anybody and people won’t drop out!
That’s basically how I got into comedy.
JOHN: But then, after two years, you gave up for seven years. Why?
SAMANTHA: I think I just got burnt out by the circuit. I was doing some 20-minuters and getting paid, but I wasn’t enjoying it and didn’t know why I was doing it. It just wasn’t giving me any joy.
And also I met someone who was also in the industry – never do that. He was a promoter.
I gave up comedy; we broke up; my brother passed away and I just went travelling. I went to Australia for a year. I worked in ski-fields in the middle of nowhere, worked at Madame Tussauds in Sydney, making wax hands…
JOHN: What qualifications do you need to make wax hands?
SAMANTHA: I have no idea. It was one of the hardest jobs I’ve had. I was just doing what came along. I worked on a cattle farm in Queensland…
JOHN: You rode horses?
SAMANTHA: I was given a horse by the owners and they said: “We trust this horse with our 3-year-old, so you will be fine.”
One day I was mustering cattle and the horse was getting really unhappy. At one point, we went over mud and the horse really didn’t like it, started bucking and threw me off. I landed on my head on a rock – luckily I had a helmet on. The helmet got dented and, obviously, I was quite dazed and confused.
All the farmers around were saying: “You’ve gotta get back on the horse and teach it a lesson!”
But I couldn’t, so one of the other farmers, she jumped on the back of the horse and rode it off and gave it a telling-off.
Later that same day, we had to go into the bull pen, sorting out the cows and bulls…
JOHN: This sounds like a bad idea.
SAMANTHA: I was told: “You’re alright. The bulls are not going to go for you. You’re fine.”
But this one bull just locked eyes on me and started charging towards me.
You know about ‘fight or flight’?
I did nothing. I was just staring at it and the farmer was looking at me like: Why is this girl not doing anything? And, at the last moment, as it got to me, it suddenly swerved out of the way. So it was fine.
When we got back to the farm that day, the mum took my dented helmet and was going to separate the sun visor from it… But, as she took it apart, she saw that, inside the helmet was a redback nest with a redback in it – a very poisonous spider – the Australian black widow. If I had been bitten by the spider, I probably wouldn’t have known because I was so dazed by hitting my head on the rock.
JOHN: An eventful day…
SAMANTHA: And then, a couple of days later, an eastern brown – one of the deadliest snakes in the world – came into the house and got behind the TV set.
JOHN: I’ve never really fancied going to Australia. New Zealand, yes.
SAMANTHA: My mother and father came over to visit me in Australia and wanted to go to New Zealand, so we went there. After they left, I stayed on and worked there in Queenstown – another ski resort – and lived in Glenorchy with an old man and an unrelated 7-year-old child. We watched Lord of the Rings. Then I decided to move up to Wellington and to write a show about trying to find a husband in a year.
I posted a Tinder profile…
…and I started to say Yes to EVERYone who replied.
JOHN: New Zealand is a relatively small country.
SAMANTHA: Several times I ran out of matches. You could only do 100 every 12 hours.
JOHN: How many did you do? 400?
SAMANTHA: Oh, there were more than that! I went on a few dates. A few nice guys. And then, the day I got to Wellington, I was getting a bit sick of it. But the next morning, when I woke up, I’d had a Match with someone called Toby…
He was a New Zealander in London, doing his own experiment, trying to understand the algorithms and he thought he probably wanted to move back to New Zealand. He had thought: I’ll set it to New Zealand and see what happens. So he set it to Wellington.
He was in London, really near to where I used to live. And I was in Wellington, literally one stop away from where he used to go to university.
We started Messaging. He was a data scientist. I asked if he could do an analytics report to see if we were a good match. He put all our messages into Excel and looked for commonly-used words and sentiments. I was going to use the results as part of my show.
JOHN: Were you a good match?
SAMANTHA: We had our first phone call when I was quite drunk and, when I woke up the next day, didn’t really remember it but, because he had Uber Eats for Wellington, he used it to send me breakfast. And that was it. He was clearly the person for me. I met his parents before I met him.
Six weeks after the first message, I flew back to the UK to meet him. I arrived about 05.00am in the morning after a 38-hour flight… and he wasn’t there.
Then he turned up with a bottle of Copella apple juice in hand, because I had kept telling him how much I liked Copella apple juice. And we decided: “Right! Let’s go on our first date!”
JOHN: How did you decide what sort of date it would be?
SAMANTHA: It was six o’clock in the morning. I needed food and to go to sleep. But it was still a bit nerve-wracking. Imagine if you flew 12,000 miles to meet someone and…
Anyway, it was fine and we had a week together, then he went back to New Zealand for Christmas and I went up to Scotland.
In the New Year, we dithered a bit, because he was thinking about going back to New Zealand, But then he broke his leg in a ski-ing accident in France.
JOHN: You arranged this?
SAMANTHA: I wasn’t there! But, when he came back to the UK, he was very ill. He had picked up a bug. I was nursing him back to health and we just decided, because he couldn’t run away with a broken leg, we would go for it.
JOHN: And you wrote the show…
SAMANTHA: Yes. How to Find a Husband in a Year at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018. I only did it for four days in Maggie’s Chamber at 11.00am in the morning. I wasn’t even in the Fringe Programme. Then my second show, in 2019, was How To Find Happiness in a Year.
JOHN: Which is your NextUp show… But the Rule of Three. There has to be a third How To show…Were you preparing it as your 2020 Edinburgh show before coronavirus hit?
SAMANTHA: Yes: How To Win At Life.
JOHN: Edinburgh in 2021?
SAMANTHA: I hope so.