Female comedy duo Lizzy Mace & Juliette Burton are at the Leicester Square Theatre in London tomorrow night, performing their Edinburgh Fringe show Rom Com Con.
Then, next month, they perform it at the Brighton Fringe.
They first performed the show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2011. They had no money that year and had to share a bed.
“I woke Lizzy up one night,” Juliette told me in London yesterday, “because I was ‘sleep flyering’…”
“And whispering…” added Lizzy
“I woke her and myself up,” explained Juliette, “because I was sleep-talking about flyering and I was really disappointed at waking up because, in my dream, my flyering for the show in the street was going really well and the people I was talking to said they would come and see the show. I love flyering. I absolutely adore it.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because,” explained Juliette, “if you smile at someone and they say No and you don’t take it personally, that’s fine. They’ve got other stuff going on in their day. It’s not a personal attack on you. But, if they do engage with you in any way, then you can chat to them and brighten their day. Even if they don’t come to see the show, they might love your flyer and that experience of chatting to you.
“Thanks to the Cultural Enterprise Office up in Edinburgh, I have a couple of interns working for me on my new show and one of the potential interns I interviewed had a friend with her who remembered me flyering her on the Royal Mile and she kept the flyer for about three months after the Fringe because she remembered my flyering.”
Mace & Burton are performing as a duo in London and Brighton but, during the Edinburgh Fringe this year, Juliette Burton will be performing her first full-length solo show.
“Why won’t you be there at the Fringe?” I asked Lizzy Mace last night.
“I’ll be doing an intensive improv course at Second City in Chicago,” she told me. “We’ll still be working on things together after Edinburgh. At the moment, we’re writing a feature film version of our Rom Com Con show that will hopefully subvert all the conventions of the genre.”
“And,” I prompted, “you would describe the Rom Com Con stage show as…?”
“A true-life, documentary, stand-up performance,” Juliette replied for her. “It’s not really stand-up comedy.”
“We always call it comedy storytelling,” explained Lizzy, “because the comedy is not in gags. It’s in the truth of it and the situations we put ourselves in.”
“Put ourselves in?” I echoed. “That sounds like doing something very consciously.”
“Yes,” said Lizzy. “Our shows are like Quest shows. With Rom Com Con the quest was trying to find true love by testing out the way people meet in movie romantic comedies. So we deliberately put ourselves in these ridiculous situations from the films.”
Juliette added: “We did lots of research.”
“Sounds like you just went on lots of dates and hoped it would make a show,” I said.
“Yes!” they both laughed.
“And hopefully, by doing the show,” said Juliette, “we would get more dates.”
“Which didn’t happen,” added Lizzy.
“A desperate search for love and affection,” I said. “Like all stand-up comedy.”
“Exactly,” laughed Lizzy. “We were just making that explicit.”
“Wearing our hearts on our sleeves,” said Juliette.
“So you’re basically both single and both desperate,” I suggested.
“Yes!” they both laughed.
“In fact,” said Juliette, “for Rom Com Con it was worse than that. Lizzy had been single for five years and I’d just broken up with my boyfriend of six years.”
“And,” added Lizzy, “just as Juliette’s boyfriend split up with her, three of her best friends asked her to be their bridesmaid. It was just like Uurghhh!…”
“So, for the movie version of this…?” I asked.
“We’re fictionalising things,” replied Lizzy. “We’re taking the emotional journeys we each went on but the events we’re putting the characters into are going to be more suited to film.
“In our Rom Com Con stage show, each of us goes on our own journey and, as a result, we become closer friends towards the end of it. That’s what we’re trying to get across in the screenplay as well. The thing that’s most important at the end of it is the stronger friendship the two people have discovered through the whole journey.”
“Though not romantically,” added Juliette.
“It’s kind of a homage to rom coms,” explained Lizzy, “but also acknowledging that the traditional, standard kind of rom com might not be relevant any more. Maybe twenty years ago in a rom com, it was just accepted by the audience that the two leads would get together. You don’t have to prove why: the story was about how. But now you have to work a lot harder because there’s less of a belief in that idea of…”
“…two people being perfect for each other,” Juliette added.
“The writer has to work harder,” continued Lizzy, “to build-in those scenes that prove the couple are meant to be together and get the audience behind them. I guess we’re just looking at ideas of romance and how we can make a rom com that looks at romance but is more relevant.”
“Technically, it’s a buddy movie,” said Juliette.
“A female buddy movie,” I said.
“Yes,” said Lizzy.
“And your new solo show?” I asked Juliette.
“Is called When I Grow Up,” she told me. “I’m performing it at the Brighton Fringe and then the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s the first time I’ve done a whole hour of me standing stage alone, which is quite scary. It’s another true-life story like Rom Com Con. It’s a story about me trying to be all the things I wanted to be when I was a child… a ballerina, a baker, an artist, a princess, a pop star and a Muppet.”
“Which Muppet?” I asked.
“I didn’t want to be a specific Muppet. They were all misfits, but they belonged together and were stronger together. I just wanted to be part of that Muppet group and I wanted to marry Gonzo. He is my dream man – or thing or whatever he is. He’s awesome. He’s a risk-taker because he does exciting things like being shot out of a cannon. He ate a tyre to the tune of The Flight of the Bumblebee, showing he was cultured. He’s willing to try new things and he’s very romantic. I’m feeling quite passionate just talking about him. In all of the movies, he’s the one who sings the most poignant darkness-before-the-dawn songs. So he’s a poet. And he’s also very loyal. He was so in love with Miss Piggy, but she kept saying I’m in love with Kermit. And he just kept trying. I completely love him. And Jimmy Carr.”
“Jimmy Carr?” I asked.
“Yes,” confirmed Juliette. “If there were some way we could combine Gonzo and Jimmy Carr – someone with an appalling laugh and a very large nose – that would be excellent for me.”
“And When I Grow Up is going to be another true-life, documentary, stand-up performance?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Juliette. “I’ve done video interviews with the general public about what they wanted to grow up to be when they were a child… and what they do now. And what a job is and what a vocation is and whether what you do is who you are and what growing up is. And I’ve selected bits from those interviews to show universal stories. Some people have triumphed over redundancy by following their dreams. And there are people who have not followed their dreams but made active choices to do a job that allows them to have a life they love.
“But I don’t want it to be like some Edinburgh Fringe shows where they’re too much prepared-for-TV. I want it to be an interactive stage show. I will interact with what’s happening on the screen.
“I’ve interviewed Lizzy for When I Grow Up, so the show I take to the Gilded Balloon in Edinburgh in August will include Lizzy, she’ll just be on a video screen. It’s similar to Rom Com Con, where we did a two-hander presenting the story and have a screen with video interludes. But this time there will also be videos of the research I’ve done.”
“And you have something unexpected and dark in the show,” I said. “An unexpected twist.”
“Yes,” said Juliette, “but I’m not sure if we should talk about it. I think laughter is the only way to get through anything.”
“It makes things less scary if we can find a way to laugh at them,” Lizzy suggested.
“Comedy,” said Juliette, “is meant to tread the borders between what’s acceptable and what’s not and confronting the tragedies of life is a relief.”
“And,” I asked, “the highlight of your comedy career so far is…?”
“One of the highlights of my life,” said Juliette, “was when we sniffed the sandal that Graham Chapman wore in Life of Brian. We were at the BFI for the London Comedy Festival’s Kickstart Your Comedy Career course.”
“And they had an exhibition,” continued Lizzy, “for A Liar’s Autobiography, the film about Graham Chapman’s life. We were talking to one of the directors and there was this little glass case which had three things from the Monty Python films. There was a shield from The Holy Grail and there was this sandal from Life of Brian.”
“I think he saw how genuine my fandom was,” said Juliette.
“So he opened up the back of this glass display case,” continued Lizzy, “and he took out the sandal and we held it in our hands and I just said I really want to sniff it and so we both took this big sniff. It smelt surprisingly fresh.”
“It did,” agreed Juliette. “My favourite things in life so far have been holding that sandal, meeting Dawn French and meeting Michael Palin.”
“Was he amiable?” I asked.
“Of course he was,” replied Juliette. “He was Michael Palin. If I ever met Stephen Fry, I think I would go to pieces.”
“What about Jimmy Carr and Gonzo?” I asked.
“Oh my god!” said Juliette. “Gonzo!… Any Muppet, really… Any Muppet.”