The last time comic writer and performer Laura Lexx was in this blog was back in July 2015 when she was about to stage her first solo Edinburgh Fringe show.
This week, she will be starting the run of her fourth solo Fringe show Knee Jerk at the Gilded Balloon venue.
I think her career turned an important corner with her appearance on BBC TV’s Live at the Apollo show last Christmas. So I asked her about it.
JOHN: Success is strange in comedy…
LAURA: Yes, it’s weird. You look at someone and think: Well, they seem to be doing very well, yet no-one’s ever heard of them. But they’re doing a 110-date UK tour, so people HAVE heard of them, yet TV isn’t… it isn’t doing… Well we still have TV held up as ‘the thing’ and actually maybe it isn’t ‘the thing’ any more.
JOHN: People say the live comedy ‘circuit’ is dying.
LAURA: Shut up! No it isn’t! I gig six nights a week quite happily all round the country – there are loads of gigs everywhere; there just aren’t the big chains of gigs (like Jongleurs) any more. You have to know lots of individuals and get on with it. London is probably the place I gig least.
JOHN: Really? Why?
LAURA: It pays absolute dogshit. Apart from the Comedy Store, I don’t think I know a single other London club that pays more than £200 a night.
JOHN: Whereas, if you play, say, up North…?
LAURA: Yeah… £250, £240, £220.
JOHN: With accommodation?
LAURA: Sometimes, yeah.
LAURA: Not usually.
JOHN: Your Live at the Apollo appearance must have got you loads of online hits and a higher profile.
LAURA: Kinda. It did. But I got way more general public interest and followers from doing Ouch on BBC Sounds because of my set on mental health.
LAURA: I think because all the stuff I did on mental health and more niche topics at the Apollo recording got edited-out of the final cut. You do 20 minutes and they edit it down to around 8. What was left was a funny but mainstream thing which didn’t have much shareable viability online.
Whereas the stuff I did on Ouch about not having children and climate change and eco-anxiety did have shareability online and I picked up thousands of followers from that.
JOHN: So a niche subject actually got you greater hits than a mainstream TV show.
LAURA: Yeah. I guess cos there’s less of it and you’re maybe saying something people haven’t heard before.
JOHN: And, of course, on the Apollo show, all the niche stuff was quite reasonably edited out. It’s a mainstream show and…
LAURA: Why reasonably, though? It was just as funny as the other stuff. It just happened to be on the night Ahir Shah also had a joke about anti-depressants and you couldn’t really have two comedians on (LAUGHS) the Christmas Special going on about anti-depressants. Which is OK. That’s up to the producers. It was not like they were censoring talk on mental health. We just both happened to cover it.
JOHN: It’s a very mainstream programme.
LAURA: But depression is mainstream. Lots of people have depression, so why not talk about it?
JOHN: It’s a bit depressing.
LAURA: Not if you’re doing it in comedy.
JOHN: I think you are maybe at a turning point in your career.
LAURA: Well, most of the general public have no idea who I am, so I can turn up at a comedy club at a weekend and be ‘surprisingly’ good. But now people in the industry know who I am, so I can do the things I want to do more easily and get booked in the gigs I want to be booked on. And pitching ideas is much easier now… And I think I’ve learned to be cleverer with that.
JOHN: How does one get to be a successful pitcher?
LAURA: Well, I haven’t had any success yet but I think what I’ve learned is to go to the Edinburgh Fringe already having written the stuff that people are going to want off the back of my show.
Every time you do an Edinburgh Fringe show in August, you sit down in meetings in September and they say: “Oh, we liked that theme. We would like an outline for a thing on that theme”… and, by the time you have written that outline, they have changed jobs and gone somewhere else.
JOHN: Whereas, this year…?
LAURA: I have a big set-piece about netball and I have already written a show about netball.
JOHN: Why netball?
LAURA: Feminism, innit, John… It’s huge at the moment.
JOHN: Is it?
LAURA: Yes. The Netball World Cup.
JOHN: How do you make a netball show funny?
LAURA: Anything can be funny. You just need a vehicle to add funny characters to. So why not a netball team?
JOHN: So you have that eternal ambition of comics: to eventually write a sitcom?
LAURA: I’ve already done it. I’ve written one; I’m starting my second one; and I’m pitching a couple of… I have one entertainment magazine show project that I think might be on the verge of being optioned. And another idea I’m really only at the research end of, which is… (DETAILS CENSORED IN CASE SOMEONE STEALS THE IDEA!). I also have an idea for a podcast…
JOHN: There’s no money in them…
LAURA: No, but they’re really good for exposure and then you sell off the back of it. Podcasts are a massive way to boost your popularity. My idea is… (IDEA CENSORED AGAIN, TO PROTECT IT!)
JOHN: There’s a lot of politics around at the moment: Brexit and all. You told me your new Fringe show Knee Jerk is a bit political.
LAURA: I’m not trying to be political like the ins-and-outs of politicians; I’m trying to be political in terms of people’s behaviour to each other, which is what I’m interested in. The general premise of the show is I want to deal with climate change and I feel climate change should be our priority as a species and as a nation and it feels like we are at what is hopefully more a death rattle than a resurgence of a lot of divisive stuff between the general public.
JOHN: Doesn’t everyone agree climate change is a bad thing?
LAURA: But who’s dealing with it properly? If a human army was invading, we would have a million measures in place. Here, we’re vaguely going: “Oh, we’ve asked this company to maybe try and do this by 2028… if they can…” And then we fail on all the targets.
JOHN: You are odd in that you’re a good stand-up AND a good MC. They are often different mindsets.
LAURA: Well, I think they’re two different jobs and I quite like them both.
JOHN: There is that cliché of a punter saying to an MC after the gig has finished: “You should try doing stand-up comedy yourself.”
LAURA: Oh God! That happened all the time! That’s why I stopped MCing as much as I was. For a while, I was MCing for maybe 80% of my gigs. I just maybe got a bit frustrated by not being able to do my act. I had all these new bits of material I wanted to get out of the box and play with and, as an MC, I couldn’t really. So I pared it back a bit and now I’m a lot happier and I think I’m a better MC for not doing it all the time.
I like gigging and writing stuff. I’m a club comic that has smashed Edinburgh too. (LAUGHS) So give me my own television show, already!… I might have a sandwich now. Do you want a sandwich?