Fringe Cuts: Tiffany Stevenson interview

In the run up to the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, Jake chats with comedian Tiffany Stevenson about her show, Dictators…

Tiffany Stevenson is one of the hardest working women on the comedy circuit today. Already a comedy veteran, with parts in Ricky Gervais The Office and Stephen Fry’s Absolute Power, she took to the mic in 2005 and hasn’t looked back.

As well as touring up and down the length and breadth of the country, she also runs weekly new material night, Old Rope, in London every week which has seen acts such as Ed Byrne, Reginald D Hunter and Jack Dee perform in a pub basement. With one Edinburgh show, Along Came A Spider, under her belt, she’s about to hit The Fringe again with her show, Dictators.

We caught up with Tiffany to find out a little more.

So, Tiffany, how are you doing?

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I’m good, I’m good. Hello! You’re saying that like we’ve never seen each other all evening. I like that. I’ve been looking at your face in the gig!

I’ve been looking at your wonderful pajama top.

Ah, yeah. I’m wearing pajamas. They’re banned in China (where I’ve just come back from). You’re banned from wearing pajamas in public, so this is a protest I’m making.

That goes against every kung-fu flick I’ve seen. Getting serious for a second now, how did you start off acting?

When I was about 15, 16, I was with a kids’ agent. Like a theatre school, but not like in a posh way, but for street kids. Basically, to stop us getting in trouble and nicking car stereos. Like “HEY! HERE! Do some drama classes and we’ll put you in Eastenders or The Bill!” So, that’s how I started doing it, really.

Then it carried on from there when I realised that is the job that, as fantastic as it is, and I still do it, is a very reactive industry. So, you have to do something creative or pro-active if you don’t wanna lose your mind.

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How did you eventually get to stand-up?

I started writing, and a lot of the acting parts I was getting were for comedy anyway. Then I started writing a pilot for a sitcom called Gaby And The Girls. We got £30,000 and we made it. That was probably six or seven years ago now.

It was the first thing I’d ever written. People liked it and it didn’t get commissioned, but it gave me a taste for writing.

From there I decided I was going to write some stand-up, but I started out doing characters. I did a character called Savannah Dior – Media Whore, who was like a WAG.  That was before we knew just far the WAG thing would go.

Your current show is called Dictators. What’s it all about, then?

It’s called Dictators in the belief that we all have them in our lives, like right now, you’re mine? You’re dictating me, literally, on a dicta-phone! The question is who is yours, and I’m going to be looking at my top five. I’ve got some bad boys in there, like I’ve got Hitler, I’ve got Mugabe. I’ve got Mussolini, OK magazine and my mum. They’re the top five that I’m gonna be looking at.

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I have a little bit of an obsession with dark themes. I think we all do, actually, as much as whether we want to admit it or not. Also a lot of dictators went out with actresses. There’s quite a link there.

What was the thing that drove those two together? Obviously. the power, no matter how corrupt, was attractive to these women. And what did they want to get out of the actresses? So, that’s where it first started off.

Then I expanded it to make more of a universal thing about dictators. And I just spent a month in China, so I’ve got a lot to say about that.

This is your second full-length show. Were there any lessons you took from your first?

Yeah, don’t expect people to be intelligent enough to get it. Because they don’t always and you will get some clown who’s about 16 with a bumper pad and crayon who will come and review your show and sit in the front row and be incredibly unsubtle about it. And not get irony, y’know it’s amazing how people take things so literally.

Mentioning no names…

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[Laughs] They take things so literally. I had one where someone accused me of name-dropping when I mentioned Atomic Kitten, Calum Best and someone else. All these excruciatingly bad attempts at name-dropping when I was being deeply sarcastic about it.

So, you can’t expect people to get things. All you can hope is that the people you like, who like you, will come and see the show.

How is it performing at the festival in comparison to the circuit?

An hour is a different beast compared to a club show. You go to a club and you do 20 minutes, you sort of bash it out and make it very gag, gag, gag. You do an hour, it’s boring, nothing more boring than just doing jokes for an hour unless there’s some kind of story arc or narrative or even a theme.

No matter what it is, something that has tone, that has peaks and troughs.

Even just the pitch and tone of your voice over an hour, if it’s the same, it can become incredibly boring. So, you have to put other things in there to spice it up, which is where the acting comes in, to give it more of a rounded storytelling. Personally, that’s what I like to see in Edinburgh shows.

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Finally, who should come and check you out?

Fun loving, good sense of humour, single with a nice car! No, someone who has slightly dark sensibilities, but not even necessarily. I did a preview quite recently for ninety percent partisan Iranian audience, which is weird because they really like Gadaffi. Local rivals, I guess. They really liked that and the personal stuff.

Sometimes you’re surprised by the people who come and really get it. So, I would say anyone who is interested in history, is interested in the weird, is interested in the slightly dark and is interested in me! Cos there’s some shit that’s going on in my life that’s pretty fucking amazing that’s made it into the show!

Thanks for talking, Tiffany!

Tiffany will be performing her show, Dictators, throughout August at the Stand Club in Edinburgh. The Old Rope is on every Monday at The Phoenix, 37 Cavendish Square near Oxford Circus in London. For more info, search for The Old Rope group on Facebook.