Sarah Millican interview: stand-up, curveballs and Monday nights

Sarah Millican’s brand new stand-up disc is now on sale, and she’s been sparing us some time to talk about it...

Last week, we had a chat with Greg Davies, and argued that his one of the best stand-up DVD releases of the season. This week, we’ve been chatting to Sarah Millican, and her debut DVD release, Chatterbox, is one of the others.

It’s a rare disc, in that it feels very close to the gig itself in feel as well as content. And she spared us a bit of time to have a chat about it…

I caught your gig when it came to Birmingham, and going through the DVD, you make the same point a few minutes in, when you say “I’m much ruder than I am on the telly”. Is that a perception you’re battling?

The reason I ask is that the gig I was at, there was an usher who looked a bit taken aback when you started talking about arranging vibrators on a pillow! I don’t think she’d heard anything like that before…

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Maybe she needed to! [laughs]

I don’t think I battle it, I think battle is quite a strong word.

I think people who see me on the telly, I don’t think my gig is massively different. It’s ruder, and there’s more swearing in it, but it’s live. Pretty much every comic that you see live is going to be slighter ruder, slightly darker and slightly more scary. But there are restrictions when you’re on the telly. I’m not trying to rude it up for live. I just have to restrict myself on the telly. I’ve always been pretty rude!

Most people have come to you via the telly first, perhaps radio, and then come to the gig, but that’s not the order in which your career started.

No. But from my very first gig I’ve always been pretty filthy, but that’s why we have an age restriction. And I make sure that the quotes on the poster say it’s going to be a bit rude. But I think people are generally fine that it’s ruder than it is on the telly!

I really liked how much you put over to what the audience has to say. Appreciating that most give over the first ten minutes or so to what the front row has to say, you’ve got one or two massive sessions in the show, particularly in the men versus women section, where it seems to hinge on the feedback you’re getting. Did you constantly get such a strong reaction?

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Yeah, most nights. I think there’s something about how you play the room. If I give a lot of personal information away, and I do, then if I say why don’t you say something personal, they’re more likely to because I already have.

I think I do always get a good response, because I’ve set it up. I’ve also let people know that there’s nothing mean happening. I might have a bit of fun, but there’s nothing horrible, because there’s no benefit in that at all. It’s not what I’m like as a person either.

It’s also helpful, though, to have the room really dark. So the audience is quite anonymous. It’s different for the DVD, because you have to light it up more. But on tour, they know I won’t be able to spot them in the street and recognise them or anything, and I think that gives them more confidence if I can’t see their face!

I presume that at every gig, you had a bloke shouting out ‘knob’ at the top of his voice?

Not always!

It depends on the area. There are responses that always come out. But then there are proper curveballs, and they’re my favourite ones. Then, I have to react on the spot. If I’ve had answers before, there are various responses you can pick from. But a proper curveball? That’s awesome, it’s proper terrifying. Anything could happen, I have no idea how I’m going to react. It’s my favourite part of the show. When you doing over 100 dates, that’s a lot of the same material. These are the bits that are different for me, too.

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Jimmy Carr has a theory that it’s not just the location, but the night of the week that you play that has an impact on the audience you get. Would you subscribe to that?

Yeah, absolutely. It’s the same when you’re doing comedy on the circuit. A Sunday night, they’ll be more chilled, a Monday night might be a bit more reserved, whereas Thursday, Friday, Saturday, they’re a bit more confident.

I think it does depend on the venue, too. A room above the pub will be a bit more raucous than a theatre. I think it depends on how many different things, and he’s absolutely right about the days of the week.

How heavily involved are you in choosing the rooms you play, then? I know you’re not going down the road of big arenas, save for one or two charity gigs, but your choice of rooms is quite interesting. There seem to be limits on them?

The rooms are bigger than the rooms on the last tour, and I think I’m quite cautious. I’m never going to put myself in a room that I don’t think I can sell. But it’s still quite terrifying.

Are you a curtain peeker? Do you take a look at the crowd five minutes before?

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No, because I know how many people are going to be in the room already! I’m well aware of which ones are sold out. It’s flattering when they are, and you’re always aware that people could have done anything that night, and they’ve come to see you. I don’t peek and see ‘oh, there are only four people in’. I’d know before I set foot in the building!

It’s staggering the speed that the new tour seems to have sold out for you. Are you kept regularly up to date with ticket sales, and does it help you knowing how many are sold?

It does. I’m quite analytical, and I guess not all comics do this. Some will leave this to their managers. I’m fascinated by it, and I like to know. I like to know how well they’re selling. I don’t believe in sticking your head in the sand. You need to know. Is it time to add an extra date on, for instance?

I never want too many dates at first. But you look and say that one’s going to sell out, and we’re not getting there for another couple of months. Let’s add another date.

You’ve not given yourself an awful lot of time between your two tours. But I’d imagine that once you’ve done over 100 dates of one, you’re looking forward to doing the new material.

Absolutely! [Laughs] I love doing the shows, and it was great. But by the end of it, I had so much material in a little pad, that I hadn’t got to try out. Because I don’t like to try out new material while I’m on tour. I like to save it, so it’s fresh. I then do little ten minute spots when I’m ready to get cracking, but I’ve already been writing for a few months. Even though I’ve not tried any of the material out by the end of one tour, I have still been writing it for months.

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I was surprised at how well the gig transferred to the DVD. Because usually I don’t think it’s that comfortable a fit. How involved are you in tightening? From seeing the show live, I can see where you’ve done a few of the tweaks, but the show on the disc seems particularly tight?

Oh good. Obviously if you’re watching it on DVD, you’re not there, but you want it to feel as close to that as possible. You rein in the bits that were part of that audience and that room, but you still want people to feel part of that audience. You want them to feel that they were in there. I just want it to be as good, and as long as possible. I think it’s really important that people get a good, long show, and I’m really proud of some of the extras on there too.

Finally, I went on the Amazon page for your DVD as well. I’m pleased to tell you that people who buy your disc also pick up assorted comedy DVDs, an old Jason Statham movie, The Smurfs, Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2, and Michael Jackson: The Experience on Xbox 360.

[Laughs] Oh, my fans have eclectic tastes!

Sarah Millican, thank you very much!

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