Roisin Conaty: ‘Standup is a confidence game. You sell the sizzle, not the sausage’May 4, 2020
The comedian, 41, on getting women’s sitcoms on to TV, overordering in restaurants and preferring decent to shiny people
Sat 25 Apr 2020 14.00 BSTLast modified on Wed 29 Apr 2020 15.57 BST
Golden girl: Roisin Conaty.
Golden girl: Roisin Conaty. Photograph: Jay Brooks/Camera Press
I’m from an Irish family and, even though I grew up in 80s London, I spent a lot of my childhood in southwest Ireland. It was like two lives. Our Camden council estate was colourful, bright and noisy. But every school holiday I’d get plonked in a field in County Kerry and I’d just pray for a car to drive past.
Beware of onesies. My most embarrassing moment was answering the door to a Deliveroo driver topless. I was wearing a onesie and had forgotten to pull the top bit back up after using the bathroom. I’ll never forget the look on the driver’s face.
My dad died suddenly. He had a heart attack aged 52. When the hospital phoned to tell me, it felt like when you take your sunglasses off and the light changes. A visual thing happened, which must have been shock or adrenaline. It changed everything. I became fearless, stopped procrastinating and started living. That’s when I first tried stand-up.
Passion and kindness are the most attractive qualities. Sense of humour is up there, but kindness becomes more important as you get older. You realise the funny, charming ones aren’t always the best people. I’m increasingly drawn to people who maybe aren’t as shiny, but are thoroughly decent.I’m also obsessive about things I like, and love people who can talk for hours about their interests.
Female standups are like hustlers. We have to be. We fight to get gigs or on to panel shows. We’re made to earn it in a very different way to men.
I was a cunning kid. My mum once lost me in a supermarket in Camden after our trip to the seaside had been cancelled. When I got picked up by the police, I told them I lived in Margate because I wanted them to drive me there.
It took years to get my sitcom, GameFace, on TV. I wrote it in 2010, the pilot aired in 2014, then the first full series in 2017. That process taught me so much. The film-making maxim is that you write things three times: first comes the script, then you rewrite in production, then rewrite again in the edit. So true. A TV show is this living thing. It’s liberating when you learn that. It makes you less precious.
Standup comedy is a confidence game. You sell the sizzle, not the sausage. It sounds very woo-woo but positive thinking has a dramatic effect on the outcome. You have to get your head in the right space and silence your inner critic.
I was a chatterer at school, so I got moved a lot in class. But I’d still chat to whoever was sitting next to me. There’s no such thing as a boring person, just a bad question. Whoever I ended up next to, I’d find a way in.
I prefer older me. At 41, I’m finally starting to warm to myself. Ageing is all positive and it’s a privilege.
I never share carbs. It’s become an established trait. I’m a terrible over-orderer, too. Maybe it’s being from a big Irish family. If we go for an Indian, someone always says: “Shall we share rice?” No, they’re about £1.50. Let’s get four. I want my own rice and my own naan bread, thanks.
I’m scared of spiders. I once went to the toilet at 5.45am, saw a spider and ordered an Uber to Starbucks. I waited there because I knew my flatmate would get up and deal with the spider.
When I was 12, I shoplifted a lip balm from Boots but when I got home, I had such Catholic guilt that I had to take it back. It’s harder to sneak something back on a shelf than to steal it.
My mum is the person I most admire. Her resilience is unmatched, but she’s also really giddy and hilarious. Her non sequiturs blindside you. When she tells me a story, I make her tell me the genre first because they can take massive plot twists. She’s only 5ft tall so when we’re together, we look like Dorothy and Sophia from The Golden Girls.