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“There’s a lot of men out there that should’ve been hugged more by their dads”: In conversation with Maisie Adam

If you’d told me a couple of years ago that I’d get the chance to sit down with a comedic hero of mine, I would’ve laughed. Not quite as loudly as I do when watching Mock the Week or Have I Got News for You, but quite loud nonetheless. Yet, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I found myself frantically rereading through my notes, considering each of the prepared questions, and anxiously tapping the side of my mug; preparing more for what was about to happen than I do for most of my tutorials. Almost simultaneously, I hear a happy, lively greeting – “Hello!” – inflected with a recognisable Yorkshire twang that puts me at ease. I’m used to seeing the face before me today on televisions and billboards, but never would I have thought that I’d get to talk to her in person. Well, as in-person as you can get on Zoom.

The first stop of our interview seems an almost inevitable starting place; that of her current tour, Buzzed. Initially starting in August 2022, the tour enjoyed such levels of sold-out success that a second leg of the tour has been added. I’m curious as to how she came up with such a name, was it an easy endeavour? “Writing the material? I’m grand. But trying to sum up the show in one title, in a way that sounds enticing but not wanky, but not so enigmatic that nobody knows what it is; that’s quite stressful. It’s the hardest part of any show sometimes.

“I guess a little bit of me went for the name because of the haircut I’ve been rocking for two, almost three years. Another aspect, I don’t know if it’s a Northern thing, is that I always say that I’m buzzing – or buzzed –  when I talk about being excited, and off the back of the pandemic I just was desperate to get back on tour and get back doing live stand up that I am buzzing to be back.”

“I kind of craved looking ahead at that point in lockdown. I think all of us were sick of the situation, of talking about Covid. I know I, for one, was.” I’m smiling along at this stage, nodding politely, trying to not make it blatantly obvious I was frantically scribbling through line-upon-line of pandemic-based questions I’d prepared. As a comedian who’s spent almost half of her career battling against the curtailing of comedy by successive national lockdowns, I could understand why she might feel ambivalent towards the topic. 

So, what sort of stand-up routine does one create on the back of what was, for many, some of the loneliest, most isolating times in recent memory? “I ended up writing what I thought would be a very uplifting show, very positive, very optimistic, and the whole process has been really fun. I went and did Edinburgh with it, then went on tour straight away through September and October. It was originally just 33 dates, but it went so well and so many were sold-out that we’re back for another 30! We’re doing round two!”

One of the most special elements of the show is the first act of Maisie’s performance. Alongside performing a traditional stand-up routine, Maisie tells me how she goes to great lengths to personalise the show for the place she’s performing in. “Oxford is somewhere that I think I’ve only ever gigged in perhaps two, three times since starting comedy. I’ve never played at the Old Fire Station before. With my first tour, I see it as an opportunity to get to know all these places, but also get to know my audience. Most of my comedy career so far has been doing tour support for other comedians or being in a line-up show’ so not really being the main reason why someone’s bought a ticket. This is the first time where I’m doing a tour where everybody in the audience has bought a ticket because it’s me, so I think the least you can do is make their night unique. I come out for about 20, 30 minutes and basically use the time to get to know the crowd that night. It’s really nice, because it brings everyone in the room together, and that feeling can’t be replicated anywhere else in quite the same way.

“I think the show itself, which happens after the interval, also goes much better when you and the audience have had that very unique interaction, it can’t happen anywhere else. Each place has been different too; one evening can feel more like a parish meeting, almost something out of the Vicar of Dibley, and then the next night it’s raucous, lairy, and fast-paced.”

Does she have any favourite memories or moments from backstage in her tour so far? “I think, when people think about what it’s like backstage at a comedy gig, they think that it must be quite rock and roll. I’m actually on my own for a lot of it. A lot of it is turning up, soundchecking, sitting around, ironing your outfit, maybe having a cup of tea and watching Pointless, before it’s time to head out on stage.”

“My fiancé came to a few of the dates towards the end of the first leg of the tour, and he thought it was lovely and a great environment but overall he was surprised at what it was like.”

More sausage rolls than rock and roll, if you will. 

There is one moment that stands out to Maisie, however, and that’s a rather comical, local story told by an audience member; “It was when we were in Chesterfield and I asked the audience to tell me about their town… they have a famous church, and the couldnt wait to tell me. Apparently it goes back to the time a devil sat on the Spire, and that’s why it’s crooked. Now, they’re waiting for a virgin to sit on it and that will make it straight again. I thought ‘this is the weirdest town I’ve ever been in’, but I think that it sums up UK culture quite well.”

Changing track slightly, I ask if she has any favourite jokes from her set. “There’s definitely routines that I look forward to getting to, because I know that they’re going to get a good reaction. I tend to vary my routine so that they ebb and flow if you like, as I’ve watched stand-up that’s had the same energy joke after joke and it’s really hard to keep your attention all the way through. There is a story about me and my fiancé getting engaged that I always look forward to telling because it’s nice and steady, but builds up really well. It’s one of those jokes where you can do it 20 minutes into a routine, and then have a callback to it 25 minutes later, and people really enjoy it. Without giving too much away, I really do love the ending of my show though. It’s really, really, fun. I love it!

“It’s important to remember that not every audience will react to jokes the same way though; every night is different, and the momentum of the audience is different. Some audiences will go for one bit, and others will go for a different but; it’s all about pacing myself really.”

Selling out almost every date in both the original tour and the extended dates isn’t something that happens overnight. Initially starting out at the Ilkley Fringe in 2016, Adam found success in So You Think You’re Funny at the Edinburgh Fringe, before returning with a solo show, Vague, in 2018. “We started this conversation talking about how you never know where things are going to go, and I think the same can be said now. Not for a second did I plan any of this; I didn’t think at the time that anything could happen from it. I don’t think in comedy, or anything, that you have the foresight to tell the direction things will go in. “I just thought it would be nice to perform again; I still think that now. There isn’t a finish line in my head. I’m trying to avoid a cliche metaphor here, but I would say it’s like driving a car down a motorway; I’m not thinking about how I’m going to pull into the driveway when I get there, I’m thinking about when I can switch lanes right now. I’m only focussing on what’s just ahead of me. I quite like it that way because it means you’re surprised by your own achievements and own success; you can’t also plan too far ahead either, the industry is changing that quickly.

Despite a pandemic, Maisie’s career has skyrocketed, her first solo tour coming fresh from appearances on big-name shows such as Live At The Apollo, Mock the Week, The Last Leg,  and A League of Their Own. One particular show on the list stands out to me; that of Mock the Week. I’m of an age where I can’t remember the show beginning, but I’m old enough to remember the times when comedians such as Frankie Boyle, Russell Howard, and Andy Parsons were comedic staples. It seems very much that Maisie shared such fond memories, but understands why it came to an end; “I had mixed emotions about it ending. It’s this massive show that has been a stalwart of comedy for a long time now, and it was one of the shows I used to watch as a kid. It was a dream to get booked on that, and a dream to become a staple of the last few series. But you’ve got to keep changing, we’ve got to keep fresh, and that stands for TV as much as it does with comedians and their material. I just hope that what replaces it is something that also platforms stand-up in the same way; that was what it did so well, platforming new stand-up, and that’s what I think TV should focus on doing when it makes comedy.”

It struck me, even as a young child, how male-dominated the comedic sphere was; at best, they would have two women per series in the earlier shows. Angela Barnes summed up the situation well, when in the last episode ever recorded, she pays tribute to “all the female comics that came before me on this show… thank you, both of you.” Whilst this is undoubtedly comedic hyperbole, it’s nonetheless a valid point: Maisie’s entry into the world of comedy is coming at a critical moment of change in the industry, but Britain’s best-loved shows are still consistently populated by a cast of white men.

“When I think about when I used to watch it as a kid, it was all blokes and not a variety of blokes; and not a variety in terms of the acts. It would just be six middle-aged blokes coming from a very similar angle on things. Thankfully, I feel like by the time I started making appearances on it they had made a conscious decision to feature more women. I still don’t think perhaps enough; it had at least changed in a way that if I’d have been on 10 years earlier, it would have been me or Angela on our lineup. I came at a time where it could have been me and Angela, but I still think there should have been times where it was me and Angela and – heaven forbid! – a third woman. Sometimes I think it let itself down and other times it listened and got better. There’s certainly lots of TV shows that weren’t doing that and still aren’t. So it can be tricky. I feel lucky that I’m at a time where if they’re not doing that it gets called out, which it should. It’s a different age.”

There is one element of being a woman in the public eye that doesn’t seem to change, however. Although getting many positive responses about her shows and stand-up – with The Evening Standard calling her performances “wonderfully witty” – being a woman in the world of comedy does have its pitfalls. “Facebook, I never really read the comments – why go looking for it? – Instagram is nice as you can delete comments and limit things in DMs, but Twitter is the one that can feel like an absolute minefield. It’s not really so much after live shows as only fans come to the shows, but with pre-recorded telly shows you’ll be scrolling through Twitter and suddenly realise that something you recorded a while back is on TV. 99% of people will be lovely, but then there will always be that 1% that will stick in your head. It’s hard, and it’s something that I’m still trying to get used to.

“It’s mad, and it’s so easier said than done. I do talk to my mum or my fiancé about them, but I try not to let them get to me. They are just jealous or unhappy, and I know that when I read through things; but it still doesn’t take away from the fact that someone said a really horrible thing about you on a public platform. I think that wherever you are, however well-known you are, that’s always going to stick.

“I do think being a woman means you get more flack, and I don’t want to say it makes it easier to push it off, but you can’t help but think that they’re just saying this because I’m a woman. You’d say it if I was a female politician, or a female expert being interviewed, or if I was a female sportsperson. It’s nothing to do with what I’m doing; it’s just sexism. It’s not personal to me, it’s just personal to what I am as opposed to who I am or what I’m doing. Sometimes when I get messages from these people, you’ll go on their Twitter and see that they’ve trolled 99 other people that day. Then you realise, it’s not me. It’s just a person who is deeply unhappy and gets a kick out of going for other people.”

“There’s a lot of men out there that should’ve been hugged more by their dads, that’s what I’ll say.”

Joking aside, I wholeheartedly agree; albeit sadly. I would love to sit and ponder the complexity of the world in which we live in, but the time on Zoom is running against us. After we’ve recovered from laughing, I only have time for one more question. I ask if she could describe her show in three words; something she did with a smile; “Uplifting, energetic, a hoot, I think.”

I sat there, nodding and smiling. It appears that her summary of the show played in perfectly to how I would describe my experience interviewing her.

For more information about Maisie’s upcoming tour dates, and to book tickets, please go to www.maisieadam.com for more information.

Image credit: Matt Crockett

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