After a five-year apprenticeship on the comedy circuit, it’s fair to say Lucy Beaumont is making a name for herself.
Her ‘blend of surreal offbeat humour’ (as her press biog would have it) has led to several plaudits since becoming a finalist in 2011’s nationwide stand-up comedy competition So You Think You’re Funny? And BBC Radio New Comedy and Chortle Best Newcomer awards followed in 2012, while her Edinburgh Fringe show We Can Twerk It Out was nominated for the Foster’s Newcomer Award in 2014.
Lucy was originally mentored in 2008 by Jeremy Dyson as part of a BBC initiative to find new northern comedic voices, going on to write one-woman play Bananas are Blue, produced by Theatre by the Lake and previewed at the 2010 Manchester Theatre festival.
And seven years on, her BBC Radio 4 sitcom To Hull and Back – which you can catch up with via the BBC iPlayer – is making waves, Arthur Smith reckoning we have ‘the next Victoria Wood in the making’.
Johnny Vegas, who also features in Lucy’s sitcom – along with Norman Lovett and her ‘Mum’ Maureen Lipman – said, ‘She’s got the timing of Les Dawson… an absolute natural’, while her other credits include Crush, a 90-minute monologue that scooped a Sony Radio Award.
Add to all that appearances on Comedy Central’s Live at The Comedy Store and Dave’s As Yet Untitled with Alan Davies, and a stage background, Lucy performing in various premieres and touring with Hull Truck Theatre, York Theatre Royal and West Yorkshire Playhouse.
In fact, word has it that Lucy – on the back of a sell-out, critically-acclaimed run at the Soho Theatre, Edinburgh Festival and venues spanning the country – only switched to comedy in a bid to conquer stage fright in preparation for an acting career.
What’s more, it seems that she’s also a success in Norway, judging by her reception there last weekend. She was a little gutted at missing out on the Northern Lights while on stage though. Did she not have a retracting roof at the venue?
“No, I wish! It went surprisingly well though. They don’t even understand me in Scotland, let alone Norway … but their English is impeccable. Even little colloquialisms – they get it all, because they’ve grown up on British and American TV and film.”
My excuse for catching up is her forthcoming Funny Northern Women date at Chorley Little Theatre next Friday, November 27th, which just happens to mark Lancashire Day. So let’s go for the offensive and ask if this lass from the East Riding of Yorkshire (with her defining Humberside accent) is looking to infiltrate.
“Oh, is it Lancashire Day when we visit?”
It certainly is, the 720th anniversary of the Red Rose county sending its first representatives to Edward I’s Parliament, I understand. I’m not sure how many people know of the origins, but it certainly seems to be getting a little more coverage these days.
“That’s good. You need something to cling on to! No, I’m kidding, and anyway, the other two girls – Hayley and Katie – are Lancastrian. And we’re all Northern, aren’t we.”
That’s as good a place as anywhere to add brief biogs about those other two acts appearing, with Manchester-based Hayley Ellis, a former XFM breakfast show regular, began performing in 2009 and MCs at gigs around the country. She’s seen success in various UK new act contests, BBC Radio 2 DJ Steve Wright saying she was ‘fast becoming Manchester’s funniest female.’
Meanwhile, Katie Mulgrew has also played up and down the country, and is the daughter of James Mulgrew, aka North West-based Northern Irish veteran funnyman Jimmy Cricket. You can also hear Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize winner Katie’s dulcet tones on BBC Radio 2 documentary series The History of British Comedy, while she hosts The FunnyGirl Podcast, discussing musicals with guest stand-ups.
Had Lucy worked with her fellow Funny Northern Women before this tour?
“Yeah, we seem to work well together actually. It should be a good night. And if there’s one of us you don’t like, you’ve got two others.”
Do you travel together? Is there a big tour bus?
“Oh no! Me and Hayley travel together though.”
What can you tell us about life on the road with Hayley then?
“It’s great. She drives and I talk to her … it works well.”
And Katie just shows up on the night?
“Yeah. She’s had a baby recently, so she’s just glad to get out of the house!”
We might as well get this out of the way – Lucy has a strong Lancashire link anyway, having married fellow comic and 8 out of 10 Cats star Jon Richardson back in April.
“Yeah, he’s from Lancaster.”
Does he take you to the north of the county now and again?
“I have been, yeah, a few times. It’s lovely. I’ve got some good friends there. I like it. Nice people.”
And what does Jon make of Kingston upon Hull? It’s hardly Kingston upon Thames, where he was previously based.
“He likes it, although he finds it a bit rowdy of a night.”
Be honest, what were you first thoughts when you heard your old neck of the woods had got the City of Culture status for 2017?
“Just over-joyed! It’s been a long time coming, and we need some recognition. You wouldn’t believe the amount of professional actors, writers, artists and musicians who come out of Hull. For such a small place, it’s incredible, and people need to know.”
Fair enough. If you search for famous Hullensians on the internet, you’ll find far more than you probably realised were from that way, including Lucy’s close family friend Roland Gift, of Fine Young Cannibals fame.
“Yeah. It’s had hard knocks has Hull, but deserves this. Let’s just hope people visit.”
What are the best things about Hull, on a personal level?
“Similar to Lancaster, really – it’s the people, and there’s community spirit. People care about each other. That’s so important, and you sense it.
“When you’re proud of where you’re from, it gives a place an atmosphere. You’re not living there because you have to work there, but because you’ve got roots there, and those bases are special.”
A friend at the Lancashire Evening Post told me just before I caught up with Lucy, ‘Ask her about chip salt’, going into a rant about how Hull got there long before any franchise chicken eateries. What’s all that about?
“Well, it’s an American chip spice, but made in Goole or somewhere, and just makes chips taste amazing.”
That’s at least one great export other than all those theatrical and musical links then.
Is Lucy, now 31, aware of a Northern-ness – for want of a better or at least a proper word – in her humour and in her act?
Can you define that?
“I don’t know, really. It goes down well in Norway too.”
Well that is the proper North, I guess.
“There are a few jokes that only go down well with a Northern audience. They’re the only ones who get it, including one I’ve got about taxi drivers being grumpy.”
It was only when I was watching a few live clips of Lucy that I realised ‘Mamma Mia’ is a phrase from Humberside rather than Italy. Not a lot of people know that. And what’s her toughest crowd been so far?
“You have a lot of tough crowds. I couldn’t pick one, but drunk crowds at Christmas are the worst. Or hen-dos and stag parties. They’re hard.”
All thinking they’re funnier than you after a few drinks?
“Yeah! Completely. And when a fight breaks out, that’s hard.”
What’s it like to have Hull-born Maureen Lipman play your Mum on the radio? Is she anything like your real mother?
“Oh no … she’s not, nothing like my Mum. I have to say that. But she’s just an incredible person is Maureen. You think you get to know her, then she surprises you.”
After all those years of proper elocution and voice coaching, did you need to give Maureen plenty of retraining to get her to remember her Humberside roots?
“No, she soon got back into it. She left when she was 18 to go to drama school, but the accent’s so infectious … it never quite leaves.”
Was she someone to look up to when you were growing up?
“Yeah, completely. She’s the one I always cited, having done a lot of drama.”
Did your time with the Hull Truck Theatre company help you on the way?
“Yeah, I’ve grown up with Hull Truck really, because my mum’s a writer, and the first professional stuff I did in theatre was with them.”
Actually, I see there’s another date in the diary for Lucy back on home ground early next year, playing Hull Truck on March 17th. So how did your Mum – Hull-based Gill Adams, a playwright whose TV writing credits include EastEnders and Doctors – get involved in the trade?
“She just had a passion for writing, really. It was meant to be.”
It turns out that there’s another Lancashire link with To Hull and Back – with Lancaster-based actor, writer and director Sue McCormick, originally from Preston, playing a part, having worked all over the country in theatre, film, TV and radio.
“Yeah, the radio show also involved Sue, who’s really well known in Lancashire and in the theatre. I worked with her at Hull Truck, so it was nice to get her involved.”
And how did you get Norman Lovett – perhaps best known as Holly from cult BBC TV space sitcom Red Dwarf – involved?
“I just asked him. I went to see him in Edinburgh a few years ago, and had tears running down my face. I thought it was the funniest thing I’d ever seen. I thought I just had to get him involved.”
Did you build the part around him?
“Yeah, he’s not an actor, but what he can do, he can do! Nobody else can … if you know what I mean. He’s a one-off.”
I’m only just catching up with To Hull and Back now. I’m well impressed though. Have you had a good reaction?
“Yeah! I’m hoping for a second series. That would be nice. You never know, but it would be lovely to write another one.”
Did you listen to a fair bit of radio comedy growing up?
“Oh, yeah. I was brought up on Steptoe and Son and Hancock’s Half Hour. All the old greats. I was obsessed with ‘70s BBC sitcoms. All my friends thought I was really weird. I watched them all, and it’s obviously stayed with me. My favourite was One Foot in the Grave. That’s the one I got most inspiration from.”
What’s it like working with Johnny Vegas (who has also guested in Lucy’s sitcom)? He’s another performer who said nice things about you.
“He’s lovely. He’s a good guy. I was too young when he was in his heyday in stand-up, before he started doing telly stuff. But from what I gather, when he was on form he was the most incredible performer. Him and Peter Kay lit up a stage. You never knew what was coming next. And he’s multi-talented is Johnny – he can act, he can write, he can direct.”
Have you ever suffered stage fright, like your radio character – hiding in a cupboard when it’s time to go on?
“Yes, basically! I used to shake like a leaf on stage. People would really worry about me.”
But there was never a moment when you couldn’t bring yourself to go on?
“No. There have been times when it’s been like an out-of-body experience though.”
Do the various awards and fellow professionals’ accolades make you more nervous, piling expectation on, or do they make you rise to the challenge?
“I dunno. I just try to knuckle down. I’m still learning, and I’m at the beginning of my career. You just like those quotes because they look good on posters! But at this stage it’s just about working with people you find funny.”
Can you see yourself doing more writing and less performing in time?
“I think so. I’d like to have a few years really honing the writing skills and trying to get a telly sitcom off the ground. But then I’m sure I’d miss doing shows. There’s nothing better than the feeling of doing a live performance. I think I’ll just alternate between the two.”
And when you get back to your South-West London base and you’re talking to Jon, can you switch off? Or is there plenty of comedy ‘shop talk’?
“Yeah, we have to stop ourselves!”
Noel Fielding recently told me about sharing a house up at Edinburgh with Lee Mack, and how difficult it was for Lee to shut off. Is that the case with you two?
“Well, Jon will be cracking jokes all the time. He doesn’t know any different and doesn’t miss a trick if you make any mistake or say anything wrong. But like Lee Mack, they’re just hilarious. You can tell they’re just as funny off the stage. I think it’s actually an infliction.”
Do you go off a in a huff then secretly write down what’s just been said?
“Well, that is a problem, because we share so much together. We have to ask, ‘Are you using that … or shall I?’”
So what can those who get along to Chorley next weekend expect from you and your fellow Funny Northern Women?
“A good night of comedy, really. It’s so rare that you see three women on a bill. Apart from charity nights, I don’t think it happens. And there’s something for everyone, you know.”
Funny Northern Women is at Chorley Little Theatre, Dole Lane, Chorley, on Friday, November 27 (8pm-10pm), with tickets (£12 or £10 for concessions) from Malcolm’s Musicland on 01257 264362.