Interview: Rarely Asked Questions – Joanna Neary

Joanna Neary

If you like your comedy off-the-beaten track you really should have come across Joanna Neary by now. She has been doing, sorry about this word, ‘quirky’ characters in shows such as Robin Ince's Book Club for at least a decade. Every now and again she pops up on TV – she is briefly in Brilliantman, Kevin Eldon’s forthcoming short film for Sky – but she is never on for long enough in my opinion. Neary is a great comic clown with naturally funny bones. She also has a terrific bluesy singing voice which is the last thing you would expect from this tiny sparrow of a performer, but that's another story. This year she is bringing her best-established character, Celia, to the Fringe. She explains the origins of the creation below in a revealing interview about her life and work. 

Joanna Neary is doing Faceful of Issues at The Assembly Rooms from Aug 5 - 30, tickets here. Picture by Steve Ullathorne.




1. What is the last thing you do before you go onstage (apart from check your flies, check for spinach between teeth and check your knickers aren't sticking out of your skirt)?

I’m doing a character so I remember the people that inspired her, to help me get under her skin and think about where she’s come from and how she feels in that moment. I’m not trained so it’s rather pathetic. I sort of loll against a wall, looking distant. This year, my character is Celia, based on Brief Encounter’s Laura and my time at the WI. I remind myself of this: Celia has arrived in Edinburgh to raise money for charity and to address modern life issues in a super fun way. It was meant to be with her husband Fred, but he’s pulled out. She’s not an obvious candidate to do a show but she will not fail, she’ll do as well as she can because she won’t be defeated. And If I get worried before going on stage, I remind myself that Earth photographed from space, is a pixel.

2. What irritates you?

Rules, peer pressure, judgemental behaviour, bullying, belittling, lack of manners. Basically, that which might stifle individuality and creativity. This culture of judging each other, it’s so negative and cowardly. Also, loud chewing on trains. And rustling crisp bags when I’m trying to read.

3. What is the most dangerous thing you have ever done? 

Pretended to be 13 (when I was 12) and putting an ad in the local free paper ‘girl looking for work’ so I could get my first job. A man called Basil collected me in his car every Saturday and took me to Bodmin Moor to gather moss for garden centre hanging baskets. I can’t quite believe I did that but I was the eldest of five and was encouraged to be independent I suppose. I was tiny. But it was really well paid, that’s why I went. He was really quite odd.

4. What is the most stupid thing you have ever done? 

Asked my then boyfriend how the moon was lit up. And given a clue for ‘The Congo’ in a game of Articulate by saying ‘Um Bongo, Um bongo, they drink it in the’. That was the sum of my knowledge about the Congo at that time. I was 25.

5. What has surprised you the most during your career in comedy?
That being creative and having fun could be a career. Or that I have a career in comedy. I honestly never planned any of it, I just kept having a go at stuff to see what would happen. But one surprising moment was being on stage saying things and getting a real sense from the audience that they’d like to say those things too, or that they were glad someone was saying that stuff and making a fool of themselves. I got cheers for being honest, I didn’t expect or plan that. The other surprise has been trying new material that I love but am very unsure about, and it working (sometimes). I thought I was the only one who’d find some of it funny, but I was flattering myself that I was that unique.

Interview continues here.

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