Interview: Rarely Asked Questions – Abi Roberts

In February Abi Roberts gigged at the Moscow Comedy Club. Eddie Izzard and Dylan Moran have appeared in the Russian capital, but Roberts claims to be the first English-speaking comic to gig there in Russian. Her show Anglichanka (‘Englishwoman’) is the story of her adventures in the capital during the 1990s, her love affair with the country and her overwhelming desire for Smetana and Tvorog (cottage cheese and creme fraiche). Roberts, who studied Russian at uni, become an opera singer at the Moscow Conservatoire, a member of the Russian Orthodox Church and an expert on how matches and sawdust are vital to the country's plumbing when it is minus 17 degrees outside. She is now warming up for her run at the Edinburgh Fringe. Dates here. Go see her, but first read this interview, in which Roberts reveals how she once made Jeremy Clarkson's nuts hurt. 
1. What is the last thing you do before you go onstage (apart from check your flies and/or check your knickers aren't sticking out of your skirt and check for spinach between teeth)?
My comedy “uniform” is usually a rock and roll t-shirt (Blondie, Kiss, Hendrix etc) and black trousers. My act is often very physical, so I stretch out a bit to make sure nothing “rips”. I then check my t-shirt for condiment spillages – I once realized mid-set that Jim Morrison had tomato ketchup down his face. I then check my knickers aren’t outside my trousers; I do a big smile to loosen my jaw, check my vibrating watch for set timings then I literally launch myself onstage.  

2. What irritates you?

Not much actually.  I’m pretty easy-going. If I was pushed I’d say, I get mildly annoyed by bad American accents in Radio 4 plays, of which there are plenty; children on scooters and even more so, adults on scooters and it REALLY irks me when people wear their learning on their sleeve. If you are in your late 30s, no-one gives a shit about whether you got a double first in Sanskrit and Medieval Pottery....except you. 

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

I am about to go and do comedy in Moscow. In Russian.  That will be the most dangerous thing I have ever done and the bravest probably.  I do love a comedic challenge. 

After I left University, I got a job in the toy department at Harrods demonstrating a new toy called Kickball – a football on the end of a bit of elastic. I was demonstrating this and rather foolishly kicked it too hard. I heard a yelp and saw a man with dark curly hair, wearing a corduroy jacket and jeans writhing on the floor, with all the staff around him going “Oh my God, Mr Clarkson...are you OK”? I’d got Jeremy Clarkson in the nuts. That could have ended my career then and there, or he could have punched me. I only got the sack. Phew. 

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

Oh many things.  My first marriage was to an actor who was a total twat. That was possibly THE stupidest thing I’ve ever done. 

The other candidate for the stupidest thing is possibly, to keep the “mystery of woman” around a new boyfriend, I once put a Waitrose bag full of poo in my handbag and then had to retrieve said handbag from a Lost Property Office after I left it on the train.  Women go to extraordinary lengths to conceal that we are in fact, human.  Since then I have abandoned any pretense at being a lady.  I may not be a lady, but I’m all woman...Monday to Friday anyway. 

5. What has surprised you the most during your career in comedy?

How fond we are in the UK of putting labels on comedians - we have to fit into a box for some inexplicable reason.  Also, very surprisingly to me, how funny you are is not necessarily an indicator of how quick your success will be or how quickly you will rise up the comedy ladder.

The biggest surprise is how many sachets of sugar, salt, ketchup, mayo and brown sauce you can fit in your car’s glove compartment when you’re a touring comedian.  I’ve got hundreds of the bastards.  And loads of those wooden stick things for stirring coffee.  

Interview continues here.


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