Classic Interview: Alice Lowe

I've been a big fan of Alice Lowe since I first saw her at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in various Garth Marenghi shows at the turn of the century. In fact when historians talk about female winners of the Edinburgh Comedy Award they often overlook Lowe, who appeared in Marenghi's Perrier-winning show in 2001. Lowe went on to star in Marenghi's Darkplace on C4 and more recently made a bloody splash in the cinema in Sightseers. Her latest film, Prevenge, which she wrote, directed and stars in, is about to be released. This interview with Lowe first appeared in The Times in 2009, when she had just made a BBC3 one-off entitled LifeSpam and was about to break big with Sightseers...

 

You may not know Alice Lowe's name, but if you don't know the face you've clearly not been paying attention to quality comedy recently. Lowe's CV includes such blue-chip humour as Hot Fuzz, The IT Crowd, Little Britain, The Mighty Boosh and Black Books.

Small parts, perhaps, but proof that Lowe has been making her mark. And now she has written LifeSpam to make an even bigger one. Yet this spot-on shock-docs send-up (including My Child Is French and The Man with a Thousand Wives) barely features the petite performer. “I'm too perverse to do The Alice Lowe Show and I'm not that bothered about my name being emblazoned,” she says over tea in Soho, cutting a dash in mini-skirt and four-inch heels that suggest she is not completely averse to attention-grabbing.

The 31-year-old Midlander is a gifted character comedian. She can do young (bored gum-chewing a speciality) and old - and in LifeSpam impresses as The Woman Who Lived in Hair. She is clearly destined to be famous, but is doing everything to avoid being dubbed the new Catherine Tate. Hence her limited profile in her own vehicle.

It transpires that Lowe's vocation is a bit of an accident. The daughter of teachers, she followed her sister from comprehensive school to Cambridge but avoided Footlights: “I thought it was incredibly unfashionable and uncool. I had no interest in Stephen Fry and Emma Thompson and thought it was lots of people singing while wearing straw boaters.”

Instead she specialised in “performance art weird stuff”, hooking up with the experimental director Paul King. Cut to post-graduation London and King was working with two Footlights alumni, Matt Holness and Richard Ayoade, who wanted a woman for their Edinburgh show. Lowe was cast and a year later, in 2001, was part of the Garth Marenghi team that won a Perrier Award. A comedy career was born.

Except that it wasn't the one Lowe wanted. “My agent was keen to lever me into every sitcom going, hoping I'd be something like Billie Piper. But I didn't want to be just a blonde twentysomething.”

Instead she steered clear of the mainstream. Between roles in cult programmes - including Darkplace, Garth Marenghi's C4 incarnation - she made short films which have become YouTube hits. In Stiffy, she played a corpse serenaded by a hospital orderly. For Sticks and Balls she created a sultry electropop starlet, Kitty Litta, who cavorted on golf greens in gold lamé and stilettos. “I was at a wedding and the father of the bride, who was about 60 said, ‘I like your golf film'.”

Another short, The Sightseers, was rejected by telly as too dark. Then Edgar Wright of Shaun of the Dead saw it, loved it and is now executive-producing a film version.

LifeSpam came about when Lowe noticed the shock-doc boom. “There was one about short-term memory loss that was tragic and funny in a Samuel Beckett way.” She knew she was on to something when life imitated her art. “I was writing a sketch about people in love with their VHS recorders and then heard about a documentary about women in love with buildings.”

She is happy to have what is virtually a cameo role. “I enjoy being onscreen, but I'm scared of pigeonholing myself. I'd rather live a lot of different lives.”

Lowe relished the control, having previously worked on projects on which sexism was alive and kicking. “The idea of a female auteur is hard for some crews. If a man has ideas he's a comic genius; if a woman does you are being hysterical, difficult and a diva. It can drive you insane.”

If there is one thing that makes her as tetchy, it is comparisons with Catherine Tate. Which is fair, as she has more in common with Julia Davis, who shares her dark sensibility, understated style and blonde hair.

She puts her oblique humour down to her childhood in the small “claustrophobic” town of Kenilworth, Warwickshire: “I think lots of comedians come from boring regions where they develop their own imaginations.” Her mother was another influence. “She has a dark sensibility. She liked Twin Peaks and Dennis Potter, so I grew up watching weird s***.

“On Darkplace they were really surprised I knew about obscure Stephen King films. They had never met such a nerdy girl.”

Prevenge is released on February 10.

Read a review of Prevenge here.

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