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I TALK TO Lily Phillips

"Doing your first hour in Edinburgh is a milestone and I really hope I move up a level."

Credit: Karla Gowlett

In 2019, born and bred Londoner Lily Phillips, was part of Pleasance Comedy Reserve which meant that she was able to share the bill at the Pleasance Dome with three other up-and-coming comedians, including Josh Jones, who I've also included in this list.

Smut promises to delve into Lily's pre-stand-up life as a dancer when she took on various 'odd' jobs in between contracts, including being a Disney princess impersonator at children's birthday parties, before she got fired for spouting too much feminist rhetoric!

She also had a brief stint as a fish-n-chip shop model, donning a mermaid suit and a pot of bubbles to sell haddock and chips to creepy men.

The show will also explore the many trials and tribulations of being a woman today, from birthing your own Mooncup to desperately hiding the fact that you poo from your boyfriend of eight years. And it was when a male audience member was asked what the word smut meant, that the show found its title after he replied "It’s just another word for slut right?".

Away from the Fringe, Lily is a regular on The Stand Up Sketch Show on ITV2.

As Lily is one of my 9 exciting newcomers to see at this year's festival, I caught up with her to discuss her route into comedy, how she feels about her debut hour, what she hopes to achieve and much more.

How did you first get into comedy and what made you want to become a stand-up?

I originally trained as a dancer and did that for six years and hated my life for most of that time. I did, not the high-end dancing, I did showgirly stuff. I performed in a lot of hotels, on a lot of Greek islands; Corfu, Crete, Faliraki, I mean, I was classy.

It was just really low-paid, hard work and I didn't get along with some of the people that I was working with. I'd always wanted to perform, but it took me a while to find out how that was going to manifest in the way that suited me best.

So then I started a show with another dancer that I trained with. We didn't know it was cabaret, but we just wanted to create something that was on our own terms and discuss the things that we'd been thinking about. So we wrote a show where we'd change the words to songs to fit what we wanted.

We sang The Look of Love but we changed it to The Look of Sex and it was all about the way guys stare at you on the tube. So that's how it started and it was very dance-based at that time because that's where we'd both come from.

There was humour in the stuff that we were talking about and we started writing our own songs with a pianist so that we could have more autonomy over what we were saying and how we were saying it. Loved that. Loved this thing that we'd tapped into about being women and being honest and picking up on our experiences in the world with men, usually.

Then she decided to start a family and step away from performing so I started doing the show on my own. And we'd had this very strict structure, it was very much a show with costume changes and a clear order that we had to follow because we had a band, we couldn't just go off and do our own thing.

So when it was just me, I found myself talking to the audience a lot in between all of the numbers and as the show went on, I was cutting numbers and ended up with much less than I'd started with because I was doing so much of the other stuff, the chatting. Then someone said to me "That bit in the middle. That's stand-up. That's what you're doing there." - and I was like "Don't be stupid! Girls don't do stand-up." It literally never crossed my mind.

Then I tried it and it was just that feeling of, oh... this is the thing. This is the thing that feels the most right for me and my personality. It was so much easier. I didn't have to do any costume changes, I didn't have to put as much make-up on, I didn't have to learn any routines. If I wanted to go a different way, I could just do that. There was so much more freedom. And more honesty. I wasn't having to fit into any type of structure or style. I was just talking and with all of that stuff gone, I felt more myself.

How long ago was all that?

So... I'm just looking at a poster of our show. That was in 2013 that we started doing the cabaret. And then I started stand-up in 2017.

Then in 2019, you were part of the Pleasance Comedy Reserve. What was that experience like?

It was great. It's an amazing opportunity and I was so lucky to be a part of it because it's a paid-for Fringe. You don't have to worry about the financial side of it at all. You're supported by the Pleasance. You get to live in this flat with the other people that are in the show. And I think that's one of the best things about it.

You're forced together. We didn't know each other before and I've made, mainly with Josh Jones, a really good friend. We bonded really quickly. Being in that intense environment for a month, your relationship escalates and even though we only knew each other for a month, it felt like we'd known each other for years and years.

Doing a show every night is a really good training experience. We changed the order, we had it on rotation, so you get to experience going first, being last and being in the middle and we didn't have an MC, so if you were first, you really had to eat shit for the other acts. That was a baptism of fire and I think I came out of it, a better comedian and with a really great friend as well.

What made you decide to do Edinburgh this year then?

I'd like to say that I was waiting until I'd honed my skills and got a really good show together, but that would be a lie. Me and Josh were definitely going to do it in 2020 because we felt that we'd learnt a lot in that year and had a clear idea of who we were and wanted to ride that wave and do our hour.

That said, I'm not saying I'm grateful that Covid happened, but I am glad that I've had the extra time. A lot of the material is the same, there are new bits that I've written since then, but it's more about really knowing who I am, what I want to say and being more settled in that. Having that time during Covid meant I had to try really different ways of being funny because we didn't have a live comedy scene.

I started my podcast and the show that I do with Esther Manito, which was another great training programme. You're learning to be funny in the live setting, in the clubs or whatever - and that's one skill - and then learning to be funny on a Zoom show or a podcast is a whole different thing. Doing all those different things cements what you do find funny and the persona that you want to put out there.

So I think that is how I've developed over this time and I think the show will be better for it. Although, people might be like "Oh my god, you've had an extra two years and it's still shit."

What can people expect when they come to watch the show? And how did you settle on Smut as the title?

It does what it says on the tin. It is called Smut, so please, if that is not your bag, do not come. And do not bring your children! I'm not saying it to be ironic and clever, it's really not for them. It is an hour of pretty rude jokes.

That said, the reason I chose Smut is that I've been referred to as smutty in the industry in the time since I started and at first, I thought that's fair enough. I'm making all these rude jokes. But then I looked it up and it actually means in the dictionary - showing sexual desire/pornographic.

And I thought that was interesting because I am talking about my vagina, but I'm not telling you I've got one labia lip longer than the other to turn you on. That isn't the intention. Just because I'm talking about that area, I think there's a misconception that because a woman's talking about that, she's obviously doing that to entice men and make herself in some way, more appealing.

I think actually, what I'm doing is the opposite. I'm trying to humanise and normalise women's bodies and say we're just as disgusting as you are. And that's OK too. We're not just this perfect sexual object. We're gross. I'm gross. Look at my gross body.

How have you found filling the Edinburgh hour?

I've actually really enjoyed it. I think at first, it was a bit of a shock. With the first hour - I'm not sure what other people are doing - it feels like we're all just gathering everything that we've written over the time since we've started comedy and try to thread it into some kind of meaning.

At first, that's a bit confronting, when you find yourself with all of these jokes that are all pretty out there, dark and rude and you're like "Fuck. I've got to put them all together." Are people just going to be too shocked and overwhelmed?

It's fine when you're doing 15 minutes or 5 minutes, to do a bit of that and they're like "Oh my god, she looked so cute, but she's talking about anal. I can't believe it." - and you can play off of that. But you don't have that luxury with an hour, because you're like "and another thing about my bumhole..." - and they're like "OK. We get you." - so there needs to be more than that.

But I've really enjoyed that and I've really enjoyed that people know what they;re coming to when they come. You've got more freedom and more intimacy with the audience to relax and really be yourself. Whereas in a club setting, you're fitting into their structure and you have to make your stuff work for that environment and play their game, basically.

They don't know who the fuck you are. They've just booked tickets. They've not booked to see you. They've just booked to see a comedy show, so it's a whole other thing. So yeah, I'm really enjoying having that space.

How have the previews been going?

They're really really helpful in that I think they teach you lots of different things. They teach you, that you can perform for five people... I mean, last night I performed to eight. Crazy! Sold out room! So that teaches you to be a better comedian. If you can deal with that kind of crowd, you can definitely deal with a full crowd.

So you're getting better as a comedian. You're getting better at your craft, but also evening out your show. I'm still messing around with the structure, even now, I've got four/five previews left and I'm still just figuring it all out.

I had a complete meltdown the other day thinking "No! It should be finished. I should just be running it at this point." - but then was like, I'm going to have to do it for a month. So I need to just use this time to still play around with it.

It's a hard learning experience. Audiences are different, all the circumstances are different and you can change the order and decide that order doesn't work. But actually, you need to try it again. It could be something about the room. It's always great to blame the audience, I think.

What are you most looking forward to about Edinburgh this year?

The end. When it's all over. That will be a great day. A great train journey. I think I'm looking forward to after the first week, feeling like I know where I am, I'm enjoying the show, I feel like it's what I wanted it to be. It might not be perfect, but it's what I wanted it to be. I'm saying what I want to say. I'm being myself. I think when I reach that stage, I'll just enjoy it.

Because then it will just be such a privilege to be able to speak to people for an hour every day about the stuff that you find funny and the stuff that you care about. I really want to get to that stage. Because at the moment I'm still in panic mode. I think one week in, my mental health will... I mean... this is bullshit, isn't it? It'll probably be the worst moment of my life! Cut to: Lily just crying in the toilet.

Who are you looking forward to seeing?

I really want to see Catherine Cohen. I didn't see it last time, but I saw her do a spot in Diane Chorley's cabaret show at The Flick - which is an amazing show, and I'm also going to go again to. Amazing. Everyone should go to that. But yeah, I saw Catherine do a little bit so I really want to try and see her full-hour show.

Josh Jones actually. I haven't seen his show yet - I've been a really bad friend, but he hasn't seen mine either, and I don't know if I'll be able to see it before Edinburgh. We're really close to each other in that he's just before me, or just after me in the Bunker, so I'm really looking forward to seeing his show.

And The Delightful Sausage. Them as well. I love seeing stuff that's different to straight stand-up as well. Especially when you're there, your headspace is delicate. There's a lot of comparison going on, which I think affects your enjoyment. And it shouldn't. I wish I was more stable. I think seeing a sketch show can be really refreshing.

What are you hoping to achieve by the end of the Fringe?

Mainly, if I'm totally honest, I just want to come out of it a better comedian. People say, once you've done your first hour at Edinburgh, you feel bulletproof when you come back. Like you can play any room. You move up a confidence level. Sometimes it's hard to quantify your progress as a comedian, when you first start, in those first few years, because it's not clear.

No one hands you a certificate to say "Well done on achieving whatever" - so that is hard to see - but doing your first hour in Edinburgh is a milestone and I really hope I move up a level.

But also, just to establish who I am and say to the industry, this is who I am as a comedian and for that to be clear. Obviously, you go to Edinburgh for opportunities, it's a platform, so I hope the opportunities - if they do come - come for the right things because I've been clear about who I am.

Who are you hoping will come and watch your show?

If I walk in and there's just a group of women in there, I'll be like "Phew! This will be great. They'll be on board." But, I don't think you should judge an audience like that, because some of the best shows I've had, there's been a real mix.

I once did a show and the average age was 70... I was opening and I looked at this show, thought I was going to die on my arse and go to hell for traumatising these poor people. But actually, I had one of the best shows ever. They were just so up for it!

You're a regular on The Stand-Up Sketch Show. Where do you see that side of your career going?

Yeah, definitely. I loved The Stand-Up Sketch Show. I loved the collaborative element of it. having to do the sketches with other comedians as opposed to just being on your own on a stage. I loved that, so I really want to do more of that sort of thing.

I've started writing sitcom scripts. My dream - which I'm sure is the same as most people, is to have a sitcom made. The Stand-Up Sketch Show really did make me realise that I do like creative teamwork.

I love doing stand-up, but there's something added in honing a script and working on it and working on it. Redrafting and redrafting to make it the best thing that you can. Which is a different process.

Obviously, you do the same with stand-up, but you do all of that in front of people and sometimes your ego just needs a little bit of a rest. So you can work on that with other people which I really enjoy.

Outside of the Fringe, what have you been working on? What's coming up?

So the scripts I've just mentioned, one of them has been optioned so I'm working with a production team to try and get that made. I'm working on an ITV pilot sitcom which wasn't my idea. I've been put on it with a guy who made a short film of this idea and now it's been commissioned for a pilot sitcom episode, with potential for a series.

So that's been taking up most of my time and I've really been enjoying the process because it's not my idea, so there's a distance from it. I've been brought in to make it funnier and bring a woman's perspective, so I can just throw all of these stupid, ridiculous, out-there ideas at it and if they like them, then great. But if they don't, that's fine too. Because it's not my baby!



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