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I TALK TO Rosie Holt

"There are some people who really hate me on Twitter because they say you shouldn't joke about anything serious. Those people shouldn't come to my show."

Credit: Karla Gowlett

I first saw Rosie perform as a finalist in Leicester Square Theatre's New Comedian of the Year in 2017.

If you've been anywhere near the internet since 2020, or even just in the past week, chances are you too will recognise Rosie Holt from her many guises as those all too familiar parliamentary figures sent onto television shows to defend the government. Figures she satirises accurately, hilariously and with impressive speed.

Get ready to meet those characters on stage in the Pleasance Attic in The Woman's Hour including a right-wing ‘opinionist’ distorting the news, an MP desperately defending a failing government and a left-winger wanting to say the right thing but scared of getting it wrong.

But what will happen when these characters, and more, come together after their creator accidentally becomes the news? And can they speak their truth, whatever the facts?

As Rosie is one of my 9 exciting newcomers to see at this year's festival, I caught up with her to discuss what to expect from her debut hour, who should come to her show and why she believes in satire.

What made you decide to do Edinburgh this year then?

This is my first debut hour, I've been up doing stand-up before, but it's always been 45 minutes or half an hour. Obviously, I've had a lot of momentum with my online work recently so I very much wanted to bring those characters to the stage.

It just seemed like a really good opportunity to look at the political discourse through different characters. Really, it's the timing of everything falling together.

Are you surprised by how quickly your videos on social media caught fire and how did the idea for them first come about?

It wasn't pre-planned, really. Before the pandemic, I was due to go on a six-month tour with a show called The Crown Dual which I did at the last proper Edinburgh. It was me and another actor playing all the roles in this parody of Netflix's The Crown. It was all very silly and very fun. Then the pandemic happened and I was at home - in fact, I'd gone back to my parents and like everyone, was rattling around a bit bored and reading the news and Twitter all the time.

It was during the Black Lives Matter protests that Sadiq Khan posted that they were taking down the statue of Robert Milligan because of his links to the slave trade. There was this tirade of really angry people saying "How dare you destroy democracy?" and I just found the reaction so funny.

So then I thought, I'll just post a video logically following through what they're all saying. I had this character saying this was "erasing democracy", "just like Stalin did, who incidentally I have a statue of in my garden" - and then it very quickly racked up a load of views. Mostly from people who thought it was real.

How do you feel when people do think it's real and not a sketch?

With that first video, a lot of people were commenting saying "How dare you have a statue of Stalin in your garden?" Sometimes, I find it quite funny. But sometimes I find it infuriating because I've also had people go "you shouldn't be tricking us". Some of the comments my characters say are pretty outrageous. I'm not trying to trick people.

Another thing I get labelled at me, is "Oh, what if people see this, agree with it and you encourage people to think these types of things?"

One of the things I'm trying to do is not parrot awful opinions but hopefully, expose how ridiculous they are in what I say. So even if someone believes it, I hope they also think that she's incredibly stupid.

Did you then feel pressure to keep up the momentum?

I did to begin with. When it first started going crazy, I was aware that this was a really good opportunity and I definitely felt the pressure every week to think about what I was going to do. Actually, I think when I first started, I was trying to do two videos a week! Now I'm a bit more relaxed.

I remember going on a rare family holiday in that small window where we were allowed to during the pandemic and being really worried that I was going to go away for a week and lose all the goodwill that I'd built. Luckily, I didn't.

How did you settle on The Woman's Hour as the title?

Few reasons, really. Because the show is all about the current political discourse, I wanted to very much base that around the women in political discourse, because I feel that's not done enough. I do have a character who's a parody of a famous male, but I've deliberately made it female, so I'm very much looking at it through a female lens.

Also, I liked the play on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour.

What can people expect when they come to watch the show?

Because it's the stage, it's a lot more physical. I don't know if you know Elf Lyons who's a very funny clown performer, she's a friend of mine and initially was helping me direct. She's great at making it work for a stage.

I've got my MP character and my awful shock-jock Harriet Langley-Swindon, but I've got various other characters too. So it's got lots of different characters because I wanted to look at all the different voices that make up the political discourse.

So not just the politicians and the shock-jocks, but also various TV presenters who suddenly have their opinions elevated. Or YouTubers who spout all sorts of conspiracy theories and have millions of followers. I wanted to look at all those voices and do it in a funny way.

How have you found filling the Edinburgh hour?

I've done a few previews now and before the first preview, I was really really scared in case no one found any of it funny and it just doesn't translate. But after the first preview, I was like "OK, this is good. People like this. They're laughing."

And then it's quite exciting, because then it's what you cut, rather than what you put in. I've got all these ideas so it's just about prioritising the right thing.

How have the previews been going?

I think with comedy, they're invaluable because you can't really tell whether things work until you've put them out in front of an audience. Even the most generous audiences and even if there's a lot of goodwill in the room, if something's not funny, they won't laugh.

And I'm lucky enough, that most of my previews I've had that [generous audiences] because people have seen me online. When I used to do stand-up, you'd have to try and win them over first.

At the moment, things are changing all the time. I did have one preview where - and I've got a projector, audio cues etc. - and everything kept breaking down. Luckily, the audience were really enjoying it so they kind of got into the spirit of it, so it was still really fun.

When you're doing your own work, it's a lot more pressure, because you're kind of in charge of everything so if something doesn't work, you've only got yourself to blame.

How are you feeling about performing the show night after night, in the same venue, for the duration of the Fringe?

The nice thing about comedy - and I found this about The Crown Dual - is that it still changes, even if you've got the same lines, it's always slightly different.

If you're in sync with the audience and react to the things they react to - for example, some audiences are more sensitive than others. I did one preview where they were really slightly offended by everything I said - they were laughing, but also gasping - so that changes the room. You address that.

Who are you hoping will come and watch your show?

I think anyone who is interested in looking at politics in a silly way and laughing at things that are quite serious. There are some people who really hate me on Twitter because they say you shouldn't joke about anything serious. Those people shouldn't come to my show.

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

I love the Edinburgh Festival. I've loved the Edinburgh Festival for years. I'm really excited about performing in the Pleasance Courtyard, I've always wanted to be there. I'm just really looking forward to being on stage again.

I trained as an actor and then I did about 4 years doing stand-up where I'd get to the finals of all the stand-up competitions and then lost the love for it. But since lockdown, it's been nice, I'd forgotten how much I loved being on stage.

Obviously, it's a very different thing to doing online content, but one of the ways it's different is you're able to feed off the audience. It's a two-way thing in a way performing online isn't. Which I love. I'm really looking forward to performing every day.

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

I just want to create a very brilliant show that I'm proud of, which I hope has a life beyond the Fringe. I've got such a good opportunity here. A few years ago I'd kill for exposure like this.

Who are you looking forward to seeing?

There are some really exciting comedy acts that I can't wait to see. I'm looking forward to seeing Elf Lyons - obviously, I've been working with her so I've been talking to her about it. She's doing this amazing show called Raven, which is Edgar Allan Poe-ish. I love stuff like that.

I'm also looking forward to people like Joz Norris - he's a very funny clown act - Richard Todd, a great stand-up. I love Tim Key and I know he's up there with his new show.

How are you feeling?

I'm feeling really excited. I feel like I've still got quite a lot to do and every now and then I have a freakout where I go "Oh god! What if this is awful?!" and then you imagine awful headlines. But on the whole, I think the reactions I've been getting at my previews have been really good and from people I trust, as well.

So I feel like I've hopefully got something that will be interesting and ambitious.

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

I've launched a podcast recently which is still really new. It's an improvised podcast and it's with one of my character Harriet Langley-Swindon who's a TalkRadio type sock-jock and it's really fun because we get lots of great comedy performers phoning in, like Luke Kempner playing Boris Johnson and Sooz Kempner playing Nadine Dorries.

Also, every week we interview someone serious, who plays it straight. So we had Dom Joly and James O'Brien and we've got Owen Jones coming up. It's really fun. That's still quite early days, so that's fairly time consuming.

I'm also in... you know what it's like, lots of vague talks with TV things which may go absolutely nowhere, but if they do go somewhere, would be really exciting.

Where do you see that side of your career going?

I really love TV comedy and I feel there's a bit of a space at the moment for satire on TV. There doesn't seem to be much. Think of all the wonderful shows like The Thick of It. I know Armando Iannucci said something like, you couldn't do The Thick of It now because the government are so beyond parody, but I don't agree with that.

Obiviously, I don't agree with that because all I do is satirise the government. There are definitely some characters who are really hard to touch. Like Nadine Dorries. She's so ridiculous. She's so incompetent that there's not much you can do there in the way of satire.

But where I think there is lots of room to satire, are these MPs who are desperately loyal and will go out and defend Boris Johnson on anything, because they've clearly been told that's the line they have to parrot today. I find them fascinating. Obviously, that's where my MP character comes from. And I'm not even sure they believe any of what they're saying. They're not some true believers like Nadine or Priti Patel. It's like ab improv exercise where someone's gone "Quick! 2 minutes."



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