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I TALK TO Tiff Stevenson

"We're at this stage of feminism now where everything is feminist and I disagree with that."

Credit: Steve Ullathorne

She's perhaps best-known to TV audiences as Miche's salon boss Tanya in People Just Do Nothing or the other Tania in GameFace who bears an uncanny resemblence to her new boyfriend's ex Marcella played by Roisin Conaty.

But outside of her TV appearances, Tiff Stevenson has been performing stand up for over 13 years and this year brings her ninth solo show Mother, to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe a show which she tells me is about the extreme sport of womanhood.

We also discuss her participation in a TV talent show, her increasing influence on Twitter and the challenges she's noticed women face in the television industry.

You took part in Show Me The Funny in 2011 and had performed at the Fringe before taking part and returned after taking part. How did that show change things for you?

I'd done two Edinburgh shows by the time I did Show Me The Funny but it felt very early in the development of my career. I'd been doing stand-up for five years but it did change things.

People will always talk about breaks but I believe there's a series of breaks. I never really feel like I've broken, I never know what that feeling is. I'm always developing and learning and doing new things.

Show Me The Funny was great training in how to do a corporate gig really because we had to write specific sets tailored to a specific audience. It had it's flaws but it's a shame it didn't go again to allow other comic a chance to participate. There's room for something like it now but it would have to be done in a slightly different way.

The part it missed was not showing why the comedians were picked for the show in the first place, being funny without having to have a challenge thrown at them.

But it was great for me because it meant that I got to perform in that live show at the Apollo

You took a year out from Edinburgh. Did you miss it?

That's difficult to say. I felt like it was such a big year for women up there that it felt weird for me to not be there whilst that conversation was happening. But at the same time, I also feel like I need something to say when I do go.

I put a lot into my last Edinburgh show Bombshell and I toured it so it's probably good to take a year off and then I get excited about going back.

Although I'm now going through all the feelings I always go through before Edinburgh which is being slightly nervous, worried if anyone will come, and if they do will they even care?

Even though I've got good Edinburghs in the bag and good reviews, I still get nervous. Edinburgh for me now is about building a show that I can take on tour and for people who haven't seen me before getting to see what I'm about.

Edinburgh has become so much about the competition now which is the bit in the build up that you start thinking about - Am I entering a competition? Am I now pitting myself against all my peers because there's an award? And awards are great but they can't be the reason why you go up there.

What can people expect from your show this year?

Mother is about the extreme sport of womanhood. The poster is me being pregnant with myself. I wasn't going to touch on reproductive rights but with everything that's going on in Northern Ireland and in America it felt like I had to talk about it again.

I'm talking about homelessness a bit because I think there's this parallel between the beginnings of life - and controlling that - and then this later stage where people's concern for humans beings - where do they go?

I look a little bit at the stages of womanhood, Ben Fogle, who I did a radio show with and political as well because all my shows are. But that will be woven in within the storyline of the show.

Then there's this thing that happened in Starbucks recently which is part of the show now because there's a narrative about advice and the constant advice that women are given, which is a form of control I guess.

We're at this stage of feminism now where everything is feminist and I disagree with that. So I talk about that again, I touched upon it in my show a couple of years but I explore it more this time.

How long have you been working on the show for?

About a year. I had the idea the idea almost at the end of my last Edinburgh in 2017 but it wasn't until the last six months that I've really been building it.

Are you looking forward to performing at the Monkey Barrel?

Yeah I am. It was a conscious choice to go there because I like the way they run their venue. The staff are all paid fairly and they want to be there. And I can keep the ticket prices reasonably low which means people can afford to come and see me.

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

If I can get my show to a place where I feel happy with it within the first week then I can venture out and see my friends. There are lots of great people up there like Alfie Brown and Alice Fraser and also because I've had a year out, I really want to explore the city and enjoy it as if it was the first time I'm going there.

You've become a really influential voice on Twitter for so many people with your opinions and observations, often about injustices. How important is it for you to be like that on Twitter?

Very. I used to always just tweet jokes and I will continue to do that but half the time I just think people aren't that interested. I do like using it to talk about things that are important to me. With the Starbucks tweet, I didn't expect it to blow up in the way that I did, I just wanted to tell that story.

Then of course the first two responses were women saying "Oh my God, it happened to me. I got turned for coffee." and one person told me they were turned down for salami - and I thought that's ironic because that's what you got you pregnant in the first place!

I'm trying to make Twitter a good place and talk about things that are important me but sometimes when you stick your head above the parapet people come looking for you just to tell you that they hate you because you took a stance something.

But we're comedians! That's our job. I do believe that our job is to take a stance. Look at everything that's gone on with Jo Brand recently. We are there to be provocative, we are there to shake-up the status quo - we're disruptors and we're clowns. Not everyone has to but that's the kind of comedy that I love.

Another big Twitter moment at the start of the year was London Hughes' tweet about her travel show with Whoopi Goldberg which no one wanted. You recognised that situation yourself and listed all the travel shows fronted by men. Have you found that people are more open to women fronting travel shows now as a result? London has said her show with Whoopi might happen...

Well I'm speaking to a few people about the show I wanted to make but I don't know. Katherine Ryan did a tweet the other day with the Comedy Central trailer which was all men so I responded "Everyone knows we get our periods in June" - so when I see that I don't think things have moved forward.

BBC Two have a satirical show fronted by a puppet of Vladimir Putin but they won't have one fronted by a woman?! I've something in development with the BBC for over a year for a female-fronted satirical show and I just don't understand why we can't just make a pilot.

I think a lot of these decisions come down to safety. Broadcasters are all a bit risk-averse, they need to mix things up. They need to acknowledge that the playing field has been dominated by men for so long that they needs to be more of a balance because people will switch off.

What's your view on the reaction to Saskia Schuster's recent changes at ITV to longer allow male-only writers rooms?

It was all very odd to watch. We're not saying that men can't have anything, it's just that we want some of it because you've always had all of it for so long! Brilliant men will always get on, we'll just lose some of the mediocre ones to allow some brilliant women through.

By the time we get to that stage we have to be brilliant otherwise we wouldn't be doing it anymore. It feels like it's shifting but as quickly as I'd like it to shift. I was on Mock The Week recently with Maisie Adam so that's progress in that instead of one women they now have two.

But it's a bit much to run around and celebrate that because that's how it should have been for quite a long time.

Outside of the Fringe, what else are you working on?

I've got a new podcast with LUSH called Tiny Revolutions where I interview other comedians and find out if comedy can really affect social change. I'm shooting a pilot for a satirical show in LA. I'm in the second series of GameFace and I've got a script in development at the moment with Fulwell 73 who made the Bros documentary and do lots of scripted stuff. So we'll just wait and see what happens there!

Oh and I've also been writing on the new Armando Iannucci HBO show, Avenue 5, which has been very exciting for me because it's the first time that I've written a script not for myself. That's a huge project.

Finally, how would you sum up this year's show in just five words?

Funny funny funny funny sexy.

Tiff Stevenson: Mother runs from 31st July - 25th August at 9.15pm at Monkey Barrel Comedy (Monkey Barrel 3). Book tickets here.


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