Sara Pascoe could teach Ed Miliband a thing or two

Sara Pascoe

Sara Pascoe - Credit: Archant

There are few worse ways I could think of spending an evening than getting up on stage and trying to make a bunch of drunken hecklers laugh. The mixture of nerves and self-doubt would probably see me running for the nearest exit but, for Sara Pascoe, stand-up comedy is something everyone should try at least once.

While some would argue that it’s an easy view to take when you make jokes for a living, Pascoe has rarely ever seen herself as a professional comedian and she came into the game relatively late at 27. Before that, she considered herself an actress – and she also has aspirations to become a novelist and even a politician.

“It’s really important to do things that scare you,” the 33- year-old says, “and that’s why I’d recommend anyone to try comedy. There are lots of people who play football at the weekend who don’t want to be premiership footballers; it can still be a part of your life.”

Of course, like anything that requires standing on a big stage, comedy is an art, so perhaps it’s best left to the professionals. Since her first show in 2007, Pascoe has built her reputation as not just a wise-cracking stand-up, but also a brilliant character actress. She’s a familiar face after panel show appearances on QI and Mock The Week and many will also recognise her from comedy dramas like The Thick Of It and Twenty Twelve.

In August, she will head up to the Edinburgh Fringe for the fifth time to entertain audiences with her acclaimed solo show. This year, her routine will encompass a lot of discussion about “the evolution of monogamy, men and women, and how we breed”, and it is the product of meticulous reading and research.

“I’m not a comedian where anything funny necessarily happens to me in actual life. Some comedians have lives where it all just happens naturally, but I don’t get that.

“I don’t go to a supermarket and think, ‘Oh, I’ll do a routine on these self-service machines’, because I just don’t find it interesting. That’s why I have to do a bit of research and it becomes more academic.”

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King’s Cross gig

To hone her routine, Pascoe is doing the traditional preview circuits around London. On Monday, she played Crouch End’s Arthouse and, tonight, she is heading to Drink, Shop & Do in King’s Cross to showcase her talents in a character show.

Although she hails from Essex and lives in Lewisham, she finds venues in north London have a “younger and more liberal” audience. As part of the new wave of feminist artists coming up through the ranks, she enjoys challenging the more conservative and masculine attitudes that still prevail in certain corners of the sector.

“It’s really great. I think part of the reason for this new wave is that it’s still just odd how, if you turn up to a gig as a woman, you’re reminded of it every day.

“Even the other day, I played a charity gig and the woman organising it said, ‘Thanks so much for doing this. We didn’t have a woman on the bill and I just thought we had to have one on.’ I thought, ‘Even you, in a nice place, had to say, ‘You know you’re a girl, don’t you?’

But why do these attitudes prevail? “It‘s just because there are less of us that you become very conscious of it and then, because of that, it makes you slightly heightened when you read stories about women in the paper or hear about sexism somewhere else.

“The majority of audiences absolutely don’t care if you’re black, white, short or a woman, but a minority do. So it can be nice if you’re allowed to talk about it and be slightly angry.”

Misogyny aside, Pascoe has fallen for comedy and remarks how, unlike many others in the trade, she’s never had a bad experience on television. “In an ideal world,” she adds, “we’d all be Bill Hicks and never do any television and just be artists.” But appearing on QI has previously sold hundreds of tickets for her tour and she enjoys the “fast track to success” that a good television appearance can provide.

“Some people are quite selective and I don’t do any BBC Three panel shows or clip shows because I just feel you don’t really get to showcase your comedy.

“If you see someone regularly appearing on a show that’s just making fun of people on the internet, you’ll just think they’re an idiot. Sitting next to a Made in Chelsea star and some pop band you’ve never heard of – it doesn’t really make you out to be an artist. I feel like in comedy, we should be slightly outside of these things commenting; we’re not celebrities, we’re comedians.”

Writing a novel

With plans to finish her debut novel before her autumn tour and continued ambitions as an actor, it seems Pascoe could try her hand at almost any trade. Referring to her career so far as selfish – “I’m just doing the things I love” – she’d also be open to helping others one day with a political career, and reckons she’d be able to teach Ed Miliband a thing or two.

“It’s almost like you’re coming at it the other way, because politicians tend to spend their lives thinking and learning, but then when it comes to speeches they’re quite hopeless. I’d be the opposite: I’d be very good at the speeches but not really know what I’m talking about. But maybe that doesn’t matter – look at Boris Johnson and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“I was preparing for a topical show this week and reading the news and what really struck me was how Ed Miliband spends his life apologising, whereas Boris just shrugs it off.

“The one thing Ed Miliband could learn is that every time the press or 10 old ladies say they’re upset with you, just say, ‘So what! I’m thinking about other things. Of course I don’t know how much my weekly shop is – I’m not doing the Ocado deliveries because I’m trying to sort out the NHS, just leave me alone!’”

Sara Pascoe plays Drink, Shop & Do in King’s Cross tonight (June 26). Visit