Interview by Chris Bowman, edited by Chris Berube.
Nat Luurtsema is a busy stand up comedian with a penchant for extra curricular activities. Well, activity. Writing. She’s written a book Cuckoo In The Nest in which she recounts a time not that long ago when, at the age of 28 she had to move back in with her parents. There area lot of deep breaths involved with your parents hanging over your shoulder while you make tea, or banning microwave use because you set a bowl of Weetabix alight. She loves her parents but as you can imagine, there was a period of adjustment.
She’s just written a feature length screenplay called Lex Has Body Issues and an award winning short called Island Queen (in which she also starred). The film, directed by Ben Mallaby, is about a woman named Mim who has never left the island she calls home. She decides to do something drastic. She gets pregnant. What follows is funny, horrifying and sweet. Luurtsema claims she’s unaware of the workload until she stops to think about it. Which is understandable because she doesn’t seem to have enough time to stop.
International Waters: Your book Cuckoo In The Nest is about having to move back home. When did you realize that was the only option?
Nat Luurtsema: It was about 11 days before we had to vacate our flat, and I had spent 6 weeks saying “in a film everything happens at the last minute, so it’ll be fine”. It was a flawed plan and when we hit 7 days before homelessness my boyfriend and I both agreed we’d have to go back home to our parents and try to find a flat from there. Given we’d struggled to find anywhere while we were in London I couldn’t see how relocating to Watford and Bath was going to improve our chances.
IW: Being a funny person did you see the potential for humour in the situation right away?
NL: It did seem ridiculous and I found the whole situation funny at first. Then after a month reality started to bite, I was a nocturnal person living with two people who got up at 7am and I was lonely and bored and couldn’t see the situation improving any time soon. So I started blogging to smear my misery all over the internet.
IW: The sweet, affordable therapy that is blogging! Often our parents will treat us like the children we once were (and admittedly sometimes can still be). How did you get past that?
NL: I didn’t! I just struggled against it for 6 months in an ultimately futile protest. That’s why I took to blogging, because it’s the only place I could ever get the last word. That’s why I write. It’s the only aspect of my life over which I can exercise any sliver of control.
IW: You wrote the screenplay for Island Queen. The story does really well to strike a balance between funny and touching. How did you come up with the idea?
NL: Thank you! That’s so kind of you – Island Queen was the first short I’ve ever written and it taught me so much. I’ve just completed my first feature-length screenplay – it’s a comedy thriller called “Lex Has Body Issues” and I can’t wait to get it filmed. The story of Island Queen is really grotty and based on a story I read that said some very under-populated places in Iceland were having to temporarily shut their sperm banks… and I will say so more as I realize anything I say next is a big fat spoiler.
IW: You’ve written for the stage, a book, and now both short and feature length films. How difficult is it to switch from one style of writing to the other?
NL: I love it, it’s like a holiday from stand-up, where you have to present your whole self to an audience and hope they like you. That’s my biggest problem, I’m not an easily-likeable comic, so I love film and books because it’s just my writing I’m presenting to people and I feel safe to be bolder and nastier with my comedy.
IW: “Not an easily-likeable”? Why do you say that? Any stand-up stories?
NL: I was a very awkward, shy act when I started, and I think this was me at my funniest. Then I did 3 years of gigging around the country and trying to be one of those charming friendly acts (the bastards) and now I’ve realized I’m funnier just being uncharming me ;> As I say in my act, other comics can hop on stage and remark on how they look like a particular celebrity, I don’t. I look like your ex’s mate from work that you never warmed to. The laugh this gets makes me happy and sad.
IW: How would you describe your style of comedy?
NL: Argh. Gah. The hardest of all questions! I don’t know, I’ve never pinned it down – Really, I’ve written about 10 words here and deleted them – it just changes depending on what mood I’m in – the jokes are the same but I can be sweet or scathing or filthy or prim. Now that reads like a ‘business card’ in a Soho phone box! I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be difficult but I lack any objectivity and no one has ever kindly summed me up. That’s what I want for Christmas.
IW: Is stand-up something you still enjoy then?
NL: I love stand-up, it’s the ‘Thing’ I always dreamed of doing and it’s my main job. But it’s funny how I get opportunities to do other things thanks to people liking my stand-up – things like writing, acting, voiceovers, and they are so much easier than stand-up. They’re not easy, they’re different challenges but stand-up is insane, it’s like a constant fight with a prickly hedge. You’re endlessly pulling your own personality apart to find and dissect your funniest bits, always working on new bits, and even the bits that always work can stop working without any warning and then you have to try to discover why. So “enjoy” is probably not quite the right word! But I’d be lost without it. Though if a boyfriend ever treated me this badly my mum would stage an intervention and an assassination.
IW: Loving something that doesn’t love you back and pulling your personality apart sounds terrifying. It also sounds like something more people should do from time to time.
NL: Yes, it’s like an emotional workout – it breaks your muscles to have them grow back stronger. Or leave you emotionally broken. I find I can enjoy it more when I have other things on which to prop my flimsy shriveled self-esteem. That’s where Jigsaw and my book and my films come in handy and make my stand-up much better. It’s like having a career harem.
IW: Chris Hardwick (@nerdist) has something he calls his confidence theory. Basically, he says that confidence comes from having options. In a strange way having a few projects on the go takes the pressure off.
NL: I agree completely! I get all my confidence from knowing when I step on stage that this gig cannot make or break me. I suppose I do a lot of things, it never seems so until I summarise it – but I write in a very focused, rapid way, my feature film reached a third draft within a fortnight, and I wrote a 70,000 word book in 5 months. If I enjoy writing something it comes together very quickly, which makes me want to abandon anything that happens more slowly, but I have to be disciplined as stand-up is so much slower to create, much more trial and error and fiddling with every single word. I also don’t sleep very much, that might be the key to it. 1-4am are the most productive hours for me, then I sleep until 8am and that’s enough for me.
IW: Those are some magical hours, the epiphany hours. What piece of advice have you been given that’s stuck?
NL: I think the most useful philosophy I’ve ever heard came from Sarah Millican, who said (and I’m sorry Sarah, I couldn’t find the exact quote!) that you have 12 hours after a bad gig to brood about it, and then stop. And the same goes for gloating over a good gig. This is very useful if you often have to travel miles back from your gigs, you can do all your sulking/gloating in the privacy of your own car and emerge into decent society as a non-self-obsessed dickweed.