This interview was conducted and submitted by our friend in London, Mr. Chris Bowman.
This month’s “International Waters” team for the UK features two great comedians. Maeve Higgins is an Irish comedian temporarily living in London. She was the creator of the show Fancy Vittles in which she costarred with her sister Lilly; and she’s recently become a popular author after releasing her book of essays called, “We Have A Good Time…Don’t We?”. Most exciting: she will be making a special US appearance this Spring at MaxFunCon2013! Our second comedian, Howard Read sports a ridiculously long list of credentials. He’s an award winning stand-up, a singer/songwriter, an animator, and a father of two. He’s the creator of Little Howard’s Big Questions and this very funny children’s lullaby. Maeve and Howard spent a little time with us before the match to answer some questions. Even though it wasn’t really a warm up, they nailed it. They got all the answers right.
International Waters: I think the obvious question is: Where do you find the time to be a comedian, a songwriter, an animator…
Maeve Higgins: …Meditate…
IW: (laughs)…Yeah! And all the other stuff that doesn’t involve creativity?
Howard Read: Well I, I don’t really! (Laughs) I’ve go no time for anything. The animation takes up the longest really. Yeah, I just don’t do anything else.
IW: Well, I guess you have to focus your attention on one thing at a time.
HR: Yeah, at the moment I’m writing a new animated standup show where I’m performing as various animated characters live. So I’m voicing them live — and animating them live. Once you’ve done the set up work for rigging all that — then that is reasonably easy. You just have to write the jokes and try them out like a normal standup (laughs). But yeah, it takes up lots of time.
IW: You were saying earlier that you write songs while you drive. So you really do maximize your time.
HW: I find different parts of my brain work well when I’m doing different activities. Very rarely when I’m sitting in front of the computer do I actually come up with the best ideas. It’s usually when I’m going for a walk or riding a bike. Well, I haven’t got a bike…(laughs)…I need to get a bike.
IW: Extreme sports of various kinds.
HR: Yeah, yeah. Then I’ll be able to do other things.
IW: What gave you the idea to work an animated character into your act?
HR: It was the opposite, really, of my problem at the moment. I was a stand-up and never really sat down to write jokes. I wrote jokes on the way to gigs and on stage. I just had a lot of time on my hands and becoming an animator is a way of solving that problem. Now I don’t have any time. I’ve also got two kids as well. So I try and spend time with them while doing my various things in the attic.
IW: After the success of the 2002 Fringe, Little Howard became a mainstay in your act and eventually became a live family show. How did that come about?
HR: The 2002 show went down really well, we got great reviews. The 2003 show got nominated for the Perrier Award. We went to Melbourne, New York and Aspen as an adult show, but people were constantly trying to bring their kids. And when we took it on tour to people outside of Fringe-y sort of festivals – they had never heard of us – so they brought their kids. And it really wasn’t a kids show. It wasn’t filthy, but there were some rude bits in it – which ruined it for everyone if there was a kid in the audience. They just go, “I’m not going to see swearing in front of a child.” So I thought: why don’t I try and do a kids show? I literally changed three or four things. It turns out I’m not a particularly grown up act anyway (Laughs). Then we got commissioned to do a kids show and we toured the show. It was only very recently that I thought I miss doing grown up stuff as well. The only thing with the kids show is that it’s slightly too grown up — so often the adults will leave having enjoyed it more than the kids. So I’m doing a new show for a standup audience. Hopefully that will exercise my demons so my family show can become more kid friendly.
IW: There is always a theme to each episode Little Howard’s Big Questions. Luck, love, alien abduction. But the episode dealing with death is probably the heaviest…
HR …Yeah, but the funniest. The more meaty the topic, the more fun you can have with it. You’ve got to be very careful, they’ve got lots of checks and balances. If you do anything remotely controversial, they’ve got to run it all the way up to the bosses. That one was one of my favorite episodes. We got an amazing cast for it. We got Tim Brooke-Taylor from The Goodies; Barney Harwood who’s big news in kid’s tellie; and Marek Larwood from We Are Klang – he’s brilliant. It was nice to have the challenge to write something genuinely useful that kids could take away about death. It was about a gold fish dying so it was death lite (laughs)…
IW: But the loss of a pet is usually a child’s first experience with death.
HR: Even if it is just describing a funeral – or the process of what happens when someone dies – that is a useful thing for a kid to know. Something like that can be useful, when something horrible happens.
IW: (It is here that I attempt the tongue twister of a name that is Little Howard’s deceased pet goldfish)
HR: El Pippi Ninio Gonzalez III.
IW: That’s a great name for a goldfish.
MH: On that note!
IW: Yes, over to you Maeve! How did you manage to stumble in to comedy, as you say?
MH: I did it pretty conventionally. There was a radio competition at home in Ireland that I entered and you had to leave your stand-up on the phone. Which is such a bad idea. Obviously it’s just into silence. And I had never been on stage before.
IW: You just left your routine on an answering machine?
MH: (Laughs) I rang this number and left about three minutes on the phone — was just like, “Ok, bye!”
IW: Just leave the beats for laughter.
MH: Yeah, let them put it in. And then I did open spots. I think that’s how most people get in to it. Go in and do five minutes, and if it goes OK, go back and do seven. Like that.
IW: You talked about making the transition from comedian to writer and how difficult that was for you.
MH: I was just listening to Howard talking how he would really write stuff down – it would just be in the car or whatever – I was exactly the same. I’d have an idea and work it out on stage. So then when it came to writing essays, it was so hard for me to sit down. I think comedians are…I don’t know if this is fair, but… Ok, I am lazy and I procrastinate a lot. It’s just when I am forced by people — literally strangers staring at me — that I have to come up with something. So it was really hard to discipline myself to sit down, or get up in the morning even, because we work at night. I prefer writing now to stand up. I find it really satisfying. But I think once you’re a stand up, you probably always are. I miss getting that reaction. When you’re in your room writing, it’s just you. I miss the audience, so I still gig, but I prefer writing.
IW: I was going to ask how you find sitting down to write now that you have a book out. But you say you prefer it.
MH: Well, I do prefer it, but I think it’s so hard. Writing is the hardest thing, you know? I don’t even mean good writing! (Laughs) Actually writing.
IW: You say you’re lazy, but a lot of interviews I’ve read with authors are similar in that they’ll do everything but sit down to write. They usually have the cleanest apartments. I don’t know if that’s true, but…
MH: I read about Roald Dahl — that he’d tie himself to the chair in the morning… So if he did that, like I mean, what should the rest of us do?
IW: Has writing essays changed how you approach comedy?
MH: I think it’s made me a little bit better. I think I’m a bit more together on stage. My ideas are a bit clearer in my own head. I think eventually you have to write stuff down. You can’t just keep going the way I was going — which was to have a word in your mind and then go out and bore these people for ten minutes before you get to something good (Laughs). You can’t keep that up forever.
IW: Had you been writing essays already when you got the book deal? Or was it the other way around? What happened first?
MH: I did ten thousand words and sent that around to publishers, so I had a little bit of experience; but my book was seventy thousand words long – so I wasn’t super used to it. If I had been, I wouldn’t have been brave enough to do a book. But I was just like, “I can do it, that’s fine!” because I didn’t understand how much work it was going to be. I figured it out as I was going. I’m happy with the book, but I think I’m a better writer now. I wrote the book last year
IW: When was the last time you looked at your Wikipedia page?
MH: Oh, I Googled myself recently. Did I look at my Wikipedia page? I think I just Google image searched myself.
IW: OK. Because at the very top it says, “This page has issues”. I thought that was funny and that you should have a look.
MH: (Laughs) Oh God, no I think it’s better not to address these things.