Natalie Sweeney: 'I learned never to interrupt a pensioner from a buffet'

Natalie Sweeney: 'I learned never to interrupt a pensioner from a buffet'

The Scottish sketch performer and stand-up talks nerves and offensive comedy

A stand-up and member of The Scrubbers sketch team, Natalie Sweeney is a rising star of the Scottish comedy scene. In this Q&A, she tells us about hearing good advice from Sarah Millican and that time she met an Elvis impersonator at an octogenarian's party.

Can you tell us about the moment when you thought: 'stand-up is for me'?
What I have realised is that stand-up is like a rollercoaster: you have good gigs and bad gigs and you are always learning how to improve and get more confident. You always have to be on your toes and react to everything that happens, because no audience is the same. I knew I loved stand-up when I was on stage and got my first few big laughs from the audience. But I knew stand-up was for me after my first bad gig and knowing that I still wanted to get up there and do it again.

Do you have any pre-show rituals you can tell us about?
I try and run my set through in my head and then say the order out loud before I go on. I always get really nervous, scared that I will blank when on stage and not remember a thing. It's nice to have someone to talk to before you go on which helps take your mind off it. I just tell myself that I need to go out there and do the best I can, every time.

How do you handle hecklers?
I was always scared about hecklers until I had a few experiences. I tried to write a few lines to shut people down, but it's hard to do that because you never know who will shout and what they will say. I've had a few heckles and my genuine raw reaction has always been a success. One time someone shouted something misogynistic at me: I was so shocked I just stuck up the fingers to him (something like the peace sign, but a mirror image and rude). The whole audience laughed even though I did nothing clever. I find that the audience will help you because they want to enjoy the show as well. I learn by watching professionals do it and how comperes interact with the audience.

Where do you draw the line when it comes to 'offensive comedy'?
My material is not particularly offensive or rude; it doesn't really come naturally to me. However, I don't really have a line as long as it comes from a good place. I've taken part in several roasts which are great fun because you and another comedian can slate each other and both know that it is all good fun and nothing is meant by it! I really enjoyed that because it was so different to my regular material.

What's the one thing (good or bad) you remember about your very first stand-up gig?
My first gig was not a comedy night, it was an 80th birthday party! I was not aware of this before I turned up. I arrived and was introduced by an Elvis impersonator before the buffet. I was extremely unprepared, I had never written any stand-up before then and had only performed in sketches. I got no reaction and was heckled by one woman shouting out a 'knock knock' joke! It was bad because it was embarrassing, but it was good because it gave me a kick to know I need to work hard and keep going even when you have a bad experience. I also learned never to interrupt a pensioner from a buffet!

What's the best piece of advice you've received from another comedian so far?
Gig, gig and gig some more. The best advice I have been given is to get yourself on stage as much as you can and keep practising. It is true: there is nothing else for it but to get yourself seen by others and practise finding the best version of yourself on stage. Other than that, I found the advice Sarah Millican gives really useful about only giving yourself until 12pm the next day to over-think a bad gig or get over-excited about a good gig before putting it behind you and concentrating on the next one.

Which comedian's memoir would you recommend to someone?
I have read several memoirs: I love hearing about how comedians got to where they are today. I particularly enjoyed Tina Fey's Bossypants. She has been so successful in her career and I really admire her, so it's amazing to hear her stories of breaking into comedy and the struggles at the beginning. It inspires you to keep going. And it's hilarious.

You're curating a 'legends of comedy' line-up. Tell us the bill's top three acts.
My top three acts would be Susie McCabe, Daniel Sloss and Tina Fey. These are acts which I try and go see or watch every time I can. They are all quite different, but never fail to make me laugh.

Natalie Sweeney plays The Stand, Glasgow, Sun 1 Jul and is part of The Scrubbers sketch show at Cumbrae Comedy Festival, Fri 20 Jul.

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