Gráinne Maguire: 'I'm so shocked that I haven't fallen into a cult because I am prime material: gullible and a people pleaser'

Gráinne Maguire: 'I'm so shocked that I haven't fallen into a cult because I am prime material: gullible and a people pleaser'

credit: Idil Sukan

Irish comic delves once more into her problematic personality for a new show

Gráinne Maguire has a theory as to why the relatively modest town of Navan in Ireland is such a fertile breeding ground for great comedy, being the birthplace of Dylan Moran, Tommy Tiernan and Father Ted co-creator Arthur Mathews among others. 'As the crow flies, we're quite near Sellafield,' she suggests. 'And we've a huge mine in the town, Tara Mine, which is lead and zinc. So I think we're being slowly, mentally poisoned. Like really shit X-Men.'

Less libellously, the London-based stand-up pays tribute to her former drama teacher Richie Ball, a playwright who 'was a sort of mentor to Dylan and Tommy. He's an amazing person, always mentioning Tommy. And it feels special. Like I'm part of his gang.'

Combining forthright opinions and massive insecurity, Maguire's stand-up is characterised by her idealism, sharply informed political views and a messy, catastrophic personal life. 'I know. I'm like Mary Poppins; I just go where I'm needed,' the former primary school receptionist sighs. A staunch Labour member, her weakness for a right-wing bad boy has become a recurring trope, from last year's Edinburgh Fringe show I Forgive You: Please Like Me, right back to her earliest stand-up performances and first festival in 2007, which she kept secret from her loved ones. 'Telling your family that you want to be a stand-up comedian is like saying you want to be a supermodel: so embarrassing,' she explains. 'So I held off for as long as possible.'

Despite a well-regarded podcast, Changing Politics, which advocates practical ways to advance democracy, her Question Time and Panorama appearances, countless Radio 4 credits and her work as a tutor with aspiring comedy writers, Maguire has also dabbled with clowning: 'every comedian's midlife crisis'. Famed clown guru Philippe Gaulier hated her, she laughs. 'He wouldn't let me do any of the exercises. Anytime I opened my mouth he was like "urgghh, you want it too much; it's horrible". Just like every boyfriend I've ever had. It's not like I haven't heard it before.'

Gráinne Maguire: 'I'm so shocked that I haven't fallen into a cult because I am prime material: gullible and a people pleaser'

credit: Idil Sukan
True to form, Maguire's latest show, It's Problematic, focuses on how she 'can see what other people are doing wrong but is really about all the bits of my personality that cause problems for myself. As much as I try really hard to be the wokest, most aware and good, moral person, at the end of the day, I have these huge, gaping flaws.'

Similarly, she's drawn to politics because of the soap opera. 'The fact is that it's just human beings fucking up; these character flaws end up writing history. If Theresa May could be more relaxed and if Boris Johnson had been loved more and not sent to boarding school, Brexit wouldn't be happening. Isn't that mad?' She resists the label of political comic, insisting that she'll always aim for the laugh ahead of partisan point-scoring. Still, her proudest moment came in 2016, when she protested Ireland's abortion laws by live-tweeting her menstrual cycle to Enda Kenny, Ireland's prime minister at the time. Though Kenny never responded, the initiative attracted worldwide publicity.

'It was about using comedy to make people think about things in a different way,' she recalls. 'It was stand-up with a point and true satire. I felt really angry about the abortion laws. If I talk about politics, it has to be something I have a really personal connection with rather than just slagging off Theresa May for the sake of it.'

Alongside her stand-up, Maguire is currently developing a sitcom 'about a very woke, earnest, liberal girl who finds herself in a relationship with a horrible, right-wing man.' And there's another podcast on the way, in which she explores cults. 'I'm so shocked at this stage of my life that I haven't fallen into a cult because I am prime material: gullible and a people pleaser. It's a miracle I haven't. I was really bored one day and just started walking up and down, up and down, outside a Scientology centre. Eventually, they brought me in and gave me one of their personality tests. It was fascinating. And I had to physically force myself to walk out because they were so convincing.'

Gráinne Maguire: It's Problematic, Hug and Pint, Glasgow, Sat 16 Mar.

Grainne Maguire: It's Problematic

Funny material from the regular guest on Radio 4's The Now Show.

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