Megan Shandley: 'It gets quite a colourful reaction when you curl up on the floor and cry'
- Brian Donaldson
- 27 March 2018
Edinburgh-based comedian, writer and actress talks hecklers, nerves and offensive comedy
A finalist in the recent Funny Women Awards, Megan Shandley is a rising star of the Scottish comedy scene. In this Q&A, she tells us about the mantra she uses just before going on stage and what happened when she performed comedy at an open-mic music night.
Can you tell us about the moment when you thought: 'stand-up is for me'?
After a couple of months of doing stand-up, I had eventually written and honed a pretty good five minutes. I performed it at an open-mic night and it went really well. I remember how exciting and liberating it was that people were laughing at words I had written, at an act I had created, and the buzz off of that was pretty addictive. I'm first and foremost an actress, but comedy allows me to perform as much as I like. You're not waiting for the phone to ring. Comedy is a meritocracy and if you're making people laugh, there's a stage for you. Even if you're not making people laugh, there's an open-mic stage for you, somewhere (I wouldn't recommend these particular open-mic nights, however).
Do you have any pre-show rituals you can tell us about?
Not particularly. I get pretty nervous sometimes, so just pace around or find a quiet corner and try and get into as relaxed a state as I can. When I walk onto the stage, the nerves tend to disappear. It's the few minutes by the door waiting to go on stage when I think: "why do I do this to myself?" Then I have great gig and I'm like: "that's why."
How do you handle hecklers?
Mostly, the heckles you get aren't particularly clever, so it's not too difficult to shut them down. Most of the time the audience are on your side, because they want to listen to your jokes, not to one drunk person at the back trying to impress their friends with a heckle that is, more often than not, inaudible. When you ask the heckler to repeat what they've said, they normally don't, so they look like an idiot and you look like a legend when you've literally just said the word "pardon?" Sometimes you can use a heckle to your advantage, because if you can make a joke relating to the heckle, audiences are more impressed because it's clearly not something that could have been planned. In rare cases, you get a really clever heckle that makes everyone, including you, laugh at your own expense, and that's when you curl up on the floor and cry, which also tends to get quite a colourful reaction.
Where do you draw the line when it comes to 'offensive comedy'?
My comedy isn't particularly offensive, but then I've only been doing comedy a couple of years so I'm still finding the things I like to talk about and figuring out my stage persona. The term 'offensive comedy' is so broad: something you find offensive may be something I don't find offensive, but I do think there's absolutely a space in comedy for saying the unsayable. Just look how successful TV shows like Roast Battle are in both the US and now in the UK, where the sole purpose of the show is to rip someone to shreds. It's exciting and so compelling to watch, because people are saying things that 'shouldn't' be said. Humour has always been used as a way of dealing with difficult situations and finding the funny in something that shouldn't be funny can be such a release. If you don't laugh, you'll cry and all that … There's such a fine line, but if 'offensive' jokes are done right and not just offensive for the sake of it, I think they can be hilarious.
What's the one thing (good or bad) you remember about your very first stand-up gig?
I turned up to do my first stand-up gig at an open-mic night in London, and it turned out it wasn't for comedians, but for musicians. I'd psyched myself up all week to do it, so when I got there and realised I was the only comic, I decided to do it anyway. I forgot my words, but everyone was super supportive and were shouting words of encouragement to help me get back on track. I think most of the audience were just thrilled that they didn't have to hear someone sing 'Wonderwall' for the fourth time that night.
What's the best piece of advice you've received from another comedian so far?
One comedian who I really admire told me that right before I go on stage, I should say to myself: 'one, two, three … who gives a shit?' It makes me feel more relaxed and in turn I normally have a better gig. What's the worst that can happen?
Which comedian's memoir would you recommend to someone?
It's not so much a memoir, but the comedian Stuart Goldsmith has a podcast called 'The Comedian's Comedian' that I listen to obsessively. He's interviewed the likes of Bill Burr, Sara Pascoe and Jimmy Carr, and it's fascinating to hear about their process. I've learned so much from listening to all the different interviews and trying to incorporate tips and tricks into my own stand-up.
Megan Shandley is at Basement Theatre, Edinburgh, Fri 20 & Sat 21 Apr; Junkyard Jokers, Hamilton, Thu 3 May; Craigpark Masters, Glasgow, Sat 5 May; The Stand, Edinburgh Thu 10–Sat 12 May.