Not many comics dare to wear their hearts on their sleeves like Sophie Willan. In her debut Edinburgh show, Sophie Willan: Novice Detective, this young comedienne recounts the amazingly true story of her quest to find her long lost father. The result is both poignant and sidesplittingly funny. Fringebiscuit caught up with the rising star to find out how she unearthed such a winning combination.
You’re telling a hard part of your own life story through comedy, which is very brave. Why did you decide to do that, and is it difficult?
Colleagues and friends told me that it was a story I must tell because it’s so unique and surreal! It wasn’t hard to make the show because I’m distanced enough from the experience. I think autobiographical work needs that emotional distance in order to be a story that is for the audience and not for the performer. In terms of deciding to do it through comedy, it wasn’t really a choice, it was a given; it’s just who I am and how I communicate. And I love making work that is comical, heartfelt and darkly optimistic.
The show relies on quite a bit of audience-participation – have you ever picked someone out and it gone horribly wrong?
I’ve toured the show to over fifty dates across the UK and I’ve found that there’s only three types of participant; the cantankerous one (trying to outsmart), the quiet but supportive one (bit shy but generally positive) and my favourite, the lovable fool (means well but gets it all wrong), and I can handle them all. One of the main themes and comedic elements of the show is failure and things going wrong – so the more chaos, the better really!
You’ve been called a ‘bright emerging star’ and ‘very talented’. How does it feel to get critical acclaim for your comedy?
A relief! I have taken quite a bold move, bringing influences of live art and theatre to a comedy show. I’m nervous about how comedy reviewers at Edinburgh Festival will respond to the show being so unique. I think some will really get it and some may not. But then the likes of Tim Key, Claudia O’Doherty, Boy With Tape, Dr Brown and so many more have pushed boundaries, taken risks and it’s paid off – so we’ll see!
If you weren’t touring the country making people laugh, what would you be doing?
Probably eating toast in my Pyjamas and watching Murder She Wrote! I don’t think there’s another job out there for someone like me. I’ve had to give up on normal jobs – I was always getting sacked or resigning – not so good with authority, you see! During my last walk-out, I ended up chucking a Satsuma at the head of a sexist manager!
With all the hundreds of shows in the Fringe guide, why is yours the one to watch?
Audience members rarely feed into shows with narratives to the extent that this show does – so anything can happen! It’s never the same show twice. I’m telling a very unique story in a completely fresh and original way that’s not only exciting audiences (we’re selling out at the fringe this year!) but has struck the interest of BBC Comedy, who have commissioned me to write a T.V sitcom pilot to star in, off the back of seeing the show.
If we wanted to do a bit of detective work ourselves, what would be your top tips?
Well you need the costume to make yourself feel detective-y and maybe even a moustache. All the best detective’s have a moustache at some point – even Jessica Fletcher had one towards the end!Sophie Willan: Novice Detective, ZOO, Aug 12-25