‘We like to amuse ourselves’ – Pomme is French for Apple

Original, daring, and outrageously funny is how we’re describing Pomme is French for Apple. The sketch comedy show from Canadian actor/writer duo Liza Paul and Bahia Watson, is like nothing we’ve seen at this year’s fringe – a unique blend of clever slapstick and witty writing, discussing intimate details of womanhood from a West Indian perspective. Fringebiscuit caught up with the talented pair, and their producer, Kelly Read, to discover how they go about writing comedy that’s both funny and relevant. 
How did you two meet?

Bahia: We met at a storytelling residency where we were both beginning to write our own material. We both liked each other’s work and decided to collaborate, writing stuff around womanhood and things we thought were funny. It was meet and write, meet and write and see what comes of it. Then we got a space in a building to do a workshop presentation and the audience loved it, which was great, because we were laughing to ourselves before, but there was always [the question], Is this funny? Or is it just bizarre? 

What drew you to each other’s work? Was it that you were both exploring similar themes around womanhood and feminism?

Liza: There was a definite Caribbean influence to both of our stuff. That definitely was something that appealed to me in Bahia’s work. I don’t know if I would say my work always deals with women’s [themes], it’s still relatively new, but it’s something that interests me.

Bahia: It’s not only womanhood [that interests me], but it does tend to come up, being a woman. I think we liked each other’s humor and point of view, and we thought, let’s try a t’ing and see what happens.

How did your producer, Kelly, become involved?

Kelly: I worked with both Liza and Bahia in the past at a company in Toronto. I’m doing a producing internship there, and someone said, in order to get a crash course in producing, you should go to the Fringe. So it was kind of serendipitous – they were going, I wanted to go, so we hooked up and here we are.

Did you always know that this would be a sketch comedy show? How did you decide on that format?

Bahia: In our storytelling residency, we were all beginning to write, and our mentor was very freeform. She [would say], “You all have stories within you, don’t think it has to fit a Western model of a play.” So, we started writing, and we didn’t even call them sketches… And at some point she said, “Look – you have a show!” and also, “We’re taking it to a festival this weekend!” And we’re like-

Liza: Wait a second- Taking what?

Bahia: And she’d say, “That thing you wrote, and the other one, you just put them together and it’s a play…” It made us feel very free, to do that.

Liza: It was very liberating. We weren’t worried about [including] a traditional arc, worrying about what was the beginning, middle and end.

So, what was the process of developing this show?

Bahia: We were encouraged to read raw material and develop it with an audience, as opposed to in a quiet room. We had a lot of readings and talkbacks.

Liza: One of those talkbacks was actually where the idea to become the “pums” came from. Originally [the sketch] was written from two different women’s perspectives, and an audience member asked, “Have you ever thought of the perspective of the pum?”

What are your main influences?

Bahia: It changes. For this [show], a lot of it is real life. When our friends are all together, drinking and talking- “This is what this guy said to me…”

Liza: “We were at the beach, this is what happened…”

It’s very easy for a show like this – where you impersonate vaginas- to become overly abstract and distant. How do you keep it relatable?

Liza: To be honest, I don’t think I ever really considered that it could be abstract. It seemed straightforward, like, Pums, okay. What does this one look like? What does that one sound like?

Bahia: We have a really playful approach to making theatre. We like to amuse ourselves. Our best stuff comes when we’re happy and drinking rum punch and laughing. We don’t reflect on our work as some important art piece. We say to our audience, Come, play with us.

Liza: It’s important for us that nobody comes in and thinks, What am I doing here? We want men and women to enjoy it, we don’t want anyone to feel like they’re being attacked.

Are there any differences between Canadian audiences and Edinburgh audiences?

Liza: Edinburgh audiences are definitely a lot quieter. We’ve had to get used to that, like it’s not that they’re not enjoying it, it’s just they aren’t as loud. We ran into a woman on the Royal Mile who’d seen the show, she said, “I loved it, I’ve never laughed so hard in my life…” Meanwhile, the day that they were there, it was like crickets. We couldn’t hear a thing. That’s definitely been an adjustment.

Kelly: We’ve found when there’s someone in the house that’s laughing really loudly, it gives other people permission to laugh as well. Nobody wants to be the lone Ha! in the audience.

Liza: The best audiences will always be people we know. I think we’re both lucky to come from circles of family and friends that embrace our approach. [For example] my dad’s seen the show a thousand times. He loves it. When you have that kind of freedom within your closest circles of friends and family, to feel like what you’re doing isn’t crazy, then it’s not crazy.

Pomme is French for Apple ends Aug 24 at Underbelly, Cowgate

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