Interview with comedian Chelsea Birkby

"I used my savings to book two weeks of clown school. It was two of the best and hardest challenges of my life. You go on stage and perform these ridiculous tasks and he’ll tell you “what you did was detestable.” It was hilarious and freeing."

Interview with comedian Chelsea Birkby

Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?

I’m Chelsea. I used to be known as sweet but now I’m trying to embrace my bad side, you ******** ***** *****! (sorry do you still like me?)

How would you describe your show?

No More Mr Nice Chelsea is an hour of comedy about what it means to be nice, where we learn it and when it’s time to stop. I ask ‘do we need to be nice to be loved?’ as I try to be actively hostile to the audience but keep apologising. It’s an hour of personal, playful and thoughtful stand up that takes us through 00s pop culture, existentialism and therapy. And it’s full of the best jokes I’ve ever written. 

Why do you want to perform at Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the comedy fun fair. I wanted to wait til I had a show that’s really funny and expresses something people connect with. I can’t wait to share it with you.

What differentiates it from other festivals?

It’s the biggest, it’s in the most beautiful city in the UK (Milton Keynes aside) and it’s round-the-clock performances of the most creative, beautiful and hilarious shows you’ll find. Plus you can buy beautiful, ridiculous vintage outfits from Armstrong's.

What first motivated you to enter the industry? Who were your inspirations?

I thought I wanted to work for the charity that was doing the most good, in a role where I could too. But I got there and not everything is as it seems and I was missing fun and expression and playing. So I found comedy. My inspirations were teen girl magazines, Simon Amstell, sincere women singing and Mr Blobby.

How has your background, upbringing and education had an impact on your artistic career? 

I’m from everyone’s fave comedy punchline Milton Keynes (also shout out Slough and Swindon). And I went to a kinda rough school, it was a state comprehensive. But I don’t think it was fully comp, more like third-party fire & theft. Then, I was the first person in my family to go to university, and that’s where my friends introduced me to vegetables I had never heard of like courgettes, holidays that aren't packaged and stand-up and festivals etc. Though in the end, I had to sell my Latitude ticket to work at Sports Direct and cover rent.

These days I feel quite culturally rich. Although the bank won't accept that against your overdraft. It’s a weird one because often reviews call me like classic middle-class but I feel split between worlds now, not quite a part of either. Yes, I joke about philosophy and live in Oxford, but I learned my accent from Hermione and celebrated every childhood birthday getting all dressed up, going to the harvester and getting the big plate all you can eat (surely the plate size makes no difference).

What is your earliest childhood art memory?

I submitted a drawing (masterpiece) of one of The Angry Beaver to Nickelodean but it neither made it air nor came back to me and I think about it a couple of times a year.

If you didn’t have your current job, what would you probably be doing?

I truly feel I’d be excellent at racing cars based on no evidence but I also really know it’s the case.

Did Covid-19 change the way you create work? Do you approach shows with a different mentality now? 

When I thought the 2021 fringe wasn’t going ahead I used my savings to book two weeks of clown school. It was two of the best and hardest challenges of my life. You go on stage and perform these ridiculous tasks and he’ll tell you “what you did was detestable.” It was hilarious and freeing. For a while after I felt a little fearless taking to the stage. This show is absolutely stand up and not clown, but my approach since learning just a little is to be a bit looser, and more playful.

Describe the last year in 5 words or less?

One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

Do you subscribe to the idea that art should be exempt from ‘cancel culture’? 

I don’t think anything should be exempt from examination. But I’m sceptical of cancel culture: whether it exists and whether it does any good. My Mum teaches in a young offenders prison, she’s shared a lot with me about the power of rehabilitation. 

If you could work with anybody, from any point in history, who would you pick and why?

Martin Lewis Money Saving Expert, he’s doing great work for people struggling and I’d love to write a stand-up show with him.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to take a show up to the fringe?

Make the show you want to see.

When and where can people see your show?

15.40 The Caves, 4th to the 28th (not 15th) I can’t wait to see you.

And where can people find, follow and like you online?

I’m @chelseabirkby on instagram (my fave) and twitter and if you like the 00s you can visit www.chelseabirkby.com


Chelsea Birkby: No More Mr Nice Chelsea – DEBUT

Just the Spare Room @ 3.40pm

4 – 28 Aug (not 15)

Header Image Credit: Chris WR Cox

Author

Tom Inniss

Tom Inniss Voice Team

Tom is the Editor of Voice. He is a politics graduate and holds a masters in journalism, with particular interest in youth political engagement and technology. He is also a mentor to our Voice Contributors, and champions our festivals programme, including the reporter team at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

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