INTERVIEW: TALKING TO ALISON SPITTLE. EXPECT SOUP.
Fancy a laugh? Catch the oh-so funny Alison Spittle at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre later this February as she arrives to make everything a little jollier. Want to find out what’s in-store? Read on and find out what the lady herself has top say about things. Expect soup.
Fast-rising comic Alison Spittle has been through plenty in her life, behind the scenes of a career which has seen her become a regular co-host of the enormously popular ‘Guilty Feminist’ podcast as well as finding mainstream success with BBC Sounds’ ‘Wheel Of Misfortune’, a project she created herself. Her complex PTSD forms some of the basis of this brand new tour, fresh from a critically lauded run at the Edinburgh Fringe (a selection of her rave reviews are below). Luckily, though, there’s also soup.
Alison’s enthusiasm for soup is at such a level that she was invited to join a WhatsApp group devoted to the subject (she is frustrated that it isn’t called WhatSoup, but there’s nothing we can do about that). It’s one of the nicer corners of the internet, and Alison is a person devoted to nice corners: the show also touches upon her balcony/refuge in a rented London flat, where she cultivates fruit and vegetables with, to be fair, mixed results. But many of the escapes we seek for our mental health are less reliable, and – among other things – the industry of ‘self-care’, the scam of face masks, and the misery of hen parties come under her sweet-but-vicious spotlight.
Few comics combine the innocuous with the psychologically probing quite as distinctively as this joyous, unusual performer, whom Impatient is delighted to send on her biggest UK tour to date. The need for distraction is an ongoing theme in Alison’s comedy: for the rest of us, there could hardly be a more pleasant distraction from life’s horrors than to watch her at work.
What can audiences expect when they come to see ‘Soup’?
I’d describe it as a stand-up show about being mental. So it’s about getting diagnosed with CPTSD [Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder] as well as what it’s like to be a renter. And, of course, it’s about soup. [Laughs] This is so silly because I spent years writing it and then when it comes to actually telling people what it’s about it’s very hard.
What’s your experience of renting?
I’ve been a renter for nearly half my life. Mortgages are going up and my landlord tried to raise my rent by, like, £1,200 a month. So in the show I talk about how hard it is to make a home as a renter because you don’t know whether you’re going to be there at the same time next year.
And what is your relationship with soup?
I’m in this WhatsApp group that compares soups. It’s so much fun and it’s been going for about seven years, which is longer than any family WhatsApp group I’ve ever been involved in. It’s people sending pictures of soup, then other people make positive judgments on their soup of choice. And we just talk about soup because soup is one of the best conversations you can have with a person. It’s like asking someone what their favourite Robbie Williams song is. Sometimes people aren’t that into Robbie Williams or into soup but they can always name one.
Mental health is a hot button topic these days. How do you address it in the show?
I suppose it’s been a through-line for all of my stand-up. My CPTSD comes from being robbed eight times. Twice I walked in on people robbing the house and once a man had a knife. I know that doesn’t sound funny, but I promise you that I talk about it in the show in a way that is very funny.
Is it just you up on stage or do you have some company?
I talk about my balcony a lot in the show and I have loads of flowers on it, so I bought a load of plastic flowers off the internet. I did it for the Fringe and I’m bringing them along for the tour too. I’m going to bring a big bag of plastic flowers with me on the train between venues, which will add a lot to the annoyance of doing the tour but I think it’ll be nice on stage.
You probably get asked this all the time: What’s your favourite soup and do you make it yourself?
Yes, I do make it myself and it changes every day. It’s like soup of the day but I especially like a broth with bits in it. I love making soup. I do it all the time because it’s like a great fridge cleaner as well. If you’ve got old vegetables at the back of the fridge, you can always blend them and then you can just pretend they weren’t old in the first place.
Perhaps you should launch your own range? Spittle Soups, maybe?
[Laughs] That sounds disgusting. I have an unfortunate surname, but if I did do Spittle Soup I can promise you there’d be no bodily fluids in it. It would just be broth.
Comedy, they say, is the best medicine. Agreed?
I’ve done a lot of stand-up about mental health and I kept feeling that because I was talking about it I was helping myself. But professional help is the best medicine when you have a mental illness, not doing stand-up about it, which is a theme that the show kind of explores, actually. The therapy that I’ve had has been really good and I’m really thankful for the NHS. So I would say comedy is the second best medicine, but it’s like people who believe in crystals and stuff. If it helps them, that’s good. And comedy is like that in a way. It’s not really proven to be effective but it’s nice to do it.
One reviewer said you leave very few topics off the table. Do you have any no-go areas when it comes to comedy?
That’s a good question. Sometimes I might do stand-up about friends and family, and I do have to check in with them to see if that’s OK. I don’t want to hurt anybody. But when I do stand-up about stuff that I feel uncomfortable with, that’s when I feel most comfortable because I have control over how I say it or how people hear it. It’s the only way I feel like I express myself freely.
As a performer, writer, presenter, podcaster and actor you’re certainly a multitasker. What do you do to relax?
[Laughs] I talk about soup on WhatsApp. I also love quizzing. I love going to pub quizzes. I’ve become horribly competitive and pub quizzes are now my favourite hobby. I’m particularly good at music and I used to play ‘Popmaster’ against my dad all the time. I’m a big fan of ‘Pointless’ too and I like the kind of trivia where it’s very specific, like ‘Name every Sugababe there’s ever been’.
Given all the strings to your bow, what are you not so good at?
I’m rubbish at not getting robbed. I’m also really clumsy and I lose stuff, like hats and clothes. And one of my quizzing weaknesses is UK geography, which means the tour will be interesting. There are quite a few places I’ve never been to before and because I’m Irish I’ve had to look them up on a map.
This is your biggest UK tour to date. Is that a daunting or exciting prospect, or a bit of both?
It’s daunting because, as I say, I’m playing places that I’ve never been to before, so I hope people turn up. But it’s also exciting to visit new towns and cities. I like to explore and of course I like having different soups in different parts of the country.
What couldn’t you be on the road without, apart from soup and fake plants of course?
My notebook and my watch to make sure that I’m on time. Those are the boring ones. I also take a book, although I like reading short books nowadays because social media has destroyed my sense of being able to read anything of any length. I would rather read horrible tweets than an actual good book, but I’m getting back into it now. Claire Keegan is a fantastic writer of short stories and I’m reading a lot of books by comedians at the moment – like Lou Sanders, Katy Wix and Fern Brady. ‘Trouble’ by Marise Gaughan is a brilliant memoir. She’s an Irish comedian and she’s had a mad life. She ended up in the same mental institution as Kanye West and was a call girl in LA. She’s just so funny and it’s definitely one of my favourite books I’ve ever read.
Alison brings Soup to the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre on Saturday 17th February 2024. Buy tickets at alisonspittle.com