Glasgow-based comedian and actress Rachel Jackson made a splash with her full Fringe debut hour Bunny Boiler last year. Besides previewing her follow-up show Slutty Little Goldfish, she’s also appearing in Karen Gillan’s directorial debut. We talked to her about following up a successful show, hitting the film festival circuit and women in comedy in the age of #MeToo.
Can you tell us about your new show?
My new show is called Slutty Little Goldfish, and it’s a response to the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the Time’s Up movement that followed it; and then some of my own experiences in that area, through my acting and auditions and that kind of thing.
When dealing with heavy subjects such as Harvey Weinstein, how do you balance the serious nature with comedy?
I think it’s easy enough when it comes to comedy, as most people who go to see a comedy show know that it’s intended to be funny so hopefully won’t take everything at face value. That said, you do need to careful as if your material is on something like rape, you don’t know who is in the audience so you don’t want to say things that you haven’t thought about. But I definitely want to try and tread that line to find the humour in difficult topics.
Have the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements had an impact in the comedy industry?
No! [laughs] Next question!
Okay, is it a good time to be female in the comedy industry?
That’s such a hard question. I think it is. I think this a time where people are paying more attention to women, but I also think there can be a bit of… I don’t know if hypocrisy’s the right word, but you see men on Twitter going, “I’m really proud of our company. We’ve hired 60% female writers,” and you think, “well, let them just get to work then. Why broadcast it like you’re the good guys?” I think that’s almost more misogynistic. So, I think it’s good that more women are getting more work, but it sometimes feels like it’s just to tick boxes. I still feel like there’s a lot of fight ahead of us. I didn’t mean to be so depressing, but that’s what it feel like at the moment.
You were an actor before you became a stand-up comedian, and you bring some theatricality to your show. Did you consider becoming a character comedian?
I suppose I was kind of doing that without realising it when I was an actress. I was doing a lot in character, but hadn’t really made the connection. I just loved writing my own stuff, and doing little sketches and putting them on YouTube. It took me a while before I realised I was a comedian; that I had the mind of one. Funnily enough I did a bit of theatre in February in Glasgow, and it was the first theatre I had done in years, and it was really crazy not to be able to break out of character and talk to the audience. I’m so used to stand-up now, and it was a weird moment not to get a laugh when I would expect to get a laugh.
So you suddenly banged into the fourth wall?
Yeah! I definitely banged into the fourth wall. I’m not allowed to stop and say, “come on guys, I thought you’d like that one!” It was such a strange moment to realise my brain is so much more a comedian’s now. Because an actor wouldn’t think like that. It’s an interesting balance to have.
In the show, you talk about some awful auditions and degrading roles you’ve had as an actor. What motivated you to stick with it through those challenging times?
I think if you know you have something it does keep you going. Even if people think you’re wasting your life. When I moved to London there was a couple of years where not much was happening at all. My family were really supportive but I think a lot of people were like, “God, is she still down there?” with nothing really happening in that way. But I think if you believe in yourself wholeheartedly you just know that something good will come. Obviously, you work really hard as well. You’re not just waiting for things to come to you, but you’ve just got to have that faith.
And you’ve just made a film that’s doing the festival rounds at the moment with Karen Gillan. can you tell us about that?
It’s called The Party’s Just Beginning and it’s set in Inverness. Karen plays the main character and I play her best friend, who’s a nail technician; so that’s why I’ve got lovely nails just now. It’s my homage to Donna! It’s all about the loss of her other friend who killed himself. It cuts between the past and the present showing how she’s dealing with it. It’s a very, very dark film, but some people are describing it as a dark comedy. There are funny bits, but I don’t know if I would describe it as a dark comedy. I’d say it was just dark, but with comedy moments. It was great to shoot, and the fact that it’s doing really well over at the festivals is just awesome. To go to New York City, and to know I was going for work felt like a real breakthrough.
To bring it back down to Earth, let’s talk about the Fringe! What would you say are the best and worst things about the Fringe for you personally?
The best thing is getting to do what you love every single night, and hopefully to people who enjoy it, or who will at least give you a chance. Getting to do what you love definitely, because how many people get to say that they’re doing what they love every day? But on the flip side, getting to do what you love, but so intensely, can be seriously hard. Not hard work, but I think any comedian could tell you that… loads of them have breakdowns during or after it. It’s like Hell on Earth, because it’s just so intense. Talking for an hour, with no engagement… although, obviously you’re engaged with the audience, but you’re basically just doing a monologue for an hour. And sometimes people are just looking at you totally blankly, and that can kill you. But when it goes well it’s a high that I can’t even describe. It’s such a strange place, the Fringe.
Last year was your debut hour. Had you performed at the Fringe prior to that?
Yes, I’d done two shows before my debut. The first one was a shortened version of my debut show, which was called Bunny Boiler. It was a thirty minute version called Memoirs of a Bunny Boiler and it was more of a one-woman show, because I hadn’t realised I was a stand-up yet. It was a monologue and there was no interaction with the audience. It was just, “here I am!” and delivering an angry monologue. But as the run went on I realised that I was boring myself saying the same script every night, so I started breaking out a bit and talking to the audience. People started asking me how long I’d been in stand-up and I was replying that I’m not. But they were saying that I was funny, and I was suddenly, “Oh shit!” I realised I’d accidentally got into stand-up, and realised I really enjoyed it. And I good at the banter aspect of it. The year after that I did a show called Force of Nature, and that was forty five minutes roughly. And it was a bit of a hot mess. I didn’t know what it was. It was bits of stand-up, bits of theatre. I sang The Little Mermaid at one point and did a dance to Lady Gaga. It was really good fun, it was just a bit odd. When I’d did my debut Bunny Boiler, I took the skills I’d learned and put them into an actual show. It was a bit of a weird journey.
Bunny Boiler was really well received, but I noticed you re-tweeted a two star review. Is it important to you to stay humble for want of a better term?
Well what it was, I was told by a fellow comedian not to ready any reviews during the Fringe; good or bad. Because she said it just totally fucks up your mindset. It can make you too self-aware in the moment and can kind of throw you off the scent a bit. And I heard that, but of course I read all the good ones during [the Fringe]. Because if you get a four or five star review you’re going to want to read it. But I avoided the two star reviews; I was trying to avoid the bad press as much as possible. But after the Fringe I asked my boyfriend to read me the two stars, just to see, “how bad were they?” And he said, “The List one’s actually really nice about you, even though they didn’t like the show.” And I read it, and it was nice! I thought it was really gracious for someone who didn’t like the show not to be horrible. I think most people, if they don’t like something, they can get quite personal. But, you can like someone and think they’re talented, but maybe not like their latest film or whatever. And that’s how that review read; that they liked me and think I’m a strong performer, but they didn’t actually like the writing and they didn’t like the content. And I thought, “Fair enough, that’s a very honest opinion.” So I thought I would Tweet it, because you can’t get fives and fours all the time! So, yeah, humble.com!
Have you got any Fringe recommendations, particularly any acts you think deserve a wider audience or more coverage than they currently get?
I would say Susan Riddell, who’s my best friend. She’s not doing a full debut, but has a two-hander this year, with [Steff Todd] who’s probably also debuting next year, and that’s called 2 for Joy. It’s her and Steff, who does impressions. I just want to talk about her because she’s so great. She’s a female, and she’s Scottish. We’ve all got to stick together, man! That would be my shout for this year’s Fringe, Susan Riddell.
Slutty Little Goldfish will be previewed around the country over the next year.