In the very short time since her first appearance on the UK comedy circuit, Eleanor Morton has already become a distinct presence there. She did her first Edinburgh Fringe last year, and luckily for us, the experience hasn’t dissuaded her from coming back a second time with her new show, Allotted Mucking Around Time.
It is perhaps a little too easy to describe Morton’s comedy as sweet, whimsical or winsome. Although she may own more cuddly jumpers than Sarah Lund, don’t be fooled: Morton at least knows where the light switch is. Behind her awkward stage persona is careful, intelligent writing, a good understanding of the absurd and importantly, a true love of comedy. Robert Dow managed to persuade Eleanor to answer a few questions for The Wee Review before she returns to Edinburgh.
You’ve written a new show for this year’s Fringe. Can you tell us a little about it? Are you presenting something very different from last year’s show, or is it something that has evolved from your earlier themes and ideas?
I think it has evolved – there’s no musical comedy this time, which wasn’t a conscious decision, I just didn’t write anything I wanted to put in the show. Last year I did some quite personal stuff about mental illness but this year it’s mostly nonsense, and I think I’m much more comfortable with that. I suppose you could say the show is my perspective on the world and how I look at stuff that happens to me – y’know, like everyone’s Fringe show? It’s just silly and fun and I hope people come and have a nice time.
What would you say is the most important thing you learned from performing at last year’s Fringe?
Stick to your time – I was terrible last year and it’s a really selfish thing to do if you’ve only got a 5 minute turnaround before the next comedian’s show. Sorry Derek. Also I learned not to read reviews, good or bad, until after it’s over, if at all. And go out and see as many shows as you can. And I learned you should be good at doing comedy.
Tell us a little bit about how you found yourself doing comedy in the first place. Has it always been something you wanted to do? Where you “the comedian” at school? Did you have a sudden moment of revelation that you needed to do comedy?
I was not the comedian at school in any way, shape or form. Maybe in my close friend group, but I’m sure everyone else remembers me as the ginger girl with the posh voice. Which is OK. I suppose. Some people from my school came to see my show last year and that was bizarre because I think I’m a really different person now and I couldn’t imagine what they thought they were seeing.
I wanted to do stand-up since I was 12. I wasn’t big into stand-up until then, but I loved all the classic radio comedy, The Goons and whatnot. And then I saw some stuff on TV – Ross Noble, Dylan Moran – and I just thought, ‘yeah, that makes sense.’ But I kept it locked deep down in my box of secret feelings, and then when I was 18 I was like, ‘let’s ooooppppenn the box!’
You’ve been called the “poster girl for awkwardness” and your comedy plays very much on this and indeed the audience’s discomfort with it. How much is this awkwardness just who you are, and how much is it constructed for the show?
I think it’s based on me when I was a lot more awkward – when I started comedy – but I hope now in real life I’m a bit better at social interaction, because now I’m an adult and it’d be alarming if I hadn’t made any progress. But the good thing about embracing social ineptitude is that you don’t really care what anyone thinks of you.
I like her – in some ways she’s more confident than me because she doesn’t mind looking stupid and I sometimes still have a little cry when I get embarrassed in real life. But I do think the persona has shaped me a little bit too, which is weird. Sometimes you’re not sure if you’re being yourself or being what you think people expect you to be after seeing you on stage, and that can be disconcerting. That’s where comedians and actors differ – everyone knows actors are playing a part but then they get surprised if a comedian is actually quite shy and retiring in real life.
You have written a number of comedy scripts already and are finishing a degree in screenwriting (at the Met Film School). How important is writing to you, and could you ever imagine this taking over from performing your own comedy?
My aim is to write comedy for TV and radio, as a writer/performer. I’ve been writing and performing my whole life in one way or another. I don’t think I’d ever want to stop performing; they go hand in hand for me.
As a Scottish comedian currently living in London, do you feel it is still important for aspiring comedians to have that “London experience”?
Everyone should go to London at least once, if only to weep over the price of a single apple. London is a great place for comedy regardless of where you’re from, but it’s getting less and less artist friendly. Having said that, you can always find something weird and wonderful going on, which is what I love. I do miss clean air and countryside though – if London could relocate to Biggar then it’d be perfect.
And what are your feelings about the Edinburgh Fringe? Many comedians are finding the cost of performing at the Fringe prohibitively expensive and there are certainly a few notable Fringe regulars missing this year. Is the Fringe still an important date in the comedy diary?
It is important but I also think it’s become this huge commercial event that it needn’t be. The Fringe should be somewhere you can take your weirdest craziest ideas and just enjoy exploring them. Luckily there are lots of venues which uphold that, like The Stand, but there’s still all the reviews, competitions, marketing, etc. as an added pressure.
When I was a teenager we would go up and down the Royal Mile during the festival collecting weird flyers and laughing at how crazy and desperate it seemed: it was total madness, because Edinburgh’s so serene the rest of the year. But now I’m a performer, the madness sadly makes more sense – it’s so competitive and you need that crazy drive to get you through the month.
Finally, what does the future hold for Eleanor Morton? If you were able to give your younger self advice (as she was about to embark on her career in comedy), what would it be?
I’d probably say, ‘if you blow dry your hair when it’s damp it will do that smooth thing, like, every day.’ I think when I started I was doing the best I could do at that time—I was still very shy and so doing a gig at all was a huge step for me. So I don’t think I’d say anything except, ‘just keep going and listen to advice and work at it, and one day, you’ll be still doing it!’ I just want to keep writing and performing and get to a point where people go, ‘oh, I like her stuff, I will watch that.’