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"Deceptively adorable and a subtle darkness": an interview with Brighton comics Martha Casey and Dawn Williams
Brighton Fringe is here, so feast your eyes on an interview AND my gig recommendations. Also: a windmill
Hello everyone! Welcome to issue #2 of the new newsletter, slightly delayed from Friday as I know my readers are mad royalists, and therefore you’ve been busy the past four days saluting flags and crowns, and burning disturbingly lifelike effigies of Princess Diana.
Here in Brighton, the Fringe is underway. I’m doing a week-by-week set of recommendations: here are the shows to see up til the 14th May.
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Done that? No? Good. Now, down to business, which is… interviewing more comedians!
This week’s interview is a double bill, with not one but TWO fabulous Brighton acts performing next week. Martha Casey and Dawn Williams’ split-bill debut show is at the Caxton Arms on 17-19th May.
They’re two of the funniest mainstays of the Brighton scene, and I’m very excited to see what they do with their Fringe amalga-hour.
Due to time and geographic constraints, this week’s interview comes via the terrifying and banal convenience of the internet.
Hello Martha and Dawn. Who are you and what do you want?
Martha: My name is Martha Casey and right now I want some lunch and a day off.
Dawn: My name is Dawn Williams and I want fame, fortune and forehead kisses.
You are both very funny and are doing a DOUBLE BILL. As per your flyer quotes, can you tell me a bit about each other’s Brighton Fringe shows?
Martha: Dawn is an annoyingly funny comic.
About half the stuff she says doesn’t just make me laugh, it makes me go “fuck, I wish I’d written that”. She has a joke about a bag of Revels that always triggers that response in me. She’s also deceptively adorable; there’s a subtle darkness in there too. You should come to our show purely to find out what the Revels joke is.
Dawn: Martha Stop it, I’m shy! Martha is an absolutely incredible writer, she is so sharp and I can only say the same about her - annoyingly funny.
I can only begin to wish to write in the way she does. Her part of the show is so densely packed with utterly shrewd observations. Some of her jokes I’ve heard dozens of times and they still land like the first time. There aren’t many people you can say that about.
How long have you been performing for, and what was the spark for getting on stage for the first time?
Martha: I’ve been gigging for about a year. I’d always wanted to try stand-up, since I was a teenager I think, but I had so little confidence for a long time.
I’m kind of an attention seeker, and performing comedy is a really healthy way to channel that.
It took me a long time to be brave enough to try, though, and I also didn’t know enough about comedy — I thought, as a lot of people do, that you had to improvise every set, coming up with new jokes and just being naturally hilarious every gig.
Eventually I decided to do a course, which is actually where Dawn and I met. And while I did learn some actual techniques and things, and the importance of writing, the main thing I gained from it was the balls to get on stage and just try.
Dawn: I have also been doing stand up for just over a year now. I always loved performing at school, I always did the school plays and was often cast in the ‘funny’ role - which I hated at the time but looking back it is quite amusing.
One memorable performance involved me, age 10, impersonating Steve Irwin and leading a room full of unamused parents in a round of “wallabies and wombats” to the tune of Frere Jaques.
Performing was left to the wayside as I pursued visual arts at university and in my career, but I always wanted to get back on stage.
I just didn’t know where to start. I had an inkling stand up could be a place for me, and I mentioned it to a few friends that hold no punches who, to my surprise, said “oh yeah, I can see that” rather than shooting me down entirely. So I did a course and here I am.
You both perform as yourselves. Is there much of a gap between your on and off stage personas?
Martha: This is something I think about a lot. I think my onstage persona is kind of a caricature of the real me, which I suspect is common in comedy. A lot of my jokes come from genuine experiences I’ve had, often unpleasant ones, which I embroider or exaggerate — I think that’s pretty common too.
It’s quite therapeutic like that. I might previously have been depressed over something in real life and now instead I get angry and cynical about it on stage.
There’s something, dare I say, empowering in being able to take things that sucked to go through and find humour in them. My half of the show is called Misfit, because a lot of it grew out of things like dealing with being bullied and lonely at school or having really bad sex.
Dawn: I also perform as myself, but not my whole self?
I think it’s hard not to think about this a lot. Perhaps I am a kind of very pure version of an aspect of myself on stage - if we want to get real wanky about it.
I do feel like myself, a lot of my jokes come from genuine experiences and thoughts I have had about them - often taken to their most whimsical extreme… which I would do in my own mind anyway but now I get to say those thoughts out loud into a microphone for strangers.
I get nervous about new people in my life seeing me do stand up and I wonder if part of that is because I do feel so myself doing it that it is quite exposing in a way. It’s late. I’m getting deep. Time for bed soon.
Martha: Taken to their whimsical extreme is a great way to think of it. There’s a part of me that loves to be a bit dramatic and exaggerate things, and I love that comedy gives me carte blanche to do that.
Do you remember being funny as a child?
Martha: I suspect I thought I was funny, but was actually very annoying. I was precocious as shit. I wanted to be funny but had no idea what that meant. I wasn’t a class clown or anything like that, I was a swot, but I also did things that would probably qualify as “wacky”.
When my therapist tells me to be kind to my child self, I find that very difficult, because as a child I was fucking insufferable.
Dawn: I remember being told I was a performer more than I was told I was funny. I think mainly I just wanted to be liked. Go figure.
Are you as worried as I am that art and culture is going to be increasingly dominated by wealthy men called Harold telling us about their blue tick unless we do something about late capitalism?
Martha: I don’t think they’ll be called Harold. I think they’ll be called things like Chet or Brayden.
Dawn: Yep. Chet and Brayden and their white guy podcast that demolishes culture. Joking aside, I think as long as there are people there will be art.
We will always find new ways to connect to each other so Chet and Brayden can dominate the mainstream all they want but you can’t crush the human creative spirit. And also yes of course down with capitalism. Buy tickets to our show.
Martha: In seriousness, yes, this. There’s a lovely quote from a sociologist called Henry Jenkins, who writes a lot about fan culture, where he talks about eg fan fiction being a way to repair the damage done by a system where myths are owned by corporations rather than owned by the people.
There will always be folk tales, and people will always put their own spin on things and interpret the world through art, even if it’s not “allowed”.
Who are your comedy and (more broadly) creative heroes?
Martha: Yes, good question, where DO I get my crazy ideas? God. That’s hard. I’m also wary of naming anyone specific in case they’re outed as a nonce or a transphobe.
Um. My all-time favourite comedian is probably Stewart Lee, which is probably a dickhead’s answer, but it’s true.
Dawn: My all time fave is Louis CK…I’M JOKING DON’T PUT THAT. I love James Acaster and I loved him before he was famous.
Am I just doing comedy as a ruse to meet and charm and perhaps marry him? Look… who knows what the future holds okay?
What I will say is that the UK comedy circuit has some incredible women on it at the moment. A current favourite being Celya AB. What an absolute hero.
If you had to befriend an animal and then train it to work as an advisor down the local job centre, which animal would you choose? I only ask because I need to go down there next week.
Martha: I’m concerned about the part where I have to apparently train this animal. I don’t have experience in that at all. But if it needs to speak, maybe a myna bird? I’ve just watched a video of one saying “konnichiwa”, so I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to teach one to be horrible to benefit claimants.
Dawn: This is an elaborate scenario and perhaps also an animal welfare issue? Why is the job centre using animal labour? Surely they aren’t short of human applicants?
It all smells a bit fishy to me…probably from all the fish they have working there out of their tanks which means they died and now it smells of dead fish in the job centre. Oh good, a riot has now broken out. Look what you’ve done.
Picture the scene. It’s late and you’re both armed with harpoons. Who would win in a fight?
Martha: To clarify, this is Dawn and I fighting each other? She will win by a mile. She is more physically fit than me and I’m dyspraxic and also a gigantic coward. Although I might have a small advantage in being from Plymouth.
Dawn: Yeah I’d win there’s no doubt.
How would you describe the Brighton comedy scene?
Martha: Friendly and open. Comedy, at least at this low level, is one of the few areas of life that seems to work as something close to a genuine meritocracy.
And because it’s Brighton, generally speaking, it’s rare to see a bill here that’s made up entirely of straight white men. People are booked because they’re good. If you’re any good and you’re not a dick, you’ll probably do alright.
Dawn: I think Martha’s nailed it in her answer. It is super supportive to newbies, and if you show a bit of promise, that you’re sticking around and working at it, people will go out of their way to help you.
Are there any other south coast comedy regulars that we, the humble visitor, should be checking out with our eyes etc?
Martha: I’d feel guilty naming specific people because I’ll almost certainly leave someone out by accident. Can I say you should check out Dawn Williams, especially on any split-bill shows she happens to be doing?
Dawn: Absolutely yes indeed Martha Casey is an absolute 100% must! I will name a couple and just feel the guilt anyway. Kate Lois-Elliot is on the precipice of greatness, Alex Mason is brilliant, David Ingram who started around the same time as me and Martha is absolutely killing it. All of them have Fringe shows I believe so definitely check them out.
Finally, any life lessons or pithy bits of advice for general existence? I could really do with it at the moment.
Martha: “The man who sleeps with a machete is a fool every night but one”.
Dawn: Whatever it is….literally, no one cares. So just give yourself a break and have a snack.
Misfit /// Performance Review is on at 7pm at The Caxon Arms on 17th-19th May as part of the 2023 Brighton Fringe
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