Nuala McKeever: There is a market for funny women

Belfast's popular writer, author and comedian, Nuala McKeever is in town to perform at the Going Solo theatre festival. She talks about the comedy scene, her India visit and the theme of loneliness her play explores

Q. You are known as Belfast's Queen of Comedy; what are the challenges of being a woman comic artiste?
A. Mostly, I found I have had invitations to take part in events because "they need a woman on the panel". But also, I think there is still an "all boys together" attitude in comedy, particularly stand-up, which is not a welcoming space for women. Most women, who've succeeded, have done so by being quite laddish (slang: macho, boisterous). I have loved having the opportunity, through my own television show, to set a comedy agenda and a style, which has carried on into my live work and theatre writing, which is not an aggressive, male-agenda type comedy. There is a market for funny women who actually have something thoughtful to say about life. I am delighted to be Northern Ireland's Queen of Comedy and even more delighted that I didn't have to parade up and down in a swimsuit to get the title.

Ireland’s popular comic artiste Nuala McKeever
Ireland's popular comic artiste Nuala McKeever

Q. How is solo theatre different for you as a performer and writer?
A. I love working with others and I love doing solo shows. They are never actually solo, there is always a director and technical people on the team, but performing on stage with just myself is great. If I make a mistake (which isn't often), I can remedy it quickly. And I love the immediacy of the relationship with the audience. It's very intimate.

Q. Your play explores the theme of loneliness in the modern world. Do you identify with this theme?
A. I got the idea one night as I was getting into bed and putting on socks because it was a freezing January night and I was feeling a little low. A line popped into my head, 'God, I would almost welcome a burglar, just for the company.'
It made me laugh. Then I said, 'I don't mean it,' and checked if the front door was bolted. But I wrote the line down in a notebook by the bed and started wondering what would happen if someone was about to kill themselves and someone broke in. Would the person react differently since they were going to die anyway? Would they say, 'Take what you like, I don't need it anymore,' and how would an intruder react to this unexpected reaction. That's where the play started. It's not exactly like that now, but it does explore our desire to belong somewhere, to be needed, to feel our life has some meaning. I do identify with this very much.

Q. Have you performed in India before? What are your expectations?
A. I've never been to India, although it's been on top of my wish list for a while, so it's a dream come true. I expect colour, noise, busy streets, exotic smells, great food, hot sunshine and beautiful places. I am very happy to travel with an open mind and experience people and places as I find them without swotting up too much in advance.

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