Australian-born, London-based comedian Bec Hill is one funny woman. Her gags have featured in ‘best joke’ lists published by The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian, while TV viewers might recognise her from shows such as Dara Ó Briain’s Go 8 Bit or the kids’ programme The Dog Ate My Homework. She tells Claire Brine about her life as a stand-up comedian
Bec, tell me about the types of comedy you write and perform.
In a nutshell, I do observations, puns, storytelling, paper puppetry and anything else that works. For example, I’ve started improvising a little more in my sets. In a previous show, I opened with three minutes of slapstick. I have a short attention span, so I often play with different styles to keep myself from getting bored.
What is paper puppetry?
I once drew a cartoon that I thought was funny, so I wanted to show it onstage. But I knew people at the back wouldn’t be able to read the speech bubbles, so I decided I would voice the two characters. However, I’m a terrible actor. So I gave the characters moving mouths to let the audience know who was speaking, even though the voices were the same. And that’s paper puppetry. I suspect I was subconsciously influenced by the paper cut-outs Terry Gilliam would make for the Monty Python shows.
Who is your comedy aimed at?
Me. I’m always asking myself, ‘If I was in the audience, would I find this funny?’ or ‘Would I find this surprising?’ or ‘Would this seem too self-indulgent?’ (which is an ironic question to ask yourself).
I often have to tailor my material. I can be performing to children aged 6 to 12 at one show, and then at a conference aimed at people in the science and technology industry. But I always aim my comedy at myself. If I write a joke that would make me, as an audience member, uncomfortable, then I bin it. It works better when the audience want to relate to you, rather than the other way around. Aim for yourself and your audience will find you.
What does a typical week look like for you as a comedian?
I don’t think there is such a thing as a typical week for a comedian! During school holidays, I often get more gigs performing for kids (at theatres with their parents – I don’t just rock up to playgrounds and say, ‘Hey, what’s the deal with see-saws?’) In the summer there are a lot of music festival gigs, where the audience is standing, and it’s hot, and you’re trying to yell over the top of Liam Gallagher. At Christmas, you get a lot of rowdy work parties, which can be a bit like trying to yell over the top of Liam Gallagher.
But I’m at a nice stage in my career where I can be a bit more choosy about which gigs I take. For me, comedy is more than just stand-up. I guest on TV, radio shows or podcasts. In September, I’ll be teaching comedy workshops in Hong Kong. So no two weeks are alike.
I think the only way each week is similar is that it always involves admin and travel. I would say only about 20 per cent of comedy is actually writing and performing. The other 80 per cent is spent answering emails, managing your diary, chasing invoices, booking trains and the like.
What does the rest of the year hold for you?
I’m about to debut my new show I’ll Be Bec at the Soho Theatre in London, from 14 to 18 August. I’m also a co-host on a new podcast, History Makers, about modern technology and the inventors who indirectly influenced it, which will be coming out later this year.
What prompted you to become a comedian?
Since I was tiny, I’ve always loved being onstage and making people laugh. I used to rope my little brother into performing sketches with me for our parents and their friends. I was heavily involved in drama throughout school, but it was my high school drama teacher who suggested I try stand-up. I think he could see I enjoyed that attention but was a terrible actor. I think my first ‘gig’ was when I did stand-up at my youth group’s talent night.
Where does the material you use today come from?
Most of my material comes from my doing or saying something amusing in a conversation and having a friend who can point out: ‘That’s really funny, you should write that down.’
You make no secret of your Christian beliefs and you used to present a podcast about faith. Can you tell me about that?
I used to co-host a podcast called Gods of Comedy with an ex-comedian, now writer, called Brydie Lee-Kennedy. We would interview comedians about whether they grew up in a religious household and what their beliefs are now. It was a very open, honest and nonjudgmental conversation with people who either identified as having a faith or being atheist or agnostic.
But we all had a love of stand-up in common. It gave us an excuse to discuss something personal, which most of us are too worried to talk about. We thought we’d end up having very heated debates, but actually, we all ended up finding new respect for one another. Unfortunately, the podcast network that hosted the show closed down, so they’re no longer available online.
People might imagine that it would be difficult to be a Christian working in the comedy world. To what extent is that your experience?
I imagine it’s different for everyone. I didn’t grow up in a Christian household or go to a Christian school, so it’s not as if I was suddenly dropped into this largely secular world. In fact, most comics are open to discussing faith. If I’ve ever been discriminated against because of my beliefs, then I’ve not known about it. I’ve faced much more persecution as a woman in the comedy world than I have as a Christian.
In what ways does your faith influence your comedy?
I have a few small routines about amusing bits from the Bible or about how my faith has affected me. But I don’t usually set out specifically to write about it. Perhaps because it’s too personal for me to find funny. It’s the same with my husband – I have a few stories about him, but in all honesty, he’s too good a husband to get material from! (No one really wants to hear about how he’s supportive and cooks amazing meals.)
But I do think my faith affects my comedy in a moral sense. I try to ensure my comedy isn’t making fun of victims, or adding to a bigger problem. It also affects my shows’ narratives. For instance, my next show is about the future, and, without meaning to, I realised that one of my points near the end is essentially a reworking of Christ’s message.
Why can mocking religion be so attractive to some comedians?
Often comedians take umbridge with religion more than they do faith. I’ve heard some very intense, yet funny, bits of material mocking religion – usually by atheist comedians. Even if I don’t agree with what they might be saying, they often provide a considered reason for saying it. But, annoyingly, there also seems to be a fair amount of (usually inexperienced) comedians who seem to equate not having faith in a higher power with intelligence. These comics don’t tend to realise that all they’re doing when they lazily make fun of religion is advertise how little they know about both religion and comedy.
Should Christians be laughing along or offended?
It depends what’s being said. Jesus wasn’t always angry, or always praying, or always healing. He approached each situation with consideration and reacted accordingly. If a joke makes you uncomfortable, you don’t have to laugh. But you should reflect on why it made you uncomfortable. Did the joke have moral implications? Or did you feel disrespected? And if you did, why did you feel disrespected? Was your faith being attacked, or was it being challenged?
It intrigues me that a Christian might get offended at a joke about the Crucifixion, but at the same time laugh at a joke making fun of homeless people. I often wonder what Jesus thinks of people willing to be offended on his behalf while simultaneously ignoring their main responsibilities as one of his followers.
How did you become a Christian?
I came to Christ at a church camp my friend invited me to. Growing up, I’d been on a lot of school holiday camps. But what struck me about this one was how supportive and compassionate everyone was. It was a wonderful community, and when I learnt about Jesus and his message I couldn’t fault it. I knew that this was something I needed to anchor my life to. Sometimes there has been a lot of slack on the chain attached to that anchor, but it has been useful to have during the storms.
Why do you see faith as compatible with comedy?
Because they’re both very personal and very human.
Comedy depends so much on what others think of you. What does your faith bring you in an arena where there’s such potential for rejection?
It brings perspective and keeps me grounded. Comedy is ultimately very selfish, whereas my understanding of the Christian faith is that we’re all constantly trying to remember not to be selfish. So if I bomb, I just have to check my privilege. It’s hard to complain about dying onstage when Jesus died on the cross.
- For more information visit bechillcomedian.com
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