Don't Ever Heckle is a column where Londonist
gets drunk with has a chat with the most exciting up-and-coming comedians, who are generating a buzz on the London comedy circuit.
Nat Luurtsema is a Londonist favourite - half of the staff here have seen her live at least three times, and with good reason. She's silly but thoughtful, scatty but charming, well read, self-deprecating, twee and whimsical, dark and disturbing, and very funny indeed. She made it to the finals of the Funny Women competition (sponsored by some soap), the Laughing Horse new act competition (not sponsored by some horses), she was nominated for Best Newcomer by Chortle earlier this year, and in August is taking not three, not four, not five, but TWO shows to the Edinburgh festival. And all in the space of just over one year. How has she done it? Is she magic? Or does she just know someone in the Mafia? Let's find out! (Click here to hear Nat in action)
Let's be clear. Is your name pronounced Nat Lurt-Semm-Er?
Not any more. It's Nat Lurt-See-Mer. When comperes get my name vaguely right, they pronounce it like this, so I thought if people are already saying it like this, I should change it. Except that now, people are starting to call me as my name is actually pronounced! A few people have suggested that I should change my name, but it never really occurred to me. I never thought that my stand-up would amount to anything more than a few tiny gigs above pubs. I didn't really think that many people would actually be saying my name!
Peter Serafinowicz probably had the same thing. Now THERE's a man who never thought he'd get famous!
Yeah! People with really complicated names in showbiz are clearly very modest people. Or people that aim really low and have no faith in themselves!
I took part in a stand-up podcast a while back. They always try to make the title of the podcast rhyme with the comic's name. So mine was "Nat Luurtsema was a bit of a screamer!" Which was a shame, because at the time, I was telling people to pronounce my name Lurt-Semm-Er. It shows a startling lack of integrity in myself. If everyone started calling me Dickface, would I just go "okay, I'm Nat Dickface now!"?
Tell us about your act.
I find it hard to describe. I find most of my material tends towards anthropomorphising things, and playing with awkward silences, and being silly, using twisted logic. It's surreal, but I don't want to label myself "surreal", because it sounds a bit elitist. But I always try to make it fun and upbeat.
You got through to the finals of the Funny Women competition very early on in your career. Tell us how you got involved with that.
It was by audition. I'd seen it on line, and applied before I started doing stand-up! I thought I'd scare myself into doing it. The first gig I ever did was on the 31st May 2007. The very next day, I had to travel up to Birmingham to do a Funny Women heat. So that was really scary. There were about 60 in the audience, and I was absolutely terrified... but I had one of the best gigs I've ever had! I got through to the final, which was my tenth ever gig, and was at The Comedy Store. It was a really nice early pat on the back which convinced me to keep going. That, and the Chortle nomination for Best Newcomer, have had a massive impact on my confidence.
How did you find out that you'd been nominated?
I remember waking up and going on-line just before I was about to leave for work, and thought I'd check to see who was nominated, out of curiosity. And my name was right at the top of the page, so it was the very first thing I saw. Embarrassingly, there was a glass of red wine by me from the night before, so I just reached out for it and started drinking, and then suddenly found that it was 10.30 am, and I was drunk!
You're gigging all over the place. Is there a difference in the audiences in London to those around the country?
Well, I had heard, and read, that audiences outside of London were much more appreciative and receptive. I don't know if that's the case. I've done gigs in Sheffield, Wales and Southampton, and I've had very different responses from each. I don't want to make a sweeping generalisation, because I'm really, really bad at judging how an audience is going to take to me. Often I go on stage thinking "they're going to hate me", and I've been so pleasantly surprised. It's not good to go on stage feeling negative.
And it's probably just as bad to feel too confident. "If you thought that last act was good, wait 'til you hear THIS shit!"
Exactly! I've definitely rolled on stage a few times thinking "Check me out, playing to quirky indie kids, they're gonna love me... oh, wait... no, they hate me!"
Were you a fan of comedy as a kid?
Yeah. I used to watch loads and loads of telly. I loved Blackadder and Monty Python, Bottom, loads of Red Dwarf... but I loved books more. Fantasy books have definitely had more of an impact on me. I love the idea of making stories, creating little worlds. I still prefer daydreams to reality any day. Fantasy makes a safe place for you to go, that's untouched by reality, and there's no boundaries or constraints to the worlds that you can create. I live in a daydream. I had my phone stolen the other day, right out of my bag, while it was on my lap. I was sat looking out of the window, while someone reached in and took it... and I didn't notice at all. I didn't realise quite how oblivious I was! And now I've said that, everyone knows that I'm a soft target for pick pockets!
So what you're saying is, if anyone comes to watch you, definitely try stealing from you.
Especially if you didn't enjoy the gig. Please feel free to steal back the entrance fee!
Have you ever been on the receiving end of sexism from promoters?
No. Honestly, I really haven't. I've had quite a few people sympathising with me about the misogyny in comedy, but I don't have a thing to complain about. And I've never had an audience be hostile to me because I'm a woman. If anything, I feel a lot of support, like people want to hear more female voices, and a wider diversity of voices. And I think it's a shame that there are so many female comics on the circuit who don't have prominence on TV, because if there were, perhaps it would stop people from saying things like "women aren't funny".
What London clubs do you like?
I really enjoy The Troy Club. I like the feeling of personality about it, and the friendliness of the audience. My friend Grainne Maguire did a gig up north recently, and afterwards a member of the audience came up to her and asked her why they didn't insult the front row! But at the Troy there's none of that.
Up The Creek is great. I always used to go there as an audience member, so it was a pleasure to go back. And The Dogstar in Brixton is great. It's in South London, and it's an amazing room. It's looks like a mad old ladies' attic, with a big chandelier.
Do you think there are too many comedy clubs in London?
Ooh, that's a tough one. I say no. I really love the fact that the London stand-up scene is so big and varied and vibrant, and I feel so lucky that I'm based in London. From the moment I started, I was able to do as many gigs as I wanted. But, I do appreciate that there are lots of gigs where you just don't get enough people to make a decent audience, which does leave you wondering. An audience really has to be in double figures before they can actually relax, otherwise the audience isn't belly laughing, they're just humouring you, which is an awful feeling. Those gigs make me feel like the six year old who'll interrupt their parents dinner party to say "Look mum, I done a play!" while the adults think "Oh for Christ's sake" but praise her anyway!
Having said that, sometimes I've chatted with comics after a gig with a small audience, and we've said "Realistically, how much noise can you get out of a room of 20." But then you'll see certain headliners who will come on big, act big, and they'll get noise out of that room that I didn't even know was there. I've seen Tony Law do it many times, and I think that's the difference between the level that I'm at, and being a true professional like him. I think I need a bit more confidence to get there.
What's the best heckle you've ever heard?
Well, nothing really beats if someone is doing really badly in front of a polite audience who won't heckle, so when a comic is totally dying, the polite audience will sneak off to the toilet, one by one. They think they're being kind. But if enough people do it... it's a long, silent, brutal and drawn-out heckle!
Nat said so much interesting stuff that we don't have the room to print it all here. To read the rest of this interview, head over to the author's blog.
You can see Nat next at the Edinburgh preview of Homework for Heroes, a stand-up show where Nat and her friends talk about modern-day superheroes. Tuesday June 24th, Electric Mouse Angel, The Regent, 201 Liverpool Road, N1. 7.30pm, £4.