Maeve Higgins may be involved in pro-immigrant campaigns in the US, but she also produces plenty laughs in her spooky bigscreen debut, writes Esther McCarthy.
Cobh actress Maeve Higgins brings her trademark deadpan humour and likability to the big screen for the first time in Extra Ordinary, a movie as eccentric as it is amusing.
She plays Rose, a driving instructor with long-suppressed supernatural abilities, who is persuaded to tackle an urgent case.
The spooks here are uniquely Irish and the messages they send from the afterlife played for fun.
One ghost haunts their spouse because they keep putting food leftovers in the wheelie bin. Think Ghostbusters meets Nationwide and you’re not even halfway there.
The humour, of course, is second nature to Higgins — but she gives Rose a soulfulness that makes you root for her too.
It comes as no surprise to learn that she was involved in the project from very early on, collaborating with first-time writer/directors Enda Loughman and Schull native Mike Ahern, who have previously made sketches and commercials under the collective name D.A.D.D.Y.
“Mike and Enda started writing it about six years ago and when they told me the idea I thought it was so funny and we’re friends already. I really trust their sense of humour and they’re really talented.
"There are so many stages to it. We did a little teaser and then did drafts and scripts and sent it to the Film Board. Then it actually happened, which I still am surprised about.”
Higgins says she enjoyed the filmmaking process, though the unassuming Cobh comic has yet to get her head around seeing herself up on the big screen.
“I’ve seen it twice and the second time I saw it with my parents and my sisters and I was like: ‘This is so weird’. I can’t think this is actually on the screen.”
She might have to get used to it.
The film has been getting strong reviews on the festival circuit, with a current rare rating of 100% on review aggregation website RottenTomatoes, and while the humour will seem truly Irish to audiences here, it has been also raising the laughs internationally.
US actor Will Forte, who shines as a washed-up rock star with evil intentions in the movie, is not surprised at its wide appeal.
“A lot of people have been asking if I needed things translated,” he smiled. “But they did such a great job of writing it because it really is very Irish but also will I think appeal universally. I read it and I fell in love with it.”
“The more personal, the more universal I think,” adds Higgins.
“I think it does feel Irish alright. But I think everybody else will get it too. It’s just jokes — if they’re going to work they’ll work anywhere.”
Higgins should know what she’s talking about. Having brought her unique style of stand-up to Irish audiences and built up a huge following with her persistently funny and original performances, she has since gone international and is now based in New York.
But she says that two of her four sisters are funnier than her and she daren’t have dreamed, growing up in Cobh, that she could have made a career of comedy.
“I don’t know if this makes sense, but my family think being funny is important but not in a professional way.
"It’s important in our family to be funny, more than making a living out of it. You have your own little set of in-jokes and stuff.”
It’s five and a half years since she made the leap to New York,fulfilling a long-held ambition of spending time in the Big Apple.
“I love it. There are a lot of work opportunities out there and it’s a really fun, dynamic place to live. I always wanted to live there, I had sort of romantic idea of being a writer in New York City. And it’s working out, it’s great.”
Higgins has diversified, and while she still hosts a comedy night every Monday night in Brooklyn, she has proven herself to be a talented writer and broadcaster.
Her book of essays, Maeve in America, won high praise from the likes of Amy Schumer, while her podcasts and contributions to publications like the New York Times have given her a voice on the subjects she cares about.
Her podcasts on immigration and the environment have been particularly powerful.
“I wouldn’t be so presumptuous or naive to think it would change anything but I think it’s important to write about things that I care about, that I feel people mightn’t know, that I’m only finding out myself. So that’s been what I’ve been doing.
"It does definitely tick a box for me because I feel at the moment there are a lot of people who are under attack from the administration so that’s frustrating for me, and I feel powerless, and I don’t have a vote.
“So it’s great that I can use my voice to say: ‘Oh look over here, what about this?’ With the immigration podcast, writing for the Times and the Progressive and also the climate justice podcast that I do, that stuff helps me to make sense of the moment that we’reliving in.”
She says it was “devastating” when news came through that Trump had won the presidency.
“We were making up the immigration podcast at the time and he had campaigned against immigrants.
"So I knew it would be bad. I didn’t know how bad it would be. So all the more reason I think, in all the time that I can, I focus on comedy and I think comedy has a very valuable role in my own life.
View this post on Instagram
Repost from @subwaybookreview NEW YORK — Maeve: “I don’t read a ton of poetry but at the moment my brain is really jumpy and poetry is really good for that. I’m probably just spending too much time on Instagram and am reading the news a lot—plus I have anxiety. For some reason these poems I can absolutely vanish into. They’re super evocative and you actually learn a lot about partition. Usually, I read non-fiction about war. I’m really interested in hearing directly from people who have experienced something in person. War is not an unusual thing and books about it help me understand it better—and also how the U.S. is involved in a lot of wars. I work as a writer in comedy and it’s good to see other people’s realities.” @maeveinamerica #IfTheyComeForUs #FatimahAsghar / @theubc for #subwaybookreview #newyork 🗽
"I think whenever I can write something funny, or being in this film, it’s such a break from anything serious or real.”
More recently, she got to co-host the Mothers of Invention podcast series with former president Mary Robinson.
“She needed a co-host, somebody who can blab. I was eight when she was made president. I was just blown away by her. I think every Irish person has their own memory with her. And so of course I agreed to do it.
"But through meeting all the women that we featured in the show and through just learning more I feel more empowered.
"I think it’s a good time now because people are listening and paying attention. And I think with all the kids in Ireland who are leading the way, it’s really exciting.”
Extra Ordinary opens in cinemas next Friday.