Comedian Joanne McNally: 'I always saw funny side’

Comedian Joanne McNally: 'I always saw funny side’
Irish comedian Joanne McNally at the 2019 Vodafone Comedy Festival.

"I went to Loreto Dalkey in Dublin for my primary and secondary schooling up until fourth year, when I went to a boarding school in France for a year. Then when I came back, I went to the Institute Of Education for fifth and sixth year. I got on really well in school — too well on the social side if I’m honest.

"I was a total messer, but I was still class prefect when I left Loreto. I loved the craic but I wasn’t malicious and I was the class clown at every opportunity. My comedy does not come from a place of tragedy, it comes from a place of ridiculousness, and that definitely started during my school years.

"I was not bad academically overall, but I would have excelled at English and languages and as a result I got on really well with those teachers. Then in the other classes, even though I didn’t struggle badly, I’d be put sitting on my own because I was seen as disruptive and a bit too chatty.

"That’s not to say that it was a negative experience. I absolutely loved school. During primary and secondary school, I had the run of the place. I had really good friends at Loreto, I was never bullied and it was a great experience. I know people say that it’s better to mix boys and girls in school when they’re young to give them social skills, but I loved being in an all-girls school.

"Girls do better academically in single-sex schools and that was definitely the case for me — I would have been so distracted by boys in school. I remember boys coming into the school for a religion class and we were driven demented with excitement — it was that level.

I would describe myself as a student who was generally liked, and who liked everyone else. I had my gang of friends, but there was nobody I wasn’t friends with, really. Obviously there are groups that you are friendlier than others and I still have my core group of school friends who are my best friends today.

"Saying that, there are so many girls from school that I meet and thoroughly enjoy catching up with, who wouldn’t necessarily have been part of that core during the school years. One thing I know is that people who were hurt during the school years really hold onto the trauma and that’s definitely one downside of being around so many girls on a day-to-day basis — it can get very catty sometimes.

When I was young, I always liked performing and making people laugh, but one thing that really haunted me was that I was born tall and I was big. All of my hang-ups when I was growing up were about my body. I was absolutely tortured by my body — I thought I was fat, and it really held me back in so many situations.

"I would make excuses to get out of going swimming with my friends in the summer, or be so worried that people might see my giant bum that I would wrap a sweatshirt around my waist. If I met my teenage self now, I’d say ‘get over your body, you have a gorgeous one — enjoy yourself!’ I don’t think I was on my own — thinness was so popular then, and it was really pervasive. It seemed like all of us girls were worried about our bodies, all of the time.

I was performing at a gig recently and there were a lot of young teenagers there. I was blown away by them. The girls were 15 or 16, the sun was blasting and they were showing off every type of body in hot pants and summer tops. Do you know what?

"I looked out at them and it was absolutely gorgeous and I just thought ‘this is AMAZING, they are so confident and so beautiful.’ Seeing them gave me hope that things have changed and that the new generation of teenage girls don’t have the same body hang-ups that we did.

"Socially, I like small groups and I don’t love big gangs of people, so school discos weren’t something I was dying to go to. My parents were pretty strict, in the sense that, if I said I was staying in Sinead’s house, my Mum would be straight on the phone to make sure. I remember not being allowed go to discos and being absolutely devastated. Then of course, when I was finally allowed to go, all I remember is the nerves, and wearing an awful lot of suede...

My sixth-class teacher was called Mrs Quinn, and she is the only teacher I remember really encouraging me. I loved creative writing and I don’t really remember getting to do much of that through secondary school, but in sixth class, we did loads of it. When you are a kid, your barometer of whether or not you are good or bad at something comes from what grown ups tell you.

"So, I knew that I was bad at maths because my teachers would consistently tell me that I was bad at it. Mrs Quinn used to bring me up to the top of the class every week to read my story to the class. I remember thinking ‘she likes my writing!’ That led into me thinking that maybe this was something I could do for a living and from then on, I thought ok, I’ll be a writer."

Joanne McNally stages the Irish premiere for her latest show The Prosecco Express at Smock Alley Theatre from September 10-15, running as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2019.See fringefest.com

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