Aisling Bea is a performer in the old vaudeville tradition, a Lucille Ball for modern times — she writes, she acts and she does stand-up.
She won the prestigious ‘So You Think You’re Funny?’ award at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2012. But there are pros and cons to spreading her talent.
“I suppose there is just a constant feeling of not being able to give each one enough time — when you are doing all three at once, or the fear that you’d get pigeon-holed for one thing. But, then, being able to work in all forms is actually a more traditional performer route. Most actors, up until the 1980s, were required to sing, tap and act. Strings to the bow. It’s a tough business, so you just want to stay in work and have other things to pay the bills, when nobody wants to look at your face anymore.”
Bea — she was born Aisling O’Sullivan, but adopted the stage name ‘Bea’ as a nod to her father’s name, Brian — is part of a wave of funny Irish women that includes Maeve Higgins and the comedy writer and actor, Sharon Horgan. Bea has worked on several projects with Horgan, including a turn as her “slightly slutty sister” on the BBC sitcom, Dead Boss.
“She’s a very talented, ballsy, funny person, with an amazing work ethic and drive which you can’t help but get sucked into,” says Bea of Horgan. “And she has a brilliant laugh, which I try very hard to get out of her as much as I can.”
Bea is filming the fourth series of Trollied for Sky, and will begin shooting Delivery Man for ITV in the autumn. She has a string of writing credits on her CV, including the BBC Northern Ireland sketch show, LOL and a Radio 4 series for BBC, Irish Micks and Legends, which she devised with Yasmine Akram and the show’s producer, Raymond Lau. The show pokes fun at Irish legends, such as The Children of Lir and the Salmon of Knowledge. As to her own favourite legend? “I think I like when Queen Maeve was trying to woo Cú Chulainn,” she says. “And she had him meet her in her room and she was there butt-naked, but he was having none of it. That must have been embarrassing for her. I’d have been bull thick, too.”
Bea comes from a rich vein of writers. Both her grand-aunt, Siobhán Ní Shúilleabháin, and grandfather, Micheál Ó Suilleabháin, were writers. Ó Suilleabháin was a Gaelic novelist who wrote only in Irish. His books included a trilogy about life in the Gaeltacht: An Fear Aduaidh, An Creamairi and Peacai na nAithreacha. Bea grew up in “horse country” in Co Kildare. Her mother was a professional jockey.
Bea and her sister Sinead were hip-hop fans (“My palms are sweaty, knees are weak, arms are spaghetti”). But hip hop wasn’t played much at the local disco in Kildare town, whose familiar, crude mating rituals Bea has mined for her shows.
The DJ, she says, knew what music to play to get the boys and the girls around “the watering hole” (or dance floor). The guys just needed something to jump to, like House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’, while the girls loved to mime. “Given a choice between walking somewhere and following an invisible rope,” she says, while dancing across stage pulling an invisible rope, “a woman will always follow the invisible rope”.
Aisling Bea performs at the Vodafone Comedy Festival on Saturday and Sunday
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