Yorkshire-born stand-up comedian Maisie Adam has had a fairly meteoric rise. As she heads home for a couple of gigs, Yvette Huddleston caught up with her.
The first thing Maisie Adam does when we chat over the phone is apologise for her croaky voice, the result of a heavy cold.
She is partway through an extensive UK and European tour with her new show Hang Fire so the timing’s not great. But she seems completely unfazed.
“I’m performing in Cambridge tonight, Milan tomorrow and Antwerp the night after. Not quite sure how that’s going to work,” she says, laughing croakily.
Ah, the confidence of youth.
Still only 25, the Pannal-born comedian and actor who attended St Aidan’s High School in Harrogate is rapidly rising up the ranks of comic stardom since winning the nationwide competition So You Think You’re Funny in 2017.
Previous winners include Lee Mack, Peter Kay and Tom Allen – and Adam became only the fourth woman to win in the competition’s 30-year history.
“I’d only been going in comedy for about nine months at that time and winning was definitely a springboard for me because it got me signed with an agent,” she says.
“Up to that point I’d been emailing every agent I could get hold of and getting very few replies. Also, as part of the prize, they put on your show at the Gilded Balloon in Edinburgh and that really changed everything.”
She returned to the Scottish capital a year later for the Fringe with her first full-length solo show Vague, in which she spoke about living with epilepsy, a condition she was diagnosed with at 14.
“I didn’t set out to write a show about epilepsy – I wanted to write something that was sort of introductory, that would tell people who I am,” she says.
“I like all that anecdotal stuff – remembering kids and teachers at school, going to your first music festival, holidays with mates – but what makes my upbringing a bit different is that I was doing all the things that teenagers normally do while living with epilepsy.
“And I wasn’t really open about it with my friends so I was having to manage this thing that I was kind of pretending wasn’t happening.
“I thought that could be quite an interesting angle for the show. I found I could talk about it and make it amusing – people weren’t laughing at me, they were laughing at my storytelling – and I was conscious that it was not a subject anybody had tried to make funny before.” The show took the Fringe by storm, receiving rave reviews and earning Adam a nomination in the Best Newcomer category at the 2018 Edinburgh Comedy Awards. “That really put me on people’s radar,” she says.
Adam’s first taste of stand-up came in October 2016 when she applied to perform at Ilkley Literature Festival Fringe. It turned out to be a life-changing experience. “I studied acting at university and always thought that was what I was going to do,” she says.
“But after I graduated I just couldn’t find any acting work and I really craved being on stage. The last piece of acting I had done was a really terrible Shakespeare set in a shoe shop – the worst adaptation of Shakespeare ever.
“I wanted to perform but in something I could be proud of. That’s when I started to think about comedy. With stand-up you write and perform the show – if it works it’s all your credit and if it doesn’t there’s no one else to blame.” So she sat down to create a routine. She was helped by the fact that while at university she had entered a sitcom-scriptwriting competition. “It was something I was working on in my spare time when I was avoiding writing my dissertation”.
She won and the prize was mentoring from acclaimed comedy writer Laurence Marks (Birds of a Feather, The New Statesman). “I learnt so much about writing comedy,” she says.
Having been accepted by the Fringe in Ilkley, she prepared a piece for her slot. “I was living in Pannal at the time and there were no open-mic nights nearby, so this seemed like a good opportunity to try something out. People seemed to like the show and I absolutely loved it. I was buzzing and thought ‘I want to do more of that.’”
In the past year or so, her profile has been raised further by appearances on shows such as Have I Got News for You – where she more than held her own against veterans Hislop, Merton and Co – Mock the Week and 8 out of 10 Cats. “It’s great fun doing telly – and I’d like to do more.”
After her success in Edinburgh with Vague, Adam wrote a second show Hang Fire which she took to Edinburgh last summer and which is now touring, including Leeds and Sheffield next month.
“I wanted it to still be personal, about me and my life, but also to touch on something broader. I had noticed, particularly in the wake of everything that’s happened since 2016, that ‘cancel culture’ had become a thing. So, someone makes a mistake, often in the moment and not necessarily with any malice but because everything is now in the public domain thanks to social media people have been publicly shamed.
“These days if you don’t agree with someone you can tweet about it in a second and then it can come back to bite you later. Only 15 years ago you had to write a letter or pick up the phone.
“In the show I talk about a few different celebrities but there are new examples coming along all the time.” No spoilers, but there is a twist towards the end of the show where it suddenly becomes a lot more personal.
And she’s looking forward to sharing it with a home audience. “I love coming back up North. I have such a great time and the crowds are always so friendly.”
Maisie Adam is at The Leadmill, Sheffield, February 3 and The Wardrobe, Leeds, February 4. Tickets ents24.com