Hatty Ashdown: It might be like seeing the Sex Pistols for the first time and people can say ‘I was there.’
The cheery and whimsical Hatty Ashdown talks to Rhys Bailey about what to expect from her upcoming acts for the Leicester Comedy Festival and what is has been like for the career of a comedian during the pandemic, as well as what the process has been like to adapt acts and performances to a digital platform.
Hatty Ashdown has a lot of talents and spins a lot of plates. Comedian? Check. Broadcaster? Check. Actress? Check. A Mother, home teaching while also balancing a podcast series and preparing a brand new stand up act? Big check! Yes, Hatty has a selection of skills, and she is not afraid to use them.
From the moment she enters the Zoom call, with her signature blond box fringe and bold lippy, she is all smiles and presents an air of delightfulness. She has just sat down with a cup of tea and finished teaching her children at home, while finding time to prepare for her upcoming stand-up show Dig Deep as part of the Leicester Comedy Festival 2021.
The show will be the first full hour long show that Hatty has done in four years and has been in development since the start of last year in 2020, however because of the pandemic and multiple lockdowns, it was stalled before it could fully take off. As a result, Hatty said that her idea for the show has changed since its initial conception last year.
With a laugh of bewilderment she says, “I don’t know what audiences can expect to be honest. When I started planning this show the topic of grief was the focus but with everything that’s happened in the last year, I’ve wanted to include more things. So, the show is going to be an experience of talking about a few different things and testing out new material.”
The debut show of Dig Deep is a chaotic and funny show, as Hatty tries out her new material. She appears on screen with that familiar bright smile and bold lippy, telling everyone to ignore the clothes horse in the background and standing up to reveal she’s wearing her old maternity leggings for maximum comfort.
Although the original concept has changed, Hatty still hopes that she can address the issue of grief in her act as she feels it’s something that shouldn’t be ignored. Hatty explains her mum passed away three years ago, and that grief is an ongoing process that should be talked about more. She hopes that by talking about the various ways people deal with it, including some of her own comedic mishaps, it will help audiences leave her show feeling more comfortable about talking about their own grief.
“I find it interesting what people do and say it’s because they’re grieving. I don’t think it’s the sort of thing you should sweep under the carpet. It’ll be funny because it’s me. Lots of bloody stupid things happened when I was grieving. I got a really bad perm and my hair fell out. It just completely broke off.” She says, with a burst of laughter, seemingly at the ridiculousness of this memory.
Not only does she feel strongly about exploring grief through comedy, which few comedians openly do, but she says it also feels right as an homage to her mum, who was a big inspiration in her previous shows and acts.
She says, “I suppose it would be exploring and discovering our inner mental strength. Anything from finding the strength to say, hang up the washing to getting through grief. My previous shows were very much inspired by my mum, so It feels right to talk about her a bit. The show is a work in progress so it will also be an exploration for me about what kind of material works and working things out.”
As the Dig Deep set progresses and Hatty moves on from her whimsical tales and observations of lockdown life, including a story of having to get her wedding ring cut of that drew gasps of astonishment from the audience, Hatty starts discussing the concept of grief and the inspirational women in her life, including her mum.
The show takes a turn into a heartfelt reflection from Hatty about how much she loves her mum and sti retains its humour but now with a feel of intimacy and vulnerability. Despite the central theme becoming grief, the anecdotes Hatty shares with the audience are like little bits of happiness she shares with us.
She contemplates what it means to be working class, and recalls not having her own room for years with her many siblings and so shared a bed with her parents until she was 7, something she recalls with fondness.
When asked if she has a particular kind of comedic style, her brows furrow slightly and, after a moment of pondering, she chuckles and says she can’t really specify what her comedy style is like, but states that she almost sort of takes on a persona inspired by her own glamourous aunties she admired growing up.
She says, “I feel like that’s for other people to decide. I’m not really that rude or mean, but I can be a bit cheeky. It’s a version of myself that’s a bit more confident, like an auntie who’s the life and soul of the party.”
At this moment Hatty bursts into laughter and cringes at what her husband, who has just walked past, must think of her, worried about how pretentious she might sound. Several times throughout the interview Hatty shows a humbleness and awareness of not wanting sound, as she says, ‘wanky’, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she has previously been called ‘wonderfully inventive and consistently funny’ by Time Out, and ‘Warm, infectiously funny and brilliant’ by fellow comedian Josie Long, as well as classed as ‘one to watch’ by the Independent.
Given how expansive her portfolio of creative projects and ideas is, one could hardly blame her for ever feeling a little confident. She has done many amazing things since she first started out in entertainment, with her fingers in many different project pies.
Originally from Kent, she is a regular on the London comedy scene and since her debut has gone on to perform at the prolific Edinburgh Fringe Festival, create the well-received comedy series Give Out Girls that appeared on Comedy Central in 2014, and regularly presents The Other Woman radio show on Soho Radio, as well as hosts the Screaming with Laughter Comedy Club, where people are free to experience comedy with the added thrill and/or chaos of having babies and toddlers present.
A big passion project for her has also been her podcast Funny Mummies, where Hatty invites other funny women like herself to humorously discuss not only their parenting experiences but also insights into life in general. She has big hopes and ideas going forward as the podcast’s platform grows, especially hoping that more parents to join in as listeners.
With a chuckle she says, “I would love for the podcast to grow. I think I chose an audience that probably struggles to find time to listen to podcasts though. Hopefully they can find 50 minutes to give us a listen and enjoy this funny little safe space and have that time to unwind a little bit.”
Hatty is also hosting a live version of the Funny Mummies podcast as part of the Leicester Comedy Festival. In this special show she’ll be accompanied by comedians Viv Groskop, Anthea Kublenu, and Gemma Beagly, which aims to capture the same charm, whimsy and feel-good aspects of the recorded shows, and, like the Deep Dig stand up show, will take place through Zoom.
When asked about how she feels about performing for an audience via zoom, as opposed to within a physical space, Hatty says it’s difficult to say. Throughout last year from the initial lockdown, she says she did shows both live and digital, and for the most part enjoyed doing both, and during these gigs noticed there was an obvious contrast in how it felt to perform in each, most significantly the ability to read the energy of the room, or in the case of virtual gigs, the lack of room.
Despite this she hasn’t found it completely disheartening, having noticed how some parts of her act actually can work through a digital platform. However, from what Hatty has discussed with her peers, it has seemingly left the comedian community divided, with many not comfortable with performing without an in-house audience or being able to alter their routines to effectively suit the format change.
She says, “I think myself and a lot of other comedians have said it doesn’t just work through zoom. You get into a certain physicality on stage and used to certain cues and use of the space. I move around a lot. I know a lot of Comedians who won’t do it and they hate doing zoom gigs. Some of them are gradually changing their minds, but many of them feel their material doesn’t work or feel authentic so they’d have to come up with a whole new set of material or rewrite and adapt it to be something more conversational.”
Hatty states that it can work though depending on the style of the comedian, but it hasn’t meant a complete block for comedians to be able to perform. She says that personally she tries to think of her audiences for her stand up the same way as she considers her radio audiences, in that it requires a bit of acting in pretending that they are there with you and you can tell how they are responding.
“It’s trying to work out what material does work online. Jess Fostekew did a show recently that was brilliant, and it felt like I was sitting at the kitchen table with her. Some stuff only really works online which I found out last year doing 10-20 minute gigs and MCing.” She says.
With a tone of charming optimism, she considers the ways in which online performances have been beneficial too, in that people with severe anxiety or disabilities or health conditions that confine them to the house have been able to experience comedy and theatre of a much wider variety as a result. She says, “It also opens it up globally for international performers to join in. It gives people with anxieties and disabilities a chance to see shows from the safety of their own homes. You have to take the positives, don’t you? There could be room for both in person and online shows going forward.”
It’s been a tough year for those in the creative and performance industries, with the restrictions in place against Covid and a lack of government support for the art resulting in difficulty to carry out their crafts, including comedians. Hatty says it was because of the constant feelings of unmotivation she chose to get involved with the Leicester Comedy Festival.
She says, “It was just to force myself to do something. It’s been so unmotivating being in lockdown, so you end up thinking you should’ve used this time to write stuff. I think I do like a deadline, it just makes you do work. I felt sad that I missed out on last year, with all the festivals I wanted to do, so I thought why not and took this as a chance to try out a new show.”
During all the quarantining, Hatty found that focusing and continuing her podcast was helpful as well, at one point she was churning out episodes weekly saying, “It almost felt like we had to save the nation in some way.”
When considering the importance of comedy in society especially in the last 10-11 months in the UK, Hatty feels it has been important, not just for audiences but for comedians as well, as it gives everyone a much needed morale boost, giving audiences something to laugh at and comics something to work on.
She says, “Some comics have continued to do shows through zoom whereas some have focused on putting out clips and sketches, it gives us creatives, without meaning to sound wanky, something to focus on, it keeps us going, it’s a bit like fuel. I think audiences are coming around more to online gigs too.”
Hatty plans to move forward into bigger and better things for 2021, adamant that she wants to take the Dig Deep routine to other festivals, and despite being someone who usually likes to plan ahead, will wait and see what becomes of the weeks ahead and take it from there.
She says, “I’m hopefully going to be attending more festivals, it depends on what the whole situation is some of them might end up being online. I feel like life is so much about living to the next couple of weeks right now. Usually, I am a planner but last year I sort of just ripped out the pages from the calendar.”
With an ambition to launch herself into a more productive year, Hatty is starting by debuting her Deep Dig show at the Leicester comedy festival alongside a live episode of Funny Mummies, and with her charming whimsicality and infectious laughter, it’s certain to be a good time for all involved.
For one final reflection on what she wants for her audience to get out of her new experimental Dig Deep show, and with a flare of excitement and her now all too familiar optimism, Hatty says, “What they can expect is a nice hour with me, with a cuppa tea or something stronger. You might hear something that’s never said again or be at the birth of something wonderful. It might be like seeing the sex pistols for the first time and people can say ‘I was there’”.
As someone who was there, at the debut showing of Dig Deep, I can confirm that it was a great show to watch. Hatty’s charm shines through the screen and despite that it was re-greasing of her comedic wheels, Hatty was never short of material. As intended she does indeed dig deep into her personal life and stories, and at times the show feels like a tribute to her mum, a true romantic who bought a wedding dress before she was even engaged and could never resist a Bailey’s despite her diabetes. The show feels intimate and more like your listening to a friend who also happens to be an entertainer.
And it is a reflection on grief as Hatty hoped. But it’s hopeful, it opens up a refreshing perspective about not letting it stop living your own life, instead you live for the person you’ve lost. As Hatty says at one point in the show, “My mum was very open and resilient about things, she wouldn’t want me moping around like a sad adult after all of the effort she put into raising me”.
The finale of the show is Hatty reading aloud a letter from her mother. It is selected from a number of letters she has lovingly kept safe and preserved, and is picked out by a member of the audience. The reading is as much a surprise for Hatty as it is for the crowd as she recoils in both embarrassment and delight and recalls the events of the letter. If anything this is the most intimate and emotional high of the show.
The Dig Deep show looks set to be a wonderful project for Hatty to build upon. It is Hattys own charm and charisma as well as the vulnerability of the topics discussed with such humour that make it endearing and fun to be a part of, as its title says it digs deep into certain aspects of her life.
Moving forward, as the Dig Deep show develops, with her Funny Mummies podcast gaining more prominence and as she continues to grow her creative repertoire, the world had better watch out for Hatty Ashdown and the joy she’s set to bring.
You can also follow Hatty on social media on Twitter and Instagram, both using @HattyAshdown and the Funny Mummies podcast can be listened to here.