You'll laugh you'll gobble
Maeve Higgins's new comedy show involves baking buns on stage. There's something for the audience, too; they get to eat them, she tells Róisín Ingle
When comedian Maeve Higgins was growing up in Cobh, Co Cork there were an awful lot of dead badgers around. "They kept getting run over because they have pre-planned routes in their heads from hundreds of years ago and even though there were roads built where they used to live, they never changed their routes," she says. Apparently University College Cork was doing some research into this phenomenon at the time and was calling on the public to inform them about any dead badgers they found. "It was a case of 'If you see a dead badger, let us know'.
The problem was my mother, when she found them, used to put them in the freezer, and the people at UCC said frozen badgers were no good to them. It was horrible going in to get your fish fingers and finding a badger instead."
This beautifully delivered, and possibly true anecdote explains why, since first appearing on Today FM's Ray D'Arcy Show two years ago, Higgins has established herself on Ireland's comedy circuit, with occasional stand-up routines and regular spots on RTÉ 2's Naked Camera. In the hidden camera programme she plays the bespectacled traffic warden so desperate for a date she'll rip up your parking ticket if you agree to take her out.
The unsuspecting Irish public was initially horrified by her amorous advances. "I was greeted with universal terror. The older guys were just mortified and the younger ones would invent girlfriends to try to get rid of me," she says. Inevitably, her success has had its price as recently she's been recognised while attempting similar stunts. "It's not so much fun when you are about to do your thing and someone goes 'Hi Maeve'," she says.
The 25-year-old has a diploma in photography from Griffith College in Dublin, and says she drifted into comedy while working in a clothes shop. "In your 20s you kind of pluck up the courage to do things you want to do, so I started to do a few open-mic spots around town," she says.
She was more aware of the kind of comedy she didn't want to do, than the type of material she did want to tackle. "I knew I didn't want to do comedy that was, like, 'I get periods' or at the other extreme was just trying to be laddish. I mean it's easy to get a crowd to laugh by saying 'dick', but it's also very lazy," she says.
Her early attempts were gentle riffs about how she had a penchant for "roundy foods" such as biscuits. "Real intellectual stuff," she laughs. She says she'd love to be able to carry off political comedy because there isn't enough of it in Ireland. "There is a real need for Bill Hicks-style comedy, but I can't ever see myself getting into to it," she adds.
Her first show, Ha Ha Yum, which she will preview in Dublin's International Bar next week, before taking it to the Edinburgh Arts Festival for the month of August, was inspired by the fact that she didn't want to do conventional stand-up. "I think the idea of doing stand-up on your own for an hour is really egotistical," she says. At this point we have the inevitable "why don't more women get involved in comedy?" conversation, and she concludes that ego has a lot to do with it. "I think women don't have that need or desire to show off, the way some men do," she says.
So her new show is a bit of a novelty, which should go down well at weird and wonderful Edinburgh. It sees her and her sister Lilly making Rice Krispie cakes and cream puffs onstage, while discussing how much easier things were for women in the 1950s. Both women say they long for the simple pleasures of that era, "like baking and pretending to be happy. The idea is we make the cakes while the show is going on and give them to the audience to sample at the end," she says, hence the title, Ha Ha Yum.
Her sister Lilly, one of seven Higgins daughters, often features in her stand-up routine. "She has a heart murmur, so I like to joke that she got attention by turning blue in the face as a child while I had to go down the comedy route to get noticed."
It was only when Lilly, a graphic design graduate, agreed to keep her big sister company at Edinburgh that she got roped in to the show. "I think she'll be brilliant when we've done it a few times," says Higgins, before adding mischievously: "There is a slight problem in that Lilly doesn't like crowds." u
•Ha Ha Yum is at the International Bar, Wicklow Street, Dublin 2, from Monday until Saturday, July 22nd, 7pm. €5/€3. Also July 24th and 25th, at the Ruby Room, the Kings Head, Galway, 1pm