Friday, March 4, 2011

The interrogation of Michele A'Court

Today we have the very lovely Michele A’Court with us. I have to confess to being just a smidge fan girl over having Michele here. I saw her once in a restaurant in Christchurch – eating just like a regular person! I could barely light my cigarette I was so excited. (Yes it was a while ago – we could smoke in restaurants back then.)  
Anyway, as per our agreement, Michele, I will adhere to most of The Geneva Convention.
I’ll adjust the lights in a minute – don’t worry about that dripping, it’s nothing. Shush it’s nothing.

 Cat: What’s your favorite type of takeaway?
Michele: Sober: salmon & avocado sushi from Tanuki’s right next to the Classic comedy club in Auckland. They give comedians a discount and deliver. I like the way it makes the Green Room smell a little of fish – it counteracts the general odour of sweat and fear in there. Less-than-sober: KFC two-piece quarter pack, no drink (that’s what wine is for) and upsize the chips. I like to dip the chips into the potato’n’gravy. Potato tastes really good with potato. If I’m properly hungry, I eat the chicken as well as the skin.

 Cat: Describe your current mental status.
Michele: Anticipatory. After this I am going to take a book out into the sun to read. I am going to pretend I am in Rarotonga and make a cocktail. That is, of course, assuming you let me live.

 Cat: How exhausting is it being you?
Michele: Thoroughly. Sometimes I fantasise about someone stealing my identity so they can have a jolly good crack at getting to the bottom of my “To Do” list and pay my bills. I would wish them luck. They’d probably do a better job of it than me.

Cat: Do you have a favorite coffee?
Michele: That really heavy, black stuff from East Timor that you can buy from Trade Aid. I drank it first actually in East Timor – I was entertaining the troops – and they make it strong with a lot of sugar. I tastes kind of military and makes you ‘stand-to’ as they say in the army. I like Fair Trade coffee - it doesn’t taste of workers’ disappointment.

Cat: Us Kiwi’s know you from your stand-up comedy, weekly newspaper column, comedy gigs, television, radio, solo shows and probably a lot of other things too – what would you like your legacy to be?
Michele: That you can keep on doing the stuff you want to do in the way you want to do it. At various points in what I like to refer to as “my career”, people have tried to encourage me to be a bit more like someone else (“Be more like that tall, blonde girl”) which always seems an odd thing. The best thing that has happened in the last ten years is I’ve decided that if people book me for a gig or an event or to write a piece, I figure it’s actually me they wanted to book – otherwise they would have picked another name off the list. It’s a relief not to second-guess an audience – “I’m here, you’re here, this is who I am, the door isn’t locked...”

 Cat: I am almost afraid to ask – where does the material for your stand-up comedy come from?
Michele: Out of my tiny little head. I’ve learnt that whenever I feel some kind of emotion – anger, bewilderment, apoplexy – that’s actually a joke letting me know it wants to come in. So you sit with that emotion for a bit, dig down into it, and flip it into some kind of hilarity.

 Cat: Walk us through a typical day. (Do you make sure you’re wearing your lucky underpants while working, or perhaps you prefer commando?)
Michele: Every day is different – which is what stops me going mad – but a good day might go something like this: up at 8am to feed the cat and the kid (they have different plates), then down to my office to check emails and run an optimistic eye over that endless “To Do” list. There’s stupid admin stuff – invoicing, briefings, contracts – and nice stuff like arranging words in new and interesting ways for publication somewhere. When I get stuck or bored, I do the washing and eat. Sometimes there are voice jobs to go do (I like those – no lipstick) or radio bits (ditto on the lipstick). Then early dinner and a shower after the 6pm news headlines and out to do a gig. I don’t have lucky underpants for writing – that’s generally done in pyjamas – but I do have a couple of pairs of lucky red g-strings to wear for gigs. Occasionally as I’m standing anxiously side-of-stage before performing, I like to remember I am wearing a red g-string. It cheers me up.

Cat: What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?

Michele: It’s all scary, but I was fairly beside myself when I was asked to do a comedy set at my daughter’s School Leavers’ Dinner last year. It was the Head Girl’s and Boy’s idea. The kids were into it but some of the teachers and parents looked nervous. I don’t mind risking failure, but I didn’t want my daughter to be embarrassed. In the end, we all had a great time, though one of the parents stopped me in the street a couple of days later and berated me for using the word “orgasm” in one of my gags. I told her to relax – that her kid probably knew more about orgasms that she currently did from the look of her. Ok, that’s what I wished I had said. I’m big on l’esprit d’escalier.

Cat: Vampires, where do you stand? (I can’t tolerate them – the whole 700 year old ‘boy’ dating a 17 year old girl thing smacks of pedophilia but that might just be me?)
Michele: Yeah, probably just you. You might want to think that through. I can’t deal with the whole “Twilight” hooha, but I quite like some vampire movies – I find them quite sexy. The Blade movies, for example.  It probably helps that Wesley Snipes is a grown-up.

Cat: I have to ask this, how many New Zealand Comedy Guild Awards does a person need?
Michele: Good question. About seven. I’ve got seven. The last one was “Female Comedian of the Decade” in December. That’ll do.

Cat: Who are your favorite writers?
Michele: I’m a sucker for crime novel – the usual suspects like Ian Rankin, Henning Mankell and a glorious French woman called Fred Vargas. I just read Ben Sanders’ debut novel, Fallen, and really liked it. He’s 20 and lives round the corner from me. Not sure if I want to hug him or kill him for being so young and clever. Annie Proulx, Carol Shields and Anna Quindlen appear to take up a lot of space in my bookcases. I started loving autobiographies recently – George Carlin, Michael Parkinson, Stephen Fry... Alan Bennett may be my all-time favourite playwright and author. And journalists-turned-novelists are always a good bet – they manage to be evocative without over-writing.

Cat: Who inspires you to do better?
Michele: My partner, Jeremy Elwood, who has pretty bloody high standards for comedy specifically and life in general. It kills me that he can get away with doing less prep for work than I do (I’m a girly swat) and can think and write so fast. No-one is allowed to get away with lazy shit round here. Except when it comes to housework – he doesn’t care about the dusting.

Cat: Do you ever/or have you ever - put pants on your dog, cat, budgie or weta?
Michele: Not now. Had a cat when I was very young who I would dress in doll’s clothes and push in a pram. It wasn’t very successful. I have a particularly dignified ginger tom called Jimmy who is about to celebrate his 20th birthday. I wouldn’t dare try to put pants on him. He would be appalled. And I couldn’t bear his look of disdain.

Cat: Describe your ultimate day.
Michele: Here’s a real one: Waking up in Rarotonga, eating pawpaw and grated coconut for breakfast, snorkelling, reading, swimming, reading, cocktails, reading, dinner of ika mata, wine after dark, big sleep. Here’s a fantasy one: Waking up in New York, bagels, coffee, new shoes, cake, either watching a Broadway show or doing my own set at a comedy club, wine and a big sleep.

Cat: Who is your favorite fictitious villain? Who do you love to hate? Or are you all about the hero?
Michele: I like a villain I can love because they blur the lines – I am intrigued at how much affection I have for Dexter, the serial killer in the eponymous TV show. I just watched Idris Elba (Stringer from the Wire) in his new show, Luther, and the villainous woman in that is played by Ruth Wilson. She is a deliciously evil character. I adore watching Alan Rickman be horrible in anything.

 Cat: Do you have any quirks? 
Michele: When I am getting dressed for a gig, I have to put my clothes and jewellery on in a particular order. And no, I’m not going to explain the order. That might break the magic spell.

Cat: All-time favorite movie and why?
Michele: Three: Breakfast At Tiffany’s (sweetest whore ever!); Casablanca (time-machine, please); and To Kill a Mockingbird (proof that movies have always been able to say something).

Cat: What’s your preferred medium when it comes to writing – pen and paper, computer, typewriter?
Michele: Computer. My hand doesn’t move fast enough to make long-hand a happy thing. And I love the ability to cut’n’paste. Though I have to say, the best thing I learnt at school was touch-typing on an Imperial 66. That is a proper life skill.

Cat: If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be and why?
Michele: Rarotonga. They have time there. Lots of it. And sun. And fish. And you get to have a thought process. If you want to have one.

 Cat: Name that one gift that you truly dislike and yet are obliged to keep?
Michele: I didn’t keep it. They’ll never know.

Cat: What’s the worst book you have ever read?
Michele: Some ghastly debut novel set in pre-Pakeha NZ. Hideous. Over-written and stupid with images about cannibalism that I didn’t ever want in my head.

Cat: How did you get into comedy?
Michele: After What Now I was working in radio in Queenstown. Some boys came through town on a national tour. I thought, “I could do that”. I moved to Auckland and did.

Cat: How scary is it doing stand-up?
Michele: Off-stage – terrifying. It’s the waiting that kills you. On-stage – a joy. It’s my happy place. The pre-show nerves get worse – you understand very clearly that you are always a heartbeat away from failure. But once I’m out there, something in me seems to know what I am doing.

Cat: Wine, beer, spirits?
Michele: Red wine – it makes me feel like I might be Ilsa Lund. Beer makes me feel like the Hindenburg. A vodka-tonic is ok for lunch. Tequila can take the edge off post-show mania. But mostly red wine.

Cat: What can we expect from you next?
Michele: I’m doing a play. This is very scary. But I spend all my days currently being me, and I’d quite like to be someone else for a while. It’s called, “Mike & Virginia”, written by Kathryn Burnett and Nick Ward, and Te Radar is directing it for the NZ Comedy Festival in May.

Cat: Do you carry a notebook or keep one by the bed for those sudden brilliant ideas?
Michele: Yup, a fancy moleskin for ideas and set lists.

Cat: What is the most random thing you have ever written with and on?
Michele: Lip-liner on the inside of a packet of zig-zag cigarette papers.

Cat: If you’re not working, what are you most likely to be doing?
Michele: Reading, sleeping, drinking, watching movies or talking. Sometimes all five at once. Sometimes I do yoga to shut my head up.

A huge thank you to Michele for coming to play! If you'd just hold still I'll untie you... no really... stop wriggling, you're making the knots tighter!

Michele's website
Michele on twitter

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