Ethel Loves… Leisa Rea



Leisa Rea is funny. She is really, really, jaw-achingly, might-puke-cos-can’t-breathe-from-laughing funny. We first encountered her at the Camden Fringe late summer 2012, in an awkwardly long, thin, L-shaped room above a bar. As massive comedy fans, we had scanned the listings, done our research and chosen wisely. (Much more wisely than the time we were tempted into a ‘comedy club’ in a basement in New York, anyway. That time, before we knew it, we were sitting in an audience of four others, two of which were openly smoking crack, the other two I think were having sex. The MC’s opening line of ‘So you gave someone you don’t know ten bucks and followed them into basement where you have no phone reception…’ preceded two of the most tense hours ever experienced.) Anyway. Bygones. So in the Camden bar there was no crack, sex or terror, but you know what? That was okay. More than okay. Replacing the fear was a mash up of moments of near magical hilarity entitled ‘Bastard Legs & Other Shows I Haven’t Written’. The concept was simple. Leisa fully admitted that she couldn’t focus to actually write any of these elements into a single show and subsequently the audience were treated to a never-before-performed-even-in-front-of-herself string of titles to the backdrop of a sweet, sweet Powerpoint presentation. The titular ‘Bastard Legs’ (in our house, a now oft-imitated move) was a few seconds of rubber-legged joy, and the rest of the show (possibly eased by the tic tac sedatives provided) was just punch after punch to the funny bone. She has a new show in Feb at the Soho Theatre called Conference. We’re polishing our lanyards already.

So, Leisa…

Like yourself, we have a penchant for Lazy Susans (see also Hostess Trolleys). In an ideal world, what would you laden down your Lazy Susan with?

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Crisps. But that’s mainly because if it was anything more interesting, I might not want to share it with the rest of the table. If it was just crisps, I’d be spinning that LS with enormous generosity. No mixed flavours though – we’d have to stick to ready salted. Hopefully then people would lose interest and drift off, and I’d order a Chinese Banquet for One.

Where do your bastard legs take you on a good day out in London?

Hampstead Heath for cobweb clearance, the BFI viewing room to look at obscure documentary clips for free. Also quite like playing with musical instruments on Denmark St, with no intention to buy. Otherwise I’m in Foyle’s cafe getting intermittent wifi against a background of light Jazz.

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You recently stayed at Burt Bacharach’s East Norwich Motor Inn (which, according to Trip Advisor, has a ‘bereavement rate’. Handy). What was the most Bacharach and what was the least Bacharach thing about it?

Oh, that’s marvellous – a bereavement rate. Super idea.

So, the most Bacharach thing was the ‘Fitness Centre’, located in the basement. Pretty kitsch: no windows, strip lighting, burgundy carpet and some of the best gym equipment I’ve ever sampled. I can almost see Bacharach’s ex wife, Angie Dickinson doing pull ups on this.

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The most un Bacharach thing about the place was the fact that Burt sold it in the 80’s after a divorce and disassociated himself with the whole damn venture. The Hotel rebranded and boarded up his name, but a storm last year ripped the board off and the new owners have wisely left it that way.

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Apart from Burt Bacharach’s Inn, what would be your ideal celebrity- based holiday destination?  

I’d like to open The Deirdre Langton Caravan Park in Rhyl. I have fond memories of caravanning in Prestatyn in the mid 80’s, and getting my photo taken with a sedated python in the Caravan Club House. (That snake, incidentally, went on to bite a woman on the next table who was then rushed to A & E).

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Anyway, my Deirdre Langton Caravan Park would be snake free. It would also have a couple of bars named after her other husbands – The Barlow Lounge would do a signature cocktail called The Ken (enjoyed by over a thousand women) and there’d also be Samir Rachid’s Corner, serving traditional Moroccan pub grub with Lancashire overtones.

Is drunk-ukulele the best ukulele?

One should always be ‘on something’ when listening to the ukulele. My poison is Complan & Jack Daniels.

Has your dog, Sally, managed to evolve further than the computer keyboard in communicating profundities?

Sally died this August *long awkward silence*

She was a supreme mime, never barked, always watched from the sidelines and of course was unmatched as a songwriter. She may well choose to communicate further, through dream. Then again she may not.

*allows a single tear to fall*.

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We all know the answer to the stupid question ‘are women funny’. We won’t ask you that. We’ll ask you this instead – ‘are lesbians funny?’ (Or, to put it another way, how does your queerness inform your comedy?)

I think who I ‘am’ does inform my comedy, yes. I like absurdity, old showbiz, outsider stuff. I see my sexuality as part of a whole package of being woman/queer/feminist/Mancunian lapsed Catholic with working class roots growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. All of that informs my creative work. It was definitely grimmer up North when I was a kid than it seems to be today. Back then it was bleak!  I suppose there’s a dark undercurrent in all the stuff I make. A sort of comedy for losers, underscored by the music to ‘Sale of the Century’. Failure with glitter on.

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Your work is a mix of the political and the surreal. Mental health, sexism, Phil Collins – what really gets you going?

Sale of the Century, public information films, variety nights in working men’s clubs, dirty caravans, great ideas and tuppaware parties all get me going in a good way. Things that work my last nerve are upwardly mobile people with bad taste, anyone who believes their own hype, and arrogance and stupidity. Grrrrr!

Do you give yourself nightmares with your Biscuit-Eyed Lady?

Yes. I also give myself ‘crumb-eye’, a condition which affects anyone who has ever worked closely with biscuits in the eye area. Symptoms are both immediate and violent and include blinking, swearing and blindness.

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How many packets of biscuits do you get through when doing a Biscuit-Eyed Lady film?  Does the fact that the character has no mouth make it more likely that they’ll make it to your eyes?

The original jammy dodger eyes (now 9 years old) are still intact. There are signs of wear and tear – which would possibly devalue them on eBay – otherwise, they are the Real Deal, patched up with a bit of clear glue. Like David Dickinson.

Karen Bird’s Holistick Therapy has been proven to work in The States. Is she still practising or has she been struck off?

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Karen is totally self-qualified, a safeguard she put into place to stop anyone trying to sue her. She’s still horribly active on both sides of the Atlantic. Clients tend to come via the yellow pages and only ever attend one session. That’s how good she is. Gifted, would probably be a better word.

We co-hosted a Wig Party at queer discothèque Debbie. There was plenty of hot n heavy hair-on-hair action. If any wig from Wendy’s Wigs & Weaves Woolwich could be yours, what would you choose and why?

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Oh crikey, there’s such a range at Wendy’s – erm, ok – I’m torn between the ‘Ann Darwin’ model (she was the lady whose husband pretended he’d had a canoe accident and lost his memory…when really, he’d been hiding in his wife Ann’s wardrobe for years, after she’d told her sons he was dead…Confusing I know).

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Ann & husband were both done for fraud in the end. So. Yeah – the Ann Darwin wig, is unassuming, grey but has a hint of criminality about it. OR, the ‘Cleo Laine’ wig. I’m going to have to toss a coin aren’t I?

Conference, written by Leisa Rea and Cicely Giddings is at the Soho Theatre on 3rd February

Leisa Rea.com

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