As her onstage persona Loretta Maine, Pippa Evans has proved a big hit on the comedy scene. But now she wants to be Pippa not Loretta and it seems being a biscuit is helping make that happen.
When I started out in comedy all those years ago (2006), I was myself on stage. I did standup with songs and I was good, but definitely not 100% comfortable in my own skin.
Bookings came, but no one was particularly excited. I knew I wanted to be me on stage; I could hear my voice in my head, but I couldn’t quite get it out once I was in front of an audience. I doubted myself, my identity. Who is “Pippa Evans”? A big life question, it turns out, but at the time it just felt like an artistic fail. I felt I had nothing to say – or lacked the courage to say what I wanted.
Luke Toulson and I were supposed to do a 20-minute set at the Canal Cafe with Holly Walsh as a new sketch group. I don’t think we even got a name before Holly, quite rightly, realised it was going to be a load of balls and bailed. Being the good little chickens Luke and I are, we didn’t cancel. But it meant that the two of us now had 20 minutes to fill. That is a long time on stage.
“What are our skills?” said Luke.
“Well,” I said, “I can sing and write songs, and you are good at being scathing.”
So we created a 20-minute scenario, where a bitter singer-songwriter was interviewed by a cruel TV presenter.
Thus Loretta Maine was born. Suddenly I had a voice. Suddenly people were excited. It was such a thrill to suddenly be comfortable on stage, making statements in this new, American voice of mine. Although it wasn’t mine, it was Loretta’s. But still – I loved it!
Loretta has been headlining comedy clubs around the country for the past six years, going down a storm. Encores and all. Her signature tear-stained, smeared makeup instantly telling audiences what to expect: tears, tantrums and huge amounts of abuse.
Recently, however, I’ve been getting bored. Bored of always being angry. Bored of always having to fill my eyes with black mascara and Vaseline. Bored of always having to express things as Loretta, not me.
This year, I took the plunge and did my first ever solo Edinburgh show where I spoke as myself. It was exciting and terrifying and I loved it. But I knew I had to develop “Pippa Evans” further. To which end, I’ve been doing open mike sessions and gigs as me.
And – because of this project – without makeup.
And I think it has helped.
Why? Let me backtrack.
I’ve never had “a look”. I have always just been me. I can blend into the background easily. That’s probably why I’m good at character comedy: I’m a chameleon. I can change in a flash. Poof!
When I got lots of recognition in 2008 for being funny, I started going to auditions where I would have to play “pretty girl”; the standard part (unfortunately) for any female in their mid-20s. I would turn up and feel uncomfortable, because I am not a pretty girl. THIS IS NOT A SYMPATHY CALL.
If you imagine a pretty girl on the telly, they tend to be a petite 5’5” and look like an advert for either Urban Decay (sexy girl) or Natural Collection (girl-next-Door). I am 5’10” and look like John Lithgow in a wig. It’s true.
I felt uncomfortable, because I didn’t fit into this category for which I kept being put forward. I’d try – I’d wear the right clothes and makeup – but the only parts I ever got were on the radio. I genuinely have a face for radio…
Yet slowly, as I’ve got older, had more experiences and accidentally started an international global movement of wonder, I’ve felt myself grow in confidence. If nothing else forces you to have opinions, it’s finding yourself speaking at international conferences about how to create social change, when you thought you were starting a local community group.
However, the coinciding of this project has meant that I have had to get to know my physical self. Warts/zits and all. I have started to wake up and not say, “Urgh! Can’t wait to put my face on!” but instead just get on with my day. So when I go on stage as myself, I fell like I am presenting myself. There is no layer to hide behind.
Pippa Evans in a John Lithgow wig. Honest.
I am not a glamorous person. I can be, but day-to-day, I am a down to earth, get on with things, let’s write some jokes rather than paint my face kinda girl. And to go on stage with a plain face has meant the audience have not had to work out who I am. There is Pippa: plain faced but full of enthusiasm, whereas Loretta is made up and full of anger. It’s a strange place to be when not wearing makeup has helped fine tune me to who I actually am.
Theatrically speaking, makeup is usually part of a stage act, but it turns out, makeup was confusing my act. Makeup was messing with my message. Turns out, I am more comfortable on stage as a biscuit than as a princess.
I used to be scared to go on stage with no makeup.
“I might disappear into the lights”
“People might realise I have terrible skin.”
“Someone might say that I am ugly.”
Well, so what? So what if someone thinks I am ugly?
None of these things will stop me being funny. And if the first option occurs, I can always refer to my radio training.
Biscuit I most resembled this week: those ones you get free in hotel rooms, ie a bit old and dehydrated.
Hours spent thinking about makeup: All week, in a reflective sort of way.
Enquiries into my health? Still no enquires about my health, but a hairdresser did say, “You would look more beautiful if you wore makeup.”
Next week: What is in makeup anyway?
Pippa Evans is a comedian, improviser and the co-founder of Sunday Assembly. She lives in London.