Interview: comedian Camilla Cleese comes to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014
'Six-foot blonde, slightly resembles John Cleese but not that much, thank God'
This article is from 2014.
Camilla Cleese might have a famous father but she’s not letting that get in the way of her stand-up career. She tells Marissa Burgess that if you don’t find her funny, you can always blame dad
It’s a brave move going into comedy when your dad is John Cleese, but if you’re currently thinking that the offspring of celebrities get an unfair break because of their bloodline, you can forget that now. Camilla Cleese has the goods to back it up: she’s damn funny and, what’s more, thoroughly charming and modest about her talents.
Cleese is in LA for our Skype chat, and despite it being 3am over there, it all looks cosy as she sits in her apartment, sipping water while her big fluffy cat wanders by. Cleese is pondering her debut at the Fringe. Rather than being heralded by trumpets to perform a full hour, she’s cautiously dipping a toe in to play a week as one act in a three-comic show, American … ish, with Sarah Tiana and Cort McCown.
‘Edinburgh is amazing: I was so excited when I got the opportunity to do it but I know I’m not ready to do an hour yet. I’ve written and performed comedy for a long time but stand-up is newer for me and I don’t want to go in and try something that I’m not ready to do, especially because I feel I will be subject to a little more scrutiny than your average act. Unfortunately, there’s always going to be some people that love to hate children of celebrities especially those who have followed in their footsteps. It’s understandable but it makes it a little harder.’
Some of the aforementioned comedy that she had written prior to the stand-up was with her father, so she’s had some first class training over the years. ‘I’m incredibly lucky to have him as a personal tutor most of the time because I learned so much sitting and listening to him at work as a kid. I started writing a little bit with him: he didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. I would just show up and give my unsolicited opinion. I started writing my way into projects because I found that’s a great way to get cast: six-foot blonde, slightly resembles John Cleese but not that much, thank God,’ she laughs. ‘Maybe don’t put that in. I’m trying not to get disowned before I get over there.’
Rather than follow her father into sketches, Cleese decided to try stand-up. ‘It was a good way to establish a separate entity from my dad and get some credibility. I felt like anything we wrote together people would assume that he did most of the writing and I made most of the coffee. I think stand-up’s the one thing where you have to do it all by yourself, there’s no shortcut. You can’t become an overnight success.’
Sarah Tiana, one of her American … ish co-stars, was also an influence. ‘She’s one of the big reasons that I started doing stand-up; she inspired me because it was the first time I’d seen a female comic who I felt I could really relate to. Then she was like, “you should do it, you’re funny”.’
What Cleese has developed is a deliciously mischievous, dark sense of humour which, in part, is inherited from her dad. ‘We tend to find dark things as funny as each other, which is not always good because some people don’t always agree. If you think it’s funny, then I just came up with it all on my own. If you find it offensive, it’s completely his fault,’ she jokes. But Cleese has certainly made that black humour her own, such as the routine about short-men syndrome which is teasingly wicked with a hefty dollop of the absurd.
Beyond the Fringe, there are plenty of other projects on the go, aside from her own writing efforts. ‘It’s been so manic this past week as we’re pitching a show to networks. Then I’m shooting a movie later this year [Bachelorette Weekend] that I play a lead in. A friend of mine wrote it and it’s five female leads who are all friends. I think it’ll be really fun.’ And on that note we really should let her head for bed.
American … ish, Gilded Balloon Teviot, 622 6552, 6–13 Aug, 8.15pm, £9.50–£10.50 (£8.50–£9.50).