Interview: Sarah Callaghan – Elephant
‘The comedy circuit is quite addictive’
This article is from 2015.
At just 23 years of age, Londoner Sarah Callaghan has already had a wealth of accolades bestowed upon her. A Funny Women finalist four years ago, an Up the Creek One to Watch winner in 2013 and a member of Time Out’s Class of 2014, she recently earned a nomination for Best Show at this year’s Brighton Fringe.
Forthright and confident, it’s clear that Callaghan’s star is very much in the ascendant. When asked to describe her first full Fringe show, Elephant, Callaghan speaks at a hundred miles an hour. ‘It’s a show about how our worlds are quite small and we just get comfortable and scared to change so we unconsciously give up on our dreams but if we just escaped the comfort zone and broke out of that small world we could achieve a lot more.’ After finally pausing for breath she adds, ‘it sounds quite deep but there are loads of jokes in it as well!’
Callaghan still lives with her mum in a council estate in Uxbridge, west London, and her experiences there form the basis of her material. ‘I certainly feel trapped,’ she says. ‘Everyone in my area is quite small-minded, in a way: they just want the baby, the council house, to have the same job forever. And I know a lot of talented people but they never expand on that: they just settle for the bare minimum.’
Indeed, so desperate is Callaghan to escape from her home town that she’ll do anything to get out. When she was 18 she ran off to Madrid to teach English. ‘I was really lost,’ she remembers. ‘I’d come out of school and got all the right grades but there was nothing I really wanted to do. I went to college but dropped out. There’s a lot of drug culture around here and I didn’t want to go down that road. I just thought, “fuck it, I’m going”.’
The adventure itself didn’t work out the way Callaghan had envisioned, but it was an experience which had a profound effect on her future. ‘I blagged it on the sheet. I said that I could speak fluent Spanish and I got put with this family out there. I’d done a TEFL certificate but I couldn’t communicate, and it was so hard to not have any friends and family around.’
And so Callaghan set about making the most of her situation. ‘It was really difficult cos I’m quite an outgoing person. I didn’t have anyone to talk to or have a laugh with. It was the first time I’d ever been away from home like that. So I started writing jokes, just stupid little bits and bobs. I thought, “oh, I might give this a go when I get back”.’
When Callaghan returned home she embarked on a six-week course at the Comedy School in Camden. It was while performing her final showcase that she thought she might have what it takes. ‘Everyone was proper laughing so I was like, “ah! This is quite good, innit. This is all right! I’ll give it a go.” And I just started doing it and started learning more. The comedy circuit is quite addictive, I think.’
Success at the Brighton Fringe boosted her confidence enormously. ‘I thought, “I’m on the right track”. People from young to old were enjoying it and relating to me on the basis of, you know, everyone has dreams that don’t quite come to anything, or they’re scared to make that leap. And it’s lovely to be able to connect to an eight-year-old and an 18-year-old,’ she says, somewhat truncating her demographic.
Already a veteran of the Fringe (this is her sixth visit), Callaghan performed her first solo (but not quite full-length) show last year, Don’t Tell Anyone About Sarah Callaghan. ‘It went really well,’ she recalls. ‘I sold out almost every day, I got some good reviews. I learned a lot. When I got back I was like, “right, I’m ready for my hour now”. So I just got started writing straight away and I’ve written a completely new show which I’m really proud of. I think this one is really something special so I’m excited to do it.’
Everything is a learning experience for Callaghan. And she’s well aware of the opportunity ahead of her at the Fringe. ‘I try not to drink too much cos I wanna be focused. I remember the first time I went up there in 2010 and … ’ she trails off in thought. ‘Yeah, I used to drink quite a lot and it wasn’t good. I’m taking it a lot more seriously now.’
Sarah Callaghan: Elephant, Pleasance Courtyard, 556 6550, 8–30 Aug (not 17), 5.50pm, £10–£12 (£8–£10). Previews 5–7 Aug, £6.