Passive Aggressive School Mum’s, Lost Luggage and A Sell-out Show – Now, Fiona Allen is On The Run!

Fiona Allen, actress, co-writer and star of Emmy and Bafta award winning TV series Smack The Pony, has announced her first stand-up tour starting on September 15 at Hemel Hempstead’s Old Town Hall and culminates on Friday 8th December at Banbury’s Mill Arts Centre.

On The Run follows Fiona’s warm, engagingly funny and recent journey to the stand-up stage, her thoughts on family, marriage, sex robots, passive aggressive school Mum’s and supermarket dress codes. The show debuted at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival and heads to Newport’s Riverfront Theatre on October 26.

Fiona recently took time out to chat with Andy Howells about On The Run and her career so far in the first of a two-part interview.

Fiona Allen Discusses On The Run with Andy Howells

You debuted On the Run at this year’s Edinburgh Festival. Was this your first entry into stand-up?

When I first moved to London I was in my twenties. I had a sister who lived here, but I didn’t know anybody.  I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. I did a few open spots, just messing about in the evenings, then I got my first acting job within 12 weeks, then I started to do voiceovers, I never carried on doing them, then i got married. The next thing I have 3 kids under 5. Life just went on and I never thought about it.

A few years ago, I was up in Edinburgh, wandering around, because my son was doing a school play. I knew people, actors, comics, and I was just happily going along. I thought, “I wonder what would have happened if I’d carried on doing stand-up? This thought kept coming back into my head, which is unlike me. I’m very impulsive, I just do stuff. I kept pushing it away, thinking “no”.

To cut a long story short, I wrote 5 minutes and spent a year in the open mic circuit, where you turn up, do 5 minutes and if they like you. they say, “come back and do 10 minutes”. I got my first 20-minute booking, then 2 weeks later, the pandemic happened, and I was like, “Oh, God! It’s a sign, I shouldn’t do it.”

That was in the clubs. At first, I panicked, “I’m in my fifties doing Standup! This is nuts, I’m an actress. a voice artist. What am I doing? It’s just going to be kids”. When I went out there, it wasn’t. There were 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 odd year olds. I saw an American New Yorker, she was 86 years old at the Bill Murray in front of these super trendy hipsters, falling about laughing.  I just thought, “It’s such a vibrant bouncy circuit. Anybody from anywhere, at any age, no matter who you are, can do it.”

Fiona Allen is On The Run with her debut UK tour which comes to Newport in autumn 2023. Photography Natasha Pszenicki

Then, I started to try and write my 10, 15, then 20 minutes.  A couple of comics said to me” I presume you’re going to Edinburgh and writing a show?” I said, “No? Sorry?”  I hadn’t thought it through! I was still thinking, “I’ll never remember 20 minutes! I’m in my fifties, cotton wool for brains!”  Then I did and I did half an hour! It kept coming back to me about Edinburgh. It wouldn’t go away so I thought, “I’ll do it!”

So, I’ve got a show! I did the WI piece and ten work in progresses at different clubs. Then I asked people, because I’m a real chatter and I like to know what my audience think. That’s what matters to me. Different types of people seem to come to see me, which is interesting. There are women like me, because I do stuff about school mums and passive, aggressive school mums, (which, quite frankly, is very therapeutic slightly getting it off my chest).

But there’s youngsters there, late twenties. and they’re really liking it. I went to one woman, “Well, you’re not a mum,” and she said, “It’s funny, it’s relatable,” “Well, thank you very much!” Then, there are men who like it because they’ve probably seen Smack the Pony.  I do silly stuff as well, I’m very acerbic, I do take the Mick quite a bit. So, the audience that are coming are so different and that gave me a little bit of a boost.

I went, not knowing if any single person would buy a ticket. Because it’s Edinburgh and there are over 3,000 shows, It’s the biggest arts festival in the world. I thought, “Well, nobody knows me as a stand-up apart from doing bits down South. Who’s going to buy a ticket?

Fiona Allen follows her Edinburgh Fringe run with a UK tour. Photography Natasha Pszenicki

And the answer to your question is, genuinely hand on heart, I cannot believe this, I got a sold-out run! I was so happy! It was only in a small place, about a hundred-seater, The Pleasance. I remember walking into it and looked round, with the seats all the way to the back. I thought, “who’s going to buy a ticket?” I honestly couldn’t believe it.

I did make a mistake though, because. unfortunately, my suitcase got lost from London up to Edinburgh. I lost everything. I literally stood up in the clothes I was wearing. I didn’t have any socks. I’d lost all my makeup, my shoes, everything! Before my show, I had to run to the shops. I didn’t know where I was in in my room in Edinburgh because I’d never been. So, I just grabbed some T-shirts. I thought they’ll do, you know they’ll like this, but I turned up and there was a black curtain behind me, and I had a black T-shirt on, well, you couldn’t see me! I bought a new pair of dark jeans, and I was just stuck there, and I thought, “oh, no, slightly got that wrong!”

I also ticked the wrong box when I was filling in the forms, because it asked, “Tick the box for day off, do you want a day off, and which days?” Every comic says you need a day off to reset. Because I’d not done it before, I don’t know what this “reset” meant. I didn’t want to keep asking everybody so many questions. I was driving everyone mad!  So, I thought, “Reset? What does that mean? What day do they have off? Mondays?” So, I ticked the “I don’t want to have the day off,” box.

I don’t think I had my glasses on! I thought, “Oh, no! Not only have I never done it before. I had to do 3 and a half weeks, every single day without a day off and, I said I’d do another couple of little shows. I was also doing interviews in between! Anyway, I did it and learned a few lessons! Basic schoolgirl errors – Quite a few of them!

Fiona Allen is On The Run with her debut UK tour which comes to Newport in autumn 2023. Photography Natasha Pszenicki

Next question, Fiona, how are you still standing?

(Laughs) I’ve got my Spanish mum, who as we were growing up used to say, “As long as you are eating properly and having fun!” My mum kept ringing me. “Fiona, are you eating properly? What are you eating for your dinner? What are you having today?”. So, I had lovely food. I always look after myself.

I had a place nearby called The Meadows. It was like a big open park. I’d do my show, then just walk. I went to the shop and bought a track suit to relax in, because obviously my clothes weren’t there! I’d walk around until the sun set and took it easy. I wasn’t going crazy doing party time. I did two parties which were work things I’d been invited to. I looked after myself and concentrated, which I never, ever did in school. So, that was a new thing to me. I learned loads when I was up there to be honest. It was great!

Fiona Allen is On The Run with her debut UK tour which comes to Newport in autumn 2023. Photography Natasha Pszenicki

What drew you into comedy, because as you said, you were primarily an actress. You did a few series of Smack The Pony with Sally Phillips and Doon Mackichan?

We did three series, a special and then we did a movie. The thing is with Smack The Pony, they show it every few months on a channel somewhere. We did brilliantly all around the world, great in the States, Europe, Australia, and everything.

I get the youngsters coming up to me in clubs going, “Oh, my God! I watched this with my mum”. We’ve got this whole rolling new thing! I’ve only done a handful, but I’ve started to post them on Instagram. Channel 4 have said “Yes” as I checked with them.

Fiona Allen is On The Run with her debut UK tour which comes to Newport in autumn 2023. Photography Natasha Pszenicki

Unlike some comedy from the late 90s, I don’t think Smack The Pony has dated, has it?

It’s a good point. I’ve checked myself, and I think, apart from one sketch where someone writes a cheque… and no one writes cheques .. there isn’t anything that dates in that sense. It’s just pure silliness and observations, that’s always going to be there. I think that was the beauty of it, which nobody knew was going to happen.

The thing is with comedy, I grew up in a very Catholic schooling situation, taught mostly by nuns. I remember being about 8 years old, having those little post-it notebooks in fluorescent colours and I’d write and make joke books out of them. I was always a class clown; I didn’t have anybody to direct me into something like that. I didn’t even know voiceovers existed as a job, yet all I did was characters and voices. I think it was always there, just nobody suggested that was a good idea.

I went to a careers meeting at my school. I’ll never forget, the teacher had a tweed skirt on. She was very prim and asked me what I wanted to be. I said, “I think I’d like to be an actress,” She laughed at me. I was like, “Okay. didn’t upset me. didn’t put me off. I’ll just do what I want to do, and I’ll do what I need to do.”

Fiona Allen is On The Run with her debut UK tour which comes to Newport in autumn 2023. Photography Natasha Pszenicki

I went off and decided to go to drama school, and I did that for two years. I came to London, got my first job in about 12 weeks, then I was a voice artist alongside. It’s something my dad always said to me, “back yourself” That’s what I’ve always done and stuck by that.  

I love my job. I think it’s easier in a sense at school now. You get directed a lot more into things. That just did not happen to me. I just got on my bike and got on with it. I came to London; I had £500 in the back pocket. I remember thinking to myself. “What’s the worst that can happen? The worst that can happen is, you never get a job. You must go back home.” I thought, “That’s not the worst that can happen, is it?” Anyway, I didn’t have to. De-dah! (Laughs)

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