Interview: Aisling Bea

4 Jul|Florence Read

Photo by Chris Floyd

Florence Read meets the multi-talented actor and comedian whose holistic take on the human condition is causing a buzz on both sides of the Atlantic.

Aisling Bea has had a busy year. The Irish writer, actor and comedian has taken America with Living With Yourself, a comedy-drama about self-help, opposite Paul Rudd, while writing her own series, This Way Up, starring friend and collaborator Sharon Horgan. I met her at a studio in Hoxton and we sat outside, drinking coffee in the sun to try and absorb some light.

Something about Bea is old fashioned. Her rise to fame, starting in rural Kildare, reads like a story straight out of Hollywood. That said, she doesn’t shy away from the struggles behind the glamour. There is a resilience and stoicism about her in person that assures you she isn’t half done yet. Bea is as charming and sharp as she seems on screen and more thoughtful than the panel shows give her credit for. Her two most recent projects deal with self-help, and it is clear that Bea is on her own journey to find happiness. Much beloved for her lackadaisical delivery and anarchic slobbishness, I was interested to find out what it was like working in an industry which profits off high turnover, and pushes rising stars to the point of exhaustion.

Florence Read: On Live at the Apollo you did a set about your relationship with laziness. You said that you had a chronic case of “I can’t be arsed”. But you are now working back-to-back on scripts and TV shows and gigs.

Aisling Bea: I’ve been reading a lot about the brain and neuroplasticity. Even if you have negative habits that might be destructive in the long term, the brain will always choose the easier route. It will always choose what’s least arsed. It’s a scientific fact and I’m really interested in how we can change our habits by becoming more aware that the brain is trying to be lazy. Whether it’s exercise or relationships or how we get into depressive states, we’re fighting a big old fight against ourselves and the system – but it can be done.

FR: Do you think comedians have a responsibility to be political?

AB: No, I don’t think so. You have a responsibility over your words to an extent that you make money from your words. If your words actively cause a ruckus or cause pain, you have a responsibility to look at that. It doesn’t mean you have a responsibility to apologise because that pain might have been someone else’s shit they were going through, it could have been anything that day. I don’t believe there is any subject off limits.

FR: And what about your audience?

AB: You have a responsibility to them. You can’t go around behaving like an anarchic baby for long. We still have to pay taxes and go to the toilet and turn up on time.

FR: So we can’t just throw out all the rules?

AB: We need to turn up on time and, because we’re all sensitive weirdos, the people who make money from us should have more of a responsibility in their duty of care. When you look at all the young boy and girl bands in the music industry who are left on their own with no counsellors, that is on the hands of the record label. In the same way that schools have a duty of care to notice if a kid’s not looking well, it is up to those people making money out of them to notice if they’re not OK.

FR: You were very active in the Repeal the Eighth campaign last year in Ireland. Wasn’t that all about overthrowing rules by deploying a certain amount of anger and anarchy?

AB: I did two videos for that campaign. One was just presenting facts and another used comedy. It doesn’t mean that at home I’m not screaming and crying about how the system has treated us in Ireland and how women still are treated across the world. The statistics are awful around how many women are not in education, and how many die every minute from domestic abuse. So I made a video with Sharon Horgan and did the same for the marriage equality referendum. After Savita Halappanavar died in 2012 [following an incomplete miscarriage] a group of us went down to the Irish Embassy to protest. There were about seven or eight women doing different things. One was reading a funny poem, someone else was listing facts, many were just shouting. I remember thinking that all of those women were so valid and necessary. I was suddenly struck that change doesn’t come in one big way, from one person or even one group of people. When I look at Corbyn, I ask if he is going to be the most effective person to lead the country. He’s so in- sightful and gets people up in arms. But is it time for up in arms? Or is it the time for small communities to make connections and talk to each other in small ways? I think that can be a quieter way of making change, but one doesn’t come without the other.

This is an extract from a longer interview which appears in Idler 67. Buy a copy online, on newsstands or subscribe digitally to read it immediately on your phone or tablet.