It was late, and the moon was full. Somewhere a wolf howled (probably), and a door creaked open in an empty house. Such were the conditions that led to gremlins intercepting my phone call with Sarah Callaghan and preventing us from speaking ear-to-ear; or at least, that’s how I like to imagine events unfolding. Sure, the fact that the in-demand, award-winning UK comedian might have simply been busy – after all, she does have an international tour under way – well, it’s possible, but nowhere near as exciting. Hence why eventually getting the down-low on this emerging performer was all the more anticipated.
“I was a weird kid,” Callaghan cheerfully admits. “Hated washing, never brushed my hair and walked around topless till I was about nine. I looked like a fat white Mowgli from The Jungle Book.
“Getting older is shit because people expect more of you. Can’t walk around topless ’cause apparently it’s illegal. But its good ’cause I can do whatever I want in other ways. Like, if I want ice cream, I go get ice cream. Caramel Chew Chew is the bang bang.”
Wise words from someone who has been charming the comedy circuit since her arrival in 2010. That year, she found herself a finalist in the UK Funny Women Awards, and began hoarding a shelf of ‘one to watch’ accolades (including the Malcolm Hardee Award nomination for Act Most Likely To Earn A Million Quid). In 2015, Callaghan brought her debut show, Elephant, to the Edinburgh stage, and ever since her star has continued to rise just as her material has continued to evolve.
It’s easy to stand out … Just don’t do material about Tinder, Brexit, Trump, the quiet carriage on a train, airports and chavs.
“I’m just me; there is no thought into what I do. I never studied comedy before I started, so it was just easy for me to be me and not copy other acts like a lot of new comedians do. [That means] definitely it will always change. You write something and you think it’s shit. Then you think it’s good. Then a few days later it’s shit again and you’re smashing your head into the wall. Comedy is heaps of fun. Love the process. It’s all about the journey,” she says sarcastically.
Callaghan’s latest venture, 24 – billed as the query, “Change your life in 24 hours? A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single cliché” – heralds her latest Sydney Comedy Festival offering, and while she is a (young) old hand at the festival landscape these days, she is just as keenly aware of the industry’s pitfalls.
“It’s pretty cutthroat. The industry in the UK is very corrupt. People only care about money, it’s pretty fucked. It’s easy to stand out, though. Just don’t do material about Tinder, Brexit, Trump, the quiet carriage on a train, airports and chavs. I’m just self-indulgent and like the sound of my own voice. Making people laugh is fun and if they can feel some positive uplifting emotions from my show, even better.”
Callaghan is also a comic quite comfortable with the reality of wearing a mask – a persona that she embraces whenever she takes the stage rather than a literal mask, but this does get me thinking. It’s been a while since I’ve watched The Phantom Of The Opera, but I wonder which she’d prefer; a life hiding a disfigured face, or the loss of, say, her left hand.
“That’s a tough one. My face is important to me but I’m left-handed, so learning to be right-handed would be long. I could get a hook, though; that would be sick. I’d be the first hooked comedian! It could be my new thing!” ■