Musical comedian Teresa Livingstone can't wait to get back on stage today at the Out To Lunch festival
Belfast's premier musical comedian Teresa Livingstone will be appearing live at the Out To Lunch festival this afternoon via virtual means. She spoke to David Roy about her new show Class, surviving lockdown and the growth of the local comedy scene
IT'S been almost a year since Teresa Livingstone last performed a 'normal' live show. Having been deprived of an audience for her piano-powered musical comedy, she's also been working from home since the first lockdown of 2020.
"I'm slowly going crazy and have been since last March," laughs Teresa (41), who works in the education sector following a decade as a music teacher in the north and in Spain – including a stint as head of music at Corpus Christie College in west Belfast.
"When the lockdown first happened, I did a few Facebook Live streams on the dates where I was supposed to have shows, because I really did want to keep going.
"It was just 25 minutes or whatever, but it was painful! It's a comedian's worst nightmare – you say something that you think is going to kill but you're saying it to utter silence, or at best a load of 'thumbs-up' emojis.
"After that, I really did just take a step back, because it was really difficult. [The audience's reaction] really is part of the act, so when you're doing it into this empty vacuum, it's really challenging.
"I know a lot of other comedians really got into podcasting and other online things, but like most people I think I was basically just trying to cope with what was happening."
Having first got a taste for comedy after attending an improv class at Belfast's Crescent Arts Centre, over the past few years Teresa has built up a solid fanbase with her blend of stand-up and comedy songwriting based upon an exaggerated 'prosecco and vinegar'-fuelled stage persona.
Her first ever live tour Delighted was a huge success in late 2017, which found her performing tunes including That Would Be A No, her ode to sleazy men with appalling chat-up etiquette, anti-diet anthem Cake and Wine, Nice Ladies' note-perfect take-down of smug BT9ers, Delighted For You's musical guide to being depressed, single and unemployed, and I Hope Bad Things Happen To You, in which Teresa gleefully wishes misfortune upon those who have wronged her.
Newer material includes Goodbye 2020, which debuted on Facebook last month to a great response and will no doubt be part of today's set.
The comedian says she can't wait for her Out To Lunch show.
"I was so excited to get the chance to do this," Teresa enthuses about Class, which will stream live from Belfast's Black Box at lunchtime.
"I genuinely was starting to wonder when I was going to get to be on a stage again. Shane Todd did a few nights in December just before this lockdown where he got myself and a few other comedians together to do some socially distanced stand-up.
"There wasn't an audience, but even just having four or five other comics in the room responding was better than nothing. But now with the complete shutdown [of venues] even that's not been possible."
While you might think that lack of live work during the pandemic leaves comedians plenty of time to focus on writing new material, Teresa reveals that it's tough for her to come up with new stuff when she has no way of trying it out on an audience other than her husband, Frazer, who is also a comedian.
"I guess it's not so bad for me because I have the songs," she tells me. "They don't feel so strange to do without an audience there, even though there are also punchlines in the songs. But normally I would have had the last year to work Class out on stage, to trial it and build it up. So it's been totally different to try to put this hour together.
"The actual show will be the first time I've done it all the way through – and there won't be an audience there to respond. But I jumped at the chance to do it, just for the opportunity to actually get a show together.
"It gave me the impetus to actually keep writing and, although it's going to be very, very strange, I'm actually excited. It's going to be much better than a live stream from my bedroom: I'll actually be on the stage with the lights and the set and all of that, so the adrenaline of a proper live performance will still be there."
She adds: "I'm just hoping the person operating the camera has a sense of humour!"
It seems the show's title, Class, is multi-dimensional, touching on all meanings of the word including our local colloquialism for 'excellent' and its educationally related usage.
"A lot of my recent material started out being about what it was like being a teacher, but it has sort of evolved into what it was like for me as a pupil," explains Teresa.
"A lot of it is about what a strange child I was and where I had maybe expected to be by the time I was in my early 40s. There's also the Belfast aspect and whether or not I feel like I'm a 'classy' lady or not."
With Teresa's grandmother Bridie Gallagher having been Ireland's first international pop star in the 1950s, you might expect her to always have felt destined for stardom – and you'd be right.
"I probably did, and had no self-awareness of how geeky that made me," admits the comedian, who started on the piano at a young age and went on to study music at university.
"I was really into performing, but I would also always find myself in embarrassing situations and saying stupid things in front of the 'cool' girls and all of that. So there's a bit in the show about being an attention seeker but also attempting to fit in as well."
Though it may be hard to remember now, Belfast's comedy scene was enjoying a major mainstream breakthrough just prior to the arrival of Covid 19 last year, with the likes of Colin Geddis, Mickey Bartlett, Paddy Raff and Shane Todd selling out huge shows at venues like the Ulster Hall and Belfast's SSE Arena – a major step up from the normal comedy club circuit.
"I think it was just a drive that those guys had to do it," says Teresa. "They weren't so reliant on waiting for somebody else to ask them or hand out the opportunity. I think Colin was the first one who just decided to try and do the Ulster Hall – and the minute one person does that, everybody else realises, 'Oh, it's possible – I'm going to do it as well'.
"So the Ulster Hall has now become a venue for comedy, and it was the same with the SSE after that. I think it's credit to those guys for raising their expectations."
As for whether she will be following in their footsteps post-Covid, Teresa has her sights set slightly lower.
"I actually think my ultimate venue would be the main room in the Grand Opera House," she enthuses.
"That to me feels a little bit more like people are enclosed and connected to what's happening on the stage."
Over to you, GOH.
:: Teresa Livingstone, today, 1pm. Free tickets via CQAF.com