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Sara Pascoe: ‘I was once booked as a prank for Hugh Grant’

Comedian, actress and writer Sara Pascoe decided she wanted to be famous at 14 years old. Since then, she has auditioned for Michael Barrymore, scared Pete Burns and ruined Hugh Grant’s birthday – but look at her now.

Success Story, Sara’s latest stand-up show, began its run last November and will be coming to Cambridge in March. The TV and radio regular will then jet off to Australia for more dates.

Sara Pascoe. Picture: Rachel Sherlock
Sara Pascoe. Picture: Rachel Sherlock

Sara, who says she likes coming to Cambridge because “they get my clever jokes”, notes that the first part of the tour – her biggest to date – went “really well”. She adds: “At the beginning I was tentative, in terms of topics and how it fit together.

“Usually, I would have done a whole Edinburgh [Festival] before a tour, so you’d be like, ‘Oh, I know this show back to front’, and the tour was starting in these massive rooms and it was pretty much the first few times I’d ever done it. But now I’ve really settled into it and so am much more relaxed.”

She notes that the show has constantly evolved: “You have new ideas that could work better, or you end up adding things or dropping things – tweaking, dropping, it’s always an ongoing thing, because you don’t ever want to be doing a show that’s got flat.

“So you’re always thinking, ‘How can I make it better?’ and that keeps it really fresh when you’re performing it as well; you’re never just going, ‘Bang, I’m into the script, see you in an hour and a half’.”

Sara’s last country-wide live tour, LadsLadsLads, sold every single Edinburgh Fringe ticket before the festival had started and culminated in two shows at the London Palladium which was also filmed for the BBC2 stand-up special, Sara Pascoe: LadsLadsLads.

Since then, things have certainly changed for Sara. From contemplating the positive aspects of self-imposed celibacy in LadsLadsLads, Success Story finds her a few years later happily married with a beautiful baby son.

The show will see Sara examine what it is to be successful, how we define it and how it feels when what we want eludes us. Expect jokes about status and celebrities – plus Sara’s new fancy lifestyle versus infertility, her multiple therapists and career failures.

“It’s partly about what I thought success was when I was a teenager, why I wanted to work on television,” observes the popular performer, who wrote and starred in the recent BBC2 sitcom Out of Her Mind.

“And then some funny stories about famous people that I’ve met, or moments that I thought were going to change my life for the better that didn’t really work out...

“Then the second half is much more about becoming a parent, infertility, IVF, having a young baby – those kind of topics, and I guess the subtle message is my definition of success really changing through my 30s into my 40s.”

Why did Sara want to become famous and be on television when she was younger? “It was a plot that I came up with when I was 14,” she replies, “because I thought that was the way to get people at school to like me.

“So it was a very childish ambition – not based on, ‘Oh, I’m good at something, I want to share it with the world’. It was much more: ‘I think if I can get on TV, they’ll think I’m a cool person’, so that was where this whole thing came from.

“I definitely did have a sort of ‘look at me’ gene anyway, and then it was a lot of years of trying to work out what it was that I could actually do.”

Sara Pascoe. Picture: Rachel Sherlock
Sara Pascoe. Picture: Rachel Sherlock

One of the “funny stories” in the show involves Sara ruining Hugh Grant’s birthday. “I was booked as a prank on Hugh Grant,” she reveals, “because they thought that he wouldn’t enjoy feminist stand-up.

“I think they’d asked around a few people who had been described as feminist in reviews – as we are – and they wanted me to do a turn at his birthday, with the idea that he wouldn’t enjoy it, and that’s exactly what happened.

“He was very polite; I think he pretended to enjoy it and people laughed a lot at that. So it wasn’t a terrible gig, the rest of the audience were very nice, and I was in on the joke.”

Interestingly, Sara wasn’t into comedy back in the day. “I thought comedy was really stupid,” she admits, “and I liked drama and serious things and agitating political theatre. I wasn’t trying to be a comedian at all, I wanted to be an actor.

“Then I did some character comedy stuff just as a way of getting stage time in my mid-20s, because I was out of work and I needed to do something.

“It was through that that I watched stand-up, which was open-mic, and that was when I realised, ‘Oh well actually, that’s what I should be doing’ because I’m a terrible actor and because I wasn’t very good at pretending to be other people, and I thought, ‘Oh, I don’t have to pretend to be other people, I can just be myself’ so now I do that instead.”

Sara says that her favourite comedians these days – now that she does appreciate it more – are people she is “very lucky” to be friends with, including Nish Kumar, James Acaster, Roisin Conaty, Katherine Ryan and Aisling Bea.

Although she is now a familiar face on our screens, the seasoned pro says it all began for her, TV-wise, when she went to sing in a shopping centre at the age of 14 to audition for My Kind of People, a series presented by Michael Barrymore.

“It all went horribly wrong,” recalls Sara, who now hosts The Great British Sewing Bee, Last Woman on Earth (both BBC), and Dave’s Comedians Giving Lectures.

She also wrote and performed the BBC Radio 4 series Modern Monkey and the BBC2 short Sara Pascoe vs Monogamy, which was inspired by her first book Animal. Her second book, Sex Power Money, was a Sunday Times bestseller, and the accompanying podcast of the same name picked up multiple award nominations during its run.

Sara, whose first ‘proper’ TV job was on MTV reality show Pete Burn’s PA, has also hosted Live at the Apollo and appeared on a host of other popular programmes including Mock the Week, Have I Got News for You, QI, Would I Lie to You? and 8 Out of 10 Cats.

[Read more: Comedian Olga Koch bringing her ‘roller coaster romcom’ of a show to Cambridge, Former BBC New Comedy Awards finalist Helen Bauer’s new show looks at self-esteem]

So what’s left on her ‘to do’ list? “I think I’m done, you know... It’s a really nice feeling; I think that’s why I like reflecting on it in my show now. I don’t want to do anything new, I feel really lucky with the work that I have done.

“I just hope now to be able to balance it with having a family and carry on. I feel the fiery ambition I had as a teenager about proving people wrong etc has really mellowed, and I just feel very grateful with what I’ve got, which is a nice place to be.”

Sara Pascoe. Picture: Rachel Sherlock
Sara Pascoe. Picture: Rachel Sherlock

Sara Pascoe’s Success Story continues at the Cambridge Corn Exchange on Friday, March 3. Tickets, priced £18-£27, are available at cornex.co.uk. For more on Sara, go to sarapascoe.co.uk.

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