Andrew is seven years old and looks suspiciously like a grown woman. An aspiring stand-up comedian, he is eager to talk about history—if somewhat confused by the subject—ambivalent about his stepfather Colin and obsessed with Doctor Who.
An awkward, highly-endearing figure, Andrew also happens to be the first character ever devised by comedian Cariad Lloyd. “I was pushed into comedy, really,” she explains. She was at the start of an acting career when a friend suggested that Cariad try writing a comic monologue. “It took a long time to convince me. My friends were all doing comedy shows at Edinburgh and I went up with a very serious play about burning, this thing on people who died in fires. It was an amazing play but we had six people in the audience.”
Then, Cariad borrowed a late 80s Doctor Who jumper and her mother’s knee-high socks to perform Andrew at a few gigs. He was soon followed by other characters, creating a loose revue of monologues. “That’s how I tricked my brain: ‘It’s still acting, guys!’”
Cariad grew into her new career path slowly. “You meet some people who are obsessed,” she says, “and I never thought I was that person until I admitted to myself that all I do is watch comedy, talk about comedy, write comedy. I realised, oh, I guess I am in that gang now.”
She gigged solidly until her debut Edinburgh Fringe show found her nominated for best newcomer. Cariad has barely stopped since, filling her schedule with a second Edinburgh show, an upcoming BBC sketch show based on her characters, and frequent appearances as a member of Regency-parody comedy troupe Austentatious, who perform improvised, imaginary Jane Austen novels. (A surprise hit with Austen fan clubs: “We ended up on the cover of Jane Austen magazine. We didn’t even know there was a Jane Austen magazine.”)
Andrew is emblematic of Cariad’s characters: joyfully silly and random yet performed with obvious affection. “They’re like real people to me, which sounds mental, but it’s how they are in my head,” Cariad says. “So when people criticise them or say things about them it’s like someone talking about a friend. You want to say, ‘Well, you don’t really know them, you just saw them on a bad day.’”
From ASDA worker and femme fatale Kitty Romford to cult member Judith (who just does the admin), her characters work so well because even though they’re still clearly Cariad in a French jumper or a ball gown or dressed like a Moomin, they share her zestful sensibility. “You turn a bit of yourself up really loud and put a costume on it and call it something else. Each character I perform is a version of me, but I do a voice and go, ‘It’s not me! It’s not me!’”
Cariad also teaches improvisation to comedians and newcomers alike, and she is zealous about its benefits. “You see people whose ideas in their daily life are blocked, and then there’s this world where everything they say I’m going to say yes. That’s a really addictive thing—a place where you’re accepted.”
Disappointingly, improvisation still doesn’t have the reputation that it does in America. “I think it scares some people. They don’t know what to expect,” she says. “Also, there’s a lot of bad improv out there, but it’d be like if you’ve only seen one film and it was terrible so you think you don’t like films.”
Watching Austentatious perform their improvised show, you realise the gulf between bad improv and the work of professionals: as funny as anything written and rehearsed, their shows are emboldened not only by their playfulness but the sense that the performers are all in it together. Cariad agrees: “Bad improv is about people trying to outdo each other and being the funniest, and it should be about supporting each other. My job is to make you look amazing.”
Things are more complicated, of course, when the demands of collaboration and Cariad’s vividly personal characters collide. In filming the pilot of her BBC sketch show, she discovered it wasn’t always possible to walk a middle ground. On Andrew, for instance, she says, “At one point the producers said they were thinking about having him wear a hoodie. I told them I wouldn’t perform the sketch unless he wore the Doctor Who jumper. I’ve been really amazed by the things I’ll compromise on and the things I won’t. I wasn’t compromising the jumper. It’s who Andrew is. It’s the key to him.’”
Published in Oh Comely Issue Sixteen. Photograph by Trent McMinn.