Interview: Carpet Diem

14 May 2013

Cambridge theatre has often been said to be highly individualistic, churning out excellent individual performers and writers but rarely producing lasting partnerships or groups of actors that stay together. But sometimes there are exceptions. Among the whole range of different comedians vying for our attention at the ADC this week is one pair who have become known for their quirky brand of comedy and are hoping to buck the trend and stick together for good. To find out more, Ted Loveday caught up with Zoe Tomalin and Sian Docksey in a dusky corner of King’s College bar.

When did you first start working together as a double-act?

Zoe: Sian auditioned for a stand-up show I was working on. I was afraid, because she does what I do but better. But then I said to myself, actually, that’s a good thing—and we decided to write together. We did bits last Michaelmas, we started off just helping each other with our stand-up writing and then we realised, well, the Venn diagram is more fruitful in the middle.

Sian: Definitely, yes. We ran Sian and Zoe’s Bubblegum Party last term and that went down well. So we’re now Sian and Zoe. We’re a brand now.

Your new show is called ‘Carpet Diem’. What’s the idea behind it?

Zoe: Although we’ve described it as a stand-up show, it’s a bit more loose-format than that. It’s kind of somewhere between stand-up and sketch-writing. Ollie and Adrian are doing a stand-up format and then we’re doing the stuff in between, a more free-form double-act.

Sian: Yeah, they’re doing their own thing. But we occasionally instruct them otherwise. Ollie is producing, he’s been roped into the show because we wanted to have him do a set and he’s good at observational stuff and talking about science. And then there’s Adrian, who does gags—which is great because there’s not enough gag-based comedy these days.

Zoe: So it’s a bit like a Fifties variety show. You’ve got the double act, who might, say, come down some stairs with top hats or something, and then you’ve got a guy doing gags and a guy doing sketches on different topics.

Do you think it’s fair to describe your humour as hit-and-miss?

Sian: People who come to see our show have already said to themselves, ‘we want to see this because it looks weird’—so audiences tend to be willing to accept it. Our vibe is, let’s just have lots of fun and mess rooms up. We’ve been lucky this time in that we got to test some of our material—because you never know what will be understandable or entertaining to other humans until it starts to go badly.

Zoe: So we tried out some stuff and it went well. We’ve taken out the rest, we’ve cut the absolute clangers. The Clangers left, they’ve gone back to the moon.

Sian: Yeah, we really don’t like the Clangers, we had a big disagreement with them. They’re just primadonnas. I mean, would you want to interview the Clangers? What sound bites would you get? They’ve not got any teeth.

But can’t an overly eccentric style be a problem for comedians, if it falls flat in performances?

Sian: All humour is like Marmite. You can’t please everybody. But the fun thing about what we wankily refer to as our open format for Carpet Diem is that it’s really adaptable to our audiences. The best night we had at Bubblegum was when Zoe nearly lost an eye. Because audiences love pain.

Zoe: Yeah, I had some fake blood running down my glasses and it went into my eye during a song. Gradually I realised I couldn’t do my lines any more and all this fake blood streaming out of my eye. And that’s the best bit of comedy I’ve ever done. Hopefully there will be a massive accident during our show. A leg will be lost.

Sian: Or the ADC will crumble. The ADC might hate our show so much that the building actually disintegrates. At least that way we won’t have to do finals.

Zoe: I’m impressed you haven’t asked us anything about women in comedy. That’s great. Everyone asks about it.

It’s a bit of a sexist question, isn’t it? There are plenty of great women in comedy already.

Sian: Exactly. There’s a strong female presence at Edinburgh every year now, which is great. There have always been plenty of women in comedy—Victoria Wood, French and Saunders and so on. But we think of ourselves just as comedians—not ‘female comedians’.

There’s a whole series of comedy lateshows on at the ADC this week. What do you think of the others? If a reader only has a fiver and can only take one evening off, why should they bother with yours?

Sian: How many carpets is a fiver going to buy you at the other shows? None. But at ours? Literally, like, fifty. You’re getting a little bit extra.

Zoe: Actually, all the shows that week without exception will be really excellent. If you hate carpets, there’s always porpoises.

Sian: But who would hate it? Anti-carpet lobbyists. Hard-floored, hard-hearted bastards.

Ted Loveday

‘Carpet Diem’ is at the ADC Theatre at 11pm on Thursday 16th May