"I’m basically a clown, I’m a performing seal. I want people to laugh and leave feeling good. That’s it."
Joanne McNally has had an incredible few years. Bursting onto the comedy scene in 2014 from the cosy hub of PR, she became the co-host on RTÉ 2’s flagship comedy show ‘Republic of Telly’ less than a year later.
Becoming a household comedy name since then, the Killiney-native now spends her time gigging around the world performing the adoring masses.
Irish Tatler caught up with the comedienne ahead of her upcoming tour GLEEBAG which will see McNally perform her debut solo headline show at Vicar Street on Friday 26 April.
So, Joanne. what made you want to get into the comedy scene?
"Nothing! It was an accident really. I was in a fairly weird place in my life – I had to leave
work 'cause I’d gone bananas and I was in an outpatient programme in St Vincents when my
now-friend-then-acquaintance Una McKevitt asked if I wanted to be in a show she was
directing at the time called Singlehood.
"It wasn’t acting, thank God, it was just a group of people telling stories about their love lives. I hadn’t been on a stage since my Transition Year production of The Sound of Music where I played Rolf the Telegram Boy, but I jumped at it.
"I guess I knew there was a show pony side of me and because I was in this 'wibbly wobbly
wtf am I doing with my life' place, it felt like the right time to explore the pony."
You mentioned you battled anorexia and bulimia. What advice would you give
women who are going through this?
"It’s so hard. I still have to talk myself down off the edge sometimes when I’m stressed or feeling overwhelmed or upset. I still take medication to manage the urges.
"I’d tell them recovery is possible and that it’s so much better on the other side of it. I’d also tell them to read The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. Eating disorders aren’t caused by the beauty industry – they’re a mental illness – but the industry certainly fans the flames and seeing behind that curtain can help. It helped me.
"The big game-changer for me was when I worked off the anorexia mentality of wanting to be the thinnest person in the room. That was the hardest because that way of thinking meant I was never good enough, never small enough, I could never rest because I was constantly fighting against my own body.
"I could only be satisfied by shrinking myself down to nothing. Once that lifted, the bulimia on its own was easier to handle. It’s hard work coming back from an eating disorder, but it’s so unbelievably worth it.
"I’m in a nice headspace now where I feel I have value outside of my body and my appearance. I thought that was all I had to offer, and so the only way to be successful
in the world was to be the thinnest. Like an athlete wants to be the fastest, I wanted to
be the thinnest. I’m very glad that’s over because it’s such a waste of time."
You're good friends with Vogue Williams. What’s it like living with Vogue and
"They’re deadly! So sound – they just opened their home to me, no questions asked.
Okay well, some questions were asked, but very few. Obviously, it was Vogue’s idea – she’s like a beautiful, open book with abs. She was like 'COME STAY WITH US! Spencer and I would LOVE to have you!'
"Spencer is sound and he loves his wife so he went along with it but I’d imagine his initial reaction was like… who the hell is this woman roaming about our home, drinking my port and wearing my dressing gown? They’re both just incredibly generous and chilled out.
"Vogue is a machine, she’s like superwoman. I’m basically in love with Vogue and I’m hoping Spencer gets run over by a golf cart so I can have Vogue all to myself."
What can we expect from your new tour GLEEBAG?
"GLEEBAG has no mental health stuff, it’s just an hour of stand up comedy – so I want
people to have a good time! That’s my mission, I’m basically a clown, I’m a performing seal. I want people to laugh and leave feeling good. That’s it."
You’re a very funny and positive person. I guess no one would ever think you went
through all of this. How did you come to terms with it?
"It took me years to admit I had a problem because I didn’t see myself as the eating disorder
type. I considered it a weakness and I thought of myself as strong. But I’m 100% the eating
"Turns out it runs in my family too which I didn’t find out 'til a few years ago because I’m adopted. You just power through it, it’s a tough pill to swallow but you just get on with it and try your best to recover your self and your mind. Comedy did that for me, it gave me a reason to get better, without it recovery to me just meant getting ‘fat’, which of course was my worst nightmare."
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You’re from Dublin. What would you like to see change in the comedy scene in Ireland? Was this part of your move to London?
"We’re small, so it’s difficult to get the big stage time. It’s very different doing a gig in a 70-seater-venue versus a 300-seater-venue and the UK has way more of those so
you can learn more over there.
"There are not a lot of places on telly for comedians to be seen now, no panel shows. They want scripted comedy which is a very time consuming drawn out process which I’m now involved in in England. That’s why I loved doing Baby Hater because it was an opportunity to get onto more people’s radar without a three-year writing and commissioning process! I want to do more of that kind of thing as well.
"I studied sociology in college so group behaviour fascinates me. As far as the Irish comedy scenes go, London is kind of the Mecca at the moment, plus there seems to be so much more movement in the UK; production companies come looking for you, constant meetings about things – that wasn’t happening here, not to me anyway.
"Maybe it’s happening for other people here, but the UK channels seem more interested in working with me than the Irish ones. Why? I’ve no idea, but that’s what seems to be happening."
In your show Bite Me, you turn anorexia and bulimia into a dark comedy. Do you
think it is important to spread this awareness and look at it in some sort of a positive
"Ah, yeah. For sure. When you laugh at something, you take its power away. Plus when I was sick I really wanted to find girls online like me and I couldn’t. They were all really young girls, much younger than I was at the time.
"I was 27 before I even started therapy of any kind. They were teenagers, I felt like their mother, which made me more ashamed of what I was doing. Turns out loads of men and women my age have eating disorders; they’re skipping meals or purging meals. It’s so common. Bite Me is irreverent. That’s why I like it. It’s never looking for pity. It’s just telling a story."
Do you have any favourite comedians?
"Yeah, loads! I love Mickey Flanagan, Tina Fey, Deirdre O Kane, Jason Byrne, Bill
Burr, Alan Carr, Kathryn Ryan, Graham Norton, Aisling Bea and a million more."
Do you feel women are experiencing a more even playing field in comedy now?
"There are way more woman in comedy now, I think Amy Schumer started all that. I
wouldn’t say it’s an even playing field because female comics are very trendy! This
will change I’m sure but for now, I’d say we almost have an advantage.
"Audiences have been starved of women comics for so long that now they’re in high demand. The penny has finally dropped that people don’t want to see the same type of person on stage the whole time.
"They want variety, it’s more interesting. Audiences have a thirst for spice now, thank God!"
You mentioned on the Tommy Tiernan show that you didn’t think you would talk
about your anorexia and bulimia on stage. What made you want to talk about it in
front of a lot of people?
"I think what I said was that I preferred giving bulimia its own show, which is what Bite Me is. As in, I wasn’t comfortable just throwing in a random bulimia joke into my stand-up routine. I don’t mind talking about it in Bite Me, because that show goes deep and it’s in context, but I wouldn’t walk into a comedy club in Blackburn and throw out a joke about my
eating disorder. It felt wrong, I did try it and they didn’t go for it.
"It’s too much, plus at the time I felt like it would be for shock value rather than anything else. To be honest, I probably would talk about eating disorders in Ireland now because I think a good number of people who come to my stand up shows would be aware I had them so it doesn’t need the whole backstory.
"You can just jump in and jump out again and they wouldn’t recoil in horror. Also, I’m still quite protective of it. In Bite Me, I trust the audience know what they’re getting and, in Ireland, I can joke about it in stand up because I feel like I know the audience, even though I don’t really. But I don’t know England well enough yet!"
Is there anything so taboo that you wouldn’t talk about it on stage?
"Incest? Actually, I do talk about that. So no, there’s nothing. If it’s funny it goes in."
Are there any women that you admire?
"Yes, loads. I love strong women. I love a good mentor. I’m attracted to all sorts of
women really, I’ll go to a party and come home with a woman’s number and a lunch
"So many of my best female mates I met at parties over the years, we clicked and now we’re forever friends. I don’t have a lot of guy friends, I just don’t enjoy their company in the same way."
Joanne can be found performing her new GLEEBAG tour at the Town Hall Theatre in Galway on Wednesday 3 April, Waterford Arts Centre on Thursday 25 April, Vicar Street on Friday 26 April and Coughlans in Cork on Friday 10 May.
For more information, check out Aiken Promotions.
Interview questions by Aoibhín Synnott.