How We Met: Sarah Millican & Tom Allen
'Everyone was mingling; we sat in a corner, downing juice and devouring the buffet'
Sunday 23 January 2011
Sarah Millican, 35
One of Britain's most successful female stand-ups, Millican is known for her deft blend of innocent persona and shockingly blue humour. Outside her live shows, she has appeared on TV programmes from 'Mock the Week' to 'Have I Got News for You'
I first got to know Tom at the finals of the BBC New Comedy Awards in Cardiff, 2005. Normally there'd be a bit of competitive spirit, but the first thing Tom said to the group was, "Do you think I've got time to ring my mum?" and I thought, "Aww, I love him!" While everyone else went off to get hammered, we felt more excited about checking in to the fancy Marriott hotel booked for us.
We've done a few gigs together over the years, and the tougher ones bring you closer. We did one for a room of 40 nurses for National Handwashing Week and it was quite a hard crowd, which is often the case when you perform to a group from a single industry.
Tom is a tonic for me; we crack up to the point I almost wet myself. Laughter is such good therapy and it's part of the reason I took to stand-up. A man had said to me, "I don't love you any more," [Millican divorced in 2004] but I can stand in front of 100 people and tell them funny things that happened in my divorce, make them laugh, and I'll think, "He doesn't love us, but they do."
I like my own space, but Tom is one of the few friends I can spend a whole day with. We both like sidestepping the thing a building was made for and going for the secondary function instead: we'll meet at the Curzon Cinema, Soho, for tea and chocolate fudge cake at the café, but we've yet to see a film there. Or at the National Portrait Gallery we'll zip around to get to the gift shop and buy postcards.
I love watching Tom flirt with waiters – he's very good at it. It's not obvious; he just steps it up a notch, there's a bit more banter, he's just a bit funnier, and I think, "Why doesn't he do this with me?"
One of our biggest differences has to be our dress sense. Tom has amazing attention to detail, from top to toe, it's quirky and particular. People see me and think I look quite mumsy and accessible.
You want people in your life who you've been friends with when you were starting out. I don't think I'll turn into a dick with the success, but I've seen it happen to others, and Tom would tell me if I did.
Tom Allen, 27
A comedian, writer and presenter, Allen won various newcomer awards in 2005 and has gone on to perform at festivals around the world to critical acclaim. He has also penned two series of Radio 4 show 'The Correspondent', and appeared in films such as 'Starter for 10' and 'Tamara Drewe'
Sarah and I had both reached the finals for the BBC New Comedy Awards and I remember her coming up to me and saying, "I like you, I want to be your friend." She's very upfront and open like that, while I find it really difficult to make new friends and could never have done that. It snowballed from there.
Our first "date" was at a swanky BBC party in 2006. Everyone else was mingling while we just sat in the corner, downing cups of juice, devouring platters of buffet food and getting to know one another; it was refreshing to know thatI wasn't the only one who hated having all those forced conversations.
You feel vulnerable when you first start off in stand-up, but as long as you have someone else saying, "You're going to be OK," it's fine, and Sarah was particularly intuitive about my worries. My favourite advice from her was Millican's maxim: if you've had a bad gig, forget about it by 11am the following day, and move on.
One reason Sarah is so brilliant at what she does is her honesty; she's been through emotionally turbulent times and she uses that in her material to brilliant effect. I talk about being gay quite a lot: I was on a date and kissing a guy on the street and these lads drove past in the car with one shouting "You disgusting queers," and another, rather randomly, "...and get a job". I was on the brink of tears, but Sarah inspired me to take those difficult times, as she has, and be honest about my feelings. You're not reducing it, turning it into nothing; you're sharing it and allowing the absurdities to ring out.
Hanging out with Sarah is a joy. She comes across as sweet and lovely – and she is – but then she'll come out with something outrageous and we'll be hooting with laughter. We often meet up for tea. We make each other crack up so much that people on other tables stare at us disapprovingly. It's jealousy. Or the fact her laugh sounds like a clown's horn.
There is still an element of machismo and sexism within stand-up, but from any group that has a history of being excluded – like being gay or being a woman – you have to show you're just a person with great ideas. It's something that has helped bind us together, and when I see Sarah on stage, just being herself – with all her foibles, and the audience loving it – I realise how far things have come.
Sarah Millican's Chatterbox tour runs until 20 April. For details: sarahmillican.co.uk
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