Nina Conti & Sarah Kendall: 'I send her rather rude, blunt text messages'

The two comedians became friends in 2011, when they worked together on Radio 4 show Clare in the Community

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The Independent Online

Nina Conti, 41

Best known as a ventriloquist who performs with puppet sidekicks, Conti (left in picture) began her career as an actress with the RSC, and is also a stand-up comedian. She lives in London with her husband and two sons

I think the first time I became aware of Sarah was when I saw her on television performing at the Montreal comedy festival. I remember thinking she was very funny, and I'm sure we bumped into each other several times after that on the circuit, but nothing significant.

It's funny how you can know someone for a while, years sometimes, and think that maybe they don't like you very much, or that you can't really talk to them, but then something breaks between you, and suddenly you are proper friends. That's what happened with us.

In 2011, she joined the cast of the Radio 4 show I do, Clare in the Community, so we started spending more time together. We're quite similar in many ways. We share this wonderful neurosis every time we prepare a new show. I go through torture, thinking everything I do is terrible, while remaining convinced that she has nothing to worry about. But of course she worries. It's a common thing with comedians, and we tend to be very empathetic towards one another.

What I love about my conversations with Sarah is that it never comprises small talk. I hate small talk, and she does too. And she is very straight-talking – quite rude, too. I'm drawn to her rudeness, her sense of humour; it appeals to me, and makes me laugh. We talk about our work a lot, obviously, and we've attended each other's preview shows, and we have both got depressed together in Edinburgh. "Will I be OK?" I tend to say to her a lot. I'm sure she probably thinks, "Oh shut up, you will be absolutely fine."

We were both in Melbourne one time, and we'd gone out for the afternoon. We saw some semi-clad ladies being photographed right next to a kid's playground. I was horrified, but didn't say anything. Sarah did. She marched right up to them and said, "Hey guys! This isn't cool!" I love that about her; such confidence. I'm sure she was the coolest girl in the playground. She also has a very strong moral compass, and I trust hers more than my own. I'm often tempted to borrow her opinion on subjects when I don't entirely know what mine is. "What's my take on this, Sarah?" I'll ask.

I've seen her most recent show, A Day in October [a biographical piece about growing up a misfit in New South Wales] twice. It made me cry. It's incredible, storytelling as much as stand-up. For the past couple of years, I have focused on improvisation. I'm not sure if that's because I can't sit down and write anything, or just because I love not knowing what I might discover next. But the show I'm doing now is definitely not the most high-minded work I've ever done. I'll bring a man up on stage and turn him into a chicken, get him to lay an egg. Pretty daft, but funny too, I hope. But when I compare what I do with what Sarah does, I can't help but feel humbled.

Sarah Kendall, 39

An award-winning Australian comedian and writer, Kendall lives in London with her British husband, the comedy writer Henry Naylor. They have two children

What's bizarre about my friendship with Nina is that we must have known each other for at least a decade before we became friends. We'd bump into each other on the circuit from time to time, and back in 2003 she took the lead role in my husband's play, Finding Bin Laden. She used to come to the flat for rehearsals, but because it was my husband's thing, I never really felt a part of it and so I didn't get involved. I just went out.

Then one day, at the Edinburgh Festival, where we were both performing, we said hello and one of us suggested we take our kids to the park. When you do the festival and you've got kids, your day is unavoidably arranged around them. Suddenly we bonded. I think we both learnt that we were similar in many ways. I don't open up very quickly with new people. I'm rather standoffish. I don't mean to be; it's just how I am. But that afternoon, it's like we decided to open up to each other, and clicked.

There is often camaraderie among female comedians, and when you're a mother, too, you find that you complain to each other because you're in the trenches together. It's a bonding thing to know that someone else is going through the same thing you are.

I'm very open with Nina, I'll tell her anything, and I do tend to send her rather rude, blunt text messages. Come to think of it, I should probably delete a lot of those messages because I wouldn't want them to end up in the wrong hands…

My work is very heavily scripted, so I'm amazed at all the risks Nina takes improvising. She's a marvel, really, because improvising is tightrope stuff; it's putting yourself on the line. Often when you watch a fellow comedian at work, you know the machinery of what they are doing, so you appreciate it more than you love it. But watching Nina, I'm as swept up as the rest of the audience, and I laugh and laugh.

The truth is we hardly ever see each other. She's in north London, I'm south, it's hard to meet in the middle, what with everything else we have going on. That's why we rely so heavily on text messages. But even in this way she comes across as so nice. I really think her niceness shines through everything she does.

Having said that, I might have had a gutful of her niceness, her looks and charm by now. I'm not actually sure the friendship's sustainable any more. I'm going to tell her that. Not in person, of course. I'll text her.

'Nina Conti: In Your Face' is at London's Criterion Theatre (criterion-theatre.co.uk) from Thursday to 12 March; 'Sarah Kendall: A Day in October' is at London's Soho Theatre (sohotheatre.com) until Saturday

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