Pushing Boundaries and Breaking Taboos: Interview with Lily Phillips

How would you describe your show?

it’s 2023, a woman should be able to talk about her period and not ignite a cringe-worthy response

My show is called Smut, and in a nutshell it’s an hour of jokes about my vagina, but it does have a deeper meaning in that I get referred to as ‘smutty’ quite a lot in the industry, that’s the word they use to describe my comedy. At first, I thought it was fine and on brand, but then I looked up the word in the dictionary and found out the actual definition of the word ‘smut’ is ‘showing sexual desire/pornographic’. And I found that idea really interesting, that if a woman talks about her body, even if it’s in a funny, gross way, people still think if you are still talking about those body parts it must be to appear sexy or to turn men on somehow, that it must have a sexual element, which my show doesn’t at all. So I just play around with that idea. I establish it at the beginning and say, “ok for the next hour I’m going to tell you the most honest, graphic things about my body and then we’ll go around everyone and we’ll see whether you were turned on at any point during this show,” to prove that point really.

What boundaries are you trying to push?

I think as a female comedian, people are keen to pigeonhole you. There’s a lot more nuance to all of us obviously, so I wanted to challenge that idea. I’ve written the show that I’ve written because it’s what I find funny, and I think it’s great to normalise women’s bodies using humour saying, “this is all of our bodily functions and we all do this kind of stuff too,” and if you can make a joke around that then it becomes less of a taboo, because it still seems to be. I do stuff about periods, and you think it’s 2023, a woman should be able to talk about her period and not ignite a cringe-worthy response. I like to find a way of finding a way to make everybody laugh, then everybody can talk about that and we’re not hiding these parts of ourselves that seem unsavoury and pretending that they don’t happen. So if I tell a story about my moon cup getting stuck, it’s a funny story that hopefully takes away some of the mystery about what goes on down there.

When writing the show, how did you find the line between what you think people will laugh at and what could make them uncomfortable?

I like to play around with that line, but obviously at the end of the day, I’m a comedian, so the main point of me standing onstage is to be funny and to make people laugh. That’s always my end goal. I’m not going to do a whole bit because I think it’s important to say but there are no jokes in it and I think some of my material will start off this way, but if I can’t find the angle, then I’ll just have to get rid of it and not use it. You can’t really talk about some of the things that I talk about without making the audience slightly uncomfortable, but I think you can use that to your advantage. If you get them feeling a little uncomfortable and then you slam them with a very silly punchline at the end of that, it’s quite satisfying for the audience because they’ve been in that moment of tension, and you’ve got to be okay with that. It takes a while for you to become comfortable in those awkward moments, knowing that there’s going to be a payoff at the end and everyone’ll feel fine.

What’s your ideal audience?

When I named my show, I wanted to call it Smut partly because I wanted people to know what they were coming to. When I gig around the country and I’m on mixed bill shows, people haven’t come to see you in particular, so they don’t necessarily adhere to your way of thinking, or they’re not particularly interested in the voice of someone like me. I like the challenge that those people in the room may not have ever heard someone say these kinds of things, and they might learn something, whilst laughing obviously. But also, some of the best times are when you have a room full of women who already sort of know this stuff and you’re just reiterating things; they find it very relatable, and they’re all comfortable with it, that can be pretty wonderful.

How would you describe your comedy?

It’s pretty sarcastic and it can be quite dark, I do quite like pushing the boundaries in that way as well. It’s honest, I talk about myself mostly and my dog. It's very deadpan at times. I didn’t set out trying to be like anyone in particular or to be a specific type of comedian, because I’d already developed developed my persona during the cabaret without realising, so it wasn’t conscious. I’m a more exaggerated version of myself, I’m a more confident version of myself and I like that feeling of being onstage and being able to tell a story that I wouldn’t tell in the pub with a group of friends.

There’s something about having a microphone that justifies that you’re standing there telling somebody this. I think doing stand-up comedy gives you confidence. People say, “oh you must be so brave” but I think it’s the other way around, you get more brave talking to people and being open.

How did you figure out that you wanted to pursue a career in comedy?

I came at it from a slightly irregular angle. I trained originally as a dancer and did that for a few years, and then I ended up doing a dance-based cabaret show with my friend who I’d trained with at dance college. Then she took a step back from it, so I pursued it on my own as a one woman show. I realised that when I was on my own, I started talking a lot more in between the numbers instead of just introducing them or sticking to the script, so I had to keep cutting numbers from the show, and then someone said to me, “oh you know the bit in the middle, those little gaps, you just chatting to the audience, that’s stand-up comedy, why don’t you just do that?” and I was like, “Oh my God yeah, I could get rid of all these costumes, high heels and make-up and I could just stand onstage and do the thing in the middle.” So really, laziness I would say, but also it never crossed my mind to do stand-up and I think that’s partly with being a woman; I hadn’t really seen many women do it and it never really entered my head that it’s something I could do. It took me a little time to figure out where my place was within this world. I knew I wanted to be onstage, I just hadn’t quite figured out in what capacity, and when I did find it, it was an amazing feeling.

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