Savage; Need a Laugh?

By Jo Phillips

Nominated twice for the Edinburgh Comedy Award for Best Show and two-time Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Award winner, multi-award-winning comedian Sarah Kendall has truly begun to make name for herself with her unique style of spellbinding storytelling. 

An Australian comedian from Newcastle, New South Wales, now living in London. She won the Raw Comedy competition at Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 1998 and then regularly appeared on Australian television, before moving to the UK in 2000.

Over the past 20 years she has carved a standout career for herself – first in traditional stand up, then moving into more introspective, darker comic storytelling shows.

Sarah is a storytelling maestro, effortlessly combining comedy and tragedy in equal measure. Stories that are by turns moving, funny, and usually a bit depressing in places.  

In keeping with our Savage theme for the month, Sarah’s comedy pulls no punches, with no topic considered too brutal to be put under her comedic microscope – tales of the mundane mix with the horrifying to produce a inimitable sense of pathos woven into her special brand of distinctively dark humour.

On Thursday (26th September) Sarah will star in the bittersweet dark six-part comedy Frayed, a Sky original production, which she also wrote. Sarah’s tales blend intricate narratives with a cast of memorable characters, providing belly laughs along with moments of heart wrenching poignancy. This is why we chose Sarah Kendall to be a focus for this week and decided to ask her a few questions – not only related to her writing but also to himself as a person. Check out the interview below.

Having establishing a name for herself as the creator of the bleakest of funny stories and tales, Kendall explains why Frayed started to take shape and what was it about this story that made her want to write it. “I loved the idea of writing a character who thought that she’s successfully lied her way into this position of power – she (Simone) thought she’d gotten away with it – and then all her lies explode, kind of in one day – everything falls apart in just the one day. 

Suddenly she has to confront everything that she’s been running from, and I just love the idea of someone landing in such a hot fire, with so little warning and seeing how they cope. 

My character has a huge amount of wealth and privilege; to go from that to having nothing and to also have to confront all the lies that she has built her life on at the same time made the story really rich for plot lines, rich for comedy.

I wanted audiences to be drawn in, to want to know what she’d been running from and why her life became such a web of lies in the first place. Without a strong dramatic engine driving her behaviour I think she’d be farcical, so she has a powerful backstory. And I think the key message the series is that you can’t run from your past forever.” 

Kendall’s character, Simone, finds herself rather abruptly back in Australia, and in a hometown she’d put behind her a long time ago. The now British-based comedian discusses how it felt to be back on Aussie soil. “It was so weird for to be filming a show set in the world of my childhood, and to be filming that show in the town that I grew up in”, she considers. “It was actually a really surreal experience – because really I was filming a world that’s gone – it doesn’t exist anymore – but I was still filming in the town that I grew up in. I got a real kick out of that.   We also just had an amazing cast and crew. It was such a fantastic group of people to work with, and we were also really lucky on the weather… actually, no we weren’t, that’s bullshit! We were SO unlucky.”

One of Kendall’s first jobs in Australia was working in McDonald’s, where her sole purpose was to remove pickles from where they had been tossed aside by customers. After establishing herself on the Australian comedy scene, she decided to move to the UK, joining the stand-up on the circuit. Even when on stage, her shows are reviewed as more comedic storytelling than straight stand up, and you’ll rarely find Kendall playing a comedy club. Kendall talks us through her shift in focus. 

I got to a stage where I didn’t want to do straight stand up anymore”, she says by way of explanation. “I didn’t want that to be my job. I was always more comfortable telling stories rather than “gags” anyway, so I thought, ‘How do I keep doing that?’”

I was quite fortunate on a couple of levels- my storytelling style really suited festival shows where you get a whole hour. For me 20 minutes spots in stand-up clubs never gave the opportunity to properly sink my teeth into a big story. And in the past decade the shift in comedy has really been away from club-style stand up. Festival shows are really where the interesting stuff is happening now, so it’s been a good time for me to be a storyteller more than a stand up.

The show is set in the 1980s and has been conceived as an antithesis of the kind of shows Brits watched during that time. The nation devoured programmes that were set in Australia in sun-drenched neighbourhoods. Kendall says, “In the 80s, the way most people in Britain were seeing Australia was through the lens of Home and Away and Neighbours. I wanted to do a show that was like a filthy companion piece to that. I wanted it to be a much darker version of those worlds. You’ve still got lots of sunshine and that healthy outdoor living, but the place is a bit of a shithole. There’s lots of unemployment and there’s some pretty dark stuff happening in this world, and as the series goes on you realise that there are a whole load of characters with some pretty dark secrets. I wanted to play with that 1980s Australia that was sold to the world and show this other version that was a lot darker. It’s like a dirty companion piece to Neighbours and Home and Away.” 

Also – For me the key thing about it being the 80s is that it’s the moment before the internet. This is before the digital age and that meant so many things – no mobile phones, no social media. People could disappear without a trace; people could move to the other side of the world and reinvent themselves. You didn’t know where people were every hour of the day, you couldn’t contact people whenever you wanted to. It’s a world that has completely disappeared. When these people are stuck in Newcastle they have no connection whatsoever with London. They’re not Facetiming friends back in London, they’re not remaining abreast of what’s happening back home. If you went to the other side of the world, you were a long way away. I loved that the world still felt huge back then, that you could get lost.

Frayed will air on Sky One and NOW TV on 26 September

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