“The pandemic is obviously very depressing and people want to watch comedy. They want to relax,” says Lolly Adefope, one of the UK’s finest comics, as she Zooms in from her London home. Too right. And come to think of it, we’ve got her to thank for much of the top notch entertainment that’s hit our screens over the last few months.
Since 2019, 31-year-old Adefope has appeared as Fran alongside Aidy Bryant in Hulu’s hit comedy Shrill and played Alan Partridge’s arch nemesis Ruth Duggan. Most recently, she took on the role of Kitty, the ghost of a Georgian noblewoman, in the BBC sitcom Ghosts, for which she was nominated for a National Comedy Award – now postponed until next year.
It’s been a whirlwind couple of years for Adefope, who has since become renowned for creating hilarious, niche and often quintessentially British characters. They’ve all got their idiosyncrasies thanks to her knack for spotting the little things that make people tick, later transforming them into witty, observational skits.
Funnily enough, even with so many comedic notches in her belt, Adefope found her voice with no formal training. Studying English Literature at Loughborough University was followed by an obligatory (if reluctant) stint working in an office, before jumping headfirst into stand-up comedy at Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2015, which got Adefope noticed by the Beeb.
“In hindsight, I’m kind of glad I didn’t go [to drama school] because I don’t have all that debt,” she says, “and it would have delayed my start in comedy by three or four years.” It was the right call. Rumours have even been flying around that Adefope has been working on her very own TV pilot.
“It’s going so slow! I shouldn’t have told anyone… She’s been working on this for 15 years!” she continues. “It’s still very bad, but what I can say is that it’s a comedy show.” To satisfy us in the meantime, Adefope’s debut podcast, Fan Mail, is most definitely in the works. In a similar vein to cult classic Dear Joan and Jericha, it’ll see her as an agony aunt type, interviewing fictional fans and playing fake voicemail messages. We can’t wait.
When did you first realise you were funny?
I don’t know if there was a specific moment, but at school, me and my friends would watch Catherine Tate and listen to a lot of radio comedy. Sometimes, if there was a Radio 4 Mitchell and Webb show the night before and one of them hadn’t had a chance to listen to it, we’d write down every single joke and then recite them the next day at school.
I never missed an episode and I was always the one with page after page of these jokes that I’d then perform to my friends. After doing that a few times I was like, “OK, I like to recreate it for other people, this is fun!”
How do you find your comedic groove to play characters like Fran in Shrill, Ruth Duggan in This Time Alan Partridge and Kitty in Ghosts?
I didn’t go to drama school or anything, so I still don’t really know what you’re meant to do in terms of being an actor. There isn’t a textbook for that. When I first started, I was too nervous to decide for myself what a character should be and I’d always think, “What do they want this character to be and what were they picturing in their head when they wrote it? Let me try and match that as closely as possible.” Partly because I’ve played very fun roles, I’ve now started to think about what I’m going to have the most fun doing. The more I enjoy it, the more relaxed I become.
How have you grown as a person and as an actor over the past jam-packed few years?
Annoyingly, I’m doing less live comedy now than when I first started. At the beginning, you obviously want to gig all the time and you don’t have your pick of what gigs you can do, so any one you get, you just do it. I was more fearless. I was also working in an office and I knew that wasn’t my career, so I was open to doing whatever and seeing what stuck.
Now, I think I’ve done the opposite with acting. I’m more nervous because it feels higher stakes. Before, I would create the nichest characters – I was using Twitter more and people would write jokes on there everyday. Now, I’m like, “Maybe a producer’s in the audience, so I should do something that could work as a TV show.” Not that the fun’s gone out of it, but I’m not as loose as I was when I first started.
Saying that, with acting, I’ve also relaxed a bit. You enjoy it so much more when you’re doing what you think you do best, rather than trying to please what someone else’s idea of a character is. With comedy and acting, there’s so much surrounding it, like press, photoshoots, Instagram. I try to think, “Each day that you’re doing a job should be fun.”
Do you think it’s the Virgo in you that makes you particularly good at sussing people out and bringing characters to life?
Is that what Virgos do?!
Yeah, they’re hyper-critical and analytical.
100 per cent, that must be it. I only ever knew about Virgos being perfectionists, but that makes sense. [Creating characters] tends to start with noticing things I find niche and funny, or something that’s really annoyed me. Then I’m like, “Let me channel this energy into making myself and other people laugh.” I look for patterns and trends, especially millennial trends or annoying things millennials do, things people are doing that they think are really cool and that I don’t think are cool. It’s basically a way for me to stroke my own ego. Look how cool I am! I would never do any of these annoying things, obviously.
Do you ever see yourself taking on a more serious role?
I think so. I don’t want to get bored of doing comedy, but once I feel like I’ve fully nailed it, I’d like to do drama. At the same time, maybe the better thing to do is branch into comedy-drama before taking that step. I also think that drama is slightly daunting. Whenever I think of procedural shows like CSI, it must feel weird to rehearse on set and for the lines to be like, “We’ve got to get into the car. OK. Let’s go, next scene!” And the crew are just holding all their stuff and nobody’s laughing.
With comedy, someone says cut and you release your laughter. People improvise. I’d find it so scary doing scenes when there’s no sense of what people are thinking. Like, is this good? I think I’d just be asking everyone all day, “Was that good?“ But I would love to do it at some point.
It probably takes quite an emotional toll, too.
Definitely. There’s an episode in Shrill where I had to cry and I was imagining really sad things. What is that doing to my brain? How do I know I’m not holding onto this feeling? It’s like when you have a dream about someone who wrongs you, and then you wake up and you can still feel it.
What would your advice be to budding comedians?
Just do it. I think people worry that if they do a live comedy gig and it’s really bad, there’ll be some kind of consequence. I don’t think I can remember anyone I’ve ever seen that was really bad in their first gig, but everyone has a bad one at some point. You work out what went wrong and then try something different. There’s Comedy Virgins and plenty of gigs aimed at people who are trying their first live stuff out.
So, what is being funny all about?
I think being funny is all about having a nice time, all the time. I think the meaning of life is just to laugh with your friends. The more you’re laughing in your day, the better, and the ideal thing is to turn it into your career. Then you’ll be laughing eight hours a day.