Meet Tom Allen and Holly Walsh: Team UK for this month's episode of International Waters

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By Chris Bowman

In a continuing effort to initiate the uninitiated, we bring you a brief conversation with the UK side of this month’s installment of International Waters. Holly Walsh may be best known as the comedian who broke her elbow on a very public stage. Or possibly for her Edinburgh Fringe Best Newcomer nominated show Hollycopter. She’s appeared on many British panel shows including the pop music quiz show Nevermind the Buzzcocks and 8 Out of 10 Cats. Tom Allen is a Fringe festival veteran. After six consecutive appearances, he decided to sit it out this year. He’s a regular cast member on the BBC Radio Four show Bleak Expectations. He also writes and presents the show Dictionary Corner.

There’s a disturbing trend with the comedians who have been on this show. They are all exceedingly nice. Which begs the question: "What do they know that we don’t know?" For now, I think it’s residual Olympic fever.

International Waters: Holly, you are only the second repeat guest to appear on International Waters. Please describe how it feels.

Holly Walsh: Well, I feel like the first time I learned a great deal. Also, I’ve watched a lot of the Olympics, so I’m going to use some sporting phrases. I feel like I did enough in the first to get me through to the second one. But right now, I’m going to dig deep, I’m going to look forward, and I’m just going to do the best I can.

IW: Beautiful. Well said. You have been watching a lot of the Olympics.

HW: Yeah. Damn right I have.

IW: You were nominated at the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe for best newcomer for your show Hollycopter. That show was based on a pretty traumatizing event. Does that make writing easier?

HW: Well, it does help if you do something really stupid because then you can write a show about it. So I would recommend that if you are going to really damage yourself, make sure you do it in a silly costume and make sure it’s filmed from every angle.

IW: I’ve seen a photo. I haven’t seen the video.

HW: Go for it. Watch it. And leave some horrible comment like “I wish she’d have died.” Like some other people do.

IW: Are you serious?

HW: Someone said, “This is the funniest thing she’s ever done.”

IW: How do you approach writing without an intense experience like that to guide you?

HW: I use a pen.

IW: (Laughs). You co-wrote Dead Boss with Sharon Horgan. That's clearly a successful pairing. What makes a good writing team?

HW: A shared interest in hand creams and being easily distracted by talking about fitness moves that you learned in aerobics the night before. And also: trying to make each other laugh constantly.

IW: Have you ever been part of a bad writing team? If so, how did you deal with it?

HW: I’ve written some pretty horrible jokes on my own. Although I wasn’t really in a team, I dealt with it by saying them out loud to an audience and then feeling shit about myself.

IW: (laughs). OK Tom, you’re on.

Tom Allen: Oh hi. OK.

IW: In researching Bleak Expectations, a Google search reminded me of the terrible drought happening in America right now. There were articles talking about the bleak expectations for soy and corn production. Researching for this interview was supposed to be a fun exercise, but it quickly became worrying.

TA: (Laughs). This is extremely worrying. (Tom gets distracted for a second) What’s that noise?

HW: Is that someone tuning a piano?

TA: I did insist they tune the piano. I’m like Elton John, in every way.

IW: Please list a few key differences between the terrible drought and the BBC Radio 4 program.

TA: I would say Bleak Expectations largely involves a cast of esteemed (old) actors from the cream of radio; whereas the corn and soy drought is mainly to do with corn and soy. That’s one difference. The second one is I am directly involved with one of them and I’m an actor in the other. The third difference is that one is based on Victorian times and the other is based on Victorian food.

HW: Soya?

TA: (Laughs) Yeah, you don’t realize but Queen Victoria was constantly…soy sauce. She loved her sauce.

HW: There was a lot of soy lattes. Are soy and soya the same?

TA: Isn’t it bad for you as well? It’s not as good as they thought?

HW: It gives you added estrogen in your system. (Holly sings) "Soya gonna grow boobs!"

IW: You are somewhat of a Fringe festival veteran.

TA: I’m just a vet. I go there and treat animals. A veterinarian.

IW: How important has it been to your career as a performer?

TA: Well, it’s been important. Yeah. I would say 6/10 important? 7/10? No. 8/10 important.

HW: You’ve made some good friends.

TA: Yeah. 9/10 important. You know what? It’s an amazing experience, but it’s so intense that you never can quite prepare yourself for it. So it is this kind of baptism of fire in a way. But it is wonderful and I suppose I do miss it. I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it, having a year off. Six years of doing it. A lot has changed in six years. I’m trying to think of all the things that have changed. The subprime mortgage crisis.

HW: And your gender.

TA: Because of all the soy I’ve been having, I’ve confused my gender.

IW: (Laughs). I saw on Twitter that you posted a photo of your “coffin with memory foam” from your trip to Japan. Was it as horrible as it looked?

TA: Yes. The only consoling factor was that it reminded me a bit of the film Some Like It Hot. You know when they’re all on the train? With Marilyn Monroe?

HW: And Jack Lemmon.

TA: And Tony Curtis. And they all had a party. Except I didn’t have a party. I just went in there and slept.

HW: What do you mean? You slept in a coffin?

TA: So, in Japan, I thought I booked a single room. I got there and they were like, “Oh hi, yeah. It’s a single room, but it’s in a dormitory.” It was just a wardrobe.

HW: Is it cheap?

TA: Yeah, that was cheap. And I knew why. But then in Tokyo there are 35 million people. It’s the biggest city in the world. So everything’s quite compact.

IW: By the time this is posted, the Olympics will be finished.

TA: I can’t bear to think about it.

IW: What was your opinion of the Olympics before they happened and now that they are almost over?

HW: Well, I’m in the very smug position of saying all along that I was very excited about it. And it was such a bloody success that I gloat. Oh my God am I gloating. This has been such a huge hit for my ego, and also Olympic sports.

TA: I would second that. I was very positive about it. I do a chat show. And I themed one of them around the Olympics and everyone was like, “Ugh, forget it. Ugh, I hate it.” I said, "You’re going to love it." And they were all constantly going on about the stupid tube situation. “We’re not going to be able to get on the tube.” And I said, "It’s going to be fine. You’ll get on the tube with the Senegalese javelin throwing team."

HW: That’s exactly what happened.

TA: And that’s exactly what happened!

TA: It’s been fantastic. And it’s made me realize that London is a really positive, wonderful place.

IW: Do you think the people embraced it because they needed an uplifting event?

HW: No, no, no. Because what usually happens in Britain is that we love to say I told you so. If anything, we were just waiting for it to be terrible. Then the opening ceremony absolutely nailed it. I think from then on, everyone was like, “Oh! For once we can be proud of something.”