Interview: Samantha Pressdee

samanthan pressdee interview
In 2014 following the death of her father, anarchist Samantha Pressdee was hospitalised due to a mental breakdown, spending 2 days in a police cell for her own safety until a bed became available on the NHS. Austerity seemed invisible, until it bounced her off a non-padded wall. The journey through the welfare system was a rough ride and getting mental health needs met in austerity Britain felt like a game of Russian roulette. She talks about this and more in her new show “Covered” – which is directed by the acclaimed Canadian comedian Phil Nicol – and is a story of resilience promoting compassion over schadenfreude because this time, it’s her vulnerability rather than her chest that is laid bare. Covered is about her journey back to sanity, following a long battle with the state to get her needs met and challenges with social stigma, trolling, stalking and further brushes with the police. Described as “Excellent storytelling and very funny ★★★★” by One4Review and “Hits a rich vein of dark humour, nicely crafted jokes with sharp timing” by The Times, we’ve no doubt it’ll be a huge hit at the festival, and here Samantha talks about the show, how she wishes there was less bullying on the comedy scene, the ways having a mental disability affects her, the highs and lows of the Edinburgh Festival, and how she’d like to create an army of comedians who have a track record of direct action.

Comedy To Watch: How would you describe your comedy to someone who wasn’t previously aware of your good self?

Samantha: It’s a mix of comedy, activism and mental illness. It’s barmy action comedy! I am inviting the audience into my world. The base of my show it is a story, with jokes peppered through and pictures and videos mixed in. These are the ingredients of a Love Muffin production. I don’t just want to make people laugh. I want to give them something to take away. Whether that be food for thought, an invitation to join the revolution or just something small, like an epiphany.

CTW: And what can you tell us about your Edinburgh show?

Samantha: It’s a story of resilience. Fighting back against the cruel treatment I have received from the state as a marginalised person. It’s about confrontation and choosing your battles. Finding that fighting spirit, the will to carry on. I have been waiting 5 years to get the courage to tell this story. I am speaking honestly about being on benefits and having a mental disability and that is something I am likely to be stigmatised for. Or even attacked for. In the end haters just make you stronger. People try to dismiss the voices of people with mental illness, so I feel mission driven not to shut up!

CTW: What are your favourite things about the festival?

Samantha: The atmosphere. That’s not really a thing but there is just something in the air at Edinburgh. Maybe it’s love. So many people living and breathing their passion for a whole month. I live in the Black Country where people struggle to make ends meet, so it’s nice to be surrounded by people who are living their dreams.

CTW: And are there any aspects you don’t like?

Samantha: I don’t like crowds. I feel claustrophobic sometimes. I manage to avoid them by only going out to socialise on weeknights. It’ll take one hell of a party to get me out on a Friday or Saturday. It’s very expensive to come to Edinburgh. If I won the lottery I would buy some property and rent it to working class artists at a reasonable price during the Fringe. Some universities are stepping up and offering cheaper rent so people from underprivileged backgrounds can participate. I don’t like that some people are overly competitive. It’s not the olympics. I don’t think art should be about competition. It’s not about being the best when it comes to self expression. There’s something for everyone.

CTW: When it comes to stand up, how do you feel you’ve evolved since your first ever gig?

Samantha: I don’t throw my tits on the floor anymore. Since #FreeTheNipple everyone knows exactly how big they are so I’ve stopped wearing chicken fillets. I’m a lot less aggressive. I’ve vented a lot of anger and frustration on stage over the years. I had reason to be angry, but comedy isn’t just about letting off steam. I’m a lot calmer now.

CTW: What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you since you started performing?

Samantha: I went to get a pedicure one year at the fringe to cheer myself up. Then I got lost looking for the way into VIP hang out Abattoir. (It’s in a top secret location.) I ended up trudging through this stinky mud with Tez Ilyias. I was wearing flip flops to show of my twinkle toes but when I finally made it into the prestigious bar (After hauling myself over a fence.) My feet were absolutely caked in the stinky mud and I had to go straight to the toilet to wash them in the sink, classy!

CTW: If you could change any element of the stand up scene, what would it be?

Samantha: There’s a lot of bullying. It’s one thing making a mean joke, but I hate it when people punch down or go for someone’s weakness. I’ve been bullied by a lot of comics because I have bipolar. More diversity. So many line ups are just straight white men. It’s the same old boring perspective and probably why many comedy clubs struggle to get an audience beyond that particular demographic. It does sometimes feel like a boys club. Especially where I live.

CTW: Apart from what you’ve already done, is there anything else you’d like to do in the comedy world?

Samantha: The possibilities are endless! That’s why I love comedy so much. I would love to do some comedy acting. I come from an acting background. I would love to be in a sitcom or a movie. Maybe one day I could even write a sitcom or a movie.

CTW: And if money were no object, and you could collaborate with any living comedian, what would you like to create?

Samantha: Start an army of comedians who have a track record of direct action. Mark Thomas, Russell Brand, Amy Schumer. We’ll weaponise mirth to bring peace to the world! I’d get a massive tour bus and we could go around the UK recruiting people for the revolution. The revolution would raise the consciousness of humanity through the alchemy of comedy. Anyone will be able to join our army, as long as they are not looking to hijack our cause to look good or impose their own agenda. I will weed those people out with my psychic powers.

CTW: Finally, if you could interview yourself, what question would you most like to ask? And what would the answer be?

Samantha: Q. How do you get so much done with a mental disability? A. I work longer hours than your average person, because it takes me longer to do tasks. I have a great team of people keeping me sane and I cost the state a fortune through grants and support. I like to think I am giving back to society. My mission is to spread love and truth, as well as igniting potential in the 1 in 4 people who will experience mental health issues. A psychiatrist tried to write me off, but we all have the potential to live a full life with equal opportunities. Or: Q. What would you like to be remembered for? A. Someone who cared about humanity and tried to do a little bit to make the world better.

Alex Finch. Photograph (c) Steve Ullthorne.
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Related Links:
Samantha Pressdee – Covered – can be seen at PQA Venues @Riddle’s Court, Q3, Fri 2 – Mon 26 August, 4pm (relaxed performance Thu 22 Aug), further information and tickets are here.
Samantha’s Official Site.
You can follow Samantha on Twitter here.
Love Muffin Productions.
Pulling It Together – A Mental Health Project created by Samantha.

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