If you know me or perhaps follow one of my social media outlets (the pleasure’s all yours…), you will probably be aware that I am obsessed with Miranda Hart. This love of mine began almost six years ago, when I stumbled upon the pilot episode of Miranda as it was being aired for the first time, in 2009. Miranda’s style of comedy is divisive; her slapstick humour, awkward persona and frequent acknowledgement of the camera are not everyone’s cup of tea, however I was instantly drawn to them. I found her breaching of the fourth wall, through witty asides and suggestive glances, magnetic and I, like so many others, felt instantly as if she was and always had been my friend. It is this state of mind which made the 23rd October – the day I interviewed Miranda – the most surreal day of my life.
I am sitting at a round table in the Woman’s Hour recording studio at Broadcasting House, the BBC’s London headquarters. Three other women and one eleven year old girl sit with me, all excited, but not, it must be said, shaking under the table, painstakingly aware that all their earthly dreams are about to come true. Perhaps they have lives, I remind myself, and their earthly dreams do not revolve solely around meeting the admittedly incredible, but definitely human, Miranda Hart. I turn around. My dad is sitting in the control room behind a pane of glass signalling in a demoniac fashion. She’s outside. Palpitations. I can’t see her yet but he can – this is really happening. And then suddenly she’s here – the actual Miranda – being ushered into a seat opposite me, smiling and saying hello.
Let me tell you now, seeing a person in reality whom you have become extremely accustomed to seeing on screen is perhaps the most disconcerting thing you’ll ever experience. I’m hit with the overwhelming realisation that she is no different to any of us at this table – funnier, of course, but no different. Miranda makes small talk, compares our gathering to a WI meeting. My voice finds itself from the deep corner into which it has fled and somehow musters enough volume to ask if she’s feeling better. It feels natural to talk to her; a woman with whom I feel so familiar, but it’s then that an embarrassingly obvious epiphany strikes me: she hasn’t a clue who I am. Here I’ve been, considering her onscreen persona my friend for five years, and she hasn’t a clue who I am! I realise then how unsettling fame must feel; meeting strangers daily who are sure they know you, much like they were a close childhood friend, an aunt or a grandparent and you were experiencing a terrifying bout of amnesia.
It’s difficult for me to express what happened during the next hour; the entire experience was surreal beyond belief. In my mind the memory seems to have transcended the bounds of language and manifested itself only into a deep rooted feeling that something truly wonderful happened. I’ve replayed the recordings of our interview many times since, unable to believe that my voice is followed by her laughter and still unsure that any of it really happened. My phone background – a picture of the two of us grinning comically – acts both as a daily reaffirmation of the most surreal day of my life, but also – most importantly – as a reminder that anything is possible (apologies if I just made you cringe, buckle up, much more to come…).
I am writing this for a number of reasons. Firstly, because I am still unable to process the events of the day in question and hopefully by writing them out I may be able to create something more tangible than the clips of ethereal memory which are currently circling my head, not unlike a swathe of hallucinations… Of course, if this were my sole reason for writing, there would be no need for publishing it on my blog – why not just scrawl these snippets on the back of a napkin or across my bedroom wall? For this reason. Interviewing Miranda had been my tongue-in-cheek dream for as long as I have known of her; an event which would combine my love of the woman herself with my interest in journalism and passion for interviewing. The ridiculousness of my realising this dream at 17 felt so miraculous and laughable to me that I was struck, in a way that I never had been before, by the limitless power of something much less long-term than determination: our immediate responses. I want to share with you, then, the philosophy of another great comedian which, along with the beautiful nature of serendipity, led to my interviewing Miranda Hart. It goes a bit like this: in the words of Amy Poehler, “Yes, please.”
In her book of this title, Poehler explains the philosophy which she credits with the fruition of her career. Being a Saturday Night Live veteran, her motto finds its origins in improv; a mode of comedy fuelled entirely by the “yes and” method – the necessity of saying yes to your fellow actor and building on the material they offer you. This, she insists, is the way in which we should live our lives. Seize opportunities by simply saying yes, and crucially, saying yes even if we don’t feel we are ready. She writes,
“Great people do things before they’re ready. They do things before they know they can do it. Doing what you’re afraid of, getting out of your comfort zone, taking risks like that- that’s what life is. You might be really good. You might find out something about yourself that’s really special and if you’re not good, who cares? You tried something. Now you know something about yourself. Because what else are we going to do? Say no? Quiet our voice because we are worried it is not perfect? I believe great people do things before they are ready.”
A recurring phrase I’ve encountered when people talk to me about interviewing Miranda is: “I wish I could do something like that”. “YOU CAN!” I immediately (and potentially terrifyingly) scream in their face. The follow up justifications they offer range from, “I’m not confident enough”, to the injuriously vague “I’m not that kind of person”. To the former I say, NEITHER AM I – note the part at the beginning of this piece about my shaking manically under the table – but that’s okay, because you don’t have to be. You just have to say yes; say it quickly and say it without thinking because the most important thing is that the wish is there. If you have no earthly desire to do the thing, say no by all means – it would surely be irrational not to – but if you say “I wish I could do something like that” there need be no further qualifications. If you want to do it, say yes. As for the latter, there is no such thing as “that kind of person”. We all have our fears and anxieties; the only difference being the immediate responses we train ourselves to emit. These moments that we say yes to – putting our terror on ice for the brief second it takes to utter that one syllable – will be the ones that we remember forever. So with this in mind, when I got in from school one day and my dad told me that Woman’s Hour had asked on air that morning for listeners to come in and interview Miranda Hart, I barely let him finish his sentence before I was tapping hysterically away at an email to one of the presenters of the show.
In the 2012 film, Liberal Arts, one of the characters – an improv actress herself – muses: “Have you ever thought of that? How everything in life is basically improvised. There’s no script, we’re just making this up as we go.” Amy Poehler’s motto encourages us to write our own lines in this scriptless existence, to choose our own direction and enact the things we’ve always dreamed of. No one’s pretending it isn’t absolutely terrifying, of course it is, but, like learning lines, “yes, please” becomes a habit. The more you practice it, the less airtime you allow your anxieties until, finally, those two magic words tumble out as naturally as they did for me when the producer of BBC Woman’s Hour called, asking in a disproportionately casual voice, “Will you be able to come down to interview Miranda this Thursday?” “Yes, yes, YES PLEASE!”