As one of modern Ireland’s most successful actresses, comedians, writers and activists, Cork-born Tara Flynn has had an illustrious career that shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. We spoke to Tara about Morbegs, what it takes to make a living in the entertainment industry, and what we can do about the problems we face in Ireland in 2017.
L: I’ve been told specifically by my editor that I have to ask you about the Morbegs. Any chance of a reunion?
T: I don’t think so, we’re all scattered to the wind! But I did meet another Morbeg the other day, one who had been inside the suits, so we are sort of around the place. Yeah, there were dancers in the suits and then we would do the voice acting and we’d work the faces by remote control… so I was Molly! There were two teams so that we could keep filming: there was one team would film from nine ‘til three in the day, and another team would film from three ‘til nine, and the next day the teams would swap, so the morning team would become the evening team. So, in blocks, we would just make shitloads of television.
L: And do you like doing the voice acting or do you like to be, I suppose, centre stage?
T: I love acting, I love doing theatre and love doing telly, but voice acting is another skill that I absolutely adore. It’s a different skill; it’s very, very different. You have to try and put your physicality into your voice, and Morbegs was different again because someone else was doing the physicality, so it’s a very strange one, but I love voice acting. I absolutely love it. Love doing radio, love doing voiceovers, love all that.
L: It sounds interesting! What are you working on currently? I saw that you do a column for HeadStuff (www.headstuff.org) at the moment.
T: Yeah, I do a HeadStuff column and I do that every week. I do a column for Irish Tatler every month. I’m writing a lot at the moment: I’m pitching a TV show and I’m hoping to act a lot more. It’s just something I absolutely love, and it’s something I backburner-ed when I focused on comedy. Now, I still get a lot of comedy work, because that is the skill that I have, but I love acting and I want to do a bit more. I’ve done a few things this year where they’re sort of at pitch stage, so you just have to keep – I keep saying, fire out a hundred arrows and three might land, so I’m firing out as many arrows as I can. I’ve draft one of a novel done, so that’s fiction; I’ve draft – draft, like, four or five or whatever of a one-woman show… and I have a pitch of a TV show. We’ll see what happens, and in the meantime, God, I’m hoping – Martin Scorsese is in town this week for the film festival. Hoping he’ll just swing by and say, “Tara, I’ve been meaning to run this part past you!”
L: Say in the interviews we do, we tend to talk to people about what they’ve done once they’ve gotten the part or once they’ve gotten the recording contract or whatever, so how would you suggest that people get into, say, writing for television or stage?
T: The thing is to just write. I mean, having been to LA a few times where they’re the kings and queens of getting their stuff out there – they have to, because there’s so much competition – if you want something, you’ll already be doing it in some capacity. You’ll be doing amateur dramatics in your own town, you’ll be in Dramat at college, or you’ll be writing anyway. Just keep writing, keep writing even if you throw it away. Write every day…. Basically what they’re doing now is, well, if you’re not already making it you obviously don’t care. A lot of things are getting picked up from online now…. It takes a lot of resources; it takes getting friends together who can film it for you, or learning to use cameras yourself, but if you want it there are ways to get stories told and out there. My top tip is: do it anyway, don’t wait.
L: I like that, that’s – what’s the word I’m looking for? – inspiring!
T: Oh, God! Not me, I’m an eejit! I am a total mess, so don’t anyone be inspired by me.
L: You’ve gotten into activism recently. Did that kind of start with the marriage referendum, or had you been doing it before that as well?
T: I couldn’t point to a start. I’ve always been very private about my politics and what I think. Especially when your life is a little bit public, I always wanted to hold a bit of something back, and I still do that, believe it or not. No-one could guess my party politics; I don’t talk about it. You probably could, broadly, but I don’t talk about them. There are loads of issues which I don’t speak out. But what I thought was, with marriage equality, there were so many people with money doing sketches or making videos where it was just either non-facts or really insulting to people that I knew and loved, and I was like, ah listen. We can make a stab at that. So I parodied that and just pick apart the ridiculousness of some of the arguments. That was, I suppose, the first time I stepped up and said anything: that would have been the marriage equality referendum.
Then, my husband is black and he got some racist abuse, so I made ‘Racist B&B’. It was cathartic for me, and it was something that – he didn’t want to go to the police and I just felt powerless to support him, so it was a way for me to support him through my own voice, through the way I work. Then because I was so admiring of people telling their own truths during the marriage equality referendum, even in the face of people lying about them and saying horrible things, I felt like a little bit of a liar not telling my own truth when it came to talk about Repeal the 8th. So when Amnesty asked me to chair their – actually asked me to host – a ‘My Body, My Rights’ panel at Electric Picnic, I said, well, I have something to tell you and I wonder do you think this would be useful: I have some lived experience in this area, and I think it’s time to start saying that I have so that it would just stigma-bust. We all know this: we just won’t say it. We all know someone, we all knows lots of people that we watch on TV or that are on our bus or that are in our lectures – it’s happened to them already, or it could happen to them soon. We just all have agreed to play a part in colluding in this secret and this pretence that it doesn’t happen. It was about puncturing that and going, no, it does happen and it’s happened to me and it can happen to anyone. We need to start taking care of our pregnant people in this country, and not lying about it anymore. The activism came slowly but, I suppose, gradually.
People like ARC, the Abortion Rights Campaign, they really have to get a shout-out: they’ve been doing the brunt work for so long and making things happen and pushing for legislation and… going over to the UN. They’ve done so much, and the Coalition to Repeal the 8th, of which Ailbhe Smyth is the convenor – they’ve done such amazing work and Ailbhe’s been doing it for forty years or more than forty years. She’s unreal. I mean, when I’m a ‘face’ all it is, is that I’ve put my face to the story. I’m not technically a campaigner in that way; I’m a campaigner in that I will tell my story and that I have a bit of a profile, and it does affect my life, and of course I’ve had to get more political: I’ve had to stand up for myself, I’ve had to take a bollocking, I’ve had to do all that…. I go to open meetings when I can, but I didn’t join ARC, I didn’t join Amnesty… part of that was because I feel like, as an individual, someone lashes out at me and I want to lash back because it is so personal. I don’t know that I can be an impartial spokesperson, so I don’t think I’m useful in that way…. I am eternally in awe of, and grateful to, ARC and to all their branches, and to the Coalition, even in terms of support. Amnesty, too. The support they’ve given me when things have gotten tough, even though I’m not technically a member, has been just phenomenal and the support they give to pregnant people every day – they’re incredible, just incredible, and I really need to give them all the props.
L: It’s another interesting thing, actually – you left Twitter a few weeks ago, didn’t you?
T: Yeah, I left for nearly a month.
L: If you want to talk a little bit about why you did it, or what Twitter could do to prevent abuse?
T: I can’t answer that, really. All I know is what I can do to make myself safe, and what I did after the Christmas break wasn’t just – y’know, trolls are trolls, and if they have access, they’re going to come out. I’ve always rationalised that, like, from day one on Twitter: you open a door to a beautiful vista, and a few slugs will get in…. All I wanted to do on Twitter is start having a say more, and I noticed around the world several comedians have gotten way more serious because the stuff that’s happening at the moment to basic humanity and decency is far too serious to be funny. But I went onto Twitter to share cat videos and jokes, that’s it.
L: Considering that you’ve done the videos about marriage equality or Racist B&B, what do you think of comedy itself as a political tool, if you get me? You do find that comedians are getting a bit more political.
T: I actually wrote a HeadStuff column about this recently. I have fallen out of love with satire, and it used to be something I loved to watch. It just leaves me a bit cold at the moment, [but] I’m sure that’s a phase. I think one of satire’s bits of power was puncturing the powerful, and at the moment the powerful don’t seem puncturable. The things they are doing are ludicrous, so there’s no point pointing out the ludicrousness if everyone can see it… Then, I find at the moment satire only just reinforces negativity and it’s not activism and you’re not changing anything if you’re just sniping from the sidelines. I’m not sure that’s a good function either. I’m not finding it entertaining, which should be comedy’s main thing whether it’s satire or just pure craic – it should be making you laugh, and at the moment satire is just making me sad. Secondly, I don’t find it constructive. It’s not offering a solution, and if it’s not puncturing or offering a solution I just wonder what that’s about, then. I’m… watching more stuff at the moment and reading more stuff by people of colour, by LGBT people. I kind of think at the moment we need to really focus on the work and what’s being said or has been said for feckin’ years until privileged, white, straight, cis people caught up by people who are marginalised, and so I’m more interested at the moment in terms of… being informed and in hearing voices that I haven’t heard enough of. Like I said in the HeadStuff piece, I don’t want to watch a guy in a suit impersonate a guy in a suit who’s lying anyway.
L: How do you find that we’re doing in Ireland on that front, on the intersectionality in entertainment? I feel like we’re very much stuck in the last century.
T: We are definitely stuck, we’re stuck. When you mention intersectionality, it’s still kind of laughed at – people poo-pooing it and, even in our media, they still use ‘SJWs’ as a derogatory term and it’s like, would you ever fuck off? Are you seeing what’s happening to marginalised people? There is real threat and danger and either you’re on the side of social justice, or you’re not. Proud SJW, and piss off – bite me! …I think intersectionality is the only way forward, it’s the only way for proper inclusion. It’s the only way to not engage in tokenism and still holding supremacy and not addressing equality properly. I’m really interested in the moment, and I’m
questioning myself about it: how do people who have the mouthpiece step aside now and give people who need the mic, the mic? That’s way more interesting to me right now than…hearing someone that hasn’t a fucking clue pontificating about race issues…. That discourse hasn’t been had here, and you’re seen as radical for having it… you see the anger of people who think equality is taking from them, because they should have all the privilege. We’re way behind, but here’s the difference – because the women living in Ireland are all oppressed, because we’re all unequal and we’re second-class citizens, we’ve a chance to park our privilege and go “we’re all in this together, we can fight this,” and our allies there with us, be they male or non-binary or be they all colours and genders and creeds: we have a chance to go, OK, we are far behind, but we can bring up the rear and overtake from the back.
Tara Flynn is currently performing with Dublin Comedy Improv, with shows taking place every Monday. Her latest book, “Giving Out Yards”, is available now, and you can find her on Twitter @TaraFlynn.