'I don't want 9 to 5!'

Story by Tom Kelly

Friday, 9th September, 2011 1:30pm

'I don't want 9 to 5!'

Twenty-two-year-old Ballymore comic Alison Spittle is a woman going places.

With no particular life plan she might not be sure exactly where those places are, but at the same time she's ready to jump on any opportunity she likes that comes along. It's an attitude that's so far has served her well in life, allowing her to carve out a successful start to a radio career with Athlone's iRadio and discover a talent for stand-up comedy she wasn't aware she possessed.

Born in Harrow, London, Alison experienced life in England as well as Dresden in Germany before moving to her maternal grandparents' home county of Westmeath at the age of seven. Brief spells calling both Tyrrellspass and Mullingar home came before the family settled for good in Ballymore when Alison, the eldest of four girls, was eight.

Though Alison only discovered her comedy talent last year, looking back she thinks almost being an outsider in her younger days helped.

"I always felt like a blow-in in the village," she says, remembering putting on an Irish accent as a child to fit in after other children took to calling her Del Boy. "They're lovely and all," she says, "but you're never quite accepted. When you're different you can look in at stuff that's normal and laugh about it."

Her comedy potential wasn't spotted until last summer, but Alison can clearly pinpoint the start of her other great interest in life - radio. "I was always mad into radio. As a kid when you move countries there's always one thing that's the same and that's radio - the radio was my friend."

As a 16-year-old, Alison sent a text to DJ Rick O'Shea that bagged her a spot on his afternoon show. The producer was so impressed he asked student Alison if she'd like to come back on the show for a regular film review slot. That was something Alison did for a few months, mostly without her teachers knowing. "It was always German class I'd hop out of," Alison says. "I'd always go to the toilet at the same time on a Wednesday afternoon. I told them eventually because they got really angry; they thought I was smoking!"

A spark not belonging to a cigarette had occurred however, and from then Alison knew what she wanted to study.

Two years doing media, specialising in radio, at Ballyfermot finished for Alison last summer. Part of college involved work experience, which is where iRadio comes in.

"I emailed all the radio stations and the only one that replied was i," Alison says. One small break later and she was part of Bernard O'Shea and Keith Walsh's breakfast show every Friday, when she didn't have college lectures.

"The first thing we talked about was soap children," Alison remembers, "and how it seems to be some sort of nuclear experiment. As soon as a child hits puberty in soap land they suddenly turn into a better looking version of themselves. They always replace child actors. Every child actor has a bad puberty and the producers just go 'Oh God, let's get Adam Rickett in' or something!"

Though Alison now spends her time in iRadio "coming up with pranks" for Dave O'Connor, she remembers her time with Bernard and Keith as "really great craic".

"I used to come in on a Friday and we'd have the biggest laugh," she says. "We just got on so well; there was a spark between the three of us."

One lucky break led to another - it was Bernard O'Shea who got her into stand-up comedy. The presenter arrived at the station one day in the summer of 2010 and told Alison he was doing a gig with comedian PJ Gallagher in Kavanagh's of Portlaoise for his DVD.

"He turned to me and said: 'Would you ever think of doing stand up comedy?'," she says. With just two weeks to come up with seven minutes of material, Alison wasn't even sure she was ready for the stage when the time came. "It was the most nerve-wracking thing," she says. "It's like you're going up in front of lions or something." The important thing to remember, she says, is that nobody dies.

"You always feel like you're going to die, but nobody dies." Furthermore, the buzz is "better than any drug when you get off that stage", she says.

With Bernard her mentor, Alison has been building up her experience in the comedy sector ever since, though as gigs are mainly in Dublin and Alison lives and works in Westmeath, it means a busy life at times.

"I'd spend the day working, then get the train to Dublin, then get the 11 o'clock bus back from Dublin to Mullingar. That would be my routine three days a week - it was exhausting."

Alison has also had some luck in UK and Ireland stand-up comedy competition So You Think You're Funny?, which comedy giants including Dylan Moran, Peter Kay and David O'Doherty have won since its inception in 1988.

Fifty heats last May included two in Dublin, and Alison was one of five Irish acts to get through to the final in The Guilded Balloon as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival a fortnight ago.

Though Alison wasn't chosen as the outright winner and missed out on prize money of £2,000, the chance to present a comedy programme on Paramount Comedy and a place at the Montreal Just For Laughs Festival, she says she has no regrets.

"It was absolutely fantastic," she says. "I had the best time of my life. It was me, my granddad and my sister just walking through Edinburgh looking at the sights."

Genuinely, Alison says she also had the best gig of her life and she got a prize in the form of another radio opportunity. The John Murray Show on RTÉ got her on as part of its Happy Hour on Thursdays as a direct result of her exposure in So You Think You're Funny?, and she had a meeting last week to discuss becoming a more permanent part of the show. "If I hadn't done it, the John Murray Show wouldn't have got in touch," she says. "Everything happens for a reason."

Though Alison says she adores her life in Westmeath, she feels to progress her comedy career she needs to move to Dublin.

"You really have to live in Dublin to get on in comedy," she says. "It's not Westmeath's fault. In Dublin there's comedy every night, but there's not a population base for that here." So even though she sees a possible move away from iRadio in the future, she looks forward to going "anywhere that'll give me work and I'll be happy".

As a comedian, she says she gets most inspiration from her family. She plays up characters in her extended family, for example her grandmother Minnie, and the Traveller heritage that comes for her maternal grandparents. Always however, she says she fights with feeling guilty that in using her family to be funny she's in some way betraying them.

Whether or not it's material about her family that gets her to the top of comedy, she has dreams of becoming a version of "Frank Skinner or Sarah Millican or someone like that" because they are stand-up comedians who also have radio shows. "Radio and stand-up are always going to be a big part of my life," she says, looking forward to an existence that involves comedy, radio and writing when she gets around to it, as well as "never working in a 9-5 job".

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