They may not be household names – yet – but anyone who frequently watches UK TV will be familiar with the work of musical comedy sisters Nicola and Rosie Dempsey (better known as Flo & Joan) from the Nationwide adverts. Following a sell-out run at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe and two sell-out stints at London’s Soho Theatre with their critically acclaimed debut show The Kindness of Stranglers, award-winning Flo & Joan – whose hit The 2016 Song, berating the anus horribilis that saw the deaths of icons from Bowie to Prince, received more than 47 million views online – will be returning to the Festival to perform their brand new show Alive On Stage at the Pleasance Cabaret Bar from 1st to 26th August at 4:00pm, before embarking on a UK tour from 19th September 2018 to 12th April 2019. As described by Steve Bennett of Chortle, “If Flanders & Swann and Flight of The Conchords and Garfunkel & Oates had a six-way, time-travelling gang-bang that somehow mixed all their DNA, the offspring might end up sounding something like Flo & Joan.” The Luxury Channel duly caught up with the musical duo following their set at this year’s Henley Festival to talk comedy, Canada and drinking too much….
How was your show at Henley?
Rosie: I think Henley is brilliant – people are dressed up, and it’s nice to perform to people who are dressed up. Although it’s probably the first time we have played to people in black tie. We did a little classic opener, a joke-heavy song, so that people know what we are doing, a little about ourselves, then we had a song about drinking too much which went down well – a bit of an acoustic number, which was great to play in a tent when Grace Jones is behind you! – but it was really fun.
How do you choose your content for different audiences?
Nicola: Most of the time, we know what the environment or age it’s going to be – so with Henley being a mostly mature audience, we did a song about marriage and divorce, whereas if we are playing to younger audiences, we would probably do more topical things.
Why do you think the Nationwide adverts were such a success?
Rosie: I think they were just easy, catchy and friendly family songs which are quite nice – because it’s quite different to what we normally do. They were light and joyful, and not too wacky. People really seemed to enjoy them.
Nicola: Getting to do the Nationwide ads was great and it was one of our first “proper” jobs.
There were some people on social media who were very negative about it – why do you think that was?
Rosie: Of course, everyone has their opinions but we didn’t pay attention to those comments.
In times of uncertainty and political turmoil such as these, what do you think people should be watching?
Nicola: I think it’s important for everyone to engage in those things, but I think it’s also important to have some light relief, such as Tom & Jerry. I understand why people watch reality TV because it takes you completely out of the world to concentrate on someone else, whether it’s good or bad. I watch Love Island because it makes me forget that everything else in the world is not always so great and I don’t have to think about it for an hour or so. Yes, sometimes we do topical things but sometimes we do silly things such as [the songs] Small House, or Lady In The Woods – because it’s fun for us and audiences can relax and don’t feel they have to concentrate – they can just enjoy laughing.
What led you to Canada?
Nicola: There’s a comedy school out there called The Second City and they have one in Chicago also, and it’s the birth place of comedians such as Bill Murray. They teach improv and sketch comedy through improv – we went separately but we both wanted to try improv and learn how to do it properly. We learnt a lot and loved it, and so that’s where we stayed for 3 years.
You are playing at Edinburgh again this year – what is it like to play at the Festival?
Nicola: We moved back to the UK last July and almost immediately went to Edinburgh, and we were lucky to have such a great crowd. We had never really performed in England before for that length of time and it gave us a chance to get the show just right before playing at the Soho Theatre.
What is your favourite luxury, and what does it mean to you both?
Rosie: Time, by ourselves. The best bits are having down time and maybe sitting with a bowl of pasta. At the moment, it’s so pressured getting shows ready. Typically a trip to the theatre is big on our list – indeed, it’s a real luxury for us, particularly in London, as well as exercising whilst listening to music.
As sisters, how different are you?
Rosie: We are very different people but we get along really well and it’s good because when we write, we know what the other is thinking – it helps to know what works and what doesn’t, as we understand each other.
Nicola: We lived together in Toronto and when we came back here, we decided to live separately and give each other our own personal life.
What is the comedy scene like at the moment, particularly for women?
Nicola: As far as I can see, everyone’s got their head down working really hard and it’s all our there if you want to see some extraordinary men and women doing some great work. We don’t think of ourselves as female comedians – we are just comedians, so you just do your job. Some people like musical comedy, some don’t. Same as some like women comedians, some don’t. It’s the same with clowns, or stand-up or physical comics. Sometimes it takes a little bit longer for people to come to you but you know that you are good so it’s fine.
Rosie: In terms of TV, there is so much to see on channels like Amazon and Netflix and we watch a lot of American comedy TV. So whatever budget you are on, you can find something that you like. There’s definitely some cool comedy coming through these channels. I used to love Smack The Pony and Dawn French but I personally feel that mainstream TV is missing a bit of that jolly weird character stuff but if you look for it, you can find it on other channels.
What are your plans for the coming year?
Rosie: We are playing again at Edinburgh Fringe in August and we are doing a live tour which starts in September which we are really excited about, cos we’ve never done one before! We are working on some podcasts and writing some small musicals, which we will hopefully have by the end of the year but we are not big planners, we like to run with the day.
If you could choose a woman from history, who would it be and why?
Rosie: I would choose Mary Anning, the English fossil collector who became know around the world for collecting some amazing fossil in the cliffs along the English Channel at Lyme Regis.
Nicola: I really liked the Countess of Castiglionie, who married young but she had loads of pictures taken of her and she wore these amazing costumes and art directed every single picture of herself. In every part of her life, she was in control despite other people trying to control her – which I think was really cool, given she lived in the 1800s!
For more information about Flo & Joan and for a full list of their upcoming show dates, go to www.floandjoan.com.