“It’s time for popular culture to sneer back”: An Interview with Miriam Elia

In a society where many seem to hold baseless, generalised opinions, it was certainly refreshing to meet the award-winning, controversial comedienne and conceptual artist Miriam Elia. Sitting in a Cafe on Camden’s Parkway, she tells me assuredly that comedy is a device for communication and it is used to create something meaningful. Meaningful, to Elia, means not gag based or obvious but affected with the aspiration to do great things. She cites Arthur Mathews’ ‘Father Ted’ and John Sullivan’s ‘Only Fools and Horses’ as examples of these, stating the latter to have conveyed a ‘whole world of expression through the writer that needs to be appreciated’.  I saw nostalgia for the standards of past entertainment which Elia believed had disintegrated with the ‘dumbing down’ of comedy in the 1990s.

Miriam Elia won a Sony Award for her radio show ‘A Series of Psychotic Episodes’,  co-written with her brother Ezra, gaining recognition as an upcoming surrealist comedian. However, Elia states ‘I don’t make art to be a celebrity’ and attributes this to the reason radio is her chosen media. ‘One thing I love is the anonymity of radio; breaking off into a little world and then sharing it with those willing to listen’. She values sincerity and quality as opposed to ‘marketing the shit out of something before it’s written and it turning out not to be any good.’ She also describes radio as a blank canvas where she displays her attempts to understand what is going on around her. One thing which appears to irritate Elia is the apparent double standards in comedy. She comments on the libertarian approach many comedians take, appearing to be open-minded and politically correct but then taking the opportunity to rubbish certain groups, one example being those who hold religious beliefs.

Commenting on rise of the Hipster culture, Miriam likened the admiration of artists to that of worship. ‘People today worship artists, not for their work but for their character. There is an endless obsession with the self which has led to a narcissistic and fragile culture.’ Her hero, Tony Hancock’s film ‘The Rebel’ for Elia is significant due to it satirising ‘romantic intellectual pretence’.

Elia’s comedy is not only limited to radio. She has a keen passion for art, animating her witty BBC Radio Four series Edward the Hamster and creating her piece ‘I fell in love with a conceptual artist and it meant absolutely nothing’. Miriam says she is returning to art after radio saying ‘after two series’ I have achieved what I wanted to.’ I questioned her on the future of British comedy and she expressed a desire to combine both art and comedy and ‘make comedy acceptable in the world of art.’ She made a comparison to the 1960s and Pop art which sneered at popular culture. Miriam feels it’s ‘time for popular culture to sneer back.’

By Aida Amoako

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  1. […] http://theicasm.com/2011/12/05/its-time-for-popular-culture-to-sneer-back-an-interview-with-miriam-… Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. ← ‘I fell in love…’ in The Guardian Guide 10/0/2011 […]

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