When her dick of a first husband walked out on their marriage, Sarah Millican’s unexpectedly awesome response was to forge a super-successful career as a comedian. Making it even more remarkable is the fact that Millican was working for Jobcentre (the Brit equivalent of Centrelink) at the time, and comedy wasn’t even on her radar. Hell, she’d never even been to a comedy club.
In her earliest shows, Millican picked over the ruins of her relationship, gave her ex a due bollocking and worked her way into our hearts with her typically conversational, candid and warm style – you’d want Millican as a friend. Of note also was the fact Millican peppered her sets with a liberal sprinkling of dirty. Her fondness for the word ‘cock’, for instance, belied her floral-wearing, rosy-cheeked, twinkly demeanour. She’s a bit like a sweary Mary Poppins in the best possible way.
Skip to now and the Geordie comedian is married to the love of her life, selling out shows across the globe and smashing all sorts of DVD sales records. Presently, she’s wending her way back to Australia with her new show Control Enthusiast – a much gentler descriptor than its evil twin “control freak”.
“I don’t like being called a control freak,” Millican explains of the title.
“It doesn’t get thrown at me that often – people are kinder than that – but I do like to be in control, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing, so I decided to make up ‘control enthusiast’ as a way of describing me in a more pleasant way. Although, one of my friends said, ‘You do realise that you’re now controlling your insults’.”
Of course, “control freak” is also an epithet flung around by idiots experiencing cognitive dissonance when it comes to successful women who work their arses off, and Millican indeed falls into the successful/arse-worked-off category. In fact, she makes a virtue of continuing to raise the bar for herself. For instance, in her 2017 book How To Be Champion, Millican says, with customary humility, that there’s more for her to learn in relation to comedy and always room for improvement.
“Often when people come and see a show, they’re also spending money maybe on travel, a hotel, babysitters and food,” Millican explains.
“You just want to make sure that they come away thinking that you were absolutely worth every moment and penny. It’s disrespectful towards your audience not to try to do that every time and not try to be better.
“I’ve been doing this for 14, 15 years now and the idea of doing something for 10,000 hours before you’re any good is probably true, and you can always get better. So, every time I write a show, I try and make it funnier than the last one and have more heart. I’ve got a lot of really loyal fans who come to every show and I’m self-employed, but they’re my bosses.”
Millican’s confessional style hasn’t wavered either. Once, when asked whether she has any secrets, she demurred on the basis that everything was up for grabs when it came to comedy. Is there anything that she regrets using in that context? “No, if it gets a laugh it goes in,” she confirms, chortling. Naturally though, for a control enthusiast, that’s subject to a few riders.
“You don’t just stand up on stage and have a show. You try out new material and do spots at little clubs first, so you get a chance to find out if something is, for example, too personal. There may be 30 people in the room and you find yourself saying something you wish you hadn’t, but then you don’t say it anymore or take it on tour, so you don’t get caught out.
“Although, I don’t think I regret anything. Everything I say I believe and everything has happened.”
Sarah Millican’s show Control Enthusiast hits Melbourne on Monday February 4 and Tuesday February 5 at Arts Centre Melbourne. Tickets via Ticketmaster.