UK comic mainstay, last seen in Wales as support to Bianca Del Rio, is back in Cardiff with self-help-themed show Be Well – with an agony aunt angle that shows how many strings are in the Yorkshire comic’s bow. Rhiannon Farr spoke to Myra DuBois about this, that and the other.
You’ve just finished a stint of your latest show, Be Well, at the Edinburgh Fringe – how was it compared to other years?
Myra DuBois: I’ve just completed my 12th year at the Fringe. That’s a lot, isn’t it? The Fringe in 2021 was a pretend Fringe, just 14 days in the middle of August; last year was the first full-on one since the pandemic, and there were lots of shows because of a two-year backlog, but not many audience members because international travel hadn’t gone back to what it was. Now the world is open again and it was a good one – lots of audiences for everyone. I think everyone had a lovely time.
How do you incorporate the audience into your performances? I’ve heard you’re very much one for audience participation…
Myra DuBois: They’re absolutely critical to the shows, but we’ve reached a point where people have seen me before, so they come back knowing me. Often I’ll interact with audience members and then they find me on social media – then I talk to them there and see them in the audience again. It’s almost not a parasocial relationship, it’s a social relationship. I know them; you’ve got that familiarity. I always make a point of asking who’s seen me before and who’s seeing me for the first time, so I can make sure everyone gets the same connection. Otherwise, you just create a clique, don’t you? I like to find out who everyone is.
I’m looking forward to the Glee Club, it’s a really nice venue. It reminds me of the old working men’s clubs – it’s this vast auditorium, everyone’s sat at tables, bar at the back, but then there’s this huge stage that looks good, wonderful lights, sound and everything.
Do you spend much time in Cardiff?
Myra DuBois: I’ve opened for Bianca Del Rio twice, in St David’s Hall – lots of people saw me there, then sought out my solo show, which I did in the Glee Club last year. In about 2010, I was in this tiny little [Cardiff] bar and no one came. I can’t remember the event’s name – I think I just walked around all night with a microphone in my handbag in case there were enough people to perform to! And there’s the pub in the centre… the Golden Cross!
I love it there.
Myra DuBois: Yes, massive shoutout to everyone at the Golden Cross – the guy who makes a lot of my jewellery, Mark Bowen, works there? I wish I was there longer on this tour – one weekend in Cardiff I was performing in Mary’s, and a friend from Cardiff took me to the rugby. I got to see the rugby with all the drama and thought, goodness me, this is camp for sport!
Every time I do an interview the artist always looks forward to coming to Cardiff.
Myra DuBois: In a time where town planning has robbed so many cities and places of identity, Cardiff remains one of those places that does have its own identity. I don’t want to name names because I don’t want to shit on other towns, but you go to places and it’s all the same shops and high streets and retail parks. But when you go to Cardiff, even though there has been a bit of town planning, there’s Chippy Alley and all these venues I’ve just referenced.
Cardiff’s just got its own character and it’s tangible. As soon as you see it, you can feel it, and that makes it an enjoyable place to do a show – it’s easy to tailor the show to an area with something unique about it. Can’t really do that in Swindon.
You’re a wellness guru on this tour…
Myra DuBois: It’s my current incarnation. When you’ve been in the business as long as me, you go through eras – just look at Madonna! We’re forever comparable…
When I first started out, I was doing a bit of burlesque, then started singing in the pubs and clubs, and then had a brief stint as a children’s entertainer – tricks and everything. Oh, yes. In this era, I make shows based on where I’m at in life and in 2018 I discovered the world of self-betterment, so I started working on me. You start living and breathing these things, don’t you – I read books on meditation, started dropping those old habits – and they infuse into your work.
During lockdown, I streamed a show every Wednesday, A Problem Shared. I was doing an agony aunt show, getting people to tweet me their problems. When comedians do agony aunt shows, the gag is usually that the advice is bad – I thought that’s too easy, so we talk about problems, but properly. But at the same time, we’re there to have fun and have a laugh at the ridiculousness of life. I think that’s what makes life a little bit more bearable.
What’s next for you after this tour?
Myra DuBois: Pantomime! In Manchester, playing the Giant’s Wife in Jack And The Beanstalk. I’m always the villain! Last year I was the Wicked Queen in Snow White. It was my favourite thing – I got to walk around in great big dramatic dresses and poison a princess twice a day. Before that, I was the evil witch in Sleeping Beauty.
I love playing the villain – you’ve got a great relationship with the children because they know how to respond to you. You walk on stage, and they boo and then you can answer them back and go, “Oh, shut up, you naughty little boogers” and they love it. They love a bit of antagonising.
You’d make a great Trunchbull in Matilda.
Myra DuBois: Unfortunately, they’ve already cast the film, and I don’t think I shall return to stage work after this tour. I think I need to concentrate on my Hollywood career. Maybe they can do a re-release of the film, with me replacing Emma Thompson. Use AI to put my face over Thompson’s.
You’ve done a lot of everything over the years, how do you incorporate all of it into your performances?
Myra DuBois: Well, it would be impossible to incorporate all of this into everyone. In Be Well, the music takes a backseat, but shows at the Vauxhall Tavern, for example, are mostly songs that people like to sing along to. I call those my concert presentations of laughter and song; we sing along together as a room. This show is more chatty.
How do you wind down after a show or tour?
Myra DuBois: It’s important to make plans because we gain momentum. Everything in the human body is just memory foam: your body gets into a rhythm, and if you interrupt it, your body goes into shock. The first thing I will do after a tour is housework – all my laundry, make sure everything is cleaned – and the next day go and see friends for coffee, or go for a walk or to an art gallery. And then by about the third or fourth day, I will have a day at home doing nothing – that’s when your body’s ready for it.
If I didn’t make any plans the day after a tour, I’d just be walking in a circle around the room, because I’d have all this adrenaline and energy and it needs somewhere to go. So you have to decompress – it’s a process.
Myra Dubois: Be Well, Glee Club, Cardiff Bay, Wed 25 Oct
Tickets: £17.50/£30 VIP. Info: here
words RHIANNON FARR