With a sell-out tour, book deal, new TV show and hit podcast, the sky is the limit for comedian Joanne McNally. She talks to Janice Butler about the master plan and why she's no wish to censor herself.

You can’t beat a girl-done-good story and Joanne McNally is exactly that. Having worked her way up through the comedy scene for the last eight years, she’s having her moment in the sun now with a string of sold-out gigs in Vicar Street, performances in London’s Apollo coming up, a hugely successful podcast with her bestie Vogue Williams and a second season of Clear History starting on RTE 2 this week; and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

What’s even more impressive about her is that none of this has been an accident, it’s exactly what she’s been aiming for.

"I was always aiming big, I was just going to keep going until it happened really. Like I’ve nothing else to do," she laughs. "I’ve no husband, I’ve no kids so my main focus is my career. So I knew I would keep pushing it until it cracked through."

"Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting that I would sell out the Apollo, that kind of stuff took me by surprise but to be honest, it’s just part of the job now. You get used to it very quickly, the sell-out shows; you acclimatize very fast, you just get on with it. But I’ve done the slog, I’ve done the tiny venues, I’ve definitely put in the groundwork."

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She’s on the way to Cork for a gig when we chat, as a fan (and I tell her such) of her podcast, My Therapist Ghosted Me (which did happen to her) with Vogue, she’s exactly as I hoped; chatty, funny (of course), straight-up and very much someone you’d want to sit and have a glass of wine with.

I confess to her that my friends and I often refer back to the podcast in our what’s app discussions and I get the feeling she’s heard this many times. The podcast, which they began during lockdown, is basically two very good friends discussing the trials and tribulation of their lives, from dating disasters (mostly Joanne’s) to friendships and embarrassing moments we can all relate to.

"That little podcast, who would have thought we’d get so much out of it, it’s amazing. For me and Vogue it’s such a judgement-free safe space, where we can do and say pretty much whatever we want."

"I think one of the many reasons why it’s done so well is because while Vogue and I are similar we’re also polar opposites, we’re leading very different lives," she remarks. "It’s done wonders for me in regard to my profile in the UK and also Vogue is getting a great kick out of it because people are realizing that she’s actually really, really funny."

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She confesses that she never listens back to it, having done it once. "I don’t listen to the podcast, I listened to it once and this is no exaggeration but I started crying because I thought we sounded so annoying. So now, it was collectively decided that I never listen to it again. But once I’ve recorded it I kind of don’t think of it after that. If we never recorded another episode again, it’s done wonders for us already and brought us to a different audience."

A few years ago, Joanne was living between Dublin and London, doing small gigs and honing her craft, life was not glamorous and her friend Vogue invited Joanne to move into the home she shares with her husband, the Made in Chelsea star, Spencer Matthews; she has since moved on but regularly returns to stay with them and 'steal Vogue’s clothes’.

While most in the arts and entertainment industry suffered hugely during the various lockdowns of the last two years, Joanne admits that the pandemic actually served her career well.

"There’s no denying that it did, I went into lockdown with two Vicar Street’s under my belt and came out with thirty five. I’m not going to lie, I did well out of Covid. But I made a lot of changes and opened up different avenues for myself, like the Podcast, I would never have done that had the pandemic not happened," she says.

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How does the new-found success feel? "It doesn’t feel like success, it’s like I got a promotion, I promoted myself," she laughs. I hope you got a good pay increase, I chime in. "I did," she laughs again.

Originally from Roscommon, she was adopted into a family from Killiney in Dublin. She’s has a self-described voice like Ross O’Carroll Kelly but laughs that she was once described by a British production company as having a ‘lovely working-class Irish authenticity’. "I’ve tried to dial down the accent," she laughs, "I’ve been trolled into dulling it down."

Comedy came relatively late to the Dubliner; she was in her early thirties and working in the PR industry and was approached by a friend to perform in a stage show called Singlehood in 2014 where she and seven other people stood on stage and told stories about their love lives.

It was here she was spotted by comedian PJ Gallagher who brought her into stand-up comedy. Joanne supported Gallagher on his stand-up tour, Concussion, around Ireland in 2015, and she was then signed by Irish comedy agency, Lisa Richard. From that she was on the hugely popular Republic of Telly and in 2017 performed her one-woman show Bite Me.

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She credits Amy Schumer as someone she’s looked up to in the business; "I looked at her and thought ‘Ok this could be an option’. But I still get messages from people and mostly women, saying ‘I normally don’t find women that funny…’, I can’t believe it, it’s bizarre that people would think or say that." How has she found the comedy industry, which traditionally is mostly male dominated?

"I’ve been very lucky, there’s been some weird times, it’s a tough industry and being a woman has been a benefit to me and a disadvantage at various time, I just kind of keep the head down and get on with it," she replies.

Clear History, the panel show which is fronted by Kevin McGahern, started last year and is back for season two this week. Joanne is team captain along with Jason Byrne, who replaces Colin Murphy. The show aims to rewrite the past in the name of comedy with weekly guests being asked to put comically cringey moments from their personal history on public display.

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She wasn’t sure she’d be able to do it again this year but when the opportunity came to work with Jason Byrne, she jumped at it. "When they said that Jason was doing it, I had never worked with him before so I thought the trio of me, Kevin and Jason would be good craic and it was. We filmed eight episodes in five days and we had such fun doing it and we were able to have an audience this year," she says with glee.

Speaking of rewriting embarrassing past stories, of which she shares many on the podcast and her Instagram, does she ever regret unveiling so much of her life?

"No, because it’s done wonders for my comedy career and that’s all I care about really. We do get a heavy edit on that podcast, believe it or not, there is stuff that doesn’t make it on that. There’s talk of Vogue and I doing a live tour and I don’t know how that would work, there would have to be a seven minute delay," she laughs.
"But there are situations where I would be chatting to a lad on a dating app and he says, I must look you up and then I never hear from him again. But sure, it is what it is," she adds.

She’s free and single at the moment; "It’s impossible to date, I’ve one day off in March and I’m certainly not going to spend it in a restaurant with a stranger," she laughs.

It doesn’t seem she’s have much more time either in the future, with talk of a live show with Vogue, she also reveals that the duo is near to closing a deal on a reality TV show. "I’d say that will happen, the pitches are flying around at the moment. In terms of the live show, I don’t know how far I can push Vogue, like will she come down and do a gig in Wigan, she kind of has a posh idea of what touring is, she can do the Wembley arena one," she roars laughing.

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She’s recently signed a book deal, which she says she’s going to try and write in the summer when her tour is over. "I’m going to go away to Portugal or Spain and just chill and write my book. I have this idea that I’ll be in this remote retreat looking out at the sea." The book is a series of essays, on why we do the things we do, tapping into her degree in Sociology and a huge passion of hers.

Speaking about The Tommy Tiernan Show, I tell her that she’s getting close to his Vicar Street record. Later when I’m fact checking, I realise this isn’t the case and that Tommy’s record is 166 shows, I text her to let her know my error. "How long was that I wonder. I’m off to Google," she replies.

Watch out Tommy, no better woman to break through that glass ceiling.