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Amy Gledhill “I think we place humour higher on the priority list of life”: On northern-ness, northern comedy, and northern accents

Now Then talks to Amy Gledhill of the Northern News podcast about what northern identities are all about, ahead of the podcast's Leadmill gig in June. 

A man and a woman in front of a red wall laugh over piles of newspapers and cups of tea.

Amy Gledhill and Ian Smith from the Northern News podcast

Jonathan Birch

What does it mean to be northern? Why are we all funny? And what’s wrong with chips in the south? I spoke to comedian Amy Gledhill of the Northern News podcast about all of these crucial questions, as well as what the audience can expect when she and her co-host Ian Smith come to Sheffield to kick off a northern tour in June.

If I want to sound pretentious, Amy and I talk about the meaning of place, and the impact of place on identity. If we want to avoid pretentiousness, we talk about the north and why it’s brilliant.

I thought we would talk a bit about Northern-ness.

Oh, yes, please. That would be a treat.

Sometimes, northerners move to London and they lose their accent and their northern-ness. Other times, that accent and northern-ness become stronger. Which would you say is the case with you?

Definitely the latter. Maybe when I was younger, I was a little bit embarrassed of the Hull accent, which feels awful to say now. But when you're trying to get into acting, you feel it makes you stand out. Our vowel sounds make us stand out.

And I didn’t want to stand out for that reason. So I think there was a while where I was trying to flatten it.

And then I got to about 25 and was like, “Ah, I actually love it. I actually think it's brilliant”.

So I think probably because of that, I'm just dead proud to be northern actually.

I think I've probably been guilty of amping my accent up, particularly if it's somewhere posh. I don't know why. But when I feel like I'm in a situation where like a posh restaurant or something like that, I feel like digging my heels in and really northern-ing it.

What do you think it means to be northern?

Oh, that's a big question, isn't it? At the root of it, I really think northerners have a really good sense of humour. And I am biased, being a comedian, but I think the way we get through life is very self-deprecating. It's gallows humour. It's finding the ridiculous and the funny in every situation.

I think it's something that unites us as northerners and bonds us.

The northern sense of humour is something that I just couldn't do without. Everyone I know in the north is funny. They're dry and they're sarcastic, or they're silly, but every member of my family is funny.

I think we place humour higher on the priority list of life.

Are comedy audiences different depending on where you are?

They can be, yeah. I feel like the further south you go, the more they might intellectualise the comedy a little bit more. Definitely not all! But sometimes London audiences can be a bit more like, “Oh, that's very clever what you did there”, but what you want is a big belly laugh.

There's some really good gigs in London and other places, but a lot of the best gigs are northern. When you get there, the audience is on side, they're up for a laugh, and the atmosphere is going to be great. You don't have to convince them to have fun.

In between segments on your podcast, you've got little northern words and phrases to break it up. What would a Southern News podcast have in those spots?

Oh, that's nice. I hope I don't get into trouble, but I would say the first thing that came to mind is “Elbows out!”, because every time I try and go on a busy tube, I can just feel these elbows creeping up.

I get that it is packed. You want some personal space, but wowee it feels so inhospitable, you know? So maybe “Elbows out!” And maybe “Dry chips”.

They’re doing chips wrong!

I can't get over it. My mum, every time she comes down from Hull, she brings me some chip spice. I love it. But anything - gravy, anything!

Why does a podcast called Southern News just not sound interesting? Whereas Northern News does?

I feel like things in the south are a bit more serious. And the reason that we love doing Northern News is because we can find really peculiar, daft stories. And I feel like in the south, if you went through the papers, it might be more serious crimes and politics.

We're not interested in them. We want to know about the Gravy Wrestling Championships in a car park in the north. We want to know about people not having enough filling in their pasty and going to the press.

When I wrote that question, I thought, ‘What would a Southern News podcast be about?’ And my first thought was 'conservatories'.

Yeah, there we go. I just feels inherently drier, doesn't it? I think you're going to get me into trouble with these questions!

I bet Ian has regretted committing to finding a news story from Goole (“the Thinking Man’s Pontefract”) every week.

Massively, yeah.

How smug do you feel that you get to pick one from Hull, which has a population 14 times the size?

Does it?! Thank you for calculating that!

I'm over the moon to pick from Hull. Hull’s got all the best stories, and then Ian's got one street in Goole city centre. And he really struggles.

But that's part of the fun! And if you listen to the podcast, you'll realise he doesn't always read his article all the way to the bottom. So there will be a few moments where he starts a story. It's light hearted, it's really funny. And then you'll see in his eyes that he’s clocked something further down in the article, and you can see him panicking to work out how to manoeuvre through the rest of the story.

Because for some reason, in Goole, it's always like happy, happy, happy, fun, fun, fun. And then terrible.

But part of the joy is just watching Ian flounder. And I can say that because he's not here. The reason I love doing it is because I get to be smug with Hull. And I enjoy watching Ian flounder in Goole.

Who would your dream guest be, who hasn't been on yet?

Oh, that's a good question. Maybe Bob Mortimer. That would be so good. I could listen to him infinitely. So that would be fantastic. And also obviously he's from the north-east.

Sarah Millican will be another great one from the north-east and she would be amazing. Johnny Vegas, from St. Helens. I've done a few bits now with Johnny and he's exactly what you see. You don't really know what's going to happen. So I’d love to have him on.

We’ve had some absolutely brilliant guests. We’ve had Rosie Jones, Maisie Adam, Nish [Kumar], Phil Wang, Tim Key. It's incredible.

I think they're really up for it because I think everyone likes to talk a little bit about their hometown and what it's like. So we just have a lovely phone call with them. And it's a real highlight of the podcast.

You're coming to Sheffield. What can people expect if they come along?

We've done three or four live shows already. And if you like the podcast, you'll obviously like it. But if you're new to it, I think it's a really good way to begin.

When the podcast comes out, obviously it's edited and cut down. And anything slightly too cheeky – that may be me or, let's be fair, mainly Ian – gets snipped out. Whereas when it's live, anything goes.

They've been raucous. They've been really silly. It's very interactive, we’ll always throw out to the audience and we pick a story from the local place, so we will be picking a story from Sheffield. And nine times out of ten, somebody in the audience knows something very detailed about it and it's just fantastic. It feels like a real buzzy community.

Ian Smith and Amy Gledhill are bringing the Northern News podcast to the Leadmill on 23 June.

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