COMMENT: SOTCAA Say Nice Things About: The Nualas
First published December 2000
SOTCAA Say Nice Things About: The Nualas
'People say I'm moaning, but I'm not moaning, I'm just questioning...'
('Moan' - The Nualas)

Many of you moan that we at SOTCAA spend far too much time wallowing in the comedy of the past rather than championing the contemporary circuit. If comedy is dead, they ask, where exactly are these amusing corpses to whom you refer?

So, in a short occasional series (well, an article about Saturday Night Jack is also being prepared, put it that way), SOTCAA would like to offer its support to a current comedy act who we believe are genuinely worth celebrating. And to kick off, we sing the praises of The Nualas. Yes, The Nualas. They've got a video out, you know. Isn't that GREAT?

They're that all-girl singing trio from Ireland. You know, the ones with the sparkly dresses and geeky glazzies. They crop up on Edinburgh Nights and The Stand Up Show - or at least they used to. They had a superb eponymous Radio 4 series a couple of years ago, which no fucker appreciated. But they're a bit of a mystery, to be honest. Who are they, and where did they come from? If we were tedious and insisted on playing along with the joke (like a journalist reviewing Spinal Tap) we would say the current line-up features Nuala, Nuala and Nuala - hence the name. However, we're SOTCAA, so here's some proper facts...

The Nualas were formed in 1995 and comprised lapsed convent girls Susan Collins, Anne Gildea (sister of stand-up comedian Kevin Gildea, who's now married to Collins) and Karen Egan. All three sang, but Egan also played guitar - and bloody good she was too. Crowds at the Edinburgh Fringe lapped up their 1997 show Hello We're The Nualas , and a six-part radio series ensued in August 1998. For reasons undisclosed (ie, nobody ever seems to ask them), Egan left shortly afterwards to be replaced by Suzannah DeWrixon. For this line-up, a session pianist was used for most numbers. A New Year Special, How Are Ya?  We're The Nualas, broadcast as part of Radio 4's Double In Dublin, showcased this revised line-up.  They played a sell-out season at London's Drill Hall in 1999, after which DeWrixon left (again without explanation) and was replaced by Tara Flynn. However, Flynn appears to have departed since - the line-up currently wowing crowds on their Big Shiny Dress Tour features another new recruit - Josephine O'Reilly. And she's ace. They all are. Their TV and radio appearances are always done in character, but SOTCAA (who saw them out of character in a theatre foyer once) can reveal that none of them wear glasses in real life, and that Anne Gildea is a salt 'n' vinegar crisps / bottle of Beck's kind of a girl.

The Nualas, eh? Fecking great.

They're great because they're genuinely original. The specs and frocks may play up to a kind of kitsch, 'you can file us under Huge Lesbian Following' shorthand, but they're worth much more than that. As a music act, their songs are better than anybody else's on the 'serious' music scene. As a comedy act, they're funnier than anybody else on the circuit. And as a music and comedy act combined, they piss over Supergirly from a great height.

The problem with describing The Nualas is that comedy reviewer clichés seem all too appropriate. They are, for example, 'dark'. No question about that. They're also 'sharp' and 'surreal'. But they're dark, sharp and surreal in the true sense of all three words.

Take 'dark'. Most shit comedians think that being dark simply means talking about death a lot, throwing blood around onstage, and talking very slowly in a scary voice. But not The Nualas. They realise that the first rule with dark comedy is not to wear your darkness on your sleeve - instead, they play everything for laughs, appearing likeable, cute 'n' frothy, but secretly planting disturbing stuff in your brain while your mouth's wide open. And 'sharp' - they are sharp, in that their act satirises brilliantly and precisely the hypocrisy and self-importance of the rock industry, but with affectionate, velvet glove subtlety. Their radio series featured plenty of icy allusions to pop's corporate jungle - the band depicted as naïve, easily-pleased eejits in the company of their useless manager Seamus. And they're surreal. Not in the 'fish + bicycle = funny' sense, but in terms of skewed storytelling - their sympathy with boat terrorist 'Lorcan'  (see The Nualas Songbook) being an obvious case in point.

They're also, to use the comedy reviewer's most bathetically meaningless cliché, funny. God, are they funny. But they don't bother with lazy, crowd-pleasing references: the timbre of their humour is completely their own, and trips effortlessly off their tongues. In true Joyce Grenfell style, their deceptive cosiness disguises a razor wit which refuses to suffer wankers gladly.

Their effortlessness, of course, is another illusion. Like graceful swans, they have to work furiously to appear so laid back. Their harmonies are meticulously arranged, their choreography sponsored by Accurist. It's all their own stuff too, and they can do proper ad libs with the audience. What's more, they have the balls to recognise how fantastic they are, toying with the modesty/arrogance interface with a delightful ambiguousness. 'Thanks a million' they say casually after each song, knowing full well they could have the audience and eat them.

Like most wondrous acts, however, the support they have from fans is not matched by support from the industry. A Nualas TV transfer was rejected by BBC2, for no particular reason. A second radio series also never appeared, the official BBC bollocks reason being that the show 'wasn't ready in time'. When quizzed on the real story behind the latter, insiders simply give a heavy sigh and say it's a 'long story'.

In reality, the blokey hinterland of the comedy circuit industry simply can't deal with talent that comes from strange angles - in the lairy, boozy, goatee-bearded, Red Bull press-release culture that smothers the current media, producers can't handle the idea that singing girlies could be anything other than obviously twee and awful. Asked what he thought of The Nualas, one (very well-respected) comedy actor was heard to scoff 'Naaaaw, isn't their act just loads of anti-men stuff?', his view presumably based on little more than a cursory glance at their poster. Elsewhere, Funny Talk editor and Radio 4 producer Danny Wallace used his BBC page to publically express his dismay at their then-imminent return to Radio 4 - a dirty trick, considering his obvious interest in keeping superior radio comedy shows at bay in order to fuel his own projects. As one SOTCAA reader recently observed, promoters are more likely to book the likes of Supergirly, because simply changing the lyrics to famous pop songs is an obvious, what-you-see-is-what-you-get gimmick in contrast to The Nualas' far stranger world.

So the fact that a video of The Nualas can be released in the current comedy climate is not only fantastic, it's actually unbelievable. And its existence proves that talent and creativity (clichés again, but we're using them in their true sense) can survive against PR, puff and unjustified self-promotion. Go to your video store now.

Anyway, that's it from our nice column. Hope you enjoyed it.

NEXT MONTH: Simon Pegg