Nina Conti's The Dating Show: 'a crazed woman and a monkey trying to fix people up'
- Credit: Matt Crockett
The world of dating can be a troublesome one. Having dominated the world of acting, stand-up comedy, and even Pointless, Hampstead-born Nina Conti is now trying her hand at romance, with help from a familiar friend.
Nina and Monkey are the perfectly imperfect pair to attempt the totally unplanned, audience-participation led venture.
In the years they've been performing together, the duo seem to have been on a kind of love affair of their own, but Monkey was not the ventriloquist's first fling.
"I started with one of those awful [ventriloquist's] mannequins, and I remember talking to that thing and he was so saucy, it was awful. I didn't know how to not make him like that."
But with Monkey, it was love at first sight.
"You've got to chime the right voice with the right face and that came much easier with Monkey. But it's not like monkeys are my favourite animal. It could as well have been a duck. It was the deadpan expression in the eyes that drew me to it.
"As soon as I picked him up and turned his face around to look at me, I thought, okay. We have got a lot to talk about."
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As I ask her to cast her eyes back to her start, the London native remarks that her career has been shaped 'incredibly strongly' by emerging in a male-dominated industry.
"I was very much a giggling girl, and Monkey was a guy. Monkey was a weapon against my femininity. He called me a slut and a slag and I'd giggle like a cool girl who doesn't care – 'you can say anything to me!' – and I'm sort of heckling myself before other people can heckle me."
Nina remembers that she was often the only women on the bill with lots of guys (here, Monkey chimes in: "You love it, you slut!") but that it wasn't necessarily an asset.
"I was taking a male weapon into that world to protect myself. I had to grow an extra branch in order to live that."
Nowadays, Nina has a different approach to her part in the dynamic. Being "much more interested in being a more androgynous version" of herself, she's also had fun with cutting herself out of the act completely.
"I had a full size Monkey [suit] made and it's just rad. I did some stand-up as him and I loved it so much. People were like: 'Where's Nina? We miss Nina.'"
She laughs and shakes her head at this. "What do you miss Nina for? She wasn't saying anything anyway. She was just giggling. I felt my feet were firmly rooted on the ground."
Nina describes her newest venture with Monkey, The Dating Show, as an unscripted, high-wire antidote to "all the isolation we've had".
"It's a chaotic and inappropriate and heart-warming attempt to make connections where there are none," Nina says.
"It's a crazed woman and a monkey in charge of trying to fix people up in no time with no sense of what works. You don't know who to look at, you don't know who's talking. It's a bit of a rollercoaster of it's own making."
I ask the former King Alfred School student what she advice she would give to anyone nervous about coming to see her new tour.
"Come, and don't be scared of the audience participation. I only work with the willing, and I avoid the over-keen."
Nina Conti is taking The Dating Show to The Arts Theatre in the West End from March 24. Tickets are available from www.ninaontour.com