Hey, stupid, wanna be a star in my sketch show?

BEFORE Joanna Neary brought her character-based sketch show to Edinburgh last year, she was toying with what to call it. She nearly plumped for Joanna Neary Is Delighted To Be Nominated For This Year's Perrier. As it turned out, she was nominated for the Perrier Newcomer Award and is rather glad that she opted instead to call her show Joanna Neary Is Not Feeling Herself.

"Can you imagine if I had called my show Delighted To Be Nominated?" she says. "I don't think anyone would have liked me at all."

Actually, it's hard to see how anyone could dislike Neary. Chatting to her is an intriguingly off-kilter process, with thoughts often heading off down little conceptual cul de sacs or spiralling into non-sequiturs.

Neary was a teacher before last year's attention enabled her to tread the boards full-time.

"It's a bit like babysitting for 30 15-year-olds," she says. "By the time they are 15, they are all bigger than me. It's hard to tell someone off when you are looking up at them."

Prior to preparing today's youth for tomorrow's disappointments, Neary studied for an art and theatre degree at the University of Brighton. "It's the same one that Marc Almond did in Leeds and I think Bros did it as well," she offers helpfully. "It's this weird course where you don't really get taught anything but you go on stage and do what you want."

Neary has tried straight acting, but found that humour kept rearing its head. When she took on the role of Anne Frank and still managed to get a couple of gags in, she figured it might be best to devote herself to her own brand of oddball comedy.

From Lee the Teenage Deer, who is looking forward to starting rutting even though he doesn't know quite what it entails, to Fiona, the gap-year student who likes bongos but is worried about global dimming, Neary has assembled a disparate cast of characters whose surreal lives are linked by one thing.

"A lot of the characters I do are quite stupid and deluded," she says. "I notice people who are deluded and trying to be cool more than anything else. That makes me laugh a lot. I guess my material is quite warm but also quite evil. All the characters are based on someone I know or have met or seen or heard."

Neary reckons that the nastier characters in her portfolio are harder to do in front of a crowd than the more sympathetic ones, as she worries the audience might think she is like that in real life.

One particular horror of a character is a spiteful teenage girl having a cruel conversation with a friend on the phone. "That came from two girls I heard talking in Topshop," says Neary. "One was saying to the other, 'I liked you on Wednesday but didn't like you on Thursday.' It reminded me of what it was like being a teenager and how evil teenage girls are to one another.

"What was so horrible about that social exclusion was that you wouldn't know what you had done. It changed from day to day with no rhyme or reason to it. I spent all my teenage years trying to work it all out."

Teenage traumas are unlikely to lose Neary any sleep these days, but she still finds herself watching what she says in front of any lurking parents. "I haven't got any rude stuff in my show this year because my mum objected last year," she says. "She didn't like the song about dogging at all."

Pets and animals have been recurring characters in her two Edinburgh shows. Mr Timpkins, the recently neutered tomcat, Billy the dog and a dolphin have all had their say.

It is more down to chance discovery than any deep-rooted obsession, says Neary. "The animals all started off with a dolphin which was an inflatable toy that I found in a bargain bin in a charity shop for a pound. It was my size so I slit it down the back, made a hole for my face and climbed inside it. Then I walked around my flat doing a silly voice and imagining what a dolphin would talk like."

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