“I want people to find something they can relate to, whatever their identity is.” | Shelf talk gender, sexuality and performing Straight at Vault Festival

Tell us about the show you’re bringing to the Vault Festival, Straight.

Ruby: Straight is a look back over our time as a double act since 2015, how our relationships to our gender, sexuality, and presentation have changed since then, and how this has affected our experiences of comedy and the world. It particularly focuses on what a ridiculously dramatic difference cutting my hair made to my life. I started Shelf presenting as a “femme straight woman” and am now masc-presenting and queer. We unpack how I and we have been treated differently based on my gender presentation, irrespective of how I spoke about myself onstage

Rachel: It’s also about me being tone deaf. So expect some musical numbers.

How did you first form your comedy double act?

Rachel: I was in a comedy group at university and Ruby came to see our show in Edinburgh. She thought the show was terrible but that I was quite funny and suggested we write some sketches together. And Shelf was born.

Ruby: We’d always sort of been like a double act anyway; it was time to monetise. 

What inspired you to write a show about gender, sexuality and mental health?

Ruby: We have one and lack the others.

Rachel: Those three things are really significant in our friendship, which is what Shelf is based on. Ruby and I have a very similar relationship to our gender and sexuality, and a wildly different level of mental health, so they come up in our conversations a lot.  

These topics are all generally quite personal ones. How much do your own identities feed into the show?

Rachel: They feed into the show in a really big way. The way we play ourselves onstage is heightened, but I think it’s always us at its core. Especially this show, which is about how Ruby’s identity, or at least her perceived identity, has changed so much. And how mine hasn’t changed at all (or has it?).  

Ruby: Cutting my hair actually really changed how we were perceived as a double act too, so this show is definitely driven by our collective identity as well as our individual ones. 

This is a work-in-progress show. How much do you expect it to change between the Vault Festival performance and the finished product?

Rachel: The structure is actually pretty solidly there, so at its core it might not change a lot.

Ruby: Yeah, the message is there, but the specific material we use to say it might change. We have a lot of time to preview and 5 years worth of material to choose from, so please come to the show more than once on the off chance of seeing a new joke.

What is your plan for the show after Vault Festival?

Rachel: Leicester is up next! After that it’s just polishing the old girl up until she’s ready for the Edinburgh Fringe. 

Ruby: We’re just going to get it into the best shape we can, perform it a lot (but crucially not too much), and make sure it’s something we love enough to perform for a long time. I can pretty confidently say that it is, though, I love this show.

What do you hope people take away from your show?

Rachel: I just want them to fancy me.

Ruby: I want people to have fun, and find something they can relate to in the show, whatever their identity is. Mostly I just want them to laugh. And to fancy at least one of us.

Are there any other shows you’re looking forward to at the Vault Festival?

It has one of the best lineups going, so it’s pretty hard to go wrong! We’re looking forward to the Lol Word’s Coming Out Special (that’s our comedy collective, so we may be biased). We’re very excited to see Britney. Chloe Petts. Olga Koch. Thanyia Moore. Catherine Bohart. Heidi Regan. Sophie Duker. Just so many people.

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to break into comedy?

Rachel: I think my advice would be only do it if you love it. I don’t think me and Ruby have ever really aimed to ‘make it in comedy,’ we just enjoy writing and performing together and people have kept asking us to do gigs so we’ve continued doing them. Also if you have anyone you could be in a double act with – do that. Cause it’s just so much nicer to do it with a pal. 

Ruby: We made a deal when we started – if comedy stopped being fun, we’d stop doing comedy. Do it while it’s fun, run for the hills when it’s not.

Shelf are performing Straight on 8th February and 14th March.

Book your ticket here.

Find out more about Vault Festival here.

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