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Marjolein to juggle storytelling and stand-up

Photo: John Carolan

MARJOLEIN Robertson is starting to feel nervous. She usually does on the eve of performing a stand-up comedy show at home in Shetland, despite having performed runs at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, toured in New Zealand and had her videos watched by thousands upon thousands on the BBC Social platform.

“It’s more scary than doing it south,” she says. “Part of it’s funny because I don’t have to watch my words so much. But at the same time it’s more terrifying because when you do stand-up you do put on a bit of a character.

“Even if you’re telling true, honest stories and true accounts and your true feelings, there’s still a kind of slight mask on. It’s scary because I do tell all true stories, and when I do it to a home crowd, it’s like revealing a side of me.”

The homegrown comic is speaking a few days before she is due to headline the Mareel auditorium in Lerwick on Thursday, previewing her two August Fringe shows – a regular stand-up set, and a separate Shetland folk tale storytelling session Hillsook Wedeen.

Marjolein has little reason to be nervous; her last big show in the isles, supporting acclaimed comic Sara Pascoe at Mareel last year, was warmly received by the sold-out audience. Her Shetland-centric tales of drunken mishaps at times elicited some of the most vociferous, knee-slapping belly laughs of the night.

This time around the Westsider is bringing her new show It’s Time to the Mareel stage, and the set focuses on how Marjolein got to the point in her life where she is on the cusp of her third stint in a row at the Fringe.

Photo: Liam Henderson

The first half, however, will see Marjolein indulge in her love of Shetland folk tales as she recounts a well-loved story based on the day to day life in Shetland in the 1850s, as well as the outlandish world of the trows.

“For me it’s the quintessential trowie story,” she says. “I just really like them – I like a good story – and I like Shetland folk tales because by telling stories, it’s a really good way to keep dialect and culture and traditions alive.”

Marjolein’s upcoming stint at the Fringe will see her perform in a larger venue, again – last time she had to turn people away at the door because it was too busy.

It wasn’t just the venue that was busy, however, with the Shetlander having one day off in the whole of August.

“Last year I had all these plans to see three or four other shows on my day off, but I was in my bed all day. I did go out of a bed to Sainsbury’s to get some mackerel, I ate some mackerel and then went back to bed again,” she laughs.

Marjolein’s trips south have been buoyed by her freelance work as a contributor to the BBC Social platform, filming short skits which are watched by thousands on social media, bringing her – and some of Shetland’s quirks – truly into the public eye.

That invaluable line of work kicked off when the BBC was looking for contributors from around the country, with Marjolein submitting video work she already done with local film group Maddrim Media and Heavy Metal Buffet TV.

It’s also led her to presenting live coverage of the Fringe for BBC Comedy, bringing her natural warmth to the camera. Glasgow based producer Muslim Alim heralded her as “one of the funniest peeps I’ve met”.

“It’s been really good to me. Because I live in Shetland, going down to the Fringe from Shetland when you’re not gigging the rest of the year, you need people to know who you are, you need people to want to come to your shows, so being on the BBC has been an amazing leg-up to getting audiences,” she says.

Marjolein is rarely seen without a book of joke ideas in her bag. This time she is clutching a well-loved A4 pad of paper; full of surprisingly elegant handwriting mapping out her latest shows, with the process a constant evolution of rewriting, refining and rehearsing. “The worst critic is yourself,” she admits.

“Writing’s really weird,” Marjolein adds. “There was one time I was going to see a film in Mareel, and I had half an hour to write some stand-up before we left, and in that time I wrote a page and a half of A4, and that made four minutes of material for my Fringe show.

“But there was one time I was at the desk for maybe 12 hours over the weekend, and I wrote one joke. I went home and tried it on my mam and she was like, ‘that’s just not very good’. The joke was ‘I went to the shop for milk yesterday, because my cow was dead’,” Marjolein laughs.

Writing, however, doesn’t really come into play in her other comic endeavour, improv.

She started local improvised comedy collective The Imposters a few years ago after learning the ropes in Amsterdam and New York, and the project has not only filled a huge gap in the local market with its impressive comedy nights, but it has given a batch of other homegrown comics the chance to establish themselves and gain stage experience.

Having toured across the country, performed residencies at the Fringe, gained fame through the BBC and helped to unearth Shetland’s hidden comic talent – is Marjolein proud of how far she has come?

“I never really think about it that way – I always think of the things I still have to do,” she replies. “I’m like, oh, I’ve got five videos right now I have to film, I have to get the show written, and I always feel like there’s more jokes I want to put in. And there’s other things I want to be writing, and there’s other things I’m writing for other people. I’m always thinking about what else I have to do.

“I want to make a TV show in Shetland, that’s all I want to do,” Marjolein continues, with clenched-fist enthusiasm.

“There’s a show idea my brother and I came up with in 2008 and I really want to make it. My life plan is make that show, which is kind of a drama/comedy, and then I’ll make it for three series, and then what I’ll do is I’ll make a show about a tour company in Shetland – off the wall, obscure strange humour – and then I’ll fall out of the public eye for a while. When I’m broke and I’m older I’ll actually start up a tour company in Shetland and play on all the jokes from the TV show. And that will be my retirement fund.”

Tickets for Marjolein: Stories & Stand-Up at Mareel on Thursday (19 July) are available via the Shetland Arts box office.