Ahead of speaking with Helen Thorn, one part of the brilliantly named stand-up duo Scummy Mummies, I’m feeling pretty stressed. I’ve just spent two hours waiting in my local hospital only to be told at the last minute that my appointment has been cancelled. Then, just before I’m due to dial Helen I receive a call from my son’s school telling me he’s had a fall in the playground and he needs collecting. ‘Argh – life!’ I yell before calling my husband to tell him to head to the school so I can chat to Helen.
As her mobile rings I’m still feeling flustered and as soon as she picks up I blurt out how sorry I am for being late on the call, my words tumbling out in mainly the wrong order.
“Oh, you poor darling,” Helen exclaims in her Aussie accent. “Those kind of nightmare days happen to all of us. Just don’t worry about it! That’s part of the pain and joy of being a parent,” she laughs.
Ah, someone who actually understands the crazy world of being a parent – and a working one at that. But then again Helen and her comedy partner Ellie Gibson have based their hugely popular Scummy Mummies routine on, well just that – and in turn made it OK for others like myself to not worry about imperfect parenting.
The duo met when their children were toddlers and after discovering a mutual frustration and shared humour of trying to battle through parenthood and life they launched a fortnightly podcast in 2013.
The award-winning shows says Helen is how they came to start touring all over the UK including at the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe and Hay Festival too. The pair have also published books and been asked on prime time TV and radio programmes thanks to their popularity which sees them gigging until pretty much the end of this year.
And one of those is happening here in Tunbridge Wells on July 15 at the Assembly Hall as part of the TW Fringe Festival which is now in its second year.
But the pair – who are best known for parading around on stage in their trademark zip up catsuits – are already pretty familiar with Tunbridge Wells as some of their first cheerleaders early on in their career were Laura Swann and Natalie Mcilveen, two local sisters who run Mums the Word – a communications and events firm.
They invited Helen and Ellie to Tunbridge Wells pre-pandemic and the duo proved so popular that they kept on inviting them back.
“We’ve got to know Laura and Natalie over the years and they’re just divine – and brilliant to work with,” states Helen.
“If they’re putting on an event you know it’s going to be a good one. They’re the most amazing organisers – we had a show with them that sold out in 7 minutes! They certainly know how to provide an amazing night out for women. Put it this way, you know you’re guaranteed a great night out if they’ve had anything to do with it as they go above and beyond.”
So what can the good people of Tunbridge Wells expect from the Scummy Mummies’ show on July 15?
“A joyous night out for a start,” giggles Helen. “Our style of comedy focuses on being less than perfect parents so the audience can expect a load of songs, sketches and stand-up. We have our own confessions about being parents but we also talk about us being women in our 40s, and all the hilarious mishaps and adventures that happen because of all that.
“We talk about body image and how our bodies are changing at this particular time, as well as the full spectrum of parenting. We include everything – from terrible baby shower gifts to dealing with terrible teenagers. When Ellie and I met, our kids were toddlers and now they’re either teenagers or heading there. And do you know what? That in itself is a completely different set of worries and joys!
“But actually, being in your 40s you actually gain real strength. I think you’re more confident; you know who you are. The delight about our shows is that they give women the chance to get together, and it’s fair to say our audiences are always pretty lively! Our shows give people the chance to let go and know they are not alone.”
Helen, who cites the likes of French & Saunders and Mel & Sue as comedy heroes, reveals the best kind of feedback she and Ellie receive from their shows is when audience members say that the comedians made them feel ‘normal’.
“As parents we are very self-conscious. We’re living in an age where parenting is very public – you have people posting on social media about what crafts or baking they’re doing with their kids and I think we all feel slightly overwhelmed with guilt because we’re not being ‘that’ parent. We’re the ones who feed our kids Cheerios for dinner and say ‘that’ll do: they’re fed and they know they are loved’!”
The pair were pioneers of saying stuff people hadn’t dare say out loud to strangers until they zipped on their skintight catsuits and took modern day parenthood to task, ribbing it and being extremely candid about the pressures of parenting and not getting it right most of the time.
As well as touring and writing books, over the last nine years, Helen and Ellie have seen their podcast and social media presence rocket. They’ve even launched a Scummy Mummies online merch shop which includes clutches with, you guessed it ‘Scum Bag’ emblazoned on them as well as ‘Gin Mugs’ and hoodies bearing the slogan ‘Good Yawning’.
“We’ve written a new show every year and our inspiration comes from real life. Both of us keep little notebooks and scribble down observations. That can be the funny side of parenthood but also the more awkward situations as most of us know so much comedy comes from pain too.
“I guess you could say that the essence of what we do is we bring lightness to the darkness. But we don’t take ourselves too seriously – we wear ridiculous gold catsuits for God’s sake! We are overtly silly and over the last couple of years I think we’ve all really craved that. So seeing our shows gives people the opportunity to do that. We want to let go: life with toddlers or teens is intense so we love afterwards when the audience say ‘oh we feel much better’. That’s the joy of comedy it really does help us to affirm we’re ok as let’s face it we’re all riddled with anxiety as parents.
“We’re a real antidote to all that overwhelming stuff so coming to see us is really just a fun night out. When we come to Tunbridge Wells it’ll be a Friday night – and nearly the end of term. There will be that sense of ‘we’ve nearly done it!’ So what better time to have a few Proseccos and give yourself a pat on the back and come and enjoy our show. We absolutely love coming to Tunbridge Wells – in fact we’ve had some of our most fun nights here. It’s always the best fun! People should concentrate on drinking and having a good time!”