There are many delicious words that don’t translate directly into English, but one of the finest has to be hiraeth, the Welsh term to describe a profound longing for one’s homeland, blended with nostalgia, and tinged with loss.
Comedian and farmer’s daughter Kiri Pritchard-McLean – a familiar face on television comedy panel shows – experienced her fair share of “chronic hiraeth” when she left Wales to go to university. Although she’d grown up with complicated feelings about the country, she missed it badly and would go home as often as she could.
Over lockdown, she finally moved back, and her latest live show, Home Truths, which is touring in two parts (one in the spring, and another in the autumn), explores her evolving relationship with Wales: what it’s like being back, learning the language, realising that you can define your nationality on your own terms, and much, much more.
Pritchard-McLean is one of those rare comedians who makes spinning thorny subjects into comedy gold look like a doddle. Her shows are spiced with filth, feminism and a touch of fury, and they’re always incredibly funny. Lubricating uncomfortable subjects with a delicious, sequin-covered barrage of laughs is what she does best, so even if you’re coming just for the laughs, you’ll leave with a deeper understanding of human life and a desire to be a bit better yourself.
Her previous shows have dealt with attempting to empathise with paedophiles (the excellent Empathy Pains, whose run was cut short by the first lockdown but which should hopefully be available to watch online soon); the end of a toxic relationship marred by unfaithfulness and gaslighting; sexism and child grooming.
“I don’t judge anyone else for the kind of comedy they do, but I don’t find it edifying unless there’s some kind of intellectual or creative challenge in making something difficult and unfunny funny,” she says. “That’s the delicious stuff for me – the stuff that makes me proud.”
And, true to form, Pritchard-McLean’s latest offering will be hilarious, but it won’t be a smooth ride. In fact, she’s pretty sure a few people aren’t going to love what she says.
“I’m getting stuck into my relationship with Wales,” she says. “When I describe myself, I say ‘Welsh’ before ‘comedian’ or even my name. It’s at the top of the list of things I hold dear to my identity. But I had a really tricky relationship with the country and my nationality, my identity and where I fit in. I know lots of people have a complicated relationship with where they’re from in different ways.”
For example, she didn’t realise until she was in her 30s that her mother (half English, half Scottish) was mispronouncing her Welsh father’s name.
“I genuinely didn’t know because I didn’t really hear Welsh as a kid and had no relationship with the Welsh culture, which is often tied to the language,” she explains.
One of the complicated areas she’ll be exploring in Home Truths is reminiscent of the Black Lives Matter movement-inspired journey many of us have been on to interrogate our own privilege, and to what extent it makes us complicit in the oppression of other people.
As she puts it: “There is a lot of proof that Wales has historically been oppressed by Westminster, but were we part of the Empire? Did we massively benefit from that? Absolutely. But it’s an uncomfortable truth and the conversation is rarely had. I think some people will hate that an English-speaking Welsh person is having it and they might feel it’s not my place, because I won’t be Welsh enough.”
Whether they like it or not, what’s beyond doubt is that Pritchard-McLean will be applying intellectual rigour to her arguments, and it’ll definitely be worth following.
And if you reckon her hands would be full enough preparing for this tour, think again. As well as continuing to be the unseen quarter of brilliantly dark sketch group Tarot (born from Gein’s Family Gift Shop and Goose), and presenting her radio show on BBC Radio Wales, she will be taking over from Tudur Owen as the presenter of TV Flashback (a BBC Wales archive show).
In addition, she and the rest of the team behind The Covid Arms, which streamed monthly comedy nights during lockdown (a lifesend both for the comics performing and for many people at home), raising more than £150,000 for the Trussell Trust, hope to bring their “virtual pub” back at some point soon.
And as well as doing All Killa No Filla, her outrageously popular serial killer podcast with Rachael Fairburn, she’s indulging another of her passions – second-hand clothes, which she loves both for style and sustainability – in Who Are You Wearing?, which launched last summer. Guests so far have included fellow comics Rosie Jones, Sindhu Vee and Sara Pascoe, and theatre maker Travis Alabanza. Muslim drag queen Glamrou and broadcaster Miquita Oliver among the guests in future episodes.
Her fascination with fashion and glamming up on stage date back to the days when most of her clothes were filthy from working on the farm. She had a couple of outfits for “best” and grew up with the belief that “nice things were hallowed and you’d put them on for occasions”.
This ties in with the importance she places on dressing up to perform. At first it was in part to stand out and make herself more memorable, but it became so much more.
“Sequins also signify showbiz but in the most brilliant trashy way – drag queens and working men’s clubs – those kinds of things I love. And it’s about celebration too, which is how I want it to feel when I’m on stage.
“Also, I’ve always been plus size; I’ve been bigger and I’ve been smaller. I think I wanted to show the audience I wasn’t ashamed of that. And there’s something faintly comical about a plus-sized woman in a tiny sequin dress but I’ve always felt very empowered on stage. There’s a sense that I’m saying: ‘I know what I look like’ or ‘You probably think I shouldn’t wear this but I am and look how good I am at my job.’”
Astonishingly, that’s not all she’s up to. She is also one of the founders of Get Off, a nascent external HR department for the live comedy industry. It grew out of the #MeToo movement and aims to make comedy clubs a safer working environment for everyone.
Pritchard-McLean’s even brushing up on her BSL as well. While she might not be good enough to sign her shows come autumn, she’s determined to improve accessibility in as many ways as possible, and she hopes to have interpreters at some of her shows. She also aims to stream Home Truths in the summer.
She’s also in talks to put together a new festival in rural Wales. The idea is for it to be called Covid Farms, the entertainment including local bands and a live comedy show. There’d be space for about 250 audience members to sit on hay bales, with the Snowdonia mountain range in the background, and it would be streamed for everyone else.
So, if you’ve never experienced hiraeth before, but have the good fortune to get tickets for this dreamy-sounding festival, this might be your chance to dip your toes into Pritchard-McLean’s Wales.
Home Truths is at The Old Rep Theatre on Friday 15 April. Book your tickets here.
Article by Ashley Davies