Meet Morgana Robinson. She’s bursting on to the scene with a new comedy show, taking a pop at everyone from Cheryl Cole to Boris Johnson
Heard the one about the Russian spy? He walks into a sushi bar and says, “I can’t eat in — can I have my sushi to glow?” Morgana Robinson walked into one, and ended up with her own series.
The 27-year-old former sushi waitress had never done Edinburgh, never done stand-up, but somehow secured a prime-time comedy slot. How the hell did she do it?
Morgana’s comedy is not sushi based. It is a sketch show that stars her playing a seemingly random selection of caricatures — Boris Johnson as a schoolboy bully, Cheryl Cole as a Barbie-obsessed bimbo, Dannii Minogue as a Botoxed fame-whore. There is also a little geek called Gilbert, and a past-it Hollywood siren, Madolynn. There is a lot of swearing. A typical scene sees Dannii backstage at The X Factor, her Aussie accent extruded through frozen lips: “Getting pregnant is the best publicity stunt I’ve ever done. I’m a bee’s dick away from winning Elle Woman of the Year.” It’s something like Star Stories meets Little Britain. French and Saunders lite. Except that Morgana, who co-wrote the series, is the solo star. If the megawatt production values are anything to go by, Channel 4 has gone mad for it. It has billed her, in the best possible taste, as “Kenny Everett without the beard”.
Morgana does not look like Kenny Everett when she walks into the Ivy. Nor does she look very comfortable. “I’m more a dirty little stinky wine bar kind of girl.” She offers me a damp palm (“It’s just water, honest”), shuffles onto the sofa, batting her Manga-character eyes. She looks, uncannily, like Fearne Cotton’s big sister, complete with tumbling hair and trendy geek ensemble: tweed shorts, cardie, thick black tights. “You look just like Fearne Cotton,” I tell her. She laughs: “Everyone says that.” On the show, she portrays Fearne, the Radio 1 DJ, as a mentalist adrenaline-junkie who gets her kicks skydiving and smashing her face in. As it happens, Fearne is also a close friend. Morgana apprehensively sent her a pilot DVD. What did she make of it? “She hasn’t mentioned it yet.”
Morgana got her big break, not overnight but over lunch. After eight frustrated years trying to make it as a comic actress and working the front desk of a Soho Japanese restaurant, out of desperation she made a promo of herself. “It was the shittest thing. My flatmate was filming, so it was shaking and you can hear aeroplanes in the background.” She sent it to the talent agency Curtis Brown and her idols at Smack the Pony. Nobody replied. “You’d just get your crappy little DVD back with a compliments slip, like, ‘Don’t waste my time.’” So, one day at work she slipped it to a restaurant regular, John Noel, a top agent. He ordered her into his office and said (cue gruff Yorkshire accent): “Right, you can quit that job, start throwing rice around.”
I’d rock up at the start of term, and everyone would be coming in a Mercedes. My trunk would be in the back of a TNT van or my mum’s gardening vanHe landed her a five-part-series deal. How much did she get paid? She’s can’t say. A ballpark figure? “I couldn’t,” she blushes.
Still, it was enough to buy her mum “a little red Fiat” and herself “a lot of shoes”. The London pad “will have to wait for series two”. I ask, perhaps naively, if she’s met any of her idols yet, and she starts an anecdote about Matthew Freud’s Christmas party, which, for the dahling set, is pretty much the Big One.
“It was amazing, there were all these stars there. Bono, the Stones…” Then, just as I’m picturing her schmoozing for victory she laughs: “Oh, God, I was there working! I was at the door taking Bono’s coat.” This Tuesday, all of that’s going to change. Is she nervous? “I’m shitting myself. Massively.”
It was Noel who encouraged her to do Dannii and Cheryl because “everyone loves The X Factor”. Personally, Morgana considers the talent show “heinous”.
“My love is in the characters, not the impressions. I don’t get anything out of just mimicking someone. I add my own character on top. so it’s very cartoony.” She says she didn’t really want to take the piss out of anyone real. “I’d hate anything to happen like the Craig David thing, to ruin someone’s career. Now all he gets is people shouting ‘Bo’ Selecta’ at him. If I had my own way I wouldn’t do the impressions, but that’s the commercial side of the show.”
It is the non-celeb characters of which she is most proud. They are a collection of friends she has fostered over years through a dislocated only childhood, obsessive people-watching, and the need to mask shyness. On screen, she comes alive like a chameleon on speed, a confident, multi-personality tour de force. In person, she is frantically jittery, like Bambi with ADHD. She flicks her hair, fidgets with her shirt, twiddles her spoon, waffles frantically, her eyes darting as if looking for an escape route.
She seems most comfortable when she is doing impressions. Which she does, relentlessly. They pepper her conversation, her accent segueing from estuary Essex to horsey posh, via brash Bristolian, American and Geordie. She admits that these alter egos act as a sort of refuge from herself, “Like a veil…When I’m in character I couldn’t give a shit, it’s when I’m me that I worry”.
Her pièce de résistance is the Minogue whine. It’s a gift from having grown up in Australia. Morgana was born in Shepparton, Victoria, which Wikipedia describes as an agricultural and manufacturing centre, and Morgana calls “Charlene territory”. Her parents moved to Yorkshire when she was three and broke up when she was seven. Now she doesn’t see her truck-driver dad, who she describes as “tricky” and “not really the best father”, and who stayed up north while her mother brought her to London. A hardworking, straight-talking Australian, Mrs Robinson sounds hilarious — like a combination of Joan Rivers and Lily Savage. “When I was 10, I said to her, ‘Mummy, I want to be an actress.’ She said, ‘You’d better get used to waitressing, then.’”
Mrs Robinson did anything and everything — gardening, nursing, decorating, waitressing, caring — to keep them afloat. They spent two years shifting between “grotty places” while “staying on sofas and floors”. When Morgana was 12, however, everything changed. Aunt Jilly stumped up £10,000 a term to send her to Benenden in Kent. Suddenly she was thrown from her gypsyish home life into the super-posh boarding school that had groomed Princess Anne.
“I’d rock up at the start of term, and everyone would be coming in a Mercedes, and my trunk would be in the back of a TNT van or my mum’s gardening van,” she laughs, recalling school holidays beset by social snobbery. “Oh, darling, we’re all going to Val d’ Isère. We would invite you but you can’t ski.”