Cork actress, comedian and writer on her new 'agony aunt' podcast

Cork-born comedian Tara Flynn has teamed up with novelist Marian Keyes to launch a podcast in which they pair up as 21st century agony aunts, writes AISLING MEATH
Cork actress, comedian and writer on her new 'agony aunt' podcast

Cork born Tara Flynn and Marian Keyes have a podcast called Now You're Asking on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Sounds.

TWO of Ireland’s most widely loved public figures, actress, comedian and writer Tara Flynn, and best-selling multi- award winning novelist Marian Keyes, have joined forces to launch a new podcast called Now You’re Asking for BBC Radio 4 and BBC Sounds.

It is reminiscent of the hugely popular programme Dear Frankie, a broadcast by RTÉ radio between 1963 and 1985, and featuring the distinctive voice of the late, great Frankie Byrne.

In Now You’re Asking, Tara and Marian assume the roles of 21st century Agony Aunts, as they tease out solutions to a broad range of problems sent in by the listeners. All the letters to the podcast are kept anonymous.

UP FOR DISCUSSION

Drawing on their own unique and personal understanding of life, Marian and Tara extend hands of comfort and hearts of empathy towards their listeners, as they try and work their way through many thorny issues and endeavour to help people navigate their way through tricky emotional situations.

Through the podcast, they are presented with many irritating dilemmas that people experience, and try and find ways for people to acquire the skills to best cope with other people’s tastes, habits, and lifestyle choices, which they find to be in conflict with their own.

As John Paul Sartre said “Hell is other people”, and for some of the people writing in, this seems to be the case.

“We always say that even if we don’t solve a problem, we hope that we can make people feel a bit better, and while we have a go at teasing out an issue, we hope that we can give people a bit of a lift at the same time.” explained Tara.

Tara Flynn and Marian Keyes.
Tara Flynn and Marian Keyes.

“We are also keen to point out that we are not experts, so if people have specific queries in relation to medical or legal matters, we always recommend that they seek professional help.”

Marian has always been very open about her own struggles with mental health, a struggle which many people experience in their lives, and on the podcast she recommends that people might consider counselling, which she herself has found to be very beneficial.

Indeed, the podcast is like a soothing, albeit virtual, warm hug before sitting down at a virtual kitchen table over a cup of tea with your pals.

The free-flowing conversation between Tara and Marian goes off on many different trajectories, from the serious to the downright hilarious. If you are missing ’the chats’ during the era of social distancing, then this is a podcast that will be sure to ease you through.

“ We record it round at Marian’s house, and though I met her around 2014, it’s a great opportunity to enjoy her company and to get to know her more,” said Tara.

The dilemmas being sent in by listeners range from what to do if a person you are living with is making irritating or slurping noises while eating or drinking, to how to cope if you have been cut out of your parents’ will.

RECALLING A MOVING STATUE

One query was on how best to approach a neighbour who was persistently putting an unusual range of ornate objects in the shared garden of an apartment block.

The banter between Marian and Tara ended up about their musings on their own individual tastes in garden ornaments, and from there wandered into Tara’s recollections of the phenomena of the ‘Moving Statue’ in Ballinspittle in the 1980s, not far from where she grew up just outside Kinsale.

“I used to babysit for a local doctor,” she recalled, “and when he was on call there were numerous occasions when he had to attend to somebody in the crowd in front of the moving statue at the shrine to Our Lady in Ballinspittle. He might have been called to check out a broken ankle, but sometimes it was to help somebody that had been overpowered by the emotion of it all, and had fainted.

“I myself was sceptical, but went there to see what it was all about. I can honestly say that I did see something. It was like lights coming from a sparkler behind the head of the statue, and to this day I cannot explain what it was. I have the utmost respect for people of faith,” she said.

Comedian, writer and actor Tara Flynn.
Comedian, writer and actor Tara Flynn.

NAVIGATING THE PANDEMIC

As she lives in Dublin, the lockdown prevented Tara from visiting her mother in Kinsale, so she was delighted to spend Christmas with her there this year.

“ I loved getting the chance to spend time with my Mother in Kinsale, and it’s no hardship to visit the area, which is so beautiful.

“Now that the whole family are fully vaccinated, it was just so great to be able to be there again, especially after all we went through not being able to travel and staying within our 5k.”

Like so many other performers, Tara found lockdown to be a very tedious time, with all shows cancelled, and not even being in a position to plan for any gigs.

There’s no business like showbusiness, and when there was no showbusiness at all, Tara found herself trying to navigate a world of immense uncertainty, a time when nobody had a clue when the lights and cameras could be switched back on, or when the curtains in the theatre could be pulled back open again.

“We were very lucky to have technology,” she said - “but it’s not the same doing auditions online compared to the live experience. Being in the room with other actors is such a joy, vibing off each other, and then maybe the director asking to give it another run through.

“I love working in teams, and really I missed all that during lockdown.

“When it happened first, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to progress my writing. It seemed like a perfect time to do it, with no distractions like having to head off anywhere, or rush to catch a plane.

“And then, instead of all that creative flow I was hoping for, I actually experienced a lull in my creativity, and the ‘Black Dog’ of uncertainty kicked in, and I began to question my ability to write at all.

“Fortunately, I got over that due to the support of Philip Mc Mahon, a director with the theatre and events company ‘This Is Pop Baby’ who encouraged me to apply for grants to support my creative process.” Tara is an associate artist with the company, and it wasn’t too long before things took a turn for the better for her when she secured a grant from the Arts Council to write.

“ I’m so grateful to Philip and The Arts Council whose support was just the shake up I needed to get going. I’m now delighted to say that I have written a stage show called Haunted - as in the Cork sense of the word - ‘You’re haunted, girl” she laughs.

She’s remaining tight-lipped about the content, except to say that the show will have all the feels - ranging from funny to serious, and as soon as restrictions lift she will be making plans to bring the show to a theatre near you.

If you have a problem which you want Tara and Marian to solve, email: marianandtara@bbc.co.uk

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