Tatty Macleod is a comedian who bases a big part of her observational comedy on the differences between the French and the English. She has British parents and moved to the Morbihan, Brittany with her three sisters and mother when she was four. She lived there until she moved back to the UK for further education at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London.
Her Instagram and TikTok performances have amassed over 35 million views. She has performed at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles, tours the Glee Clubs, writes plays, and has performed in Switzerland, Paris and Luxembourg.
How did you become involved with bilingual comedy?
I was a classically trained actor doing mainstream acting jobs for adverts or plays but I wasn’t getting as much work as I wanted, so I went down the road of writing. A friend and I hit on the idea of rewriting, modernising and translating a play by Molière, Les Précieuses Ridicules.
We took his story about two pretentious young girls in Paris, transplanted them to London, and made it bilingual. It was in the midst of Brexit and I don’t know if the desire to bring out the French side of me was driven by that, wanting to reconnect with my French side, but that was how it started. We put on the play for a European festival in London. It went very well and following that a group asked me if I would write for them in French and English. But even now I write a lot of material that has nothing to do with French. It depends on the audience.
What do you think are the main differences between the French and English?
It’s difficult because when you do comedy sometimes you deal with archetypes and obviously in real life everything is much more nuanced than that, so I always say, take everything with a pinch of salt.
But one of the big things I talk about in my shows is the idea of moderation. French people can be a lot more moderate in the way they eat and the way they drink, whereas we Brits can sometimes be very restrained and then very wild. We’re not so good at the bit in between. It’s a case of I am shy and then I am hammered. We’re for the Royal family and then for the punk movement. We vacillate between one and the other.
In many of your sketches the French woman comes straight to the point whilst the British woman tries to be diplomatic, for example in your sketch where the English Mum tells her child who has 5 out of 100 in a school test that she will complain to the teacher, and “Mummy loves you very much,” whilst the French mother simply says “Oh là là, c’est la merde”. I found that very funny, recognising I am that English-style Mum! Do you think the British are more careful about not hurting other people’s feelings?
Again it is in the nuance because there are different types of people on both sides of the Channel. But I notice there is a lot more tip-toeing around things with my English friends. In France there is much more comfort and ease with being direct and maybe that is a Latin thing, because a lot of Spanish and Italian and Portuguese people who comment on my sketches say, oh yes they recognise that in themselves. Not being afraid of an argument.
What do you think are the advantages of having been an English person growing up in France?
I think it is not specific to being English. I think generally there is a huge amount of enrichment to be gained from having a dual-cultural heritage or from being exposed to different cultures, whether you are German living in England or you’re Spanish being raised in France. I think you can gain so much from having different outlooks and cultural understandings. I have noticed my Instagram following is very international and I think there are a lot of people from different places who hail from a mixed background, whether they are raised by ex-pat parents in Singapore and went to an international school, or whether they are Ukrainian but their husband is American and now they live in Paris. People who have lived in different places have a multitude of perspectives, which is definitely enriching.
Do you find it easier to write in French or English?
It depends on the subject matter. Because I went to university in England, I think that if I talk about politics or things that are a little bit more academic, my English slightly has the edge.
But if I am talking about my childhood or speaking with my mates, then that is something I am very comfortable doing in French.
And do you work to keep your French up?
Sort of I suppose. I go back to France every year to see my Mum, I have French friends I talk to regularly, I watch French films and I need to read more in French. I do shows in French. I mix with a group of French comedians in London. I think language is like a muscle and you have to exercise it.
It seems as though growing up in France was a very positive experience for you?
I had a wonderful childhood in France. I really loved it, and I would not have had it any other way.
Do people watch your Instagram videos to learn French or English?
People say they are learning French and my videos are helping them. But I am always a bit wary of that because I make loads of spelling mistakes in both languages, and have not always treble checked that the accents are in the right place. I think it’s great if people can get multiple things from my videos, whether it is understanding a little bit more about the culture, or making people laugh.
Or if people are literally learning some new expressions or words, then that’s wonderful, but I would also like to say that this is not gospel. I write the videos for the comedy aspect, not as a learning tool.
What are your plans for the immediate future?
I am developing a solo show at the moment, and am working on a podcast which is going to talk about the experience of being one person living in one country but coming from another, and about being a crossbreed and not quite clearly definable in one nationality. This will be across different themes whether it is relationships or school or questions people ask me all the time, such as how do you make your children bilingual, or how did your Mum teach you English.
Is it ever difficult? Do you ever feel lost between what culture you belong to?
I think that is a really interesting question and it is one I am exploring in my new work and also how my own sense of identity has had to shift because of Brexit. When I was a child my Mum was concerned we would feel neither at home in France nor the UK and that we would feel in between. But I don’t experience it like that. I have only found it beneficial. I guess if a person finds it necessary to be put into one box, then that kind of upbringing is not ideal, but if you are comfortable being a mix of the two, neither one nor the other, being flexible and a bit on the spectrum between French and English, then it is not a problem at all.