Award-winning comedian and actress Samantha Baines (Call The Midwife, The Crown) is currently starring in Magic Mike Live! at London’s Hippodrome Casino.
Since being officially diagnosed with Tinnitus and hearing loss two years ago, Samantha’s become an ambassador for the British Tinnitus Association and Action on Hearing Loss. As well as presenting radio and her own podcast – ‘Periods: Amazing Women In History’ – Samantha’s recently completed her first children’s novel ‘Harriet!’, about a young girl with a very special hearing aid, due for release in October 2019.
Samantha recently took time out from her exceedingly busy schedule to chat to Entertainment Focus about adjusting to her hearing loss diagnosis, dealing with online trolls and working alongside Channing Tatum.
Tell us a little bit about your role in Magic Mike Live! I believe you’re the MC?
Yes, I bring the comedy and, for the women in the audience, I’m a kind of channel for what we’re all feeling during the show.
Do you facilitate which ladies get picked?
Sometimes the guys pick and sometimes I pick. I always try and pick people who look like they think they’re never going to get picked and perhaps look a bit shy. Sometimes they say ‘No’, which is fine. But I always try and pick people who aren’t expecting it. The ones at the back trying to hide. It’s so much more fun if it’s someone who’s never done anything like that before.
So what made you take the Magic Mike gig, Samantha?
It’s directed by Channing Tatum and I’d heard lovely things about him as a creative person and as an actor and director. So I was very intrigued to work with him and it was all true which is lovely. He’s just a brilliant person to work with. To begin with, I didn’t know much about the show. I am a feminist and I wanted to make sure that it was empowering to women. That the women were in charge and it didn’t feel sleazy or anything like that. I went to see the show in Vegas and I loved it. I felt really uplifted and like I was embracing my sexual power when I watched the show. I thought ‘I want to do that in the UK.’ So it was a no brainer. I definitely wanted to be involved. Now the run has been extended until January 2020, I’m definitely working on it until the beginning of October this year.
Did you have to audition?
My agent put me forward and then I did 10 minutes of my normal stand up and they filmed it. Apparently Channing said ‘Yes, let’s book her for a year.’ When my agent told me I was shocked. I was like, ‘Don’t they want me like several times again? I might be an awful person!’
Have you got any nights off to do your own comedy?
I do eight shows a week and I have Monday nights off. There’s another lady who does two shows a week so there’s 10 shows in total. So it’s quite busy but I get all my daytimes free. I’ve got a children’s book coming out so it’s been great because I’ve spent all my days writing and editing and then in the evening going to Magic Mike and doing jokes. I’ve had a bit of a break from the comedy circuit but I’m still doing the odd gig. I’m an ambassador for Action On Hearing Loss. I have a hearing aid. So I’m hosting a charity gig for them in May at the Comedy Store on a Monday night off. And Channing let me collaborate with him on the jokes in the show and I ad-lib so I’m still doing a bit of stand up every night.
Are you happy to talk about your hearing loss? Is it something that happened recently or you’ve dealt with since you were a child?
I had a grommet when I was very young. I didn’t know what that was, I knew it was to help my hearing. I assumed it was some sort of tiny hearing aid. And it was only two years ago, when I went for my first hearing test, that I discovered that a grommet is just a tiny little plastic tube that they put in your eardrum. It’s for children who have extra fluid on their ears. So I realised that I’ve been hearing a beeping noise for my whole life in one ear. And I always assumed that that was my grommet. But it turned out to be tinnitus. I’m also an ambassador for the British Tinnitus Association. I only realised two years ago because I started to hear this weird like wavering noise in my ear. I worried I had a spider living in my ear. Every time I went into a really loud environment it was like a little scratching noise in my ear. I thought, ‘The spider’s getting annoyed because it’s loud’! So I went to the doctors and she said there were no spiders and sent me for a hearing test. It turned out that it was another type of tinnitus. I always thought it was just a high pitched ringing noise or a beep. Actually there are so many different types of tinnitus you can have white noise, you can have a wavering noise, you can have a heartbeat that you hear in your ear, you can have a combination. So my scratching spider noise was tinnitus. Then during the hearing test they also told me that I needed a hearing aid. That was a complete shock to me. I’ve a hearing aid in my right ear, I can still hear, but I’ve lost hearing in the higher frequency. So, looking back, after you get the diagnosis, you can see times where you didn’t hear things properly. But you always attribute it to other things like the background noise or that the TV needs turning up because the programme’s quiet but it turned out I needed a hearing aid.
How old were you?
I was 30. I remember the only other people around had grey hair and looked like they’d have Werther’s Original’s in their pockets. I thought, ‘I’m too young to get a hearing aid’. But then I started to find out, through the charity, about all these young people who have hearing aids, that children have hearing aids. It was much more common than I thought it was. I’d felt so alone when I first found out about it. It was such a difficult time. I worried it would ruin my career. But getting my hearing aid was actually brilliant. I have a Phonak hearing aid which is very small. You wouldn’t see it unless I pointed it out to you. I always imagined hearing aids that are huge and make whistling noises. I also present on the radio so I thought that was going to be an issue but absolutely not. Hearing aids have come on so far. I can still do everything I did before and that’s what I want to get out there. Obviously hearing loss diagnosis is a scary thing but you can carry on living your life. I still go out to loud environments and actually my hearing aid helps with sound levels to cut off possibly damaging sound. It’s actually protecting my hearing. I’m now really grateful for both those charities and that’s why I’m working with them.
It’s important to demonstrate that the idea of something is usually more scary than the reality and that people shouldn’t avoid going for hearing tests.
Even before I started Magic Mike I started writing jokes about my hearing loss. Obviously not in any way making light of hearing loss as a condition just about my experiences of it. In the same way I wrote about when my dad passed away a few years ago, I wrote about my experiences with grief through comedy because comedy gets you through the hardest times in life. I started writing jokes about that and thought about doing a show on it, and then Magic Mike came along, so that’s on hold for the moment.
Comedy is one of the best ways to try and cope with what life throws at you.
Yeah, because otherwise you’d just cry all the time. There are some very funny times that you share with family or with your friends too. You need that light and dark in your life otherwise everything would be awful. People say the bad times help you appreciate the good times. And it’s hard to know that when you’re in it because you’re so consumed with grief or, if you get a diagnosis with some form of disability, it can be so shocking and life altering. But there will be good times again and laughing can help give you relief for a moment. That’s what I found really interesting because a lot of people who have messaged me – I actually got trolled when I became the British tinnitus Association ambassador. I got trolled because I went on Sky News and I talked about my tinnitus and I did two jokes – one that I thought I had a spider living in my head. And the other joke was I have two types of tinnitus because it was ‘buy one get one free’ and I love a bargain. It’s important to talk about it and raise awareness. I got trolled because of those jokes. People thought I was making light of it. I have always written comedy, I’m a really open person. I always write comedy about my life. I’m helping me and, hopefully, others cope with the situation.
How do you deal with online trolls?
I love having conversations with people, you know, one of my favourite things about doing Magic Mike is sitting in the audience during the show and having a little chat with people after the show and on social media. I love conversation. A lot of female comedians get emails calling them nasty names. It’s not just tweets with abuse. If someone’s tried to spark a conversation I’ll try and talk them through it but mostly they just stick to their opinion. If someone’s just being abusive you do just have to let it go. It’s important to hold people to account, though. I once reported someone to their company. I think when it’s online people think they can get away with things and they shouldn’t.
Do you have any advice for any budding female acts?
I would say things are definitely getting better for women in comedy. As women in society there’s still a lot of issues that we face. As for tips to female comedians, I would say just do it. Don’t let anyone tell you can’t. Particularly don’t let any men tell you that you can’t. You’ll be judged on your looks but just be yourself. Yes, there are horrible people in the world, but they are just threatened by your talent. Some people will always be negative. If there’s anything I’ve learned in my career is that everyone tells me I can’t do things then I go and do them.
That’s one way to beat negative people – prove them wrong!
I’m a bit of a strange one because I do so many things, you know, I write books and act and do stand up and present on the radio. People think you should just do one thing, really focus and do it well. Actually, I find that everything feeds into each other. And if you can be creative in different areas it only helps the other areas. Victoria Wood was a great inspiration to me and the fact that she was a stand up comedian. She was also a writer of comedy, of TV drama, she was an actress. She did it all brilliantly. I think this idea of you just have to stick with one thing is quite outdated now. I think I’ll continue with all of it. I started as an actor, right at the very beginning. So I can’t imagine ever giving that up. I used to watch EastEnders and remember the lines from it, and then go and practice in my bedroom in front of the mirror. There’s also something so lovely about stand up comedy, and just making people laugh. So I always want that to be an element of my career, whether that’s live stand up, or presenting or writing.