About a minute into Cam Spence’s 2017 short film, Polly, our protagonist makes a purchase at a bodega. Polly, we’ve been told via narration, “seems like an ordinary girl living off her parents’ money in West London” but is, in fact, afflicted with “a rare condition in which the sufferer can only communicate through spoken-word poetry.” The way Polly, as played by Spence, snaps into one of her spoken-word “episodes” in front of the cashier is electric, jarring, and deeply amusing. (“One pound / Two pound / Each coin dropping its own sound / The euphony of capitalism in your hand,” she projects, handing over the coins.) In her measured delivery, the concept has been sold. And by the time the six-minute film is finished, we’re on board with Spence too: we want to see what worlds she will traverse next.
Spence—an Oxfordshire native, with Daisy Ridley–esque expressive facial features and dark hair—won the 2017 Funny Women Award for Polly, an honor which has served to propel her comedy career. She also recently wrapped the film This My Movie, co-starring S.N.L. writer Gary Richardson. (Spence plays a “psychotic girl,” she says, adding, “It’s actually the perfect part for me.”) And she will be staging a one-woman show—billed as an hour of “idiosyncratic character comedy”—at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this August. Titled The Sunshine Clinic, named after a fictional rehab center, Spence will play a therapist named Janet, as well as all of Janet’s patients, with the show incorporating pre-recorded footage filmed in advance.
Spence’s live act involves her transforming, sometimes without even a single prop or wig, into someone else, a someone else with a distinct set of mannerisms, vocal tics, and biographical details. She has taken part in popular Brooklyn comic Catherine Cohen’s cabaret nights; after Spence—who cites Kristen Wiig as a “big inspiration”—makes her way to the stage, briefly introducing herself with a self-deprecating joke or two, she will announce she is going to … become a different person—and then spin a full rotation and do just that. The pull for her has always been about developing characters—personas that are distinctly not Cam Spence. “Doing comedy, for me, has been a lot about getting back to my childhood self,” she says. “I’ve always been a person who dresses up and does stupid characters. Re-discovering it as an adult has been really fun.”
Josh Duboff is a writer and screenwriter living in New York.