Credit: Zara Gladman

From invasive crayfish to comedy stardom: in conversation with Dr Zara Gladman

By Emma Margaret Currie

Emma Currie chats to Dr Zara Gladman about her work as a scientist and rise to fame in the Scottish comedy scene.

For those who haven’t frequented Scottish TikTok or Twitter over the past few months, Zara Gladman is a Scottish comedian who has reached the dizzy heights of online viralness for her ‘West End Mum’ sketch, Scottish news reporter parody, and more. Though, her talents are not limited to comedy – she is also an acclaimed zoologist; or “Zoo-LOL-ogist”, in her own words.

I start by asking Zara about her academic journey and her time as a student. She reflects on studying Zoology at the University of Glasgow – pouring over her time on the ZooSoc social committee, the field trips, the life-long friends she made, and the smell of the Zoology museum which has “never quite left her”. During her undergraduate years, Zara was a self-proclaimed “massive nerd” – despite her fair share of nights out in The Viper. She recalls how she fancied herself as a bit of an “indie kid” and laughs about how her feet were constantly wet as she stubbornly wore her converse everywhere. Surprisingly, she explains that she was shy at school and explains that her time at university was “a formative time” which did a lot for her confidence. 

The conversation flows to how she got involved in comedy back in 2011; I’m impressed when she explains that she was writing up her PhD at the time. She tells me about her first time on stage – performing a Lady Gaga parody about invasive crayfish at “Bright Club” in Edinburgh (a comedy night where researchers do stand-up about their work), and how this led to the scientist running her own “Bright Club” in Glasgow, at The Admiral Bar and then The Stand Comedy Club. It’s interesting to hear how her work in academic research has intersected with her work in comedy. “Comedy was a way of not just making people laugh but also making some of the weird and wonderful research going on in universities more accessible”, she tells me. She explains how this led her to her current job, Public and Community Engagement Manager at UofG, and tells me that her role largely focuses on enabling access to research which has an impact on society.

Not long before our chat, the Zoo-LOL-ogist had announced that both of her shows at the Glasgow International Comedy Festival 2024 had sold out. When I ask how this had made her feel, she says “excited, heartened, shocked, and terrified all at the same time”. This comes through when she tells me that “it can’t be shite, or I’ll never want to show my face in Glasgow again” – though I very highly doubt she has anything to worry about. Chatting more about her online stardom, she smiles and tells me that she is now recognised quite often – “by really nice people” – but also receives regular online abuse. Admirably, she tells me that she has been able to turn some of the abuse into material and has muted trolls, saying “not everyone will find you funny and that’s OK.”

She gives compelling advice for those who want to pursue a career in comedy: “Write what’s funny to you, not what you think people want to hear.” She notes the “gentle spaces” – such as the Drygate Comedy Lab, Material Girl, and Diversity Quota – which are available for starting-out comedians in Glasgow to try out their material, and praises initiatives like Kathleen Hughes’ Humour Mill. Turning to where her own inspiration has come from, she points to comedy legends such as Ilana Glazer, Limmy, Sharon Horgan, Catherine Cohen, Mawaan Rizwan, Kathy Burke, David O’Doherty, and Tim Key, and tells me that she “likes people who are uncompromising, disruptive, a bit silly, and hilarious, obvz.”

Though, when Zara isn’t spending her time being hilarious or ensuring research is publicly transparent, she is speaking up about the issues that are close to her heart. When I mention the times that she has tweeted in support of Palestine and striking university workers, she tells me that she wants to speak up for those who can’t. I’m impressed that she has spoken out rather than remained silent to avoid appearing controversial, and she tells me, in response, “it’s a tough old world and we should be looking out for each other.”

Before we wrap up, I ask Zara the clichéd final interview question: “where do you see yourself being in 5 years?”, and she closes our chat by telling me that she has never made a 5-year plan, and is enjoying making it up as she goes along. For now, she looks forward to the morning roll she will have later to cure her “mild wine hangover.”

Keep up with Zara on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok.


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