Comedian, TV presenter, author – and First Woman to win the prestigious Edinburgh Festival comedy award in its 15 year history.
Jenny speaks to ‘First Women’ from her home in London where, she assures us, ‘there are still no diamond-studded loo seats.’
‘I can still remember wining the Perrier’
It was a genuinely exciting moment. Yes, the fact that I was the first woman was at the front of my mind because the press had made such a hoo-ha about it.
I’d had a sneaking feeling the vote would go in my favour anyway because it was getting embarrassing that the panel had never picked a woman so far. Choosing men had become a habit and it was almost a foregone conclusion it would be a man again.
‘It doesn’t really matter if women don’t count me as an inspiration’
I wasn’t solely responsible for opening the door to women’s exposure in stand-up, but I had my shoulder against that door for quite some time, along with a pile of other women. Yes, sometimes I think ‘I did a lot of that spade work,’ but I was part of a team. I just got to the tape first.
‘My ‘First’ brought a sense of relief more than pride’
It was something I wanted, regardless of being female.
There wasn’t such a strong wave of feminism going on back then as there is now. Social media wasn’t around to highlight it all. I was just a woman doing my thing.
‘Paying a landlord is the biggest stifling element to creativity.’
I would never have had a career without the space and time my partner offered me. I still owe Geof rent from 1983.
‘Lots of women get married and have a baby and their careers fall apart’
Mainly because men won’t take the baby. I was lucky. Geof never stood in my way. I’d pass my baby to him on my way out of the door to a gig.
‘I never experienced any obstruction from my male peers’
All credit to the male comedians of the ’80s and ’90s – there was a lot of banter but no sexism. Comedy was a very ‘right on’ environment back then – I was amongst the likes of Mark Steel and Kevin Day. Sexism came from audience Neanderthals or cabbies who would ask: ‘what’s going on tonight?’ I am. ‘Oh. You sing then?’
‘Male peers didn’t exclude me – I excluded myself’
I was always very tense and self-conscious as a result of being at an all-girls school. I assumed I would be excluded backstage, but it was actually a very nurturing environment with many, very supportive blokes.
My generation was based around women being sexy to men, so for me it was quite a straddle to realise I was permitted to just be friends with them.
‘…But you have to keep up with the man banter ’
This dynamic was non-negotiable in my line of work because I had to cultivate the guts to do stand-up anyway. The alternative was to go home.
‘Women are allowed to do some things that men can’t – and that’s an advantage in this work’
For example, it’s not uncool for women to publicly declare their work ethic. We can also shamelessly turn up on time, but male comedians had to be seen to slope in two minutes before their gig. It’s also totally permissible for us to cry in the dressing room and to admit when things haven’t gone well on stage. Men can’t – and so have to blame the audience instead.
‘Learn to handle ‘down-time’ properly’
People under-estimate how miserable you can get if you have a lot of open-ended time. You have to watch the booze. And women especially have to mind the self-loathing and jealousy that can surface.
‘Successful women can suffer from an ‘undeserving’ tendency’
“Ooh – now I am the first woman to have won, everyone expects so much of me. Oh yes, they seem to be clapping and cheering but am I ACTUALLY performing an award winning show..? They’ll want more of me now because I am the winner…” etc, etc.
That’s the sort of thing running through your head!
‘As a solo stand-up you get used to relying on no one’
I do reach out sometimes, but after a bad gig I wouldn’t ever call another woman stand-up to talk about it.
‘What would I say to my 18-year old self from here?
Hmm. Keep plodding on. Oh – and don’t panic.
Stand-up, author and TV presenter, Jenny Eclair, First Woman to win the Edinburgh Festival Comedy Award
Find out more about First Woman Jenny Eclair here: http://www.jennyeclair.com/
Follow her on Twitter: @jennyeclair
Interview by Deborah Willimott