With a frank new book causing waves and a new tour on the go, stand-up star and writer Sara Pascoe talks to Jay Richardson about sharing highly personal experiences, and struggling to avoid a God complex.
Sara Pascoe reminds herself that she’s not Jesus.
The comedian has just published her first book, Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body, and reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.
A funny, frank and insightful exploration of sexual evolution and social conditioning, it’s equally a personal history that shares her experiences of selfharm, abortion and sexual consent.
By essentially “giving my diary to people … all my secrets”, she’s connected with readers who’ve had similar experiences, and recalls the response of one sexual violence victim.
“Reading books like mine have helped her in her journey to work out how she’s going to be happy again,” she explains.
“And part of me felt very touched that she could contact me. I felt that we had an intimate relationship because she’d read it and told me something about herself.
“That’s wonderful. And you get it with standup too, that joy when people connect with what you’re doing, something you do because you enjoy it. But at the same time, it’s almost absurd and I feel icky talking about it because it feels so self-aggrandising.”
"can you try and lighten this up a bit?" they asked me but I couldn't: https://t.co/67Mc3jwtEX
— Sara Pascoe (@sarapascoe) February 24, 2016
As an avowed “clown”, Pascoe’s natural inclination is to avoid pontificating. Or at least, to mock it by assuming an overblown, egotistical voice of authority.
“As a comic, you have to prune back [your relationship with the audience] and remember you’re supposed to be flippant and a bit distant” she reasons. “You can’t get carried away with thinking ‘oh, well done me!’
“And that’s what I’m wary of … starting to think ‘Oh God. I’m Jesus. I’ve made everything better!’”
Currently touring a new standup show, also called Animal, the former Edinburgh Comedy Award nominee explains that a few references to glowworms and pubic hair notwithstanding, there’s no crossover between the two, with the show focusing on exploring the limits of empathy and what it takes to be a good person.
“I’m really wary of overlapping too much material because that always annoys me when I’ve read a book and I’ve heard some of it before,” she says.
“There’s nothing worse than going ‘mate, you’re doubling up on this, you’re getting my money twice, and I want some fresh ideas please!’”
Researching the book proved revelatory:
“It changed my whole understanding of what it meant to be a human being and it’s made me relax.
“It’s made me forgive myself for behaviour like fancying people who aren’t my boyfriend, worrying about the future or not wanting to get married.
“A lot of it can be scientifically explained.”
She redrafted the passage about her abortion 18 times, striving to get to the truth without overdramatising. So now “something is purged, there’s always a record and I don’t think I could remember it differently”.
Right now, prose allows her to convey thoughts that standup can’t “because it has to be funny”.
“I’m really wary of going down a too didactic standup route or I’m just going to end up doing TED Talks and that’s not good enough.
“I can be ridiculous or nasty on stage if it’s funny. I don’t have to be responsible I’ve got books to do that.”
Despite her agent’s counsel…
“I was never not going to write about my abortion. It’s something I haven’t talked about in standup because I didn’t want to be flippant about it.
“But it is interesting because the morality of it is a grey area and it’s shaped my history.”
Although concerned about passages being taken out of context by the press, she ultimately reasoned that “it would be so sad to write a book and be honest, then skip a bit because you were worried about that”.
“I’m still like I was as a teenager, telling everyone I was pregnant and having an abortion.
“I’m still that person saying ‘we should talk about this more, I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.”
Advocating discussion as a prompt for change, she’s nevertheless found her once strong enthusiasm for becoming a politician wavering.
Performing at Labour fundraisers, she’s found herself sympathising with them.
“They’re so imprisoned, they have to be so wary of talking off the cuff.
“I can think out loud, contradict myself, say I used to think this, maybe, or now I think this. They have to be so strong about what they believe or say nothing.
“It’s like Daddy’s never wrong. We see always being right as a strength, even though it’s not a trait any human being has ever had. Which means they’ll go on defending wrong ideas rather than apologising. It’s a bit gross.”
There are plans to adapt Animal for a television documentary. And Pascoe has already started her next book, exploring the male body.
“I want to talk about status and masculinity, the sex industry, pornography,” she reveals.
“It will involve women more than Animal involved men. But concentrating on those wonderful, mysterious boys.”
At the same time, she’s also thinking about her 2017 Edinburgh Fringe show, an ambitious, “hightech rewrite” of the Bible no less.
“The trouble with morality is that when it’s written down, people change and it becomes out-of-date,” she says. “There hasn’t been a prophet for ages and a lot of the Bible isn’t applicable to our lives.
“So I’m going to update it. With a gospel choir!” She laughs.
“I keep comparing myself to Jesus and have to tell myself, ‘keep it on stage Pascoe, not in real life!’”
Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body is out now.
Sara Pascoe is on tour throughout June. For gig details and more information, visit her official site