This week for the BookBrunch interviews, I talk to comedian and author Sara Pascoe about feminism, comedy and her brand new book, Animal. You can find the full article, right here.
Comedian Sara Pascoe sits in a room at the Faber offices surrounded by piles of her new book, Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body. She speaks quickly, as if each of her thoughts are eager to be expressed first, and uses her hands expressively to illustrate her points.
We’re here to talk about Animal, but in our half-hour chat the conversation zips from feminism and publishing to empathy and burning orangutans, all set against the backdrop of her career as a comedian.
The process of writing
“I think there is a leap between comedy and writing,” Pascoe starts. “I think what happens is with comedy is that you do stand up and then people trust you to do other jobs, like acting in radio series or sitcoms. It’s quite a versatile job and, obviously, lots of other comics have written books before. If you write an Edinburgh show, that’s probably 6,000 or 7,000 words, so a book is just multiplying that by fifty. Writing Animal wasn’t like something that I hadn’t done before, but it was really magnified. It took a lot more time and effort. But I’ve always wanted to write a book, ever since I was really young.
“I always wrote diaries, so I was used to writing every day, that was how I dealt with things. When I started doing stand up, I realized I was writing diaries a lot less but I think that was because I started jotting things down, then going and talking about them on stage instead, but it’s a similar mechanism.”
The diary-writer is definitely present in Animal, which combines evolutionary history and autobiography to analyse the experience of modern women. Sections of the book are deeply personal, but Pascoe didn’t worry about that when she was writing it. “I don’t have those kind of filters. What’s in the book is what I would tell anyone after a glass of wine. I wasn’t searching myself for the truth, it’s the kind of stuff I would talk about on stage. It doesn’t feel too raw to me, but people do bring stuff up from the book – even people who I know – and I find it odd. Now, people I don’t know will know those things. I hadn’t quite figured that out.”
During the writing process, Pascoe didn’t keep a strict writing regime, but wrote around her shows, which she carried on despite advice to just focus on the book. “I needed that sanity at the end of the day. No matter how mad I felt, there was a gig and I was out of it in half an hour, then I could say to someone, ‘I’ve just been reading about child brides and I feel really sad.’ I ended up scribbling away in cafes, or on trains. I sometimes even put notes on my iPod. Then I started writing lying down – which is terrible – but I would lie down with a computer on my chest, like this!” she demonstrates in the air. “The really nice bit is after the deadline, because you don’t have that guilty feeling that you should be working. It felt really great to finish it!”
Beyond the writing, Pascoe also seems to have enjoyed the process of being published. “I think publishing is a fascinating world. It’s very civilized compared to comedy – not that comedy’s bad – but I think that people decide to work in publishing because it’s their dream. It’s really lovely to be around people who love books and audiences are so nice compared to comedy. I can’t believe how lovely everyone is,” she pauses. “But I do wonder that it’s such a middle class industry – comedy really isn’t – so the other thing I picked up on in publishing is, ‘We are basically in a Richard Curtis film.’ This is not the real world!”
Autobiography of a Female Body
The subject matter of Animal, on the other hand, is completely real. Pascoe has been interested in feminism, female sexuality and depictions of it, since she was a teenager. “I’d done an Edinburgh show, which had talked about sperm selection, women being written out of evolution, and women’s sexual choice being important. Everything else kind of spun out of those things, once I began to research and actually ask myself what these interests meant.
“What I found when I was reading stuff is that there was a lot of what I would call almost ‘neck up’ feminism, which kind of ignores that we’re animals and that we’ve evolved to behave in certain ways and that there are certain behaviours that maybe aren’t just choice. I knew that because I was going to end with consent, we were going to have to understand certain things along the way,” Pascoe explains, talking about her research process. “Sometimes you go down these dead ends, but everything comes back and informs. Other times you go off on these big tangents, but they helped you too. Sometimes you have to go a long way off track to get to what you mean.”
There has been a lot of discussion about how her work as a comedian has influenced her, but the subject seems unavoidable none-the-less. “I honestly always identified as a person. Although I would have called myself a feminist all through my teenage years, I very much felt like a human being. The odd thing about stand up is that people tell you you’re a woman every day and I don’t think there are many jobs where other people remind you of it like that. I’m sure most women are aware of their gender, but literally every room you walk into, someone will say, “Ah, there’s the woman!” It’s just so constant. Dissembling that has made me think so much more about gender, and what’s relevant about it. Which has ended up here. I think if I’d just been an actor, maybe I wouldn’t have been so concerned with it…” [READ MORE]