Rocky Horror Show

Sara Pascoe Thinks Your Vegan Jokes Aren't Funny

18 September 17 interview: Hazel Ward

Jane Austen comes over all funny this September in Sara Pascoe’s humorous and feminist take on Pride and Prejudice. We chatted with the comedian when she landed at Notts Playhouse for a preview...

There’s been loads of adaptations of Pride and Prejudice. What are you going to bring to yours?
The very first thing when I was talking to the theatre in the first place was about making sure it was really, really funny. There are lots of brilliant adaptations – television and film adaptations as well. And there’s things that come afterwards that I’d call the disrespectful adaptations where they’re zombies and all these different imaginings. And you have Pemberley from the servant’s point of view. We wanted to go back. There’s some brilliant jokes in there and some brilliant character assassinations and some brilliant universal truths about society and how we all behave. I think that’s why they chose a comic to write it, to make sure it was as funny as the book. Some of the stage adaptations have been quite dry. There’s a lot of story, and a lot of letter writing. When I looked at how I wanted to get this on stage – you don’t have what you would have on a film set – you suddenly think, oh dear of course, you have to explain this whole situation that doesn’t happen on stage. So that’s the first thing. The jokes.

Do you consider Austen a feminist in herself?
I think it’s really complex because what we now think of as feminist didn’t exist then. It was in a different form. Do I think she thought men and women were equal? I do. And also I think in that way she was a feminist. I think she sees men and women as being equally flawed, and also she was very aware of the different pressures they had from their society that formed them. But at the same time I don’t think she was an anarchist who was trying to topple things, I think she was very astute in how she saw things if that makes sense.

You’ve read a lot of Austen then?
At university I hadn’t read any. I did an English degree and didn’t read any Victorians. It was reading for pleasure after university that I then wished id studied her at university because I think I’d have had a lot to say about her. She’s so accessible and so easy to read.

Who is your least favourite character?
I have moments where I really don’t like Emma as a character. I think now, everything’s been obliterated by Pride and Prejudice for me. They feel so much more real because I’ve spent so much more time with them. I’ve got a real thing for Lady Catherine de Bourgh; a love hate thing. I think I respect her so much because she has this entitlement and this arrogance, and it’s so rare to get arrogance in a woman. And I hate making that kind of binary, but you don’t. I think it’s because arrogance is not confidence but it’s a belief in yourself based on no evidence. Lady Catherine de Bourgh believes she can do everything, things she hasn’t done. It’s so exciting.

And that’s why when Elizabeth finally stops her it’s awesome.
That’s exactly it. Putting that on stage that moment where she’s like, no you don’t have the power to control me.

What about favourite?
I’ve fallen in love with Jane in Pride and Prejudice in a way I didn’t expect to. Some adaptations show the girls as being very nice and 2D, and I don’t think Jane or Elizabeth are nice or 2D. I think they are as tear away as their younger sisters, but it’s scary to show that on screen because it’s easier to show them as ladies, but I don’t think they are ladies. I think Jane is better at supressing her feelings, but there has to be an element of savagery to them so that they are judges so harshly by Bingley and Darcy. I really like Jane, I think because she feels very deeply but doesn’t show it, so there’s a real tragedy to that. But at least it all comes out happy for her.

You’ve been to Notts before. What are your favourite places to go to?
I think it’s a really lovely place to come to because it’s a really nice sized city and lots of lovely shops. I’m vegan too so there’s loads of places for me to eat, and you’ve got lots of culture going on. The first time I ever came there was a beach in the square. I love that you have things like that. And Glee Club for comedy, and there used to be a Jongleurs. And lovely places to tour to so it’s pretty good for a comedian.

And you were a tour guide, right? What was your most memorable moment of that career?
There were lots of moments where you meet people – because you’re so familiar with a place, you get people that ask you really stupid questions. Questions that are so stupid you don’t know how they exist. Things like once an American family were really excited when we got to Buckingham Palace, and they didn’t understand that you couldn’t just knock on the door and ask if the queen was in. and they didn’t understand that you can’t get inside it. They were like we’ll go and just knock. And once the guy got off at Covent Garden, and he was like “Right, that’s where Stonehenge is.” No not in the garden! He was like, no, don’t worry, I’ll find it.

And people ask stuff like, where’s the Eifel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. And then you remember that 99% of Americans don’t have a passport. And if they do travel, it’s something like 60% of people come to London. But you can’t fathom that people get through their life without knowing those things.

What was Taskmaster like?
It was very different to what I thought. It’s a very clever show because the bit where you go and record all the tasks in the house is what I imagine being home-schooled is like. You have lots of crayons and lots of time, and an entire crew looking after you. You get to choose what everyone has for lunch, so you’re this spoilt little child. And also, you don’t know how anyone else has done on the tasks, but because they want you to be happy, they’re like, “Well done, Sara, you’re doing so well!” so you’re grinning all day thinking, “I’m winning this programme, I’m doing so well.” Then when you have to watch it back and you see how rubbish you did, it was really humiliating. It is fun though, Greg Davis calling you a prick all the time. But I thought I was really clever!

Who are you a fan of in the current UK comedy scene?
It’s really flourishing. Especially in an economic downturn. I think TV has created a whole load of other stuff for comics to do. Like task master, you’re not using your material. But also the live scene, comedy is quite a cheap night out. Tickets for a tour show are usually £12/£13 which is the same or cheaper than the cinema, and less than a theatre show, for obvious reasons, so audiences are still coming to see stuff. Joe Lycett and Aisling Bea and Katherine Ryan and Roisin Conaty are kind of my friends, but I’d go and see them do anything. Finn Taylor did an amazing show at Edinburgh last year all about white liberal people which was really exciting and I can’t wait to see his new show. And Lolly Adefope who just did Taskmaster as well. She does characters and she’s a fantastic actor.

You’ve just been made an advocate or patron for Animal Aid. Do you feel extra pressure to be the perfect vegan with that?
I think part of aging is accepting that you’re not gonna be perfect. There are lots of people who would like to eat less meat. They’re aware that the meat industry treats animals in a really horrific way. But they also need their protein or their feeding their family, they have lots of reasons. I think it’s difficulty because if you want the industry to improve, or you want farming to improve, you want the people who are buying meat to be buying from better sources. And in terms of veganism, lots of people when they try it think they’re gonna be really hungry and sad and weak. But a lot of people find that you really have to concentrate on what you’re gonna eat and you have to try different things and find flavour from different places. It can be really creative. And sometimes I think being openly flawed about stuff – I’m not a perfect vegan and being open about that, other people can go, “If I got drunk and ate a chocolate bar during Veganuary, I don’t have to quit it, it’s just something that happens.”  It’s still so much better for animals. There’s a lot of angry people that join things like veganism and political movements, that you think would be about love, and they just do a lot of shouting. Most people are trying to be good in their way.

I’m a vegan, so I've seen the angry vegans...
There’s been a thing really with the left and a lot of abuse coming from the left. The only time I’ve got death threats it’s been from vegans. And it’s very strange, but they’ve just done loads of studies about it, and it’s called small discrepancy anger, so people are much more likely to get abuse from people who believe the same thing as you, but slightly differently, than someone who thinks entirely differently to you.

What are you tired of being asked about being a vegan?
I don’t mind talking about it at all, unless someone is asking me a rhetorical question. So if they want an actual question answered, I don’t mind. But sometimes they ask a question that’s actually a statement. So when people ask, “Where do you get your protein?” there’s a way of asking that that is like, genuinely “I know that a diet has to consist of carbs, fats and proteins, and what you always hear is that it’s difficult to get those things without eggs, meat, fish and cheese, so where would you get it from?” And then you can explain that so easily. I will have as much protein as you, and it’s not just in those things. But someone else might say, [antagonistically] “Yeah, but where do you get your protein?” I’m the healthiest person you will meet. When I started comedy, I had people saying that I was too fat to be a vegan, because they had a thing in their head that vegans were weak and skinny. But there’s so much food to eat. Especially now. You can be a real pudding vegan. You can be exactly the same. It’s just a plant-based diet. In terms of being representative, in terms of being on TV I try not to make the jokes that are about self-sacrifice. “I can’t have that because I’m this.” I try and show that I just get a different version.

You talk a lot about feminism and veganism. What’s your approach for combining humour with things that have very serious aspects?
With feminism it’s quite easy because there are lots of things that are more light-hearted. You can talk about things like, an advert for a razor blade. I’m doing the opposite actually, in my new show. I’m talking about the fact that some people think it’s romantic that a man pays for dinner, and where that comes from. Or the idea that men are told not to cry. I’m looking at gender in a slightly different way. Usually there’s things that you find interesting, and if you find a way to be sarcastic about it, or turn it on its head then you can talk about it, and if you can’t find a funny way then you can’t. I very rarely do jokes about being a vegan because I’m never anti-earnest about it. I don’t think animals dying is funny. I’m just really over sensitive about it.

How do you feel about people having free access to pick through parts of your personal life that’s you’re shared in your books and shows? How do you cope with any negative feedback, particularly online?
I really shut myself off from negative feedback. There’s very few ways that someone could actually contact me. They would have to try so hard. They’d have to say it to me in real life. And I think people tend not to because when you’re aware that someone is a person in real life, you don’t want to say horrible things to them. And when you’re in any job there’s feedback, you get constructive feedback. There’s a difference between hatred and someone saying, “I really responded to this,” or “Actually, this left me really cold.” I had an interview the other day with a woman, it was in front of an audience, and she wanted to open by reading out my bad reviews. It’s such an odd thing that people think that’s going to be funny, or your response is going to be funny. When actually, why wouldn’t your feelings be hurt, you’re a normal person. And sometimes when you’re trying to make work, the thing that happens with feedback or reviews, it gets in your head and you think “Oh, that person won’t like this. That’s the thing about being an artist, when you say no, I still want to make this no matter who doesn’t like it.

You’ve talked about gender in the past – what are your current thoughts on your own gender, and gender in general?
I think there’s a lot of really interesting discussion going on about gender binary in general. I very much identify as a woman, and I think I’m shaped by how society treats someone who identifies as a woman. But I’m at a slightly different age now, I mean I’m not menopausal, but also, I haven’t had children and I might not have children. So different things come up from having a female body, but it’s not a drastic change or anything. I’m writing a book about the male body at the moment, and power and masculinity, and that means that I’ve been completely consumed the other way, and all I’m concentrating on are the messages that our culture gives men and masculinity. I’ve been watching a lot of reality television which has been incredible, because a lot of the conversations are quite superficial, there’s a lot of “Well that wasn’t very manly” or “He needs to man up,” or “He needs to grow some balls.” I’m watching Love Island, I don’t know if you can tell. I love it so much. There’s a lot of “I need a man who does this…” And thinking about young boys watching it, in a way that three years ago I would think about how young women are being affected…

It’s frightening when you think about the messages that are aimed at men.
Yeah. And really destructive and unhelpful.

So your new Edinburgh show, Lads, Lads Lads, is described as a yearlong stag doo. What’s that about?
I broke up with my boyfriend in December, and you have to do your blurb for Edinburgh in January. The show is in August. So whatever you write is always a bit off. I had this idea that I was going to do all these different things by myself; I went to Paris on Valentine’s Day and I was going to go to Las Vegas and have my own hen doo. But it’s actually really changed. It’s now more about the messages we’re giving to men, alongside working out how to live life if you’re not party of a couple; looking at things from another point of view. And really, it’s about beginning a journey to be happy with someone else. I’ve always been in a relationship my whole adult life.

Pride and Prejudice is at Nottingham Playhouse from Friday 15 to Saturday 30 September 2017.

Nottingham Playhouse website

Motorpoint Arena

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