As a student in the early 90s, I spent three summers working in the Edinburgh Fringe box office. At the time, one of the ‘must see’ new stand-ups was Jo Brand. She was blunt, in your face, could fell a heckler with a glare and was very, very funny.
Decades later she’s bordering on national treasure status – a title she loathes, preferring the term ‘national disgrace’ – and has branched out into acting, presenting and most notably writing. As well as the acclaimed series Getting On, Brand has written three novels, including The More You Ignore Me, recently made into a feature film, and has just published her fourth non-fiction book, Born Lippy, How To Do Female.
She talked to Kate Fox about her latest release at the RNCM as part of Manchester Literature Festival. Sauntering casually on to the stage in trademark black (she described Trinny & Susannah as malevolent witches), you immediately warm to her. Despite admitting that to get away with being grumpy you have to sweeten things by adding in the right amount of humour, Brand has lost none of her bite.
Writing an advice book seems a surprising move, and Brand admitted that she is a reluctant adviser, more in the ‘don’t do as I did’ category, and that advice is far easier to give than take. Meanwhile, the book covers a range of subjects such as keeping safe at night, how to make friends and how to stay a feminist.
Her mantra for getting through life is “lower your expectations” and in the course of an enjoyable conversation we learned that there’s nothing duller than listening to your friends talk about their kids, that her last period happened on Morrissey’s 50th birthday, and that having children later in life means that she feels more of a Mother/Gran mix. She also confessed she’d never do Strictly because she wouldn’t want to be “the jokey fat one shot out of a canon or dragged along the dancefloor by tank”.
Inevitably, politics crept into the chat. Donald Trump – “I think he’ll shoot himself in the foot eventually”; a second Brexit vote – “I’d like another referendum but I don’t necessarily believe there should be one”; and the NHS (Brand previously worked as a psychiatric nurse) – “lack of funding and staff will be even worse after Brexit”.
Brand has often been accused of being a man-hater but she explained that whatever topic she jokes about, first and foremost the gag has to be funny. She likes to drop in the c-bomb sparingly to give maximum impact and employs a scale of heckler put-downs that range from “whimsical to nuclear”, leaving everyone in stitches as she gave us an example of the latter.
In response to audience questions, she revealed there are no plans for more Getting On, that for many women going on TV panel shows is a bit of an ordeal, and that her best way of working is to write what she knows (“otherwise I’d have to do research and that’s really boring”).