Jenny Eclair is feeling a mixture of excitement and sadness as she finishes her hugely successful tour of How To Be A Middle Aged Woman (Without Going Insane). She talked to Pippa Duncan about life on stage
I last interviewed Jenny Eclair when she was rehearsing her role as the Fairy Godmother in the panto, Cinderella, at Richmond Theatre. I know from experience that she talks at the speed of lightning and, true to form, she’s off from the minute we say hello and only pauses momentarily when she suddenly realises she’s got her top on inside out.
’Ah, panto. That was great fun, but totally gruelling. You do up to three shows a day and you can’t believe the level of tiredness. Really, the next level is death.’
Jenny is preparing for the final three dates of her stand-up show, How To Be A Middle Aged Woman (Without Going Insane), the last one being at the Rose Theatre, Kingston in February. The 100-date tour – in which she talks about the ups and downs of middle age and how to deal with what life throws at you without becoming a complete 50-something basket case – has been incredibly successful. She says it’s because, rather than sharing a stage and saying lines, she much prefers working alone: ‘Stand up is really my thing. I’m much better working by myself, with my words on my own show.’
That doesn’t mean she isn’t always prepared to try something new. She’s done everything from I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here to presenting on This Morning and Loose Women and has even dived off a board into cool waters in the TV series, Splash. She’s also written a number of novels – ‘The last one’s completely stalled though’ – and, of course, she is well known for her Grumpy Old Women stage shows.
But her favourite is stand up. What makes her stand up alone on stage and keep talking for two hours? ‘Arrogance. I just feel like this is what I do, what I’m good at. That is until somebody tells me I’m not, then I’ll go away and crawl under the sofa. But I crave the audience’s reaction.
‘When I start a show, I’ll play at places like the Headliners Comedy Club at the George IV pub in Chiswick to fine-tune it – small venue, comedy-friendly audience and they’ve only paid a fiver to see me. Then I’ll work my way up to bigger audiences. I’m sure there are people who witnessed the early shows of How To Be…and can’t believe it survived.
Having got to the age of 57 and been stepping up on stage for decades, she knows what works and what doesn’t. ‘I’ve learned I can be the wrong act in front of the wrong audience – and standing up as the after-dinner speaker at a corporate event with 600 men doesn’t work. A female audience who get what I’m saying, yes, but not a bunch of men who don’t. It’s taken me a long time to admit that.’
Middle age isn’t treating her too badly, she thinks: ‘I don’t get hot flushes because I’m on HRT, but I get a lot of rage. I can get angry at anything. But it’s also given me a lot a of empathy – no woman gets to this age without going through hard times.’
So what does 2018 hold for Jenny? ‘Well, I wouldn’t mind a sit down. You know, one of those quiz shows where they give you all the answers into your earpiece. But as that’s not going to happen, I’ll be doing a new Grumpy Old Women show.’ I can’t wait.
Jenny Eclair is at the Rose Theatre Kingston on 1 February. rosetheatrekingston.org
Find more features at livinginmagazines.co.uk/features