FEATURE JENNY ECLAIR
The trauma ol~ turning 30 proved the making ol‘ Perrier Award- winning comedian Jenny Eclair. Ian Watson asks what‘s so funny about that.
ot tnany people t‘eel the need to ask ‘Who is Jenny liclair'." these days. Alter winning the l‘NS Perrier
Award. the peroxide blonde comedian has been labelled everything from "l‘he most
outi'ageotis woman in Britain‘ to ‘Slapper superstar and scold supreme’. and it‘ you‘re not in the habit ol~ trusting the British press. there‘s always one ot’ the gal’s own descriptions to go
with. How does 'the rotting old whore of
comedy‘ or ‘a hit ot~ spunk bucket' sound'.’ That should leave nothing to the imagination.
But who is behind the tool-mouthed stage presence 0i. Jenny liclait‘. about to grace the Scottish stage again'.’ ller creator. Jenny Hargreaves. had a classic army upbringing.
during which she attended a succession ol‘
schools thanks to her l‘atl‘tet"s prol’ession and quickly settled into the role ol‘ noisiest child in the classroom. Years later. Hargreaves views this as the ﬁrst expression or an attention- seeking nature and a genetic penchant l'or pert‘ormance and drama.
"l'he theatre is in my blood.‘ she says. ‘.\ly grandl‘ather used to do acrobatics tor a living on Blackpool sands and he went on to become the Mr Big lawyer in Blackpool. My brother and
sisters are barristers and that is just showing oil
and shouting. My grandmother was one oi the
Bluebell girls. bttt she got married and went mad.~
Hargreaves remembers wanting to be an
actress at the age ot l'our. attracted to the image
(it l'emale stars leading leisurely lives. ller early
stage career was erratic. beginning with a part as
a rich girl in a Brownies play -— the yottng
Hargreaves enjoy ed it because she got to
wear her red velvet best dress — and
continuing with a directionless stint at
drama school playing ‘dying girls‘ in
amateur dramatic plays. The former punk poetess
speaks ol‘ the launch oi her
lil‘e as a stand-up
18 The List 33 Feb-7 Mar 1096
comic: ‘l was very unfocused in tny twenties. I wasn't very pushy and l meandered along doing it casually. l was sponging ol't' my boyfriend. so it wasn’t necessary for me to make money because he was much older and had a nice Hat and had Jags and things like that. I used to sit in the passenger seat and he did the driving. which is very symbolic ot' my lit‘e.’
During the late l‘)t\‘()s. Hargreaves was also having to come to terms with being one of the l‘ew- women in the male—dominated comedy scene. This is where the character of Jenny liclair began to evolve. ‘liven though I didn‘t work very hard during the week at thejob. when
‘You either give up at 30 and go for that remorseful, defeated thing or you flare up against it and turn into Lucille Ball.’
I got on stage I was just this l’renetic bttndle of woman —- and there’s nothing worse than seeing a woman try really hard.‘ she shudders. ‘It was also very hard then because people weren't relaxed when a woman walked on the stage. I was young. so I‘d get a lot of t‘lak and the del'ence mechanism would rear tip and that’s when you say something really rudejust to shut everyone up.‘
With the elements ot‘ the liclair personality in place -— a naturally la/y nature. a love ol~ ‘girly humour" and a willingness to shock with prot’anity — Hargreaves just needed a catalyst to l‘use them. She got two: the birth ol~ her daughter and a mini mid-lite crisis when she turned 30. ‘You get these kicks in the teeth that remind you time is running out.‘ she say s. ‘I developed an anxiety about death just bel‘ore my daughter was born and I had a hit ol‘ panic at 30 and decided to reinvent myseil‘. You either give up at 30 and go l’or that remorsel‘ul. det‘eated thing or yott lilare up against it and turn into Lucille Ball. I actually l‘ound it very liberating and now l‘m
just so old that I don‘t give a shit anymore.’
llargreaves's new'l'ound attitude inspired her to co-write two hit plays —- ."llummyk Little Girl and T/IU'I_\‘.\'()I)l('/I()lt' — and to turn her liclair character into the grotesque ‘pantomime damc' that won her the l’errier last year. However. in what looks like being her tnost important year yet. contentment still eludes her.
‘l‘m the guiltiest (ii any criticism of t'emalc comedy and I think I should amend that.‘ she says. "l’he boundaries have been broken and it’s time tor a l'emalc Jack Dee. a t‘emale liddie l/Iard. a l'emalc l.ee livans. l don't want to change totally. but the ‘most outrageous woman’ thing is a very cumbersome tag. especially when it‘s just what you talk about with your girllriend on a daily basis. I have a male co-writer now and I‘d like to do some physical stul‘l‘. I don‘t know what to do. but I want to broaden my scope.‘
All that lies in the t'uture. however. The present sees her combining an outrageously successl‘ul national tottr with increasing amounts ol"l'V work. ‘l‘ve just done a Channel 4 thing called If] ll’mz' l’rimc .l’li/iistw'.’ she concludes. ‘I wanted amnesty l'or middle-aged l'emale shoplil'ters —- and one man. one shed. livery man over the age of 25 should have somewhere he can go and drink lager and read sol't porn. And John Major has to have an al‘l‘air. It‘s all part of my 'Make This (‘ountry Sexy Again’ campaign.‘
Vote liclair. You know it makes sense.
.lcmrv lie/air is at the Queen 3‘ Ila/l. [Climbing/i on .S'utum’uy 3 .llun'ii. Sec ('omcz/y listings.