Jo Brand is a woman with staying power – she’s been on our radar for the best part of three decades and the media have cast her as everything from man-hater to national treasure during that time.
She’s no man-hater, of course. And she’d prefer to “maintain a decent taint of national disgrace” than be a national treasure.
The comedian recently hit the headlines when she rebuked Have I Got News For You panellist Ian Hislop for not taking sexual harassment seriously enough.
Brand, who was hosting the show, said: “As the only representative of the female gender, it doesn’t have to be high level [harassment] for women to feel under siege in somewhere like the House of Commons. And for women, if you’re constantly being harassed, even in a small way, that builds up. And that wears you down.”
We asked Brand about that moment, the #MeToo backlash, Strictly Come Dancing – and if it’s OK to ogle men in wet shirts.
1. She wasn’t expecting the reaction to her takedown of Ian Hislop on HIGNFY.
“I was surprised [by the reaction]. I get on really well with Ian but I really disagreed when he went: “Some of this is not high level crime, is it? [in response to some headline examples regarding allegations about MPs’ behaviour].
“It’s far easier to get a strong point across if you deliver it in an understated way rather than if you get up, punch someone in the side of the face and say: ‘This is what I want to say.’
“I think it came across so much better the way I delivered it. My daughters couldn’t believe it because I trended on Twitter for the day – they were like ‘OMG!'”
2. #MeToo – it’s only just begun
“The thing that does really hack me off a bit, is [the attitude of]: ‘Yeah, you’ve done the Me Too thing now.’ Well, excuse me, you’ve had, like, hundreds of centuries of you being in control, you can’t say you’re fed up with something we brought up a year ago. This is yours to listen to for the next five centuries!”
She adds: “The males that aren’t great make the most noise so it’s very easy to think there aren’t any nice men around who respect women and, of course, there are millions of them but they just… don’t shout about it.”
3. Take her advice at your peril
Brand’s latest book is titled Born Lippy: How to Do Female. She covers a variety of topics ranging from keeping safe on a night out, how to make friends, handling road rage and how to stay being a feminist.
Despite this, Brand describes herself as “a reluctant adviser”.
She says: “I don’t really like advice books, so how come I’ve ended up in this situation where I’m giving advice? There’s very much a caveat with mine – please ignore it, in fact, I’d prefer it if you did!
“Also, if I just say some of the awful things I did, that’s hopefully information enough to say: ‘Crikey, I’d better not do that then!'”
4. Her book tackles serious subjects between the humour
Brand reveals that when she walks home alone after a night out, she keeps her house key in her hand, pointed outwards, just in case she is attacked.
She says: “It may make you think when you’re walking home in the dark: ‘I might get my key out and poke it in someone’s eye!’
“I’d like to have a gun, I know I shouldn’t say that. I think I’d be a very responsible user of a gun. It’s kind of a ridiculous fantasy. There are certain times when you feel that you need more than a key that you can poke at someone to protect yourself.”
5. Being a female comedian hasn’t changed that much
“I think on stage, unless you perform in a certain sort of arena, as a woman you’re still going to get that attitude really from ‘women aren’t funny’ to ‘stupid slag’. I don’t think it’s changed that much, to be honest.”
6. Men – don’t steal our jokes!
Brand was making jokes about periods long before it became ok to talk about menstruation in public – indeed, if it is OK, even now.
“I think people kind of laughed because they couldn’t quite believe I said it. But I thought: ‘I’ve said it, well, good.’
“About 10 years ago, male comedians started talking about periods as if they’d gone: ‘Oh, this is a good area for us to explore.’ I thought it was nicking stuff off women really. A bit of bandwagon jumping. ‘You’ve run out of Star Trek jokes, have you?’
“I cannot bear it when men do jokes about women’s body hair. ‘Oh, she’s got a nice beard’ or whatever. That’s not yours to do that about and it’s humiliating for women to hear you saying that.”
7. Ogling men is not her bag
“Personally, I never do that ogling thing, I just find it uncomfortable when men do it to women and when women do it to men. When men go to see strippers, there’s an unpleasant, lascivious, blank-eyed stare that they do.
“Women go and have a laugh because they’re pushing those boundaries, whereas I think for men it has a very different quality to it, it’s unsettling. If women want to ogle men, go ahead but it’s not my thing.
“It really annoyed me that thing with Colin Firth getting out of a pond with a wet shirt on in Pride and Prejudice. I’m not saying he didn’t look alright… but I just thought: ‘Please let’s not go down that route, it’s bad enough men have gone down that road.'”
8. She doesn’t actually like cake
“I don’t really [like cakes],” the host of Great British Bake Off’s Extra Slice and former host of Jo Brand Through the Cakehole confesses.
“The reason I used to say I loved cakes in the old days was because fat people aren’t supposed to have eaten cake and admit it in a gloriously joyful way. You’re supposed to be ashamed. I used to try to wind people up with that.”
9. She won’t be doing Strictly any time soon (and she’s been asked a LOT)
“I think it just eats your soul. I’ve been asked to do it quite a few times, I asked Colin Jackson what it’s like. He said the problem is that one or two people take it really seriously and then everyone feels like they have to. So you’re not doing your expected five hours a day, there’s people getting there at 5am and working til 7 or 8 at night.
“And I would just worry that I’d be forced into having an affair with one of the male dancers. They’re not really my cup of tea!
“I do actually quite like dancing but the other thing I’d worry about would just be having to be the Anne Widdecombe figure fired out of a cannonball. ‘Oh, here’s the fat, hilarious one.’ Well, I like to think I am fat and hilarious but possibly not in a dancing competition.”