For all of Jenny Eclair’s brilliant off-the-cuff jokes, insights into novel writing and insider stories on her experience of becoming a successful standup comedian, there is one image from this terrific evening that every member of the audience will take to their graves. The knees. Dear God, the knees…
From the moment she raced onto the Opera House stage like a typhoon, it was clear that an hour in her company would be a blast. In principle, guests at this Festival are here to promote their latest book, but when that guest has a brain that fires in a dozen directions at once, why bother. Why bother talking about her fifth novel Inheritance when she’d rather describe the round of applause she got from the top deck of the 176 bus stopped outside her house as she walked round naked.
Although Jenny was interesting on writing – when host Naomi Frisby managed to steer the subject back to the book – it was the asides that were the most telling and funny. Such as describing her haphazard plotting as “like a knitting pattern that accidentally made a jumper.” Or how a comedian’s inherent powers of observation means that she poaches bits of people she knows to make her characters, and then takes great delight in telling her paranoid sister that none of the characters are based on her because she’s not interesting enough.
Full of opinions – such as motherhood being boring, a mention of The Vagina Monologues being punctuated with a huge yawn, and that typing qualifies as cardio – the most surprising may have been that Jenny hates funny books, because she hates a book telling the reader where to laugh. So her novels are nothing like her standup – which led to a tweet from a reader informing Jenny that she’s bought one of her novels in an airport and “you ruined my holiday.”
Okay, let’s talk about the knees. Inheritance is dedicated to Jenny’s father, whose main inheritance from him is her knees, “which look like turnips.” Having once skinned a knee falling off a gym treadmill, she showed a friend who gasped at how swollen it was – only to be shown the other, equally bulbous knee. She rolled up her trousers. We saw the knees. I know that this is a Festival of Words, but right now they have failed me.
WORDS: ANDREW DAVEY
PICTURES: PETER MOURANT