Great LezBritain: Interview with Sandi Toksvig

AE: We recently did an interview with Susan Calman and Jen Brister, and both named you as a comedy hero. These out comedians are few and far between so had you hoped that by this point of your career there would be more women out there doing it?
ST: I did think there would be more coming up behind me, yes. I really would love that and then I could go away and retire which would be my favourite thing to do.

AE: Would it really?
ST: Oh completely, I have absolutely had enough. I have so many other things that I would like to do, but there isn’t the time. Life is so interesting and exciting and actually doing the same thing over and over again doesn’t interest me nor does celebrity or fame I find all those things rather annoying.

But yes I would love there to be more women in comedy and when we do find one I fall upon their leg with glee and say you must come and work with us. And I think Susan Calman is fantastic. Thank God for a woman who is not just funny but who has opinions.

AE: This is not just true of comedy though is it? It’s a general issue?
ST: Well what happens quite often is that women are schooled to be a bit quieter and because we occupy less space physically, and unless you are a faux-man like Margaret Thatcher, politically we don’t do very well.

On the Supreme Court, only three women have served and one of the Senators once said to Sonia Sotomayor “Well I think we will make you a Supreme Court Justice as long as you don’t have a complete melt down.” Well what is she, a candle? What we are saying is it’ll be okay as long as you don’t become hysterical and female and I think that’s how we treat women in the political arena.

AE: But we live in a time now where many young women won’t call themselves feminists, they think that there is no longer a need …
ST:
I gave a talk last week on International Women’s Day, saying that if you think feminism is done then you are looking at the micro-environment you are in. If you go anywhere in the world like the Democratic Republic of Congo, rape is being used as a principal weapon of war then you would shout from the rooftops that you were a feminist. Of all the assets in the world that can be owned, such as buildings, housings only one percent is owned by women although women do 75 percent of the world’s labour these are not my statistics, these are the UN’s.

Sandi Toksvig with singer/songwriter Joan Armatrading

AE: You came out in 94…
ST: Yes but I didn’t know I had to. I thought that everyone knew but as far as the press was concerned, yes I did.

AE: How did you come out?
ST: In an article in the Sunday Times because the tabloid press were about to make a big deal out of it so I spoiled it for them. It is hard to imagine now, but I was told that my career would be over. But I am still here how annoying for the Daily Mail.

AE: You were certainly the first lesbian that we remember in the media — did you feel a pressure with that?
ST: Yes and I still do. I can’t tell you many times I’ve stood on stage at Stonewall events and been the only out woman and its tiring. I know lots of women who ought to come out, not that I am going to out them because I don’t believe in that, but I do feel sorry for them.

AE: Doesn’t it actually annoy you that these women won’t come out?
ST: Yes, but you can’t live people’s lives for them. I have a fantasy that we will all wake up one morning with a pink triangle above our heads and there would be nothing that anybody could do about it. I do think it is a bit boring now would you just be whoever you are.

I have to say though lately when I’ve been mentioned in the papers they have stopped putting lesbian in front of my name, which is good because often when I say things, I’m not being a lesbian, I’m just being myself.

AE: I think for the next generation coming through sexuality isn’t such a big deal. They have programmes like Skins with a celebrated lesbian relationship and these things all make a difference.
ST: It is the same for my kids and I hope that I have played a part in that. What did I have? Radclyffe Hall! (all laugh)

AE: It must have been scary coming out then, when Radclyffe Hall was your inspiration?
ST: Only because we had death threats. That wasn’t pleasant.

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