Interview: comedian Rosie Wilby on gays, gentrification and getting over unrequited love

By - Wednesday 25th February, 2015

Olivia Garner meets Rosie Wilby, Funny Women finalist, Radio 4 regular and Croydon LGBT month star

Rosie Wilby, Nineties Woman.
Photo by Rosie Wilby, used with permission.

Hi Rosie! Firstly, to start off, can you tell us a little about your show, Nineties Woman?

Well, it’s a show that I took to the Edinburgh Fringe last summer and it combines a bit of comedy, multimedia and storytelling.

The show was inspired when a couple of years ago I found a box of old copies of a newspaper that I was involved with at university twenty years ago. I decided to set about tracking down some of the other women who’d been involved in it, to find out about what they were doing now. I went on a bit of a detective mission.

How was performing on the Fringe? It must have been amazing

I’ve done Edinburgh Fringe quite a few times now but yeah, it is quite hectic and crazy going up there as a performer, not only doing your own stuff but often at other people’s shows and doing little guest spots. It’s fun, but it’s really full on!

The first time I went up there, I don’t think I realised just how exhausting and hard work it is when you’re promoting your own show – no managers, promoters or team around you.

I’ve always wanted to know how to comedians cope with the danger of doing live comedy and its unpredictability.

With my own solo show, people have thought, “Yes, that sounds good, I’ll go and see Rosie Wilby”, whereas when I’m taking part in a stand-up set with other acts, the audience doesn’t know what’s coming. It might be an audience that doesn’t like what you’re about or what you’re going to say. Sometimes just ploughing on with your material and doing it confidently is the best way, whereas with others it is about deviating from it and having a bit of a laugh with them. Sometimes even putting them down a little bit can be part of it, but I’m not into these really aggressive put-downs you sometimes see. I’d rather say something weird and confuse them!

Nineties Woman brings up feminism and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) issues and the history behind them. But that was the ’90s – how different is London now? 

I think in London in general we’re moving forward and we’re pretty lucky – but there are still pockets where gay people I know wouldn’t feel comfortable walking down the street hand in hand. But I think now we have same sex marriage, London feels like a much more progressive place.

We’re watching it all change at the moment, aren’t we? I lived for years in Peckham and now I’ve moved to Brixton and you can see there is gentrification and they’re smartening up and modernising. That does mean we can sometimes be in danger of losing some of our character, too.

Nineties Woman is one of many events across Croydon for LGBT month which is really raising the event’s profile. What’s your take on this?

I think that’s great. I’ve been aware of it for a good many years but then I would be as I am LGBT and I’m quite immersed in that community. I present an LGBT radio show on a station called Resonance, so I know two of the people that founded LGBT month a long time ago now. Much of it was initially based around raising awareness in schools so kids felt that they could talk about sexual identity. We still have some way to go towards equality, but we’ve achieved massive political change.

There’s this great slogan: “Some people are gay – get over it”. I have to joke about it because for years I was in love with a straight woman and for me a good slogan would would have been: “Some people are straight – get over that!”

It is some people’s perspective that in the ’90s, whilst there were big advancements in acceptance of gay men, lesbianism was far less visible: do you agree?

Gay women always, in a sense, face two barriers. If you are gay and a woman then there are two reasons why you might experience prejudice. To some extent, it might double the issues you come across.

I think what’s interesting about paralleling the LGBT campaign in the early nineties and the feminist cause is how much progress LGBT rights has made in such a relatively short space of time while to some extent the feminist movement has lost its way. The LGBT cause has come forward but women may feel that feminism hasn’t done so because there are so many areas where women are still not equal – equal pay, for example.

So what is next for you – any projects in the pipeline?

There’s another fairly new show that I’ve been touring which in the last few years called Is monogamy dead? It’s based on a survey I did about people’s relationships and what types of relationships we have – not just about sexual fidelity but also emotional monogamy, how friendships and relationships cross over and the grey areas between.

I’ve always got lots of things coming up – for example, a memoir I’m writing that was shortlisted in a writing competition so I hope to finish that off and publish. So yep – lots of things coming up!

Rosie Wilby, Nineties Woman is on at the Spread Eagle theatre in Katharine Street on Friday 27th February at 7:30pm. Tickets cost £10. For information, click here

Olivia Garner

Olivia Garner

I am a History graduate who has just moved back to Croydon from Bristol. I joined the Citizen for a chance to write about events within my home town whilst continuing my love for writing post-university. I am also currently working on a historical novel based upon my dissertation research.

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