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The A to Z of Wendy Wason

This is very dangerous," Wendy Wason tells me when I suggest we do an A to Z of her life.

Wendy Wason juggles twin careers as a stand-up comedian and actor, appearing recently in BBC drama Sherlock. Photographs: Paul Stuart
Wendy Wason juggles twin careers as a stand-up comedian and actor, appearing recently in BBC drama Sherlock. Photographs: Paul Stuart

"We're going to be here for hours. I feel like I have to warn you. You know how much I talk." Well, indeed. She makes a living from it. For those not in the know, an introduction. Wendy Wason is 41, was raised in Edinburgh and lives in London with her second husband and her three children. When she's not acting she's doing stand-up (and sometimes blogging for Herald Scotland). She's been coming to Edinburgh for the Festival since 2001. Anything else you need to know you'll find out in her own words and by the letter.

A IS FOR AUDIENCES

"What's the ideal audience? See, I used to think it was a massive sell-out audience. But I just like people who turn up and join in. I was talking to one comic who suffers quite badly from queue envy. Queue envy is when you look at all the people queueing up to get into another venue and you think: I wish that was my young, hip, cool audience.' I don't have that. As long as people turn up and get involved, I don't really mind."

B IS FOR BEGINNINGS

"I was born in Durban in South Africa. I was there until I was three. I have no memories of it but I have a terror of snakes. My mum reckons it's because she left me in a pram and when she came out of the shop she saw a black mamba leaving the pram. I don't know if I had some kind of Harry Potter face-off with a black mamba when I was really little."

B IS FOR BEAUTY

"Having a daughter, we talk a lot about what beauty is. Beauty's definitely not the way you look. There's a lot more to it. I got boobs and a bum by the age of 12 and it was quite difficult looking like a woman and having the mind of a kid. When I was young it was Kate Moss and heroin chic and I wasn't like that. I was always curvy and Mum showed me Marilyn Monroe and said, 'Look, that's the sexiest woman who ever lived and she's got boobs and a bum.'"

C IS FOR COMEDY …

"I wanted to do stand-up for a long time. I worked at the Gilded Balloon when I was 17 selling tickets and I thought I'd love to do it. It was always something I meant to try. And then when my middle boy was six weeks old I realised, 'If I don't give this a shot now I'm never going to do it'. After you've grown a second human you think: 'I can do anything.'"

… and CLASS

"It's cooler to be working-class than it is to be middle-class but everyone wants the comfort of middle class. You hear the Oasis boys banging on about being working-class. 'You live in a mansion in St John's Wood; you don't count as working-class any more, You know how much a bottle of Cristal costs. That's not working class.'"

D IS FOR DIVORCE

"I was five when my parents got divorced. They had quite an acrimonious divorce and didn't speak to each other and I remember when I got divorced from my first husband and we went for family therapy for counselling and the woman said: 'How old were you when your parents get divorced?' I went: 'Five.' 'So,' she said, 'the same age as your little girl.' And I just went: 'Oh no, history repeating itself.' But it's funny. Lots of people are divorced now. It's quite common at my kids' school and my ex-husband and my husband and I put a lot of effort into making it easy for the kids. Because I know what it's like to be the kid wanting the two people you love most in the world to get on."

E IS FOR EDINBURGH

"I do see going to Edinburgh as going home. It's weird when you don't live where you come from, because I miss it. But then London is my children's home. I call Edinburgh home but I know I can't be 100 per cent Edinburgh because I like the Festival."

F IS FOR FEMINISM

"Feminism used to be a bad word. I remember feminism being Germaine Greer and shouty women and burning bras and thinking: 'I don't hate men. I've kissed quite a few of them, I definitely don't hate them.' I've come to it later on and now I'm definitely a feminist.

"With the advent of online pornography there's a lot of stuff out there kids don't know how to police. So they watch online porn and they use it as a lesson: the women are available and the men are demanding. The construct is really misogynist. I think there are things you need to learn within the confines of a loving relationship."

G IS FOR GENDER

"If I'd known how sensitive little boys were in my 20s I'd have been far nicer to them. Little girls are quite robust and recover quickly. Little boys are a lot more brooding than I knew, and they nurse their hurt."

H IS FOR HEALTH

"In LA my husband collapsed on the sidewalk and ended up in hospital. I wasn't sure he was covered, so with every new procedure he got given I was like, 'Oh my God, can we afford this?' And you never want to be in a position where the person you love is lying there staring death in the face and you're going, 'No, don't give him a transfusion. We can't afford it.'

"This is what my show is about. I'm hoping it's going to be funny but the message is quite serious because I experienced what a society is like without universal health care and it's terrifying.

"What the Government is doing to the NHS is unbelievable and I feel someone should be saying something about what's happening, about the fact that all our medical records have been sold so they can figure out the most profitable illness and make money off it."

I IS FOR INDEPENDENCE

"My heart says Yes and my head says No. My heart says Yes means freedom. I worry that we think we're Norway but we're actually Ireland."

J IS FOR JOY

"I do find joy in lots of things. I find joy in the kids. I find joy in people falling over."

K IS FOR KIDS

"The challenge of being a single mum is it's really, really lonely. And the buck stops with the mummy. If Daddy can't pay child support that month children have to eat, you have to find it. I was a single mum down here and my family were all up in Scotland so I had to rely on friends taking kids for sleepovers if I had a long drive to gigs, because if I'm paying for a babysitter from six o'clock to one in the morning I might as well not be doing the gig because I'm not earning anything."

L IS FOR LYING

"I'm sure I lie all the time. If I get p***** I can tell the most outlandish stories. I'm the queen of exaggeration, so I'm more likely to tell a story where I'm the fabulous centre of it all and my friends are like, 'Really? Did that actually happen?' I've turned it into a job, my exaggeration, haven't I?"

M IS FOR MEN

"Are they a good thing? Two men gave me three children. There are medical procedures? Why would you remove the fun part of having a baby? What's wrong with you?

"I do enjoy the company of men. What I love about my friendships with men is if I haven't spoken to a female friend for a while it can be like, 'Where have you been? I've not really heard from you,' whereas with a guy it's often 'Hiya' and you just pick up from the last time you saw them two years ago. Men don't take the same maintenance."

N IS FOR NECESSARY EVILS

"Taxes are a necessary evil. As a single mum I relied on the state for a while. I feel like what makes Britain different is we have a society that cares about other people and that has a safety net and so many other places don't. Oh God I can't believe I just said tax. My dad would die all over again."

O IS FOR OFFENSIVENESS

"Is there anything you can't make a joke about? I don't think so. But I have an issue with seeing white middle-class men on stage making jokes about how s*** women are. The other day a boy came up to me in the street and said: 'Your ass looks nice in those jeans,' and I remember thinking: 'Who do you think you are that you think that's OK?'"

P IS FOR PARENTHOOD

"Our generation is very touchy-feely but I'm sure I'll have said to my daughter a phrase that's going to stick in her head that will make her go: 'When I was 10 do you know what my mum said to me?' I'm really mindful of how I'm going to screw up."

Q IS FOR QUESTIONS

"When I had kids I was really struck by the fact I didn't ask questions about my religion when I was young. I just took it as read, whereas mine ask questions. I was telling them about Jesus and his 12 disciples or apostles or followers and my son Max goes, 'What? On Twitter?' They've made the whole thing sound ridiculous. I could have spared myself years in Mass if I'd asked a couple of those questions when I was eight."

R IS FOR RELATIONSHIPS

"I'm trying to be good at relationships and not just romantic relationships. I try to be a good friend. It's allocating the time. I'll tell you what I'm getting better at. I'm getting better at breaking up with friends. 'You know what? You're not nice to me. I'm done.' And I don't feel guilty about it. I might have done 10 years ago."

S IS FOR SEX

"I think we're obsessed with sex but we're obsessed with the wrong kind of sex. For me it's more about intimacy. There's that thing that the water supply is full of oestrogen now because loads of girls take the pill. I don't know if this is an urban myth. So women have a higher sex drive than men now apparently because men have more oestrogen in their systems than they used to because they're drinking the water supply.

"I was talking to my daughter about sex and she said: 'So a man puts his penis inside a woman and a baby comes? Eeww.' I said: 'Well, it's quite pleasurable. It's a nice thing. It's a really loving thing for a man and a woman to do,' and Bella went: 'Right. You've done that three times?' 'Yeah baby, just the three.'"

T IS FOR TELEVISION

"Is TV still the goal for comedians? I don't know. The wage packet is nice. I kind of feel like there's nothing like a live gig. If there's a room of three people and you're having a great time … I love that shared moment."

U IS FOR USA

"I've done a few gigs in America. I did something called Last Comic Standing, which is like X-Factor for comedians. I kind of feel in America if you work really hard you get somewhere, and I really enjoy that work ethic. Every job I create myself. I'm a self-starter. I get a bit anxious if I haven't written of a day. I have that need to work."

V IS FOR VIRGINITY

"Virginity is an interesting one. Virginity is that thing boys are desperate to lose. And even boys who haven't had sex say they have. I'm not saying The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole is true to life but he does write in it a lot that he's still a virgin, doesn't he?"

W IS FOR WORRIES

"I worry about me going before my kids are old enough to look after themselves. They worry about losing their football boots and global warming. Max's big concern this week is he's going to live to about a hundred or so which means in his lifetime fossil fuels will run out then there will be no electricity and he likes to watch TV."

X IS FOR XENOPHILIA

"Say what you like about the French but they know a thing or two about protest. They finished a strike last week. The rail workers went on strike for two weeks for pay and pensions, drove the country to a halt. There were riots and they got their settlement. They should be running courses in rioting. All we've got is peaceful protests that nobody reports."

Y IS FOR YOUTH

"Do I miss my youth? I don't think I do. I don't worry as much as I did when I was young. I'm not as anxious as I was. I feel as if I've got more control; I'm not perfect and I don't mind it. I have a real thing about industries treating ageing women as an illness. 'Hide the signs of ageing.' 'Dress to hide your shape.' F****** hell. Old wine is great. Why can't older women be?"

Z IS FOR ZEST

"I do yoga four times a week. It's an hour and a half of yoga postures in a heated room and it's the only time that I stop going, 'And Max needs football boots and Bella needs a packed lunch and I need more nappies,' and I start to focus on whether my knee's in the right place. I think that's one of the things I relish as I've got older. The ability to give yourself time that's yours, that's not being a mother or a daughter or a sister. Just being me." n

Wendy Wason performs her stand-up show Hotel California at the Gilded Balloon until August 24. Visit edfringe.com.

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