ON the last day of filming the Channel 4 comedy series Taskmaster, Fern Brady tells me, she began to cry. “Because I knew there wasn’t going to be another job like it. I just knew,” the Scottish comedian explains.

To be fair, Brady had spent the previous days of the Taskmaster shoot crying too, but that was different. Then, she was crying-laughing.

After appearing on comedy panel shows and not feeling comfortable, she had found a comedy show where she did. And she didn’t want it to end.

Appearing on the show felt like a privilege. “I loved it,” she says.


And people loved her in it when it aired at the end of last year. They still do. Earlier today, she was out for lunch and she was spotted by a group of schoolgirls.

“And these schoolgirls were like, ‘We saw you on Taskmaster.’ They were really freaked out,” Brady says. “That kind of thing didn’t happen before.”

It is a Friday afternoon in February and we are sitting in a hut situated behind the Portobello Bookshop, where Brady is surrounded, perhaps unsurprisingly in the circumstances, by books.

Mostly her own books, it should be said. As we speak she is busy signing her way through shelf after shelf of copies of Strong Female Character, which has her name on the spine and her face just about visible on the cover.

There are about a thousand copies all told. She is methodically picking one up after another and turning to the inside title page, where she scrawls a firm, upright F followed by a squiggle and then a voluptuous B before adding, “rady”.

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And as she signs she talks. About everything. About appearing on Taskmaster, about how the children of the elite are taking over comedy (“Alastair Campbell’s daughter is doing stand-up”), about the chaos of her teens and 20s, about sex and narcissism and sectarianism and mental health and Bathgate and boyfriends (some good, some bad, some frankly awful) and meltdowns and Susan Boyle and school and strip clubs and Scotland.

And her relatively recently diagnosed autism, which in many ways is the thread that connects everything else in the list.

How so? Well, take the Channel 4 comedy show we started with. For Brady it turned out to be the perfect vehicle.

“Taskmaster is perfectly designed for an autistic person,” she explains, “because you come into a quiet house every day, you do a task, you have a little break and a cup of tea, you do another one and you just know the same routine.”

There’s a routine on display here this afternoon too. Brady talks and signs, talks and signs. About 11 minutes into our conversation she looks up and says: “This is almost an ideal thing to do during an interview. It’s actually easier to concentrate whilst signing the books.”


This afternoon Brady, 36, is wearing a stripy top and maybe a sense of nervous excitement. This evening she’s off to the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh to speak about the book she is currently signing. A launch event in her homeland, just a number 28 bus ride from her hometown of Bathgate. She can now, without any fear of contradiction, call herself an author.

How does that sound, Fern? “Really good. Because I wanted to be a writer when I was younger. I’ve ended up doing it in quite a roundabout way.”

At the same time, though, the idea of people reading said book, she admits, is leaving her a little on edge.

“When I was writing it I was like ‘It will be really bad if no-one reads this.’ But then I thought, ‘It will be really bad if people read this.’ Both the failure and success of it are bad in different ways.”

Because the book is so exposing? “Yeah. I wrote it as if no-one is going to read it.”

She was worried about what her mum and dad would think of it. They do come in for some stick in its pages. But actually they have both taken it well.

“My parents have read it now and it wasn’t the nightmare that I imagined it would be. Like at all,” Brady notes, a little surprised by the sounds of it.

“The next thing I’m worried about is that people in my industry are going to read it and think I’m insane.”

I think the opposite is more likely. Strong Female Character is a clear-eyed, deeply sane account of an at times tumultuous life; a life shaped by class and gender, but mostly, it’s now clear to her, by her autism.


It is, as you might expect given Brady’s day job, often very funny, but sometimes it is laughter in the dark. At times Strong Female Character is painful to read. Even heartbreaking.

Because she writes about her own experience of putting herself in dangerous situations, about domestic abuse and even suicidal ideation at a horrifyingly young age.

It is also something of an education for those of us – the majority, I suspect – who are largely unaware of autism and how the condition affects those with it.

It seems we could do with a few lessons. “Some of the stuff some of my friends said to me: ‘Oh, I’m really interested in autistics and sociopaths.’ That’s not the same thing!

“If anything, autistics can come across cold, whereas with a sociopath or a psychopath you will feel incredibly charmed around them,” Brady points out. “But I found autistic people to be really loyal and straight with you.”

She was told she was autistic at the end of 2020. She had long suspected it. “When I got diagnosed it didn’t feel good,” Brady admits, “but it definitely helped me fix certain elements of my life.”

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For a start, she says, “I didn’t have any knowledge of the sensory side of it. I just thought I’m one of those people who has a problem with loud noises.

“I didn’t piece together why, when people touch me lightly, I want to scratch my skin off. Or I would always feel bad that people tried to hug me at work and, if I didn’t know them, I would pull away. So once I got diagnosed I was like, ‘OK, that’s all autistic stuff as well.’ And the more I was trying to cover up my autistic traits the worse all the sensory stuff was getting. You just end up wearing yourself out.”

When she talks about the diagnosis there’s a sense of relief and release perhaps. “The biggest reason I wrote the book is because it made me feel a million times better when I read or connected with other autistic people’s experiences online.”

The diagnosis has also helped her understand her own behaviour in the past and present. All that masking she didn’t realise she was doing.

The times at school or in bars when she’d go off to the toilet just to sit down for a few minutes to calm down. The times she tried to mirror the people around her, but struggled to get it right.

“I spent three or four years in the run up to diagnosis trying really hard to fit in with everyone and learn the perfect thing to say, but the problem with social rules is that they can change and no-one tells you. So it just made me worse. It made me more and more physically stressed.”

It’s a brave book in many ways. Brady even writes about autistic “meltdowns”. This is one of the least-discussed aspects of the condition, those moments when it all gets too much and she will lash out and start smashing stuff. It’s an expression of anxiety, not anger.

Brady admits writing about meltdowns was embarrassing. “I just thought ‘nobody’s going to fancy me again. I hope I’m never single again. This is going to ruin my life, so I need to make it good in case I lose all my other work.’”

At the same time, she wanted to write about them because it might help others.

“Ideally, I want other autistic women or autistic people generally to read it and feel a bit better because I put in advice I received in therapy on how to deal with my meltdowns – because I got really good, fancy therapy because I have money.”

I tell her there’s a question I wanted to ask about these meltdowns. It might be a facetious one. Go ahead, she says. Does it mean you buy stuff – ornaments, furniture, whatever – that you won’t be upset over if they get broken?

She laughs. “I was just looking at some espresso cups the other day, little fancy ones, and I just went, ‘You cannae buy them.’ You don’t buy anything nice.”

Brady returns to why she wanted to write about meltdowns in the first place. “I see people promoting their books all the time going ‘No-one talks about this enough.’ And I think, ‘Aye they do, another 10 people wrote a book about it.’ Nobody talks about you punching stuff in the aisle in Tesco because all the noise and lights are doing your head in.

“Meltdowns are still so misunderstood. Susan Boyle had one in the BA Lounge of Heathrow a few years ago. Susan Boyle’s autistic and she can’t help that she has a meltdown in an airport. The airport is the perfect environment to have a meltdown.

“I am in airports a lot for work, so I have noise-cancelling headphones and know what to do to prevent it. And even then it still isn’t enough sometimes.

“I don’t use the term high-functioning, but I’m what people would call high functioning autistic, or what they used to call Asperger’s. High-functioning just means I’m able to not bother people. But then I bottle a lot of stuff up.”

Are there any upsides to the condition? “I don’t think it’s a superpower,” she cautions. “I just view it as neutral.” But, yes, maybe. “I definitely think it led me into doing stand-up.”

Brady is a female comedian from a working-class background. This is still uncommon. But perhaps it’s because she never felt the need to stay in her lane. Her autism freed her from following the pack, as it were.

“When a group of women are eating together, say there’s one piece of pizza left on the plate,” she explains. “I would just eat it if I wanted to eat it, whereas women monitor what each other is eating.”

There is research to back this up, she adds. And it’s not just food. “I never really understood the way women policed each other over sex. This is all a scam to stop us having sex with people while we’re young and beautiful.

“And I’ll tell you something now Teddy, because I’ve been going out with the same person for about 10 years, I don’t regret any of it. When I’m sitting in my house with my boring life at least I can look back on when I was a young lady …

“So,” she says, pivoting back to the original question, “I think it definitely helped me ignore social cues. Also autistic people don’t have any regard for hierarchies. That can cause problems, but if you are a comedian it is fantastic to have a disregard for hierarchies.”

These days Brady lives with her boyfriend Conor in London, but she misses Scotland. “There are a lot of things I like about it; how friendly it is and it feels so much more left-wing than England. But there is still this creeping paternalistic misogyny in Scotland that you don’t really notice until you go away and come back.”

Sectarianism was part and parcel of her childhood. Brady grew up a Catholic girl in Bathgate. But she never really bought into any of it.

“It was just so stupid,” she says. “So many demented beliefs.”

As a kid Brady was an obsessive book reader. She was clearly smart, but she was also seen as problematic. “It was weird being brought up to think you’re evil,” she writes in the book.

“I was constantly told what an unpleasant person I was,” she adds now.

“That’s the case for a lot of autistic people. The point of the book isn’t revenge on my parents. A lot of autistic people do end up being characterised as the black sheep of the family. The knock-on effect of that is a lot of autistic people end up homeless because they end up so socially excluded.”

If anything, things would get worse as Brady moved into her teens and early 20s. “I frequently had the sense that a madwoman was driving the car of my life,” she notes in the book.

At 15 Brady was on antidepressants and cutting herself. When she took an overdose she was referred to a mental health unit. At the time she was misdiagnosed with OCD. “I think for ages when I was a teenager I was like ‘I guess I’m a mentally ill person and every 18 months this thing will happen where I can’t get out of bed or leave the house.’”

She was impulsive, vulnerable, scared a lot of the time. She’d find herself in situations that were way outside her comfort zone. Time and again reading the book you fear for her wellbeing.

She was also, she knows now, constantly masking.

And yet she was also a high-achiever, winning a place at Edinburgh University to study Arabic and Persian (even though she had no previous interest in either).

Unfortunately she wasn’t happy when she got there. She was much more at home moonlighting in an Edinburgh strip club where she bonded with the other girls.

She was to find a similar welcome in comedy later. She was training to be a journalist at the time. The first comedy gig she did was for a story.

But it was quickly apparent that making people laugh was more fun than reporting.

“It was amazing,” she says of that first gig. “I wasn’t good. Afterwards, the guy I was going out with was like, ‘I really don’t think you should do that again.’

“But I just knew I was going to do it as a job. It just felt so amazing, so natural and felt better than anything.”

Do you know why, Fern? “Because my life experience had made me a narcissist, so it’s just narcissistic supply. I am not under any illusions that it’s because it’s this amazing, meaningful thing. It’s just because I grew up with parents who always alternated between chastising me and praising me. ‘You’re a genius, you’re unpleasant.’ So whenever I’m gigging now, to have people cheer and then look disappointed at me when I say something bad a minute later … It just feels like the most natural thing in the world.”

We are near the end of our conversation. She’s built a wall of books between us while we talk. But as should be clear she is not the type to conceal anything.

Strong Female Character seems an appropriate title for her memoir. And not just because she lifts weights these days. Brady has now got a handle on who she is and what makes her her. The book is the manifestation of that.

And the buzz surrounding it is growing. There are even TV companies approaching her about developing it for the screen.

“That would be cool, but my dad says he wants George Clooney to play him. Such an old man thing to say.”

Who should play her? Well Brady herself surely. She’s been trying and often failing to be like everyone else most of her life.

Now she is just getting on with the great, glorious, funny, flawed, autistic, awesome business of being Fern Brady.

Strong Female Character by Fern Brady is published by Brazen, £16.99. Brady plays the Kings Theatre, Glasgow, on March 26 as part of her Autistic Beauty Queen tour