'We shouldn't be scared of looking older': Jenny Eclair returns with the Grumpy Old Women
PUBLISHED: 10:14 09 June 2018
Still banging the drum for grumpy old women, Jenny Eclair is far from crotchety. Ahead of shows in King's Lynn and Norwich, we discover all of the comedian's moans about getting older are done with a cheeky glint in her eye.
“Every few years there’s an undercurrent of discontent, issues that need dealing with and stuff that needs saying. Basically we hear the grumpy call and get on the road.”
Comedian Jenny Eclair is talking about banging the drum for grumpy old women. She’s been voicing the thoughts of women of a certain age for over a decade, both on screen and on stage, and she sees no sign of running out of topics that rile and resonate.
Jenny, original cast member Dillie Keane and new recruit Lizzie Roper will bring To The Rescue, the latest incarnation of the funny and frank Grumpy Old Women stage show, to the region next week.
Like the previous shows that have raucously entertained almost half a million theatre-goers for over a decade, it holds a mirror up to a big chunk of society.
“There are a huge number of us going through that middle-aged experience at any one time,” says Jenny. “There’s a weird kind of camaraderie.”
It all started with a hit BBC series, Grumpy Old Women, which subsequently transformed into the live show. The first solo female Perrier Award-winning comedian has in the last decade appeared more on stage than on TV, and has been a prolific writer.
“Telly’s not interested,” she says with a shrug. “When the Grumpy series finished, they decided they were going to take the ‘old’ out of the title and would just do a series of grumpy women and grumpy men and use much younger people, and, of course, it didn’t work. So they killed it on the telly but the brand is really strong on the road, because there’s always an army of middle-aged furious women who like to come together and be in the same room and recognise themselves and laugh at it.”
Jenny, who describes herself as proud to be a “difficult women”, isn’t afraid to take on subjects that bring howls of recognition from audiences, with no fear of embarrassment.
This a comedian who for her last solo show, How To Be A Middle Aged Woman (Without Going Insane), was pictured on the flyer in an unflattering bra and knickers, no airbrush in sight.
“I don’t find it difficult to tackle situations head-on, I don’t get embarrassed,” she admits.
That forthrightness may date back to having come of age at the time of punk.
Born Jenny Hargreaves, she attended Manchester Polytechnic School of Theatre before moving to London, where her first job was at Camberwell Arts College as a life model. She then saw an advert in The Stage looking for novelty acts and found work doing punk poems which led to the new alternative comedy circuit. But at the time she was one of the first stand-up females.
“French and Saunders were doing double act stuff. There was only Victoria Wood, but she was doing stuff that was very different from what I wanted to do, because mine was much ruder and much madder at the beginning, which is why lots of people didn’t like it.”
Live work means she spends a big chunk of the year on the road away from husband Geof Powell, the couple got married last year, despite Jenny previously stated that marriages were “naff”. Travelling is something she is very much used to it by now. Her secret? Naps.
“I like an afternoon nap,” she whispers conspiratorially. “I love my bed, I love the duvet. It would be silly not to.”
When she’s not napping, she spends her downtime looking at art. “If we’ve got a long day somewhere, the first thing I’ll do is head to a gallery,” she says. “Most of the time you’re on a train or stuck in the back of a car, so when I have a spare day, it’s nice to do that instead.”
She’s even dabbled in art herself as a way to relax, but with classic self-deprecation, she proclaims: “I paint very badly.”
However being on the road is a lot easier now than it used to be. “Marks & Spencer has revolutionised the motorway service station,” she laughs. “Back in the day, it used to be Ginsters or nothing - now you can actually get a salad. I pick up bags of spinach now and again - I often leave them on the back seat of the car, but the good intention is there.”
Even though it’s easier to eat healthily, Eclair still has an axe to grind. She’s on the warpath, saying: “I’m sick to death of British hotel breakfasts.
“It’s the trough mentality of it all, when it’s buffet style - the waste is phenomenal. I’m always the last one down for breakfast, and there are just trays of stuff congealing that’s all going to get chucked away. I think the individual order is much better.”
Considering she’s part of a troupe called Grumpy Old Women, ageing is something that Jenny, now aged 58, has been forced to consider - and she’s got a very level head about it all.
“There’s no point being scared of it,” she says frankly. “But, as my mother said, getting old is not for sissies.
“I think we’ve got the right to be scared of things going wrong with our bodies - cancers and weird medical things that throw themselves into your path at this age - but I don’t think you should be scared of looking older. It’s only the physical side of it that scares me.”
Jenny speaks with great affection about her mother, who’s just turned 89, and has evidently taught her a lot. “She’s extraordinary,” Eclair says. “She’s incredibly stoic and just keeps on going whatever - she’s remarkable.”
How does she look after her health when touring with the Grumpies. “I don’t, darling,” she giggles. “I let myself go - I’m almost feral, my toenails are six inches long.”
All jokes aside, she adds: “I take a swimming costume with me on the road, and if we’re in a hotel with a pool, or there’s one nearby, I’ll do that.”
Her stance on exercise is hugely relatable. “That’s the great thing about technology,” she says. “You can do yoga classes on YouTube - there are quick 15-minute ones.
“Of course, I’m a lazy cow, so do I ever do it? No! But the option’s there.”
• Jenny Eclair will be with Grumpy Old Women To The Rescue at Norwich Playhouse, June 15, 7.30pm, £25, 01603 598598, norwichplayhouse.co.uk/King’s Lynn Corn Exchange, June 17, 7.30pm, £26.50, 01553 764864, kingslynncornexchange.co.uk