Sara Pascoe – I don’t have to make a joke I can be serious

Sara Pascoe comedian and now author, has a novel approach to defeat interviewers, she begins interviewing them. In Hull last night to promote her debut title Animal she is greeted by another packed library – Humber Mouth sure knows how to put on a show – in the chair is MC Dave Windass.

‘It’s a dream come true,’ says Sara, when Dave manages to get his first question in. He describes the book as being ‘essential reading… for men’. Sara explains how she came to write a book about the female body that explores sexuality, alongside a well-researched cultural analysis. The blurb invites readers to: Take a funny and illuminating tour of the female body with award-winning comedian Sara Pascoe

Sara Pascoe @Humber Mouth Picture: Jerome Whittingham @Photomoments

‘I don’t have a science background,’ Sara explains, but after reading a book called Sex at Dawn by Cacilda Jethá she became fascinated by the origins of modern sexuality. She thought about how she’d grown up hearing negative messages around gender: ‘Women are like this, men are like that, me couldn’t be faithful, when a woman found her man, she had to lock that shit down’ Writing Animal was about self-understanding for Sara and a chance to create an accessible resource, that a 15 year old thinking about these questions could read. Despite possessing the comedic talent to undercut the science and prehistory, this remains a serious book. ‘Its a balancing act, in stand up it is only jokes, with the book I don’t have to make a joke I can be serious.’

Sara passionately believes that there are so many unanswered, unexplored questions around modern sexuality, adolescence, body image, the language used when describing relationships, and that all these things should and could be addressed.

Marvelling at the Hull audience, she says, ‘I’m interested to know who comes to these things, who leaves their house, don’t you know about Netflix?’

To begin with Sara delivers a bit of a biology lesson after explaining prehistorical reasons behind the seven year itch, and the idea that a man might start to look elsewhere after four… apparently it has its roots in survival. The more partners, the more progeny – children – the better chance of a healthy gene spread.

In an intense session we dive deep into the subject matter and explore cyclical bonding theory, reasons behind human pair-bonding, falling in love and the feelings that surround it and the language of ‘failed relationships’. We learn that chimpanzees are born fully gestated and can immediately cling to their mothers back, where as human babies are born before their brain has fully grown so lack these motor skills and need constant care. ‘Babies are useless when they are born’ states Sara, the audience erupting into laughter. Jumping subject again Sara reminds the audience that we now treat animals as slaves.

’Tourists riding camels in Morocco, Why? It looks so sad.’ Whether she is referring to the rider or camel there I’m not sure, but the recent trip to Morocco prompts a frank and direct talk on the way many women feel when men get a little bit starey, a little bit touchy, feely.

‘I am a feminist.’ Sara says ‘ I don’t believe there is a Machiavellian plot by men,’ she continues.

She describes how science is male dominated, how the recent redesign of the speculum ‘instrument of torture’    by women caused the men in the lab to express surprise asking, ‘What is this, that women have been going through for hundreds of years.’

She proceeds to describe in exacting detail what a speculum is used for and how uncomfortable it is.  There follows a little history lesson, that a male doctor trying to find a way to treat fistulas  – a tear in the bowel that can happen during childbirth that if left untreated can lead to death – how this doctor, experimented on slave women, to perfect the design of the speculum still used today.

Asked about the way people have responded to the honesty and frank treatment of sensitive issues Sara describes, how readers have shared with her deeply personal stories, how she has had to protect herself emotionally. Sara talks about her parents in the book, she talks about issues of consent and, she talks about abortion, her own abortion aged seventeen.

‘I had an abortion aged seventeen, never talked about it – except family and close friends – but I’ve never stopped thinking about it. I wanted to write about it now, write about the feelings, the truth, the absolute truth, and write about it matter of factly…’

Sara covers so much ground in the book and she does so tonight, there is a moment talking about sexual-shaming and sexual pleasure, where she says the c word. Clitoris. ‘Just think how many clitorises are in here right now,’ she says, ‘clitoris, clitorises, clitoratti.’ More laughter from the crowd.

Picture: Jerome Whittingham @Photomoments

The men folk don’t escape this strange inquisition: in rapid succession we learn all about the sperm wars: kamikaze sperm, egg-getters, geriatric sperm. There’s cuckolded men, and paternity certainty, ejaculate mating plugs and blockers.

‘People should know their bodies can do incredible things,’ Sara exclaims excitedly.

Sara doesn’t shy away from very emotive subjects, like rape, discussing at length why Judges in rape cases should be better educated. She talks about the way someone reacts when facing a threat, how the reaction can vary from person to person – the fight or freeze response –  and how that shouldn’t have any bearing on the outcome of a rape trial. Using an example from the animal kingdom she explains how mice go limp when cats play with them: ‘They play dead, the cat eventually gets bored and lets them go, the mouse lives.’

‘I can still feel very scared walking home’ echoing the feelings of every woman in the room, ‘Everyday I have to make a judgement call… again I don’t believe the world is full of evil people…’ she explains how she believes it is ’empathy failure’ that has led to an unjust legal system.

Sara Pascoe doesn’t believe that parents should have the weight of all this responsibility, to explain to their children what is happening to them, she believes that sexual education shouldn’t hide away from the difficult issues.

Raising a subject that continues to trouble society and the authorities, she talks about FGM Female Genital Mutilation, again in her direct and frank way, she explains the reasons why some cultures maintain this practice also known as cutting. Describing how the western world has shown implicit and explicit racism, ignoring differences, worrying about appearing cultural ignorance has brought about an absence of discussion of human rights in other countries.

During a very dense and sometime highly amusing hour and a half, Sara leaves the Hull audience deep in thought, as they apply some of her thinking to their own lives. The overriding message is that we as a society should be more open and honest about sex and sexuality, be more honest about our bodies, not shy away from difficult subjects but talk openly about them.

Bringing what has been a revealing, surprising and perhaps revelatory evening to a close MC Dave describes Sara Pascoe as ‘One of the funniest people on the planet, a great thinker, whose work is truly outstanding.’ Judging by the applause and the queue for books afterwards, he is not alone in thinking this.

Picture: Jerome Whittingham @Photomoments