The Interview: Aisling Bea On Writing Her Own Future

“There are words that just don’t get used when it comes to reviewing comedy with men in it. ‘Sassy’, ‘train wreck’..."

From seeking out your own success to writing the roles you’ve longed to see on TV with her show This Way Up, Sarah Macken spoke to Aisling Bea about why her time is now. 

Lesson number one I learned from Aisling Bea? “The cavalry is not coming.” The writer, actress and comedian is in full flight discussing the long-overdue movement towards women writing the roles they want for themselves, rather than relying on Hollywood to deliver them.

It’s like, who are you waiting for and can you trust they are coming? Do you know what I mean? 

The quote is from a talk given by American director Mark Duplass at South by Southwest, and has become a rally cry of sorts for Bea. In other words, if the job you want doesn’t exist, no-one is going to swoop in and create it for you, so it’s best you make it for yourself.

When we meet on set just outside London, Bea is enjoying peak popularity off the back of her new Channel Four show, This Way Up and, as I suggest, swimming in Fleabag comparisons. Which she doesn’t mind whatsoever, Phoebe Waller-Bridge is, in fact, a dear friend of hers.

It’s a great time for performers pioneering female-fronted projects, we discuss, but there is still a long way to go when it comes to equal treatment in the media. Which is nuanced, at best; just don’t call her a train wreck.

“There are words that just don’t get used when it comes to reviewing comedy with men in it. ‘Sassy’, ‘train wreck’. I was reading a newspaper article last week, it was an interview with the girls who wrote the Oh My God, What A Complete Aisling books [Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen] and this journalist had written something along the lines of, supposed to be a compliment, ‘The girls are in a good group at the moment with Amy Schumer, Roisin Conaty, Aisling Bea and other similar, train wreck thirty-somethings.’ What part of my life and what part of those people’s lives make us train wrecks? Is it that I’m not married, is it that I don’t have kids?

Because I earn a lot of money now from my work that I have created myself, so what part of that is a train wreck?

“I know Amy Schumer had her movie called Trainwreck but what part of us having our experience and showing our full, complex lives to you is a train wreck? And there is no part of my show [This Way Up] where I’m a train wreck. I’m not mentally well, but I have a stable job, I have relationships with people…My character is not ‘living her best life’, but she’s living a life that’s a lot of people’s reality actually.”

It’s more than just lazy journalism, according to Bea, who considers it to be a wholly societal problem. "It’s about how women are viewed and the words that people choose to use…Even post Edinburgh [Comedy Festival] to see how a lot of my friends have been reviewed, ‘chatterboxes’, ‘charming’, ‘speedy mouthed’, ‘talks a lot’, and you’re like, it’s literally your job to come and sit and watch me talk for an hour. So you’re saying I’m talkative? I’m talkative...yet you don’t see male comedians getting reviewed as talkative.”

Read the full interview with Aisling Bea in the November issue of Irish Tatler, on shelves currently. 

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