Elizabeth I: My sister from another mister by J McDermott

I’ve always felt a certain affinity with Elizabeth I. One thing we have in common: our dads were both characters, who tied the knot a little more often than most. I partially attribute my obsession with marriage, and my reluctance to being made into an 'honest woman', to my father and I’ve always kind of assumed that Elizabeth, my sister from another mister, remained unmarried as a result of her father too.

‘Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived’

I have a tendency to overthink the details that others, probably rightly, overlook. The first time I heard the popular rhyme about the fate of Henry VIII’s wives, I wondered how it must have affected Elizabeth psychologically. I think I was eight. I imagined the whole scene like a courtroom drama with a young and angered Elizabeth, perhaps around the same age as me, staring out at her father as he tried to justify his actions from the dock. When I later saw portraits of her with this strange ornamental structure around her neck, it seemed obvious that the emotion scarring brought on by her mother’s beheading was making itself known through her sartorial choices.

The ruff, as we now of course know it, was new to fashion. I imagined all of her ladies-in-waiting whispering behind her back the day it got its first airing in court; word spreading like wildfire that the queen's new neck accessory was a psychological barrier, keeping the executioner's axe at bay. Putting Henry to one side, Elizabeth had, of course, for all her royal blood, been imprisoned by her sister after her father's death, so you could reason that this elaborate disc with all of its lace and starch was not so absurd. And those around her hastily adopted the look as well. Their logic was not to be faulted either, for she may have made a point of ending her family line, but she was definitively a Tudor. She did not suffer fools gladly and racked up her own head count from those who crossed her.

I have now broached this ruff theory with many people and it seems, unequivocally, that nobody else shares or has ever considered my conjecture. Perhaps if I applied Occam’s razor, I would find a simpler conclusion to the advent of the ruff, but for the me of now, and the me aged eight, the evidence is compelling. Court adjourned.

FOTF Revisited: “I don’t need banknote fame” - my interview with Dana Alexander by J McDermott

I’ve been enjoying my time revisiting Females Of The Fringe interviews. I spent a month at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013, photographing and asking comedians about their shows and gender in comedy.

As the £5 note was about to change in the UK, causing nationwide controversy, with the only commemorated woman being replaced by a man (Elizabeth Fry was being usurped by Winston Churchill), I was throwing in a final question to all of my interviewees: ‘Would you like to be on a banknote?’. When I posed this to Dana Alexander, I think I got the most amusing and perplexed response, it was left field enough as it was, but coupled with Dana being Canadian, it made the question all the more bewildering.

Dana Alexander is returning to the Edinburgh Fringe with her fifth solo hour Dana Alexander: The Milk Is Not Free, But Sometimes It Is On Sale this year. She also hosts Comedians Of The World Podcast.

Her 2013 show was Is This Really Happening?
You can read the interview from Females Of The Fringe with Dana here.
And the book is available to buy in my online shop.

JM: Can you tell me a little bit about your show this year?

DA: The show looks back through the journey of my life through the 80s and the 90s and today and I just kind of break it down and see what was going down in history in those times.

JM: And how would you describe your comedic style in general?

DA: Hmm, I don't know that I'm the person to answer that question, it's hard to have that perspective from within.

JM: What sort of comedy then do you tend to like, what do you find funny?

DA: I never knew that comedy had kinds. I think I probably like it all. There's so much cross-over now with styles and things like that. It's almost impossible to say what kind of comedy you like, I like things that make me laugh.

JM: How long have you been doing comedy for?

DA: Thirteen years.

JM: How do you find Fringe audiences compared to circuit audiences?

DA: They're a little bit more ready for a narrative. I don't know, you take a few more chances, do a few more things that you can't necessarily do in your stand up set, that sort of thing.

JM: Do you ever feel audiences or promoters are treating you differently because of your gender?

DA: Well I can't tell you that, because I've never had a penis, so I have nothing to compare it to. I mean you do see little boys' clubs and that form, but I'm not short on work so I could never say that being a female has held me back.

JM: Is there any incident or heckle that has prominently stuck out in your mind relating to your gender?

DA: You get heckles for all kinds of things. I mean, you always get the same thing over and over again, it's always, watcha ma call it, “Oh, you're funny for a girl”, but I mean, come on, we've heard this nine billion times, who cares.

JM: Do you think it's quite strange that audiences do even heckle?

DA: Life is a long heckle. I don't know how it would change in the club. Especially when you've given them as much booze as you do, you know. It's not strange to me, it seems perfectly normal. A lot of comics engage their audiences, and once you've engaged them they feel there's a bit of a dialogue there. Or a lot of guys just want to mess you up for fun. It's just like anything else, you know how it goes.

JM: So one last question that I've been asking because there's been lots of media controversy about banknotes recently on Twitter. I wondered if you would like to be on a banknote one day.

DA: What do you mean if I want to be on a banknote?

JM: Like your image on a banknote?

DA: It's never occurred to me. Would I ever want my image on a banknote? For what? I'd rather be on a crossword or on Sesame Street. I don't need banknote fame, because then you get to see yourself age, you get some old money and all of sudden you're eighty-five and then you get a bill from 19-, from when you were like thirty years old shows up and you're like, “oh, I used to be so beautiful”. I feel bad for the Queen, can you imagine?

JM: That's true. Unlike the Queen though, I think other people only get on them once they've passed away anyway, so it would just be like living on through a banknote, that doesn't really appeal to you?

DA: It's never occurred to me, never mind appealed to me. A banknote? Do you want to be on a banknote?

JM: Not particularly.

DA: I want to be on a crossword.

JM: Ok. Fantastic. It's a bit of a left field question just to see what people say.

DA: Yeah! Do I want to be on a banknote?

JM: You're still thinking about it!

DA: I think I'm going to need to do something more substantial, then maybe revisit that question. Maybe build a home for orphans or fight a war.

JM: Well if you ever want to return to it and let me know.

DA: I don't know girl. Do I want to be on a banknote? Girl, I have no idea, that's my answer.

Was the beehive modelled on a fez? by J McDermott


In 1960, Margaret Vinci Heldt, a former winner of the National Coiffure Championship, was asked by Modern Beauty Shop magazine (now Modern Salon) to design a new hairstyle that would reflect the coming decade.

She took inspiration from a little black velvet, fez-like hat that she loved. Like a trick befitting Tommy Cooper, she recalled that she had often looked at the at it and said "Someday, I’m going to create a hairstyle that would fit under the hat, and when you take the hat off, the hairstyle would be there."

To finish off her original design she added a bee-shaped pin and said that it was the reporter for the magazine who, seeing the complete ensemble, ended up naming it, exclaiming “Margaret, it looks just like a beehive! Do you mind if we call it the beehive?”

FOTF Revisited: Feminism and Serial Killers - Kiri Pritchard-MacLean, then and now. by J McDermott

Fringe time is rolling round again, as I know all to well living with a stand up comedian. And in the run up, I want to share some of the interviews with comedians from my book Females Of The Fringe (2014).

When I met Kiri Pritchard-MacLean in 2013, she was sharing an hour, engaging audiences on the topic of feminism and, in her words, just working away at getting really good. In 2017, after a successful debut show, she is bringing her second solo hour Appropriate Adult to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She also hosts the All Killa No Filla podcast with fellow comedian Rachel Fairborn on a topic that many, including myself, find both grizzly and irresistibly fascinating: serial killers.

Kiri Pritchard McLean

You can read the interview from Females Of The Fringe with Kiri here.
And the book is available to buy in my online shop.

JM: Can you tell me a bit about your comedic style?

KP: Because I gig a lot in the North West I try and make sure my gag rate's quite high. There's a tiny bit of hidden politics and feminism in there, but it's mainly about my family and my background really.

JM: And what's your show about this year?

KP: My goal as a comic is just to be good. So this year it's about trying to get secretly better in a little room somewhere. It talks a lot about my background because I'm Welsh and I didn't realise until I moved to England that that had made such an impression on me. It's about my rural background and then me starting to think about my childhood now I'm getting very broody.

JM: How long have you been doing the Fringe for?

KP: This is my first year properly performing, so it will be a while before my first hour, but this is a good taster I think of how it's going to be.

JM: And how long have you been doing stand up in general?

KP: I started in 2010 properly, so about three and a half years.

JM: How are you finding Fringe audiences compared with circuit audiences?

KP: Well, this is funny actually, because I've got quite an early show, I was like great, I'm going to do the Fringe, I'm going to get to do the kind of stuff that I want to do. So I'd written loads of stuff about feminism, but the kind of audiences that we're getting in don't want to hear about feminism at quarter past one in the afternoon. So, it's trying to find the balance of doing stuff that makes me happy and doing stuff that's not going to alienate an audience or put people on edge. It's not like I'm not willing to challenge people but there's kind of a time and a place – it's a bit darker my stuff about feminism.

JM: Is the feminism material based on experience?

KP: I've sorted decided if I'm going to be standing onstage for five, ten minutes, an hour then wouldn't it be nice to be actually saying something, as opposed to just saying words. So it's talking about things that get me excited or get me passionate. I think misogyny gets thrown round a lot in material, I don't think people are connecting with what they say. I'm going to be judged on everything that I say, so I want to make sure that I definitely mean everything that I'm saying. The reaction from people when they know you do stand up, 'Ooh, good for you,' like it's a real kind of surprise, I talk about that a little bit in my set, about how my dad behaves towards it. But yeah me as well, I have this real bad thing, I tried to grow out of it a bit but I get furious if I see a girl die onstage because I'm like, 'Well done!' And it's not fair because I'm putting all the pressure of a load of gender stereotypes onto one person.

JM: And everybody dies onstage, even when they're really good.

KP: Yeah and I never watch anyone who's Welsh and go, 'Unbelievable, you're letting the side down!' But I would do it to a girl. I'm starting to try and stop it now because there's all sort of reasons of why people die onstage and yeah gender's nothing to do with it. Not like I never die, that's not the case at all. And that's what I really beat myself up for after gigs because I'm like well everyone in that room, who maybe had a thought that girls aren't funny, you've just confirmed that for them now.

JM: It's a hell of lot of extra pressure to heap onto yourself though.

KP: Yeah I suppose it is, but I'm going to find something to pressurise myself about, so I'll stick to gender for now.

JM: In terms of audience reactions or promoters, is there any particular incident or heckle that sticks out in your mind?

KP: I probably get more people saying it's brilliant seeing a young lady doing it than saying anything negative. You get that a lot from older ladies. It's a nice thing, but it's weird because I've just never ever thought about my gender being important in anything until I started doing comedy. Everyone's like, 'Oh, aren't you brave'. And it's like, 'Am I?' I'm not fighting a war, I'm just telling knob gags.


Trumperfly by J McDermott


Originally made as Brexit Butterfly in response to the EU referendum, it's now even more fitting.

An homage to Ray Bradbury's A Sound Of Thunder, recasting myself as the the lead character Eckels, who goes back to prehistoric times and by erroneously stepping on a butterfly, changes the course of history. When he set off, a new liberal American President had just been announced, defeating a candidate described as an anti-human, anti-intellectual who would have brought about the worst kind of dictatorship.

“Unbelievable.” Eckels breathed,[…] “A real time machine[…] Makes you think. If the election had gone badly yesterday, I might be here now running away from the results.”

On his return, the political situation has completely changed. He can't believe it could be due to him. But as he surveys the sole of his shoe, there lies a crushed butterfly. He cries out: “No, it can’t be. Not a little thing like that. No! […] can’t we take it back, can’t we make it alive again? Can’t we start over?…”


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