Ruby Wax Q&A: “If you’re going to be a narcissist, go the whole hog”

The comedian talks Absolutely Fabulous, eighteenth century Versailles, and devolving. 

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Born in Illinois in 1953, Ruby Wax is a comedian, actress, campaigner and author. Her TV work includes “The Full Wax”, “Ruby Wax Meets...” and “Absolutely Fabulous”, on which she was the script editor. Her books on mental health include “Sane New World”, “A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled” and “How to be Human”.

What’s your earliest memory?

My first memory is standing up in our living room when I was two and getting a round of applause. That was the last time I got a round of applause from my family. Nothing else ever topped it.

Who was your childhood hero?

My childhood hero was Jerry Lewis, I’m ashamed to say. I didn’t realise that it was appalling until I was a teenager. Him, and Dr Seuss. In adulthood, it’s John Lennon.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Right now, I’m in Africa: so Nelson Mandela. It’s all been downhill since him. Look how we’ve descended into the depths of hell. You would think we’d evolve with the future, but we’ve devolved.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

The brain. I’m good on the brain, because I’m fascinated with how it works. And online shopping. And then I run out of material.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

Eighteenth century Versailles, but I’d want to be in the court. Not the cleaning woman or in the kitchen. If you’re going to be a narcissist, you might as well go the whole hog! Even if you died early, I imagine it was pretty exciting, until just before they came at you with the guillotine. I’d be gone by then. I want to keep my head.

What TV show could you not live without?

Technically, Absolutely Fabulous. That’s how I made my living for a while.

Who would paint your portrait?

I’d let Damien Hirst put me in formaldehyde.

What’s your theme tune?

“Creep”, by Radiohead.

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

Alan Rickman [Wax’s lifelong friend and the director of many of her stage shows] would tell me to write everything down. He’d say, “We don’t know what you’re talking about, but write it down. Use it for comedy. Then I can edit it.”

What’s currently bugging you?

When I hear the word Brexit, it raises bile in my throat. I’m allergic to the word. The minute somebody says it, I go into a coma, standing up. I don’t care anymore, about anything. It’s worn me down.

What single thing would make your life better?

Having a less dyslexic mind. I can’t think straight. Which can be good for my career, but bad for my social life.

When were you happiest?

When I graduated from Oxford, at age 105.Only a few years ago!

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I’d have been a neuroscientist.

Are we all doomed?

If we stay on the same trajectory, we are. I think we’re at a cusp, where we might be able to re-route our bad habits, if we choose to. But that will take a lot of effort. If we stay on the same trajectory? Yes. If we manage to change the habits of a lifetime? No. 

Ruby Wax’s latest book, “How to Be Human: The Manual”, is published by Penguin Life

This article appears in the 11 January 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit Showdown