HOW does comedian, actor, playwright, author, podcaster and TV presenter Sara Pascoe quantify success?
She will seek to provide the answer in her biggest tour yet, Success Story, whose 50 dates in two blocks from November 10 to December 3 2022 and January 26 to April 22 next year will take in four Yorkshire gigs: York Barbican on November 24; Sheffield Octagon, November 25; Hull City Hall, March 17, and Harrogate Royal Hall, April 21.
Expect jokes about status, celebrities, plus Sara’s new fancy lifestyle versus infertility, her multiple therapists and career failures, she forewarns.
“What I want to explore is how do we define success and when do we define it,” she says. “Does it change with age; do we only want things we can’t have? When we attain our goals, do we move the goal posts and become unsatisfied with what we’ve got and want something else instead?
“I’m 41 now and it’s a reflective time; it feels like a very adult age. Looking back on my life to when I was 14, I really wanted to be on television. That’s where I work now but is it what I imagined it to be?”
Deciding she wanted to be famous at 14, Dagenham-born would go on to audition for Barrymore, scare Dead Or Alive’s Pete Burns and ruin Hugh Grant’s birthday, but she would also notch a decade in stand-up comedy and pen the feminist Animal: The Autobiography Of A Female Body in 2016 and her exploration of sex through the medium of evolutionary psychology, sex work, and the role of money in modern heterosexual relationships in Sex Power Money in 2019, spawning an accompanying podcast.
Her “big, bold and funny” stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice played York Theatre Royal in October 2017 and she wrote and starred in the October 2020 sitcom Out Of Her Mind on BBC Two. She has presented television shows too, hosting Comedians Giving Lectures on Dave, Guessable on Comedy Central, BBC Two’s Last Woman On Earth and this year’s BBC One series of The Great British Sewing Bee.
For all those diverse achievements, she underwent a fraught personal chapter that would be deemed contrary to that vision of success. “I was having years of infertility and when we were going through IVF, the word ‘success’ was used a lot about the process,” says Sara, (who does now have a beautiful baby son).
“So, I wanted to contrast that with these other things that are seen as representing successful lives, such as finding someone we love and having a family. There are a lot of areas being covered.”
If this sounds a tad heavy, as a counterbalance, Sara will reach for her raft of daft stories to flesh out her central thesis. Such as the time she terrified Pete Burns, the late figurehead of 1980s’chart-toppers Dead Or Alive and later reality TV star.
“He did a reality show where he was looking for a PA and I was told I would get £50 in cash in an envelope if I kept accosting him in the street. So, outside a coffee shop in Soho, I had to pretend to be a superfan and hug and kiss him and say how much I loved him and see how all these potential Pas would deal with this crazy, neurotic fangirl,” she recalls.
“At the end of that day, he said that I scared him, which just showed how good my acting was. That show is sometimes repeated on an MTV channel, and I’ll get a text or a tweet saying, ‘oh my god, I had no idea you were such a Pete Burns fan’.”
TV exposure on Comedians Giving Lectures and The Great British Sewing Bee has lifted Sara’s profile and given her a fresh perspective on her life in comedy. “Comedians Giving Lectures can be like hosting a stand-up show, and I love it because these very high-status experienced comics are often doing brand new material because they’ve written a lecture for the TV show. For me, it feels like a gig rather than a TV programme,” she says.
“In Sewing Bee, I occasionally write jokes for the links, but you’re doing a joke for eight people who are really thinking about sewing; they’re not thinking about your pun on the wrap dress.”
Her Success Story travels are still more than five months away, but especially after the mothballing impact of the pandemic lockdowns, Sara is desperate to return to the road for the first time since her LadsLadsLads tour of 2018-2019 – the one where she contemplated the positive aspects of self-imposed celibacy, exploring love, sex and doing both alone.
“Touring can be tiring but when you’re in the dressing room before a show and you hear the hubbub of a busy room, you feel very lucky that people will come and see you at all, never mind in their hundreds or thousands,” she says.
“There’s a description in Alan Davies’s book about how walking out on stage as a comedian is the closest you can get to being a toddler taking your first steps towards your excited parents. That’s the feeling comedians are trying to recreate by getting this huge round of applause from people who like you and are pleased you are there. That’s the side of it that’s addictive and compulsive.”
Sara will not let her own success story go to her head, instead always striving to raise the bar for her comedy hit-rate. “No-one likes to do a mediocre gig, or worse, a flat gig,” she says. “Especially when you’ve earned an audience from TV work, the idea that they might come to see you for the first time and leave disappointed really keeps you going.
“At the end of a show, you don’t want a crowd going ‘yeah, that was fine’. You want them to say ‘oh god, do you remember that bit?’ You want an audience to be engaged in what you’re saying.”
Tickets for Sara Pascoe’s Success Story tour are on sale at sarapascoe.co.uk/sara-on-tour; for York Barbican at yorkbarbican.co.uk.