VG Lee - Funny Lady
Author and comedian VG Lee is going mainstream
You might have heard of VG Lee. You could know her as a stand-up comedian. Or you may recognise her as the author of books like 'As You Step Outside', 'The Comedian' or 'Diary of a Provincial Lesbian'. What you probably don't know is that she now writes for Britain's oldest weekly women's magazine The Lady. Or that her new novel, 'Always You, Edina', comes complete with a glowing endorsement from Sarah Waters, who says that 'Lee writes with unfailing warmth and wisdom.'
Lee became a stand-up comic in 2009, at the age of 60. What on earth possessed her? 'It was more thrust upon me than decided upon,' she says. 'A friend signed me up for a comedy course. “You'll be great, Val,” she said. But I wasn't. Each Wednesday for about 12 weeks I was complete rubbish. At the end of the term we did a show at a local venue compered by the comedian, Maureen Younger. It became my sort of “A Star Is Born” moment. The audience liked me and Maureen booked me for a spot at Laughing Cows in Soho. It seemed like a jolly idea to set myself a target of doing 60 gigs in my sixtieth year. I managed over 90, plus a two-week stint at the Edinburgh Festival!'
How does stand-up comedy compare to performing before an audience as an author? 'Doing stand-up is far harder than an author event,' she replies. 'A comedian's job is to make an audience laugh within the first few seconds and keep them laughing till you get off. At a reading, just by being a published author you receive an automatic measure of respect. There is a huge difference between keeping an audience interested and keeping them amused.'
Lots of authors find public readings very daunting. How important is it for them to get out there and promote their work? 'I still meet authors who think it's enough to drop their new novel into a void and let it fend for itself,' Lee says. 'I see this as laziness, fear or conceit. I don't want to set off on a wet night to a town over a hundred miles away to read to between ten and 20 people. But I do it because I want my book to have the best future I can make for it. Readings mean visibility, book sales and most importantly, getting to know my readers.'
So what's the worst stand-up gig she's ever done? She shudders. 'I was booked act-unseen for a pub in Eastbourne. Somehow I imagined the venue would be full of women of my own age nursing gin and tonics or dry white wines. I took my friend Mary with me for support, with the inducement that she just might bump into Ms Right. The audience consisted of straight men on their stag nights or with their girlfriends. They roared with laughter at masturbatory jokes, diarrhoea jokes, jokes about having sex with toothless grannies. Then I walked on. I did eight minutes about an unfortunate experience at the local hairdressers. They were too stunned to heckle.'
And the worst author's gig? 'That must have been a Pride event. I won't say which Pride. We arrived to find that nobody was expecting us. There had been no advertising, which meant no audience. Mary had come along. She's a signwriter so she was able to make some signs for us.' Even so the authors had to trawl for an audience in the cafeteria. 'We ended up with about eight people, several of whom were eating their dinners on their laps while we read.'
The new book, 'Always You, Edina', sounds very different to her previous novels. She agrees. 'My past three novels have focused on lesbian relationships - romantic, sexual and social. The story of “Always You, Edina” is told through the voice of a ten-year-old child, Bonnie Benson. She observes the developing affair between her father, Ken and her idealised and idolised Aunt Edina, without appreciating the tragic effect it will have on their two families. At the same time Bonnie charts her on-off friendship with Joanna Bayliss, the most popular girl in her year. Although this novel is humorous, there is also a darker side. Bonnie has to face up to her father's weakness, the innate cruelty of her favourite aunt, and to losing people she loves.'
Lee is also writing for The Lady. Is this something she ever imagined herself doing? She laughs. 'Never! However, The Lady was very much part of my childhood as my mother always bought it. I remember each issue contained at least two gently amusing articles. These had to be searched for because they were often disguised by worthy titles like “Under the Hawthorn Hedge.” I'm very much enjoying contributing to the magazine. So far I've covered comedy, yoga and extreme dentistry. Next I'll be tackling my difficult neighbours!'
'Always You, Edina' is published by Ward Wood at £9.99.
VG Lee performs at Laughing Cows at Retro Bar on Oct 4. 'Always You, Edina' has been shortlisted for a Stonewall Award.