“I WAS just in Leeds doing the promo for my new book and went down to the canal, it was very cool,” Ruby Wax says down the line from South Africa in her fast, instantly recognisable, voice.
The writer and comedian whose waspish, yet warm, sense of humour has made her a household name in Britain, is back in Yorkshire next month with her one-woman show Frazzled, based on her bestselling book – A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled – which she’s bringing to West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds.
“I’m talking about why we’re all pretty similar and what frazzled means and how we got that way, and not to take it personally because the rest of the world is frazzled too. If you aren’t frazzled then something’s really wrong with you,” she says.
“It’s comedy but I’m imitating Bill Bryson who takes something really interesting and then slips it into comedy,” she says of her show.
Wax was born in the United States and moved to the UK in 1977 with a desire to be an actress. “That was misguided,” she says, self-deprecatingly, “but it worked for a while.”
She says that, but Wax joined the RSC who don’t take on just anyone. “It’s a mystery to people, it’s like ‘who shot Kennedy?’ they can’t understand how I got in there.”
One of her first performances was alongside a young Alan Rickman in a production of As You Like It at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, and the late (and much missed) Rickman played a pivotal role in her career.
“I was always funny but I wasn’t a good actress and it was Alan who said ‘why don’t you write the way you speak?’ and then he directed all my shows.”
Her big break came in the mid-1980s when she teamed up with Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders on the sitcom Girls On Top. “Working with Dawn (French) and Jennifer (Saunders) and Tracey Ullman, that was the moment.
“Nobody else was doing what we were. We were taking the piss out of being women at a time when other women were doing comedy that was very self-deprecating.”
Not that Wax saw them as being ground-breaking pioneers. “We would sit around and make each other laugh and eat a lot, that’s what we were doing.”
Since then she’s gone on to write and perform in her own TV shows and she feels her comedy has improved. “I think I’m better at it and also you’re not as desperate. When you’re younger you’re desperate for people to like you and as you get older that goes and people are more comfortable with that.”
Wax has also been a dedicated mental health campaigner long before it became a cause celebre. “Comic Relief put a big poster of me up that said ‘one in four people have mental illness,’ so I had to do something. They sorted of outed me so I did a show and it became really popular.
“It wasn’t that I was being brave I had to cover for myself and then it became interesting because I don’t like being bored, or boring.”
Doing her one-woman shows is where she says she’s most at home. “You get instant feedback and at the end of the show I go and meet the audience and that’s really the fun part because I love talking to people and they’re really honest with me, and I love that.”
Ruby Wax’s show Frazzled is at West Yorkshire Playhouse, April 8. Tickets from 0113 213 7700 or www.wyp.org.uk