Elaine Miller: the comic with a vulva sense of humour

Taboo-busting jokes about chronic incontinence bagged Elaine Miller an award-winning comedy hit. Now she’s taking on ‘medical misogyny’ with a new walking tour.

Elaine Miller on stage

It is 29 July and Elaine Miller currently has a three hour script for a one hour Edinburgh Fringe show that takes its audience on a vulva shaped tour of the Old Town. Yes, it goes over The Mound, but Elaine has not yet told me her decision on Boyd's Entry.

She has been distracted from editing by her losing battle to have Mobiloo disabled toilets made available, as they have been in previous years, in a few locations in the Old Town. Currently she is looking at raising funding for them herself, for at least part of the time. “Some of these people,” she says, talking about disabled Fringe-goers, “literally have no voice.”

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She has also been having an interactive vulva suit made.

Elaine Miller is pretty much everything that is good about Scottish womanhood. She has a heart the size of Ben Nevis and if she were any more down to earth she would have reached Australia. Which she did, actually, a couple of years ago, and won a Comedy Award at the Perth Festival. But I digress.

She is naturally, hilariously funny, and when you can be hilarious about chronic incontinence, fistulas and prolapses that is some special kind of funny.

“Everybody has a favourite advert that they remember from when they were a kid and it is always funny… always.” she says. “It's why the Irn Bru adverts always work. Scottish people use people as a tool. You don't need to live in Glasgow for very long to know that it is a skill, it is a currency”.

Her first professional skill was, however, physiotherapy, specialising in sports. “I wanted to do something where you could get off with rugby players,” she explains, which seems fair enough. She began with rugby and progressed to being physio for the Scottish cycling team.

“Foreign travel,” she points out. “Basically I was being paid to go round Majorca and touch young men.” Sadly, her desire to keep her clients uncrippled was too often at odds with her duty to enable them to win at international level. So she went back where winning medals was not so important, and, as she says, “I used to get the pishy women referred to me because I am not embarrassable.” By which she means not everyone wants to deal with women (and men) who have issues with their pelvic floor.

“Nobody talks about it.” she says. “And it can ruin a woman's life. Same with the menopause. And we have known for 40 years how to do something about it, which makes it a feminist issue for me. Medical misogyny is a real problem.

“I did a five minute set at a newbies night years ago, about a woman pishing herself on her own doorstep, and afterwards four women from the audience came up to me and went ‘me too’. And one of them who'd gone to her GP had been told she would just have to put up with it.”

By this time Christine, the charming owner of Knights Kitchen on Leith Walk, has pretty much heard it all and so when Elaine angrily announces “Only 25% of pishy women ever seek help”, she barely blinks.

Elaine's route into comedy is everything you might expect from the woman. In her twenties, at a party, she regaled friends with the gory details of the previous night's appallingly horrendous date. (I will precis: posh restaurant, spontaneous ejaculation.)

“A bloke came up and offered me a ten minute spot at a comedy club. I said ‘why would I tell this awful story?’ and he said ‘because it's funny’. He spent the rest of the night trying to persuade me, and I said no, so that meant I spent the next 20 years thinking, whenever anyone mentioned stand up comedy, ‘I can do that, 'cos that guy 20 years ago said I was funny.’”

Her 40th birthday, and a trip to see Sarah Millican at The Stand, was the impetus to enter the Laughing Horse Newcomer Competition and more. “I loved being able to go out, put on a bit of lippy and have a laugh, and it was after seeing comedians discussing the most appalling things on stage and making people laugh about them, I thought, ‘I wonder if it can be used to promote women's health?’ They're not coming into clinic, so could I use a show to tell them what I would tell them in clinic?’”

The people who were most against the idea of a female open spot doing a very interactive hour in Edinburgh with pelvic floor exercises and a giant vulva costume were her fellow comics. "The comedians were not impressed, they kept telling me you need to go ten years before you do an hour. And I was an open spot. I had ten minutes. And I wasn't doing it that often.” But Gusset Grippers debuted at the Fringe in 2016, went international, won that Comedy Award in Perth, finally got the respect of her professional physio peers, and now the woman who has perked up pelvic floors across both hemispheres is getting out her giant vulva and taking to the streets of Edinburgh again.

“I saw a YouGov survey which said that 50 per cent of British women do not know the difference between vulva and vagina and that bothers me,” says this most passionate of funny feminists. “Young women are taught to be unhappy with the appearance of their genitals,” she says, volume increasing as she warms to the theme of this year's show. “Most don't even know what they are meant to look like and younger women don't go for screening because they are too embarassed to get their vag' out in front of a health professional.” Christine, who is by this time locking up the cafe, looks sympathetic.

“It will be funny,” Elaine reassures her. “It's not hard to be funny, 'cos fannies are funny.”

Viva Your Vulva, Elaine Miller’s Edinburgh Fringe walking tour, leaves from Gilded Balloon Teviot at 6pm on 6-8, 12-15, 20-22 and 26-29 August. Book tickets here.