Comedy interview: Kathy Lette makes her Fringe debut with Girl Talk

Kathy Lette will talk about her son Jules, who is autistic, and the trials and tribulations of motherhood. Picture: Contributed
Kathy Lette will talk about her son Jules, who is autistic, and the trials and tribulations of motherhood. Picture: Contributed
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Kathy Lette has been famous since she was 17, and this is her first appearance at the Fringe, but she’s a big hit at book festivals and getting people to laugh has never been a problem for her, discovers Claire Smith

‘Let’s meet in The Savoy,” she says, and we do – in a secret round room off the American Bar in the London hotel– overlooking the Thames and decorated with pictures of movie stars and entertainers.

“Isn’t this great,” says Kathy Lette, then leans towards me: “Unfortunately it is where Harvey Weinstein used to take people when he was in London.”

Meeting Kathy Lette is like this, full of fun and mischief and peppered with eye-popping revelations and gobsmacking celebrity gossip.

The Australian-born, London-based author is an ambassador for the Savoy, and has a signature co­cktail named after her. She says she lived here for three months, during which time the concierges used to help her children with their homework, who would then sail off to their state schools in taxis.

She arrives, perfectly coiffed and made-up and wearing a smart dress and heels, but tells me she was up till 3am, in the rockstar suburb of Henley-on-Thames, partying with members of Deep Purple.

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Lette, who is making her first-ever appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe, has been world-famous since her teens, when she wrote Puberty Blues, which became an international bestseller.

“I wrote my first novel when I was 17 and that became the Catcher in the Rye of ­Australia. They teach it in schools now in Australia, which is amazing.”

Her style is feminist and funny, and she has published 13 novels, including Foetal Attraction, Nip and Tuck, Mad Cows, and How to Kill Your Husband and other Handy Household Hints.

She’s a favourite at book festivals, which is where the idea of doing a one-woman show began to take shape.

“When you do a book tour you talk for an hour and everyone laughs their heads off. I thought, ‘Why not?’

“Whenever I do my show people in the audience start talking about things that are happening to them. Then we carry on talking and end up in the bar.

“Sometimes they start talking about things that they have never talked about before.”

She laughs: “They all bring me up little stories and they tell me things I can use in my books.”

She’s been getting tips from Billy Connolly, a friend with whom she exchanges emails almost daily.

“Of course I keep them all. They are ­wonderful. And you know he always says he is not nearly as funny as the guys he worked with.”

Lette, whose show is called Girl Talk, wants to recreate the openness and ­hilarity women generate in each others’ company.

“You know when you go on a girls’ night out and you’re all laughing and then ­suddenly everybody’s hugging and crying.

“We have each other’s backs. We support each other emotionally and that’s something to celebrate.”

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She thinks women are stronger, more capable and funnier than men.

“All the research shows that women laugh more often than men. I think there’s a big difference between male and female humour. My male friends are fun but they tell set jokes.

“We are much more candid. Think about what women go through. ­Pregnancy, childbirth, mastitis, the menopause. And then, just when everything goes quiet, you grow a beard.

“What women like about this show is it says what they are thinking so that is ­liberating for them.”

She says she knows nothing about the Edinburgh Fringe and is soon frantically scribbling down tips about places to go and new up-and-coming comics to see. But she clearly knows her comedy: we chat about Hannah Gadsby’s show, she tells me she loves Bridget Christie and the Rubberbandits.

She also spent a period working on sitcoms in LA, where comedy crafted in writers’ rooms, with ten or 12 people working together.

“All these shows are written by about ten people – they lock them in a room – I called it the gagulag.”

It was in LA that she was asked on a date by a young George Clooney and turned him down. Later, watching 
him on ER, she says: “my ovaries were ­crying.”

Lette, who is a well-known Labour ­party supporter and activist, and a friend of Gordon and Sarah Brown, was married for many years to Australian civil rights lawyer Geoffrey Robinson, but the pair are currently separating.

“Marriage suits men much better than it suits women. Marriage statistics are low right now and I think it is women who are getting post-monogamy tension.

“Women are 50 per cent of the population but do 90 per cent of the work.

“What I gather from my female friends is that they are not having sex with their husbands – they do so much they are not just exhausted they are also resentful.”

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Her latest book, Best Laid Plans, is inspired by her son Jules, who is autistic and who works as an actor on Holby City. The original idea came from a story she heard about a parent who was arrested for kerb-crawling when they were trying to find a prostitute to sleep with their ­disabled teenager.

She tells she has a great idea for a ­dating app – Autinder – which would match autistic young men with older women.

“The slogan would be: ‘Square Pegs for Round Holes.’ Young guys with autism have no ageism.”

In her show she plans to talk about autism. “I talk about my autistic son and how things are for me. I talk quite honestly about the trials and tribulations and the dark side of that.

“It is more common in men than in women and when I talk about it people suddenly realise that their husband, their father, or their son has autism.”

“It is one in every 68 people. They have no filter, they say whatever they are ­thinking.”

She’s serious for a moment, but soon has me howling with laughter.

“When Jules was 11 or 12 I took him to Downing Street for some charity event. I said, ‘This is Tony Blair.’ He said, ‘Oh, you’re the one my mother calls “Tony Blah Blah Blah”.’”