Words by Jenny Whitfield
Packed full of comedy, feminism and audience participation, Thesmo was an incredible end to my week at the Durham Book Festival. The memorable two-woman performance was written and directed by the wonderful Natalie Diddams, and I got the chance to interview her before the show.
Why do you think comedy is important for women?
Personally as a woman I avoided comedy for a long time, I didn’t think I could do it. I remember being a child and my family telling me that women can’t tell jokes, and I think because of that, I never tried. When I started directing I was always doing tragedies and serious stuff, and when I happened upon this idea, it felt really risky to do a comedy because I didn’t think I was good enough or funny enough. But through putting myself out of my comfort zone, I realised that it is so important, as a woman, to do just that. Of course we can tell jokes. It led me to do a lot of research around comedy and women and think about how comedy is still such a male dominated industry. I think women fear not being funny and also that they’re usually the butt of jokes. Therefore it feels too risky. So for women to move into that sphere and be funny is very empowering, and it feels like a radical thing to do, even though it shouldn’t be.
What got you into feminism?
When I was at university I read some Judith Butler, one of our lecturers gave us some of her work and it was about the performativity of gender. She said we are quite often fed this idea that men and women are just too different, their bodies move in different ways, but she proposed this wasn’t biological, just as a result of their conditioning. Reading this made me have a bit of a light bulb moment. When I was a teenager, as most teenagers are, I was quite worried about my body and wondering if I was too fat or not attractive enough, and when I read this book it explained it, I realised it’s not because there’s something wrong with me, it’s this structure we live in called sexism. I do think that it still took me a while to build the courage and identify myself as a feminist. It’s become a more acceptable thing to call yourself in comparison to when I was at university, and that’s great.
Do you have any big feminist inspirations?
In terms of comedy specifically, I really admire Bridget Christie. She’s just become very famous and has won some awards, she’s really persevered and now it’s like she’s in The Guardian every week. I love her determination and how she’s not afraid of tackling feminism in her comedy. I’m also a real fan of Frida Kahlo and Sylvia Plath, I love scary women.
I feel like Thesmo has definitely been one of the most talked about events this week, everyone is so excited to see it. Would you say that it is your proudest achievement?
I do think it is Thesmo. It’s not the biggest show I’ve ever done, but it is the one where I’ve had enough support financially to write and direct my own work which has been so exciting. We’re still in the development stages and it is still very much a work in progress piece, and it feels like a really nice journey. I’m really proud of where it’s going to go next year.