Stand-up can function as both comedy and protest, as Gráinne Maguire discovered when she devised an innovative way to vent her frustration at Ireland’s stance on abortion.
W hen stand-up comedian Gráinne Maguire decided to share the details of her menstrual cycle with the Taoiseach Enda Kenny in protest at Ireland’s stance on abortion, she had no idea just how far-reaching – and hilarious – the impact would be. Her new show at the Fringe is her chance to share some of the stories.
It all started when, in a fit of blind frustration at Ireland’s viciously misogynist abortion laws, I decided to live-tweet my menstrual cycle to Enda Kenny. Since he gets to decide what happens inside my body, it’s only fair that he knows all the details, all the news from my womb – or, as I like to call it, Ireland’s littlest embassy. I thought I’d get a few pity retweets from my friends and probably a concerned phone call from my sister to check I wasn’t cracking up. That was on the Monday. By the Wednesday night Twitter was going crazy. Women all over Ireland were getting involved and writing the most hilarious tweets. By Friday it had gone global. It was being reported in the USA, Australia, Japan and India, and women from those countries were joining in too. Then Mia Farrow started tweeting about it, then Hozier, so teenage girls in America got involved. It was a very bizarre week.
Things aren’t great between me and Enda at the moment. I don’t see him as much as I’d like. He sends me secret messages via blinks in TV interviews, but that’s it. To be honest, I miss him.
It was very satisfying that a silly joke I came up with on the bus meant that Ireland’s guilty secret was being talked about a bit more. Even some of my friends in the UK weren’t aware that abortion is still illegal in both the North and the Republic of Ireland. A friend asked if the reason abortion was illegal in Ireland was in case it divided Catholic and Protestant communities; which is sweet, because state ownership of women’s bodies is one of the few things they actually agree on.
My new show is partly about this and about the stories we tell ourselves to justify the often really bad choices we make in life. Ireland tells itself it’s the best little country in the world, despite the fact that the UN has ruled its treatment of women breaks their basic human rights. And in our lives we often repeat the same stories over and over again, because they’re the only ones we know. Like, I think I can trim my own fringe. I cannot trim my own fringe, but every year I forget this and think, “You know what, why don’t I just give it a go with my nail scissors? How hard can it be?” Hard. It is always hard but I never learn. So, big issues like that.
I was drawn into comedy by Sean Hughes. Our family was obsessed with him. My sister had a poster of him on her wall and we used to listen to his comedy album so many times that I can still quote whole chunks of it. My mam once threatened to take the album off us as a punishment. When I was 13, we went to see his stand-up show and I queued up twice to get him to sign my programme. That man was a big deal in our house. He was like a member of the family, our big brother who’d moved to London who we all had a weird inappropriate crush on.
I’ve sat through so many routines about prostate exams, I sometimes feel I’ve had one. I have a working knowledge of most embarrassing male conditions. If I were ever to suddenly experience erectile dysfunction, I would have the tools to deal with it. So I get very frustrated when a female comedian talks about an experience that is uniquely female, like periods, and some male audience members either faint or act like they should be given a Pride of Britain award for sitting through it without dissolving of boredom. If a man can’t handle listening to jokes about our bloody knickers once a month, piss off back to your Top Gear re-runs and stop being so boring.
Interview: Kate Copstick
Picture: Idil Sukan
Gráinne Maguire: Great People Making Great Choices Pleasance Courtyard, 3–29 August (not 16), 7.15pm