Ahead of Sally Phillips’s appearance at the Idler Festival, we share a short extract from Tom Hodgkinson’s interview with her in Idler 56. In it, the actress tells how The Mighty Boosh saved her in her hour of need, confesses that she has never seen Game of Thrones, and is against Bake Off, for turning gentle cake-baking into a competitive sport
Tom Hodgkinson: Did Smack the Pony have an impact on female comedians and writers who came after you?
SP: Yes. It sounds really immodest to say so but they keep coming up and saying “It’s really great.” There are so many great women doing it now. It’s not really a thing anymore. When someone writes an article saying women aren’t funny, they’re immediately laughed out of town, which didn’t used to be the case.
TH: There was an interview in the Daily Mirror, which said that when you meet Sally, you feel you already know her very well. Is that something that happens a lot? Because we see you on telly and so on.
SP: Is that why? I always think it’s because I’m just really simple, without mystery. I don’t know. I don’t play characters that are very mysterious. So you don’t think, “gosh, that woman’s got unplumbed depths.”
TH: Not intimidating.
SP: People are definitely not frightened of me. They used to be, right at the beginning. Journalists used to be nervous of me. There were a few articles that used the phrase “sharp as a knife”. They didn’t know I was going to be such a twit.
CHRIS FLOYD [photographer]: I think that’s because of the Partridge role though. You used to skewer him with silence. Just a smirk.
TH: Was Partridge really fun to do?
SP: It was. I’ve always been a huge fan of Steve [Coogan]’s. But I haven’t actually seen The Trip.
TH: I love it when people admit to things they haven’t seen on telly. Stewart Lee does a “I haven’t seen Game of Thrones” bit in his standup.
SP: I haven’t seen Game of Thrones.
TH: Do you have a telly?
SP: I do but all I get to watch – having kids – is Marvel Adventures movies. I’ve seen all of those. I’m really looking forward to Wonder Woman. It used to be Horrid Henry.
TH: Do you watch yourself on telly?
SP: No. But I think I should start watching it more because my face is starting to do different things… with your face, with wrinkles – it just operates differently.
I want there not to be a competition. It’s not enough to just pursue a leisure activity, you also have to compete
TH: Who are your favourite comedians?
SP: I like Vic and Bob. I love Father Ted.
SP: Just after Olly [eldest son] was born, I remember coming home shortly after the diagnosis [that he had Down’s Syndrome} on Friday night and watching the whole of Nighty Night, The Green Wing and Boosh without laughing. I remember thinking “I’m never going to laugh again. I can see how this is funny, but I’m not laughing.” But then either Noel or Julian danced in a gas mask in front of changing pictures. It made no sense, but I laughed for about ten minutes. So the Boosh were the only people to get through to me in my worst hour. Have you interviewed Noel Fielding then?
TH: No, I’d like to.
SP: What do you think of Bake Off? For me, it’s turning baking, which ought to be something you just enjoy, into a race. I’m anti-Bake Off. I want there not to be a competition. It’s not enough to just pursue a leisure activity, you also have to compete.
TH: Isn’t it just like Greek poetry contests? People like watching it.
SP: I think it’s quite dangerous if everything becomes a competition. Can’t it just be a nice cake?
TH: Do you think Noel Fielding won’t suit it?
SP: No, I think he’ll be great. I just think that without us noticing, it’s influencing how we view life. And that’s the bit I’m interested in. What do we think life is?
TH: It’s not nutritional watching. There’s only one winner.
SP: Apparently they’ve just opened a Museum of Failure in Sweden, which I really want to go to. It’s just like Taskmaster: doing it incredibly badly but failing with enthusiasm. You tried hard. Didn’t work. Never mind.
Sally Phillips will be speaking at the Idler Festival on Sunday 15 July. She discusses how utilitarianism has taken over the world and why it should be stopped with Idler editor Tom Hodgkinson and journalist Decca Aitkenhead. Buy tickets here.