Funny Women: Exclusive Interview with Christine Entwisle / Sophie Sandor

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Christine Entwisle was not only the winner of the BBC Writer's Award of 2015, but has also been presented with the Funny Women's Writer's Award and the Best Scripted Comedy award in the past few years. We caught up with Christine, to talk about how she has established herself as a creative and what she believes is holding many women back from achieving their goals

What made you want to become an actress, writer and director?

I wanted to be an actress, really. When I was a kid, it was the only thing I wanted to do. And then when I started, I got bored really quickly and realised that actually I was writing a lot of the time. I was in devised work*, and so I was writing, in a sense, and I just carried on with that.

And how did you then get into comedy?

I got into comedy as a double act, when I was an actor. I wanted to make my own work and one of the easiest ways you can do that is just turn up at a pub and do an open spot, rather than have to audition and get a part - so you’re suddenly in control of your own work.

So, I remember that in a BBC blog you mentioned an anecdote about a young writers' group in which they were asked to submit a play at the end - and the best one would be produced at the end. The class was evenly split between men and women and the men submitted work but only half of the females did, as the girls who hadn’t submitted were held back because they didn’t feel what they had written was “good enough” - do you think that this is true of the wider industry, meaning that it’s women who are holding themselves back?

Yes, I do. I think that what tends to happen is that women wait, and re-work and re-work something until they reach something that they think is perfect or approaching perfection which can never happen. And then what men do, which is better, is that they write something and then they show it, then send it off. And if you tell them that it’s not good, then they’ll write something else. And so there must be some kind of connection going on, or something culturally, to do with women needing more of a positive reflection back at themselves than men do, you know, to sort of validate themselves, and that’s because of fear, and thousands of years of oppression. My advice is: write it, send it off, and if they don’t like it, they can fuck off.
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At what point did you experience your first breakthrough, when you thought you were going to be able to follow acting as a career path?

I think it was my first job, really, and then getting another job. And then your first wage packet when you think, “I’ve just made a wage out of acting”. That’s when you think you’re an actor. Then for a while you’re very proud and then when taxi drivers ask you what you do you say, “I’m an actress”. Then quickly you learn to say, “I’m a teacher”, because they ask what you’ll have been in on the telly that they’ll have seen. I was doing avant garde theatre so they never knew anything that I’d been in.

You’ve previously described yourself as a glass-half-empty kind of person and said that people take better to glass-half-full kind of people, so how do you manage to be a likeable and relatable person on-screen?

It’s comedy, that’s all. I think most comedians get a bit blue sometimes and they use comedy - or I use comedy, comedy saved my life, really - and I think that they are two sides of the same coin. Comedy, tragedy, one leads to another and cannot exist without the other.
Manhunt really is very silly. I think it’s because I’m playing someone who is generally damaged and desperate and I think that we all probably can relate to that.

What are you doing now and what do you want to do next?

I’ve just got a commission for another play called Idle Hands which is about a woman in her 50s who becomes obsessed with her postman, and that’ll be on Radio 4 next year. And I have a sitcom with Channel 4 which is an adaptation of Do You Wish To Continue, which is a radio piece I wrote.

Finally, do you have any other advice for young women?

Push forward - and be careful - just watch what’s happening as the same thing is happening at dinner parties as is happening professionally: men take up time, and they take up space in the room, and the best thing thing you can do to not encourage them is to stop laughing at them if they aren't funny.

*Devised theatre (also called collaborative creation, particularly in the United States) is a form of theatre where the script originates not from a writer or writers, but from collaborative, usually improvisatory, work by a group of people (usually, but not necessarily, the performers).

Words by: Christine Entwisle

Interviewed by: Sophie Sandor