What was it like as one of a handful of women at the heart of the right-on alternative comedy scene in the 1980s? Piece of cake? Bit of a laugh? Well, yes, and no. It had its ups – but also its downs. Helen Lederer was a regular on the stand-up circuit and new-wave sketch shows in the decade that launched the careers of today’s comedy household names and national treasures.
She shared stages with comedy pioneers like Ben Elton and John Hegley, and TV screens with Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Harry Enfield, and many others. From the iconic Absolutely Fabulous, to Bottom, Happy Families, Naked Video, French and Saunders and Girls on Top, it is difficult to think of a comedy show that Helen wasn’t a part of. From writing radio shows, to performing on the West End her wry, witty perspectives, and her face, are unforgettable.
So, plain sailing then? Well, not really. Not That I’m Bitter, her powerful, frank, moving and characteristically funny memoir, reveals exactly how choppy the waters could be. Even in those ground-breaking, anti-Thatcher days, there was only room at top for so many women.
For the rest, it was as much a struggle to be seen and heard in the world of comedy as in any boardroom or workplace, and just as difficult to avoid the predators. This is more than the story of one decade, however. The child of a Jewish-Czech wartime refugee, Helen Lederer was never part of the mainstream.
How do you make humour from a lifelong battle against problems with weight and low-self-esteem? Where are the jokes in addictions to diet-pills and steroid injections? How can laughter defeat the darker moments, like a child’s anorexia or PTSD? How do you cope with constant self-sabotage and when, despite enormous success, you still feel like a failure? Helen raises an important and open discussion around mental health alongside the evolved attitudes to women today. There’s something in Helen Lederer’s life-story that everyone, can relate to. A genuinely funny memoir with lots of heart (and just the right amount of bitterness!), she pulls no punches, but every blow is wrapped in a laugh of recognition.