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The Power of Comedy – An Interview with Deborah-Frances White

14 September 2016 Stephanie Brandhuber

Comedian Deborah Frances-White’s award winning radio series Deborah Frances-White Rolls The Dice will be returning to BBC Radio 4 this autumn for a second series. The radio comedy is based on Deborah’s critically acclaimed one-woman shows. Rolls The Dice mixes stand-up and storytelling as Deborah candidly reveals monumental events in her life such as her experiences belonging to a cult and the search for her birth parents. We sit down with Deborah to talk about her new series of Rolls The Dice, her successful podcast The Guilty Feminist, and looking good naked.

In the first series of Deborah Frances-White Rolls the Dice, you talk a lot about your personal experiences like how you discovered who your birth mother is and how you broke away from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. What can people expect from this new series?
 
The new series is a continuation of two of the stories from the first one. One is about finding my biological father, which was left on a bit of a cliffhanger last time; so this is my continuing saga of trying to find him. It starts with a kind of “previously on…” and it’s about what I learn in the process. And the other one is about being a Jehovah’s Witness and how I got contacted by a lot of ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses after the first series, including a particular 23-year-old man. He told me he that was currently a Jehovah’s Witness and really needed to get out. And I was like, you really should not be talking to me because you could be disfellowshipped just talking to me.
 
Wow, that’s really intense. What happened?
 
Well, because he was so depressed, I ended up going over and seeing him in Vancouver and spending a week with him and having these adventures with him. In the process of trying to get him out, I also explored new experiences with him. It was really amazing; it really changed my life a lot.
 
I can’t believe you went all the way to Canada to be with him!
 
Yeah, it was really great. It was really scary at times and amazing at times but really worth doing. But it was also one of those things where once you’ve rolled the dice a few times you become more of the sort of person that goes “I guess we’re going to Canada now!” and you go and fly to Vancouver because, why not? And you live more adventurously.
 
What makes you want to share these stories with people?
 
I think when you do comedy that is honest and raw and meaningful, it can change things. Jehovah’s Witnesses said that they listened to the cult episode specifically because it was comedy and they didn’t think it would affect them. They said had it been serious, they wouldn’t have listened to it because they’re not really meant to listen to stuff like that. But they didn’t realize the power comedy could have. So I think comedy can be immensely powerful, it can speak to people. There’s quite a few people who have now said they’re going to start finding their birth mother because they listened to my story, so you can change things if you’re very honest in your comedy. It’s a risk; it’s a big risk, because then if you’re honest and people don’t respond, you feel more vulnerable. But really the only thing that speaks to people is when you’re completely open and truthful.
 
You’re also doing a podcast called The Guilty Feminist with stand-up comedian Sofie Hagen. Can you tell me what you think a Guilty Feminist is?
 
Well, it’s called The Guilty Feminist because it’s basically about our noble goals as 21st century feminists and our hypocrisies and insecurities that undermine those goals. So, for example, I am a feminist and I totally believe in the body positive movement, but I also want to look good sitting down naked.
 
Is wanting to look good naked anti-feminist? Oops!
 
There’s nothing anti-feminist about it, but sometimes we can feel bad about it. It’s another thing we’re made to feel we’re not doing right. We too often feel like we’re not a good enough partner, not a good enough lawyer, mother, whatever it is that we’re trying to do, and now we’re not a good enough feminist. The Guilty Feminist is coming up to a million downloads, and I think it’s contributing to making feminism accessible. Sometimes people write in and say “I’m a feminist but tonight I knew I was going to see my ex boyfriend at this work drinks event, so I put on false eyelashes, and stilettos and a push-up bra. Why, why did I do that? Why didn’t I think I was good enough and why do I care what he thinks?” So that’s why we talk about being a guilty feminist. Acknowledging the guilt means we don’t have anything to be guilty for, we’re just trying our best. Sometimes we’ll screw up and sometimes we’ll think, “Next time I see him I’ll go as I am because I’m good enough.” It’s allowing a place for discussion
 
What do you have planned for the future?
 
I’d love to do more with Radio 4 and I’d love to take The Guilty Feminist on tour and maybe at some point take it to TV. I feel like there’s a real opportunity to build that idea and I want to tour it around the UK and America. We’ve already done shows in Copenhagen, Melbourne, Manchester, and Edinburgh, so we’ve been around a bit and we’ve only been doing it for just over a year, but I think that will be my biggest focus.
 
Series one of Deborah Frances-White Rolls The Dice will be repeated from 9th September on BBC Radio 4, followed by series two airing from 8th October. You can also listen to episodes of The Guilty Feminist online.
 
 
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