Alison Kennedy was a highly acclaimed, highly serious novelist before, during, and after she took the relatively surprising step of going into stand-up comedy. A regular at clubs in Glasgow and Edinburgh, this year’s Fringe will see her first run of full hour-long shows. She will also be making a prestigious appearance in the RBS Main Theatre at the Book Festival. In a different intellectual league to most other comedians, A.L. Kennedy gave this exclusive interview to Fest.
Where do you call home?
How would you describe your comedic style?
Narrative observation. The joy of doing this thing is you don't have to listen. You can forget the hell that's waiting for you offstage. And I'm funny, hopefully.
What's the strangest thing that's happened in your life?
I can't tell you any of the top twenty. People are very strange – or just very bad. I'm not a drinking or drugging person, so I remember all the things. I talk about some of them in my show. I do have a bit about a five-hour orgasm, which is not nearly as good as you'd think. You get bored. Men have this “climb every mountain” attitude – “because it's there” – and feel they have to impress you. I was impressed, but after about two hours I was thinking: "Couldn't you just use a table-leg?"
Do you have any phobias?
Inhaling. Exhaling. Myself. Food makes me sneeze. Milk, liquid. One day I'll be old and only able to drink boiled water. Already bits of me don't want to exist any more; hopefully one day they'll all agree and I'll be out of here.
How would you fix the world right now?
We need a Peace Industrial Complex. We need to get rid of the people in charge and the people under the people in charge, who're usually even more stupid. If you can make money selling rockets you can make money getting a puppy to every child. Or a carrot. A mouth organ. There's a gun for every twelve people in the world. I know more than that, at least eighteen, and none of them have guns. Perhaps we need to make people feel more guilty, give everyone an old fashioned Scottish education like mine. That way you can get away with less.
What do you do when you're bored?
What do you tell people around the world about Scotland?
Everybody likes us, I don't know why. The Scots were to the British Empire what Britain is to America now: like the kid in the playground who stands next to the bully and says 'watch out or he'll beat you up'. And then we pretend we had no choice: "They offered us money and power, what could we do?" We also invented the Klu Klux Klan. There are so many African Americans with Scottish names because Scots fucking owned them as slaves. We're bastards. When they hear this stuff people tell you you're just being self-effacing, but we should be locked up. Scotland is the huge abused child of Europe.
What has been your greatest achievement?
There haven't been any.
Now that is self-effacing…
I once gave the gift of laughter to a tiny child with an incurable illness.
You're performing at both the Book Festival and for a full run on the Fringe as a stand-up. Which are you looking forward to more?
I don't really do looking forward to. It's generally a waste of time. There will be 500 people at the Book Festival event, which is a good crowd to roll with. I'm doing a very serious reading from my next novel, ‘Day’, which is about post traumatic stress in the Second World War. It makes me cry, which I suppose is good, but the only other person who cries at their own writing is Geoffrey Archer. I cry at his writing too, but for different reasons. 500 is also a lot of people to piss off. I could do some really insulting comedy and they could kill me. That would be a great way to go: torn to pieces in Charlotte Square gardens.