Sandi Toksvig can’t wait to get to Western Australia

Sandi Toksvig is hard to categorise. For Australian audiences she’s best known as the host of fact finding comedy show Q.I. and also for a stint hosting The Great British Bake-Off. She’s also a successful author with over 20 books to her name, a popular radio broadcaster, and has even co-founded a political party.

Born in Denmark, she spent most of her teenage years in New York City, before her family relocated to London. Her father was a famous foreign correspondent, his work taking the family across thew world.

Toksvig began her performing career at Cambridge where she performed the first one-woman show at famous Footlights Dramatic Club. Her time at University was focused on studying law, archeology and anthropology, but she also found enjoyment hanging out with the other performers who were attending university at the same time, among them Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Tony Slattery and Emma Thompson.

Speaking to OUTinPerth ahead of her Australian tour Toksvig shared that she’s never aspired to be a celebrity, and wasn’t originally planning on having a career in the media and performing arts.

“I wanted to be a human rights lawyer. That’s what I trained as. I was all set, I did my degree and everything, and then I was in a show at university, in a in a sort of review, and a theater director came and saw it and said, ‘Did I want to go work for him for a year?'” Toksvig said, recalling that the the idea of a gap year after university sounded very appealing.

“I thought, Oh well, I’ll have a gap year after university, as well as before, and I’m basically having the longest gap year in history, that’s pretty much what’s happened.

“There was no plan and if it all falls apart tomorrow, and I have to do something else, I’m fine with that too. It’s not like I’m one of those people who goes, ‘Oh, I longed to be a celebrity, fame and fortune’. It’s just been a laugh, and then if it stops, I’ll get a job in a supermarket and be fine.”

Finding Toksvig behind the counter at Woolworths, Aldi or Coles however seems incredibly unlikely because decades into her career she’s one of the hardest working people in British television. Toksvig shares that she’s reached a point though where she only takes on the projects that she really wants to do.

“So now where I am, I’m 64. I just do stuff that I think that sounds like fun. So this week, I’m playing the part of a gang leader and murderer in a crime drama.

“I only did it because I get to get shot at the end, and I’ve never been shot in all the many things I’ve done. So that’s it, I just recently read the script and I went, ‘Oh! She gets shot. Let’s do that. That sounds like fun!'”

Another of her recent projects has been the television series Extraordinary Escapes with Sandi Toksvig which sees her travelling to remote holiday locations around Britain. Each episode she takes with her a different travelling companion, setting off on adventures with some of the UK’s most fascinating and funniest women.

Joining her on her sojourns for the first series was Jessica Hynes, Alison Steadman, Sindu Vee and Prue Leith. While the second series of the show that aired earlier this year in the UK included Sarah Milican, Sue Johnson, Sara Pascoe, Jenny Eclair and many others.

“What’s amazing about it is that we do go to some really nice places…I get to go with amazing people.” Toksvig said.  “We’re just about to make a new series, so we’ll be off around the UK to places that most people in the UK won’t have heard of,  and I get to go with funny women.”

Toksvig jokes that the idea that a travel show featuring only women is still considered a revolutionary idea in television.

“Well, this is so revolutionary, it’s a revolutionary idea – two women go traveling and don’t run out of things to say to each other. Who knew?” Toksvig joked.

Ensuring women have equal opportunities is something that has seen Toksvig move into the political realm. In 2015 she co-founded the Women’s Equity Party, a political party focused on ensuring gender equity.

We discuss how the lack of female representatives in Australia’s Liberal party has been an ongoing issue for years, and she shares her thoughts on the current search for a new British Prime Minister.

“We’re having this ridiculous Prime Ministerial, supposedly debate, going on in the UK at the moment. Yesterday, they announced who had had to step down from the contenders, and they marched out to tell us, and it was five middle aged white men who told us what was happening, and I just thought, ‘Yeah, does anybody see what’s happening here? Can anybody see right in front of them? What’s going on?'”

While Britain slowly works it’s way to a new Prime Minister, Toksvig agrees that Australia is far more efficient at changing our leaders, with the knifing of a sitting Prime Minister all usually wrapped up by lunchtime.

“I love that attitude. I think that’s like a superhighway of politics, very efficient.

“I think what should happen now, because all of our politicians are so rubbish. I think we should just have a national lottery and you everybody pays for a ticket, and we just pick it, it could be you, could be me, it doesn’t really matter. You don’t need any experience – just crack on.”

Ahead of her Australian tour which will see her play a show at Perth’s Riverside Theatre on 17th November, as well as dates in Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney, Toksvig has a lot of questions.

Never having been to Western Australia before she’s well researched, and we discuss Noongar language and customs, outback regions, our new museum, and tips on where the best bars and restaurants are. Toksvig already has a list of venues on her short list, we add Connections Nightclub to her potential places to visit.

She shares an interest in finding out more about Edith Cowan, the first woman to be in an Australian parliament, and laughs when I tell her you can visit Cowan’s former house on the Joondalup campus of the University that bears her name. The house having been moved over 25 kilometers from it’s original position in West Perth.

Getting back out into the world is one of the themes of Toksvig’s latest stand-up show, but she confesses that every night is different, and the conversation could go anywhere depending on who is in the audience.

With most people in the world having experienced periods of isolation in recent years, Toksvig is relishing brining people together to have a laugh.

“I’ve been doing a massive tour in the UK and what has been lovely is that people are so excited when they do come. It’s just that thing of us all being together in a big room having a laugh together, cheering, singing, all of the stuff that you can do when you’re a big audience.

“I think for some people, certainly in the UK, it’s been their first kind of venture out. I think we realized that we’ve missed those those communal things, which I think are really important. But it takes a little bit of bravery to open the door and think ‘I’m not gonna self isolate anymore. I’m going to go and smile at somebody I don’t even know, and see if they’re the most interesting person I haven’t met yet.” Toksvig shared.

At the start of her career Toksvig performed comedy to small crowds in clubs, and nowadays she fills large venues, and we see comedians even playing arenas and stadiums. I ask her, if in the game of comedy, can the room can ever be too big?

“No, I love it.” she says, “I have been in this very long time and one of the things that I know for sure, the minimum number of people for a really proper laugh is a hundred, a really great laugh is a thousand.

“Okay, a thousand people and you start to go, ‘that’s a fabulous noise’.

“I like to make people rock with laughter, but I also like to make them completely silent. When you can’t hear a single person rustling, because then you know, you’ve got their attention, and it’s trying to do both.

“You can play to two and a half thousand people and it’s absolutely possible to have a conversation with a member of the audience where it feels like it’s just the two of you.

“Those are the bits I like best, about a third of my show is the audience talking to me and telling me what they want to talk about. It’s amazing what people want to talk about, and I love that, and I love the fact that it can feel intimate in the midst of this great raucous noise.”

Tickets to Sandi Toksvig Live are on sale now from bohmpresents.com  

Graeme Watson 

Tour Dates

CANBERRA LLEWELLYN HALL SATURDAY 12 NOVEMBER
PERTH RIVERSIDE THEATRE THURSDAY 17 NOVEMBER
ADELAIDE FESTIVAL THEATRE SATURDAY 19 NOVEMBER
BRISBANE QPAC CONCERT HALL MONDAY 21 NOVEMBER
MELBOURNE HAMER HALL FRIDAY 25 NOVEMBER
SYDNEY JUST FOR LAUGHS – STATE THEATRE MONDAY 28 NOVEMBER


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