Ruby Wax is back (if she ever went away), and this time she’s on tour with Sane New World – a compact version of her best-selling book of the same name – providing a manual (if you will) on how to survive the 21st century. There’s no better qualified person to show us how and why we sabotage our own sanity; the ‘poster girl’ of depression, Ruby recently left Oxford University with a Masters in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, but there’s always a spike of comedy to hand too…
What made you decide to write a manual that was for the normal-mad, as well as the mad-mad?
For seven years I did a show [about depression], but it’s not like I was doing it for a special group, everybody came, and people would nod their heads in recognition, and once you study how a brain works, it’s all pretty similar once you peel the layers back and look at the plumbing.
And don’t forget, it may not be the ‘one in four’ [who suffer from mental health issues] but people are complaining of burning out, and the numbers show that by 2020 it’s going to be stress that kills us, which is ludicrous when in other parts of the world there are other reasons, and we’re killing ourselves with our own thinking.
So I found that really interesting – why that’s happening, and why that’s happening now. I wanted to know how did it get like this? And I don’t want to blame anything but it’s technology. I don’t know when to shut it off and everybody needs to find out their tipping point.
Clearly I’m the poster girl for mental illness, but I’m saying at the beginning that this is for everybody; a show for the normal.
It’s that expression – FOMO – the fear of missing out.
Yes; that’s interesting. I didn’t know that. FOMO. That’s a really good expression. How did that expression come about?
I think it’s just a phrase that’s been used in the last few years.
Well, how bizarre is that? And then there’s the entitlement – it’s a disease – people with no talent at all have to go on the X Factor, or think they should be supermodels but they ignore the fact that they’re the size of Tibet. You know, everybody thinks they deserve it, just because they’re there, because the magazines tempt you.
The new X Factor just started this weekend, and they’ve lowered the age limit to include 14 year olds so there was a boy, who said, with no hint of irony, ‘I just want to have girls screaming my name.’ He was actually quite talented, but that’s not why he was doing it.
Well, we’ve got another heroin addict on the cards there; that’s just waiting to happen. But they should do a follow up of what happened to everybody. Wouldn’t that be good? I can’t even watch it; I think if you watch stuff like that, you’re in cahoots with them, like you’re watching the death of an animal. Maybe I’m being really ignorant, but I just don’t do it; I just turn my head.
I’ve never watched it before, but someone told me I had to watch it from the beginning.
The point is, we all have addiction in our blood, so once you see it it’s hard to get your eye off it, like a car accident. Can you open one page of Hello! Magazine? I can’t. I have to burn them.
No; I can’t read it.
But if you get your hands on it, you probably open it and keep going.
Do you think adding the ‘spike of comedy’ to your manual is important?
Otherwise I’d be doing a lecture at a university, so I took my dissertation, and I turned it into comedy. If it’s not comedy, what would I be doing? Who would buy a ticket? I saw Mark Thomas at Edinburgh and he’s hilarious; it doesn’t have to be about the brain – politics, whatever – but otherwise I’d get bored. I think it’s a comedian’s job to say something real but make it funny, otherwise it’s intolerable. Everything can be tedious if you don’t have a sense of humour; everything.
In your book Sane New World you mention asking people to describe their bathrooms as tapping into their mindset.
I’m talking about the nature of entitlement, and I’m talking about narcissism in that place. People who demand to have toilets that do more than three functions, and I think that Freud should have asked, ‘how do you want your loo to look?’ because that is the gateway to the unconscious.
So what does your toilet look like?
It’s pretty humble. I mean I don’t live in a slum toilet but I don’t have a chandelier and a marble floor. It’s just a toilet. You know, I don’t need to have the 17th century chaise longue for people to watch me taking a bath. I mean, it’s a fucking shower. [Laughs] It’s a nice one, but it doesn’t play Rachmaninoff.
You’ve mentioned that a great way of coping with things is to find your own ‘fucked buddy’?
Oh right, that’s in the book, but that’s not on stage.
So who is your ‘fucked buddy’?
I have girlfriends who are very vulnerable; they’re not rich, they’re not famous, but they get it; they’re my tribe. So I would call them, not one of those alpha women. These women, you can talk about the dark side, and they don’t get bored.
How do you take a step back from this information overload?
I try to do mindfulness. But nothing is a 100% cure, but, at least, beside medication, I’m trying something else. I don’t have a lot of trust in just sedating yourself or hoping for the best, or waving a crystal. I really have to see the evidence, and so this was the evidence-based stuff, that you can see physiological in a brain scanner.
Is there an ideal time to have been alive then? If the information overload is a symptom of the 21st century; do you think we were much more content 200 years ago?
Yeah; definitely. I mean, you died early. [Laughs] But you kind of knew your place, and if it got too bad, you’d just have a revolution. But the problem is, I don’t need to know… I mean, I need to know if my neighbour is having sex with the man next door, but not four doors down. I don’t need to know.
Ruby Wax will perform Sane New World at Harrogate Theatre on 13th October. For more information, visit www.rubywax.net/tour.