In the last two blogs, comedy critic Kate Copstick told me how she became disillusioned as a lawyer, discovered cocaine in children’s TV and met Jimmy Savile. Today’s blog, from a chat at The Grouchy Club, brings her story up to date.
“So you were a children’s TV presenter in London,” I said. “How did you end up writing for The Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh?”
“I was rent-a-gob female for ages on TV,” she said.
“Rent-a-feminist?” I asked.
“Oh, you’re joking!” Copstick replied. “Good God no! Do I look that humorless? I’m not anti-feminist. I just find it very irritating… Not everything is the fault of men. There were women who used to have to fight for stuff in Britain but I work most of the time in Kenya now. Women there really, really have to fight and terrible things happen to them. Appalling things. I see the real fight women have to fight in Africa: the terrible way they are treated. Then I come back to Britain and find some twat of an actress has gone on Facebook saying Aw, we were hosting a serious play and someone said Nice tits! and I would really have thought blah blah blah blah… Hashtag EverydayMisogyny.
“If you really, really care about women and women’s rights, then in Britain we’re doing kind of relatively OK. Why not come with me to countries where women are really doing very badly? If you care so bloody much, come with me and help them. Don’t sit here and get outraged because in Britain some woman has five children, is adopting a third, can only work every third Monday and then only until 5 o’clock in the afternoon and is complaining because she’s not chairman of the bloody company board.”
“So,” I said, “you were a rent-a-gob female but not a feminist…”
“Yes. And I did loads of TV gameshows. I hosted a couple for the BBC. But, at the same time, I was doing lots of writing.”
“About what?” I asked.
“Sex,” said Copstick. “Mainly sex. Stick to what you know. They say that in comedy. In writing too. I could have written about Kelsen’s Pure Theory of Law, but it just never had the sales potential that sex and alcohol did. I wrote for FHM magazine. I did a column called Stuff Your Face With Copstick. I used to take famous men out for lunch and we’d get reasonably drunk and then I’d write about what I remembered of it and it seemed to go down well.”
“I’m sure you did,” I said.
“Then,” said Copstick, “I interviewed Rowan Pelling, who was working for the Erotic Review. She was posh totty. The Arts Editor of The Scotsman – Robert Dawson Scott – sent me down to interview her. He liked what I wrote and (in 1999) he said What about coming and devastating young people’s dreams in August for a month (reviewing comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe) and I thought Weyhey! That sounds like fun! The Darth Vader effect seemed to suit me and I did more and more writing.”
Copstick now owns The Erotic Review and is the doyernne of comedy reviewers at the Edinburgh Fringe but, for around six months of each year, she works in Kenya.
“You have a charity in Kenya,” I said to her.
“Yes. Mama Biashara, which is Swahili for Business Mother. I get people who are really up to their nipples in horror and – I’m not a particularly touchy-feely person – I don’t do all that I feel your pain. Let’s go and talk thing. You can talk till the cows come home and it’s not going to do any good.
“No! You don’t empower people by talking. You empower people by giving them money and a skill so then they can tell the bad guys to fuck off. That’s how you empower people. Not by sitting and giving them ideas that are never going to come true.”
Mama Biashara gives people who previously had no hope small amounts of money and practical help to start their own self-sustaining small businesses.
“For a lot of the commercial sex workers,” said Copstick, “we have a thing called Kucha Kool (kucha is the Swahili word for finger nail) where they become roving manicurists. You have to start a business that plays to your strengths and the girls who come off the street we try to set up in hairdresser businesses or sewing or as manicurists.
“With the Kucha Kool girls, I give them a dozen assorted nail varnishes, emery boards and buffers and whatever else in a nice case and then they hit the ground running, because they can make 1,500 bob a day (a ‘bob’ is a Kenyan Shilling) and when you consider they got 40 bob for a shag, then 1,500 bob a day is pretty good.
“I buy all that in bulk here in Britain, where it’s cheaper, and then we can hand somebody a business start-up in Kenya.”
“You used to live in the Nairobi slums in a storage container,” I said.
“I have to live in the slums, really,” said Copstick, “because I can’t afford anything else and because I’m kind of obsessive about the money from Mama Biashara going to the women – the people – who need it. I pay all my own expenses. And it’s fine. Who needs to have an inside toilet? My gran lived perfectly well without one.”
“And where do you live in Nairobi now?” I asked.
“Well, thereby hangs a tale,” said Copstick. “Just before I went into my first show at the Fringe (at the beginning of August), I got a text from Kenya saying: Call us! Call us! It is a disaster!
“In the slums, we had set up a little house. The front of it was mbati (corrugated metal). The sides were stone. The back was bits of wood. And the roof was a patchwork of everything. I was describing it to a friend in Kenya and he said: Oh, that is a very random house. So we called it The Random House. It was the headquarters for Mama Biashara, with loads of stuff there, blankets, lots of hair dryers to start hairdressing businesses, three sewing machines which I had just bought, loads of medication and just everything to help people start up a business.
“You can hire men from the City Council. You pay them 200 bob and they will do any type of thuggery you want. Apparently at 4.00am on a Tuesday morning, about a dozen men from the City Council came to the compound where The Random House is, broke in, carted out on City Council handcarts everything that was inside and then brought a bulldozer and flattened it.”
Copstick returns to Nairobi on Sunday.
When I asked her last week where she was going to live, she told me: “The house has been knocked down, so I have absolutely no idea. I will just have to see when I get there.”