Sara Pascoe and the importance of using our platforms well

What a great Saturday morning last week! Quite apart from the fact that we had lovely friends staying, and I was able to meet some of their equally lovely friends too (great educators all, it must be said!), it was a real treat to spend an hour with my 16 year old daughter watching and listening to the irrepressible Sara Pascoe in conversation with Michael Pedersen at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. And (as you would expect from one of the UK’s top comedians) it was very funny indeed. Our claim to a connection with Sara Pascoe, incidentally, is that as a family we used to watch her, years ago, in her early years as an unknown actress, when she performed for several years as part of the ‘Shakespeare for Breakfast’ troupe at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival … she was obviously talented and funny back then, and (we hoped and assumed) destined to move into a wider sphere of influence.

And indeed she has done so … Sara Pascoe is enjoying a great career on TV and in other media, and this was clear from her conversation today, although ostensibly, we were all there to hear about her debut novel, Weirdo – due out in September, and (to judge by the extracts we heard) an astute (and humorous) account of what it means to live as Sophie from Essex in a financially-challenging, emotionally-challenging world. Sara herself said that she wanted to write a novel about someone who was trying to be normal, and not really succeeding – what, after all, is ‘normal’? – and I am fairly sure that it will contain a lighthearted (but acerbic) commentary on the world.  

It was a funny and enjoyable hour – but one moment in particular made me sit up straight, and admire Sara for her honesty and inclusiveness. In answer to a question from the audience about whether mobile phones should be banned from arts venues, she told a story about when, as a stand-up comedian, she had got it very wrong indeed, and the lesson she had learned from it. It was in her early years as a comic, when, with an air of over-confidence, she decided to call out an audience member for scrolling through his phone while she was performing. The more she called him out for his apparent disdain and arrogance, the more he put his head down; to cut a long story short, she realised – eventually – that he was checking his phone because of a family emergency, and that … because he had cerebral palsy … his biggest fear was being asked to speak in public, in case he was misconstrued as being drunk. Calling him out was completely the worst thing that Sara could have done; on Saturday, in front of an audience of several hundred, she acknowledged this openly, with no excuse, and with the learning she gained, ie that we never know exactly what other people are going through … and if something bothers us, we should be grown-up enough just to deal with our irritation ourselves. There are bigger things in life; and kindness and understanding go a long way.

Sara Pascoe had a platform, and she used it really, really well; she spoke out boldly about the importance of inclusiveness and how easy it is to make wrong, damaging assumptions. It was a reminder that our responsibility as human beings goes beyond what just what we do in our own lives – it extends to the impact we can have on others. If you have a platform – and we all do, at some point in our lives – then we absolutely should recognise this, and use it well.

Bravo, Sara! And well done to the Edinburgh International Book Festival for providing the platform!

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