Anne Gildea on midlife, myths and menopause

Anne Gildea on midlife, myths and menopause

The comedian is making fun of the menopause on her tour. And here’s why audiences are loving it…

When Anne Gildea reached the menopause, she realised just how little she knew in terms of what the body goes through. “When I began the research, I was just in shock about all I didn’t know. It became a huge passion project of mine. And the whole idea of what I didn’t know was just so ripe for comedy.”

The result is How To Get The Menopause & Enjoy It, her hugely successful show that has now been touring for the last few years and returns to Twickenham in May. “I see the menopause as reverse puberty – just think back to all the changes you went through during that time. Now your body is ceasing to produce the hormones and it has an equal and opposite effect. In the show, I draw people back to when they were younger. It is an emotional journey and really chimes with women.”

Men too are invited along – menopause directly affects 51% of us but impacts everyone. Among the topics she pokes fun at are, ‘is the moustache inevitable?’ and ‘what superpowers come with the menopause?’ She says of the latter: “It’s slightly facetious and slightly true. Given that oestrogen is a caring hormone, as you produce less in menopause, you come to care less and less what people think and that is a superpower.”

And she is passionate about dispelling the myths on midlife – Anne will also be heading out on tour with Dr Louise Newson later in the year, with Hormones and Menopause – The Great Debate, with dates in Epsom and Kingston.

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Bringing humour to the most serious of subjects, Anne has previously talked openly about her experience of breast cancer. Her newspaper column resulted in a spot on a radio show, which led to a documentary. It also inspired the film The Bright Side.

“I turned my breast cancer into an industry! But what I wanted to do was to share my experience because at the time, there wasn’t all that much information about what actually happens and what you go through with chemo. Everything was so American that you must think positively. Some days I just wanted to stay in bed.”

Anne, who grew up in Ireland, found success as part of the musical comedy trio The Nualas. But she first tried out as a comedian in the 1980s on the London circuit. “I wanted to get involved in performing so I did some street theatre, some education and loads of little clubs. I was attracted to the comedy circuit as I had this desire to have some autonomy and to be able to create.

“It was easy to call up and book open spots and I had the confidence you have in your early 20s. Then I realised I’d better write something, and found that comedy is really hard and preparation is actually important!”

It was also a tough male-oriented crowd. “I was born in Manchester but grew up on a farm in Sligo. I wondered what have I got in common with the people in front of me.

“Plus, back then I was still finding my voice. If I’d been older, I could have brought in my world view, and it would have been ok. The thing with comedy is shared humanity – if you dig deep, you find universality.”

Anne went back to Ireland to hone her craft. She had previously gone to college with comedy legend Ardal O’Hanlon and she knew Dylan Moran quite well. She said they did it the right way. “They built up slowly and quietly. When they arrived in London, they were fully formed.”

But there’s something to be said for launching yourself in regardless, she thinks. “It’s interesting now. Back then comedy was something you stumble into, now it is formalised into career paths. When things become formalised, they become middle class. You have to understand what you need behind you and the whole agent process. I was working class, just chipping away. I’m very much of the stumble along and see how it goes approach. It’s my modus operandi.”

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She loves having a chat with her audience after her shows to get a sense of what’s going on with people. And she’s really looking forward to being back in Twickenham. “The Exchange makes me very welcome. I played there last year, and I wondered how the show would land with a London audience. But it landed in the same way and had the same buzz.”

Anne’s next show will be about life from an ageing perspective – she is now in her late 50s. “Anyone in their 50s has witnessed some incredible developments. Even just talking to someone on Zoom, this was like science fiction land. The developments have been mind-blowing.”

In terms of the menopause too, developments and attitudes are progressing. “In some cultures, they call menopause a second spring and I believe that. The women I meet, they are all going for it. They see it as me-time: the third act is for me; I will take my experience and think about what I want. There is this wave of women who have this energy about them.”

How To Get The Menopause & Enjoy It will be at The Exchange 17-18 May