Changes: Jen Brister
The audio version of this episode is available here.
Annie [00:00:00] Word of warning. This episode contains strong language from the start.
Jen [00:00:05] *Yelling* The Internet's gone down! Honestly fucking Richard Branson suck a dick. *Bang noise* What a pile of shit. I don't know why we pay Virgin. Why are we paying them? These people are taking the piss. Come on you absolute cock sucker. This network could not be found. I want to shoot myself in the face.
Annie [00:00:29] *Intro music starts* Hello. My name is Annie Macmanus. Welcome to Changes. You just heard the best reaction ever to an interview over Zoom being interrupted by terrible Internet. We have all been there at some point. Thankfully, Jen Brister just does not hold back with her frustrations, and the audio was still recording so we didn't lose this at the time. Let's have some again, shall we?
Jen [00:00:49] Honestly, fucking Richard Branson suck a dick! *Bang noise*.
Annie [00:00:54] *Laughing* Too good. We love Jen Brister. That is our guest this week, a woman who describes herself as a stand up comedian, writer, actor and dickhead. She is a regular on UK TV, having performed on Live at the Apollo, Frankie Boyle's New World Order, Mock the Week, QI, Hypothetical and Sarah Pascoe's comedy lectures on Dave. Her sell-out show Meaningless can be streamed on Amazon Prime. Jen is currently touring her show The Optimist, which the Guardian described as 'expertly calibrated crabbiness' and said 'no one rages against the world better'. On the week of International Women's Day, it also seems apt to speak to a female comedian who is a mother to twin boys with her partner, Chloe. She describes herself as the other mother, the non-biological mum, and in her comedy manages to make parenting and the reality of two women bringing up two boys absolutely hilarious. One clip on Instagram about the differences in mother-son relationships compared to mothers and daughters has racked up over 30 million plays alone. Jan also has a brilliant weekly podcast called Women Talking Bollocks with her two comedian friends, Maureen Younger and Alison June Smith. There's lots of recommendations on there, lots of exasperated ranting about life. It's very relatable and very fun, as is this conversation. We talk about parenting, porn and children, success in your forties and a word of warning if you've lost someone recently, we do touch on grief as well. This is such an inspiring conversation in lots of ways: for persevering with your dreams, for being a woman in your forties having a successful career, for being a working mother, and also for healthy anger, which after our Gabor Maté episode we know is very important. Jen Brister is all about healthy anger and we love her for it. This was such a joy. Welcome to Changes, Jen Brister... So the show is the optimist. It's about your being a bit of a prick and needing to find reasons to be optimistic *Jen laughs*. That's your words, not mine. So how is it going? And are you feeling more optimistic as a result of doing this tour?
Jen [00:03:14] Nahhh- yeh- yess, yesss *Annie laughs*. I think doing the tour has made me feel a bit optimistic because people are so nice, like the people that are coming to my shows are just lovely and they're predominantly on the same wavelength as me, and it just feels nice to be in a room full of people that are like, yeah, we all agree, right?
Annie [00:03:33] Yeah, yeah.
Jen [00:03:34] We all agree that this is messed up. We're on the same page. So yeah, in that regard it's made me realise, d'you know what Brister, you're not alone. There are other people that are as livid as you are with the way things are at the moment. But generally speaking erm, probably not *laughs*.
Annie [00:03:50] How is it being a comedian in 2023?
Jen [00:03:54] Well, it's- ahh God.
Annie [00:03:56] Because it's a mad time, isn't it?
Jen [00:03:57] It is a mad time. It's a mad time to be a comedian in many ways because people have opinions. People like to tell you what they think about you as a person, what you're doing, who you are, what they like, what they hate. And obviously, I'm of an age where I remember a time when you would have an opinion and literally no one else knew about it. But it seems that those days are gone *laughing*. So in that regard, it's weird. You better be absolutely brilliant because there's going to be people that have already made the decision that you're not going to be very good, for no other reason other than the fact that you are a woman. And so it does mean that you are- whether you are aware of it or not, you are more driven, you are more single minded because there are more hoops to jump through and obstacles to like get around. So you don't take your success for granted.
Annie [00:04:54] Do you think you're underrated because you're a woman?
Jen [00:04:57] I think I was, and I actually really liked that *laughs* because audiences would underestimate me, and so there would be always this sort of- like almost an intake of disappointment when I walked on stage and I would really enjoy that. I'd be like, oh, you think I'm not going to be very good. Okay. So I can only be brilliant now because you've already decided-
Annie [00:05:18] Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Jen [00:05:19] So you've actually made my job easier in many ways.
Annie [00:05:22] Well, listen, let's figure out the Jen that walks out on stage and goes, 'okay, I'm going to prove you wrong guys', and find out where all that comes from. When did you first realise that you had the capacity to make people laugh?
Jen [00:05:35] I think, like most comics, when I was a kid. Like, to try and fit in and to try and make people like me, you know, and I could use comedy for that. And I think I was aware of that quite early on as a child, definitely.
Annie [00:05:53] Where were you in your childhood? What was your family life like? Mum and Dad. Did you have siblings? What was going on?
Jen [00:05:59] Yeah, I've got three brothers. So we all-
Annie [00:06:00] Oh, wow.
Jen [00:06:01] Yeah. So we all try to make each other laugh.
Annie [00:06:03] And where do you come in that chronology of-
Jen [00:06:05] I'm the second. I'm number two. So yeah, we did all try to make each other laugh. My mum was very invested in our jokes. Like she was the easiest audience in the world. She would always laugh. Growing up as kids, I realise now because I just thought everyone was like this, we were obsessed with watching, you know, The Young Ones, or Not the 9 O'Clock News, or Blackadder, French And Saunders, you know, Hugh and Laurie. We were just obsessed and we would watch all of it and then we would memorise it and then we would quote it back to each other.
Annie [00:06:37] Right.
Jen [00:06:38] Like Parrots. Badly. Really badly. So comedy was kind of just there present in our home, but not in a way that was ever- certainly I never thought, oh, that's a career or that's a job I will end up doing or I would like to do.
Annie [00:06:53] Yeah. What's your memories of school, primary school, like did you like that or was that a-
Jen [00:06:57] I did. I went to a private primary school. My mum was, you know, she's Spanish so was sort of obsessed with education. She didn't finish school, so she left school when she was 14 I think or 13. So we went to a primary private school and it was really, really tiny. So there was only like, in my class there were like 15 kids.
Annie [00:07:18] Ahh wow.
Jen [00:07:18] I know, sort of ridiculous. That's what privilege is. Yes, so from my memory, I really liked primary school. And then I went to a comprehensive secondary school and I absolutely hated it. Just because it was a Catholic convent, very oppressive I felt. And they didn't like me there. I dunno if I was lippy, but I think I was curious and I used to ask a lot of questions and I, you know, if somebody said something, I'd go, oh, okay, can I ask duh-duh? And they were like, stop asking questions! And then I'd be like, oh, okay, I thought this was school. Fine. And yeah, I just got into trouble. And ooo, because I was quite loud. People just assumed I was a trouble maker.
Annie [00:08:05] Do you think you were telling jokes in class as well?
Jen [00:08:07] Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I was definitely trying to tell jokes and I was probably trying to make the teacher laugh. I was probably trying to do all of that. And I imagine it was really bloody irritating, but I certainly wasn't doing it in a way to piss anyone off. It was just me trying to- like really deludedly try to, you know, fit in and yeah, no, it totally backfired. And so school ended up being a complete hellhole for me. I absolutely hated it. So everybody who was going to stay stayed and I left and I went to Richmond College and it was the best decision I ever made. I suddenly enjoyed education again.
Annie [00:08:46] And Jen, was that your decision to go to that sixth form college? Did you say, 'I'm out of here, I want to go'?
Jen [00:08:51] Yeah.
Annie [00:08:51] So that was you having agency, making a choice for yourself and going, I know that I don't want to stay here. I need to do this different thing.
Jen [00:08:58] Yeah, and my mum knew. She was like, they don't like you, you've got to get out of there as well.
Annie [00:09:02] Right so great, you had the support.
Jen [00:09:05] Yeah. Being able to have that decision, being allowed to make that decision was really important I realise for me to be able to go somewhere where I didn't know anyone, and rather than being scared of it I was really excited by it. I was like, great, nobody here knows me so nobody thinks I'm this dick or I'm this loud person or I'm a troublemaker. I'm just a new girl in a new college. It just meant I could reinvent myself. And it was probably the first time I did that. And I have continued to do that my entire life, you know? But that was the catalyst, definitely.
Annie [00:09:35] Amazing. So you would cite that as a big change in terms of you being a child, that is kind of impactful.
Jen [00:09:43] Oh, definitely. Because when you're at school or when you're a child, you think, well this is it and this is always going to be it and this is always who I will be and this is always who I am. And I can't change things. Things will never get better. And then being able to make that break and have that change made- I suppose, because, you know, you're only 16, and you think you're a grown up, you're not, you're a kid, made me realise, oh, no, no, things are different! And if I don't like something, I can leave. Great!
[00:10:14] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:10:25] You then went on to study comedy, which is, I mean, remarkable. I didn't even think you could do that at like, third level education.
Jen [00:10:33] Yeah, it was a degree at Middlesex University. It had this great theatre degree and you could do stand-up and I had watched a documentary on Channel Four about it and I was like, I've got to go there. I want to go there.
Annie [00:10:48] So at that point you knew enough about yourself to know that you wanted to give stand-up a go?
Jen [00:10:52] Yeah, but not in a way that I wanted to do it as a job-.
Annie [00:10:54] Yeah, you were just curious?
Jen [00:10:54] Yeah, I was like, I'd love to just do that once. What would that be like? In my head I was like, if I could do that, then I guess I can do anything.
Annie [00:11:04] So can we talk about- and you'll have to give me some context leading up to this point but, there was a point where you made the change to like properly go for being a stand-up comedian, what was the lead up to that like? What had you been doing up to that point to then make that change?
Jen [00:11:19] Basically, I had been doing stand-up for quite some time on and off, but I hadn't committed to it and I had been doing other things. Like I had been doing sketch comedy, bit of character comedy. I had taken a sketch show to the Edinburgh Festival, got briefly some work doing cover work at 6 Music as a presenter. That's not my forte, but it was an opportunity and I took it. You know, it's not an easy job to do and I proved that *Anne laughs* when I did it *laughs*. So I did that for a bit. And so basically I wasn't progressing and I wasn't moving. So everyone I had started with was already full time. They were working as comedians. They were either absolutely smashing it on the club circuit or they'd broken into TV and I was absolutely nowhere. My mum was like, what are you doing? Pick a team. She goes, you should just be doing your thing. Just do stand-up, don't do anything else and see if that makes a difference. And I was like, ohhh you don't know what you talking about! You know, like, I know what I'm doing, just leave me to it. Anyway, she was completely right. But, you know, I had to wait like three or four years before I actually took any sort of action. But once I made that decision, it was the end of 2008, beginning of 2009, that that's all I was going to do. And I basically had to start from scratch, from the beginning and had to eat a lot of shit, basically *laughs*.
Annie [00:12:47] So play a lot of gigs that were horror?
Jen [00:12:50] Oh that were just awful. And I did it, and it was hard.
Annie [00:12:54] How long did you do it for?
Jen [00:12:56] Before I sort of started to break through again?
Annie [00:12:59] Yeah.
Jen [00:12:59] Ermm, probably about- solidly just eating shit, three years.
Annie [00:13:07] Oh my God. That is some serious stamina.
Jen [00:13:10] Yeah. Just doing gigs for basically either no money, enough money to cover my petrol. So living hand-to-mouth, basically. So when people didn't pay me, I was like, oh my God, if you don't pay me I haven't got the petrol to go to this gig. *Laughing* you gotta pay me mate. I did a lot of couch surfing. But then finally, by about 2011, 2012, I started to break in to the club circuit. And then once I started to break in, then I got some momentum and then I just went hell for leather and that's all I did. If there was a party, I didn't go to it. If it was a wedding, I didn't go to it. If there was a thing, I was like- People were like, you're gonna do a gig for 50 quid? I'm like, yeah, I've got to do that. I got to do that gig. And I did that relentlessly. And I did it for like, I don't know, nearly ten years. And then I got a break. So in 2017, I got a break at Live at the Apollo.
Annie [00:13:59] Which is the kind of Holy Grail, right? That's like- once you get that it feels like a measure of success.
Jen [00:14:06] Yeah, it did. And for me, I was like, If I'm going to go on Live at the Apollo, I'm going to smash it. I'm going to be the best I can be. You know, whenever I've got- and of course, I've got so many years of experience. I had so much material to choose from. That gig was so important to me. And I like, you know, I worked really hard up towards it. I worked so hard, I actually got pneumonia *laughs*.
Annie [00:14:31] Oh, no Jen!
Jen [00:14:33] Yeah, I had pneumonia while I was doing it.
Annie [00:14:35] *Laughs* God.
Jen [00:14:37] *Laughs* If you listen to the first Apollo that I do, my voice is *putting on a deep voice* quite deep and husky. I had a lot of comments going, wow your voice is really sexy. I was like, that's because one of my lungs was filled with fluid, but thank you. So I don't really remember doing it because it was adrenaline. Because up until I got called on stage, I was hacking cough, coughing, coughing, coughing. And the floor manager said to me, are you going to be able to do this? And I went, yeah, I'm going to be fine. He went, because your cough is really bad. I was like, no, no, no, I'll be fine. And then I did my 20 minutes on stage, got off. And 20 minutes, absolutely fine, no coughing at all. Got off, was like *imitates coughing*.
Annie [00:15:13] Oh my God.
Jen [00:15:14] Just tmmediately started coughing again. And then, yeah, I was in bed for two weeks.
Annie [00:15:20] Oh my God *Jen laughs*. Did it do the job? Did it do what you needed it to do?
Jen [00:15:25] Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Annie [00:15:26] I mean, it's still up online, you know, that was one of the first things I saw.
Jen [00:15:30] Yeah, it's still there. And it did, it created a, I think, a break in my trajectory as a comedian. The whole time before making that decision to just do stand-up, I think I spent a lot of time looking at what other people were doing and comparing myself to them and saying, oh, I'm not as good as them, or I'll never get to do that. Or, you know, doing a bit of a woe is me or, no one wants me to do stand up. And it was really friends of mine who went, can you just stop whingeing? Do you want to do it? Just shut up and do it. And that's all there is. There's just the doing. Stop the talking and just do the doing.
Annie [00:16:13] So your mum all the way through this sounds amazing. She sounds like the most supportive mother and someone who really was into you being you.
Jen [00:16:23] Yeah. Yeah. She came to both erm- sorry.
Annie [00:16:28] Ahh, when did she pass, Jen?
Jen [00:16:30] April.
Annie [00:16:31] Oh, no. I'm so sorry.
Jen [00:16:33] No, no, don't be sorry. It's fine.
Annie [00:16:35] How old was she?
Jen [00:16:37] She was 76. But it was just because she died very suddenly.
Annie [00:16:43] Right.
Jen [00:16:45] And I think the thing I find talking about my mum now- it's quite weird actually because when she first died, I found talking about her, I found it really easy to talk about her. You know, even for like the first sort of few months after her death, I really wanted to talk about her. I found it incredibly cathartic and I needed to talk about her. And it wouldn't upset me. But now, I suppose, you know, coming up to a year when, you know, as it's coming up to the anniversary of her death, I just find it- Yeah, I guess it's when someone dies, shortly after, well you only saw them a short while ago, so it doesn't feel like such a big gap. And as that gap gets longer and longer, you do think oh, no I'm actually not going to see you again.
Annie [00:17:39] Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Jen [00:17:41] But yes, to answer your question, she was fantastic in that respect. I mean, don't get me wrong, we argued all the time because we're very similar.
Annie [00:17:49] And you talked about her a lot on stage, right?
Jen [00:17:51] I did, because she was, you know, such an important person in my life. And I suppose in my mind it was a celebration of her. And I suppose now it's quite nice because it kind of- I've, you know, unwittingly memorialised her forever.
Annie [00:18:07] Yeah. Yeah.
Jen [00:18:09] You know, so that's quite nice but, yeah, she's always been weirdly supportive of me doing a job with absolutely no *laughs*-
Annie [00:18:20] Yeah, prospects.
Jen [00:18:22] With absolutely no prospects and no erm, job security and financial security. But I think she understood that it was something I needed to do. She had a much clearer vision of how I should get there than I did.
Annie [00:18:36] Yeah, I guess maybe sometimes when you're zoomed out from something, it's easier to see. You know like, you're so in it. You're so like, embroiled in everything. To have her perspective was so valuable.
Jen [00:18:47] It was and annoyingly, you know, gave me really good advice that I actively ignored over and over again. Had I taken her advice a lot sooner, it would have really made my life a lot easier but *deep inhale* that is my way.
Annie [00:19:02] What was she like in terms of your personal life? Did she give you advice with regards to your love life as well?
Jen [00:19:08] Well, my parents didn't have a happy marriage, so I think her advice to me, particularly before I came out of the closet, was to say, get your own bank account, get yourself a career.
Annie [00:19:21] Great advice.
Jen [00:19:22] Get yourself financial security, get yourself independence and agency. Never rely on anyone. Always rely on yourself. Never rely, specifically, her advice when I was a child was never rely on a man but I never had to worry about that. Even when she was saying it to me I was like, I don't think I'm going to have to worry about that *Annie laughs*. But yeah, so her advice was always like very practical. She's very practical. I suppose you would say she's quite an unromantic person, which when you're growing up you're like, come on mum, there are good things that can happen to people. And she's like, noooo the world is crap. So in that regard it's like- she was quite Catholic, you know?
Annie [00:19:58] Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, it's kind of like, drummed into your head from early on, isn't it? In Catholicism, just a sense of doom *laughs*.
Jen [00:20:06] Yeah! Like sometimes she'd say, you know, *Spanish accent* 'Jennifer, life is not supposed to be fun'. And I was like, I think it is *both laugh*.
Annie [00:20:15] Literally you're the complete opposite perspective.
Jen [00:20:17] Yeah, I think-
Annie [00:20:18] All I want to do is laugh and make people laugh, mum. I'm into the fun.
Jen [00:20:23] I'm going to do the fun bit. But yeah, she like I said, it wasn't a perfect relationship by any stretch of the imagination, but there was a lot of love there. And she did give really good advice, to all of her children actually, but particularly, you know, to me she understood how- seemed to understand how the system worked and how the business worked and what I was doing wrong in a way that I now find quite sort of, strange. I don't know how she understood how everything worked. Now that she's gone, I'm gradually, as every year goes by, I guess I'll be making her- I'll be canonising her. Speak to me in ten years time, she'll be a saint.
Annie [00:21:10] *Laughs*. I've spoken to a lot of people about grief on this podcast, and the most kind of resounding thing is just the changing nature of it. You know, like you said, like it grows with you. You know, I don't think there's like one nice, neat box you can put it into and be like, 'this is grief and this is how it feels and this is how I will experience it'. It's just ever changing.
Jen [00:21:30] It is ever changing. And there's comfort in that.
Annie [00:21:32] Yeah.
Jen [00:21:34] You know, to know that however you feel now, you might not feel that in an hour. You might not feel that tomorrow. But also the downside of it is, it blindsides you.
Annie [00:21:45] Yes, of course. Yeah. You can't control when it's going to come and go.
Jen [00:21:49] Yeah, you know, you can put it in a box but you can only press the lid down for so long and it will come out.
[00:21:55] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:22:06] So you've kind of cited your mom dying as a huge change, obviously, in your adulthood. Let's talk about the other thing that you mentioned which was your children and having children, becoming a parent, a non-biological parent, as you call it, which I love. When you compare it to various washing detergents on stage. So your kids are seven now, am I right?
Jen [00:22:28] They're eight.
Annie [00:22:31] How are they? How's parenting now, as an other mother as you call yourself, of eight year olds.
Jen [00:22:38] Parenting now is great. I mean, like a big chunk of my stand up now is me moaning about my children. So I think people sometimes- don't call social services it's fine. This is just cathartic. This is just for jokes.
Annie [00:22:50] I do like them really.
Jen [00:22:51] I love my children, but they can be annoying. But this age is really fun and they are- their own identities are becoming a little bit more pronounced. Although who they were as people was always there, but I guess I'm more self-aware of who they are within the school, within their friendships. You know, that's quite sad because they understand that there's certain parts of their personality or parts of who they are that they have to hide because there might be some shame or embarrassment attached to- like one of my sons, you know, his favourite colour is pink. I mean, it's pink. It always has been pink. And more recently, it's now green.
Annie [00:23:28] My kid had the exact same thing. His favourite colour was pink all the way up to school and then he got to school and he's like, oh no, it's not pink anymore. You're like, come on!
Jen [00:23:36] Isn't that sad though!
Annie [00:23:37] It's so sad. I found that really, really sad. And I don't think that's coming from the teachers. I think that's coming from the other pupils.
Jen [00:23:43] Oh, definitely. And, you know, we deliberately moved to Brighton, for the kids.
Annie [00:23:50] So that's a big move as a London girl. Like how was that, moving from London to Brighton?
Jen [00:23:55] Well, I had really tried to delay it for as long as possible because I'm like- You know, being from London, I'm like a typical Londoner where I'm like, there is nowhere better than this city. I'm so sorry to everywhere else in the country but London is the best place to live. And then I moved to Brighton and I went, hundred percent, there's loads of places better than London *laughs*. You know, like there's that realisation that actually I can be out of London and I can be happy. And I think as soon as we moved down, we moved in 2014 just before the boys were born, and as soon as we moved we knew we'd made the right decision. We were like, wow, why didn't we come here when we didn't have kids and could have enjoyed it *laughs*? We'd been living in North London for years where like, you know, we'd be excited if there was an- an Aldi was moving in. You know, like wow. Moving again was this new change, this new break. Almost like starting a new life, which is for me, I like doing that. I sort of find it very rejuvenating to sort of like almost draw a line under what I've been doing and then go, right this is a new chapter. So whatever has happened before is an old chapter and I don't worry about that. This is new and we're just looking forward. And that, again, was another break in my career, when my children were born was I was so tired. I was, you know, coming home late at night and then having to stay up with the children because Chloe had had a caesarean and couldn't get up. *Deep inhale* they did not sleep.
Annie [00:25:26] Oh, God. I'm so sorry.
Jen [00:25:27] I turned up to gigs- I've got friends of mine going, I remember when the kids were babies and you turned up and you- I was like, I don't remember that.
Annie [00:25:34] Yeah, it's gone.
Jen [00:25:35] That's gone. But what it did mean was that when I was on stage, I was completely myself.
Annie [00:25:41] Oh, I thought you were gonna say like delerious *laughing*. Totally doolally!
Jen [00:25:45] I was totally doolally! I was Annie. I was like completely, almost like detached from reality and so I guess people were like, God, you've gone up a level *Annie laughs*. And I was like, well that's because I'm not analysing what I'm doing. I'm just-
Annie [00:25:57] Yeah, you're not overthinking it. Yeah.
Jen [00:26:00] Yeah! I'm not overthinking it. And so I started to evolve, you know, gradually, it didn't happen overnight, but yeah, but I think my kids-
Annie [00:26:07] I love that kind of like- if you think about- because I was going to ask you, like, how have your children changed you? What I meant in that question was you personally, like who you are as a person. But there is an element to how they change, at a very pragmatic level, how you do your job. We interviewed Roddy Doyle, the writer on this podcast, and he was talking about when his kids were small, he had to change the way he wrote because he couldn't write long, you know, he had to write in small excerpts. He used to write short, chunky bits of writing and that changed the whole kind of form of his novel writing. And it's probably the same as you, you know, in that your state of mind meant that your comedy wasn't overthought and thus, like, got to a higher level. It's so interesting, isn't it?
Jen [00:26:50] Yeah, I remember having a conversation with Shappi Khorsandi and she said to me, when your children are born, everything's going to change for you. Your career is going to go up. And I was like thinking, I don't really see the correlation of that. And she's like, because all the things that you think are important, they're not important anymore. And that's so true. As soon as my children were born, I couldn't spend all this time being the self-involved bell-end I'd been up until that point because I had to now- there were two people that were more important than me, and I had to look after them. And so everything that I did was about- was for them. You know, all the decisions I was making about what I wanted to do and how long I wanted to be away, I wasn't going to go and do those shows where I went away for a month at a time because I wanted to be with my children. It's so boring, isn't it? God it's so boring when people talk about their children, Christ.
Annie [00:27:45] *Laughing*.
Jen [00:27:47] As I'm talking I'm like, oh God, who cares? *Annie laughing* I can just hear people flatlining, beeep.
Annie [00:27:55] I mean, it's boring, but it's fucking universal. Like, I think it's okay to talk about it as long as the person in question is willing to talk about it like *Jen laughs*, I don't wanna force people to talk about their kids, especially women, you know? But you do talk about them a lot on stage and as you say, it's part of your identity, it's part of who you are now.
Jen [00:28:13] Yeah. And that irrevocable change has been really positive. And I know it's really hard to tell that it's been positive for my stand-up, but genuinely Annie, it has. And I feel like my kids are the best thing that's ever happened to me. Being the non-biological mom, I suppose not having a genetic, you know, I'm not genetically related to my children. And I'm sure there are parents, you know, who are same as me or adopted children will feel the same that like, I have no idea. I've never carried a child. I don't know what it's like to give birth. I think it looks dreadful. But I you know, and I thought not having that experience, will that limit my love, will that act as a barrier, will that.
Annie [00:28:54] Yeah.
Jen [00:28:54] Yeah. And of course, you know, it doesn't, but you have these sort of neuroses before your babies, before your children arrive and then they come and you're like, oh my God, Yeah, of course, of course I love you. This is crazy. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Annie [00:29:07] And you have boys, two boys. How did you feel when you found out you were having boys? And tell me about some of what you learned with regards to people's attitudes to boys versus girls when Chloe, your partner, got pregnant?
Jen [00:29:24] Well, when we found out we were having two boys, I can only say that I was hugely disappointed *laughs*.
Annie [00:29:29] Right, I love the honesty.
Jen [00:29:32] I was like, gutted. I was like, what, we're not going to have a daughter?
Annie [00:29:37] But Jen, I mean there was a 50% chance that you were going to have boys *Jen laughing loudly*, like you must have been mentally prepared for that.
Jen [00:29:43] Yeah, you'd think wouldn't you.
Annie [00:29:44] They're half of the human race!
Jen [00:29:45] I mean, look, honestly, I thought we're having two, come onnnn, one of them's got to be a girl right.
Annie [00:29:51] At least one of each. Yeah, Yeah.
Jen [00:29:52] And also because one of them, when we went for the scan, one of them had, we could only see his back in the scan. So when they were doing the scan they were like, oh well you know when it turns round we'll be able to know but at the moment, could be a girl, could be a girl, but you've definitely one boy.
Annie [00:30:06] Right, so you had that question mark.
Jen [00:30:07] So we were like *gasps* oh my gosh, if we've got a girl, what's the girl's name going to be? Anyway we got two boy and initially, look, I'm honestly saying I was a bit disappointed because I desperately in my head thought I wanted a girl. Now that my children are born, I don't care, of course not, you know, you just want two healthy children don't you? But when Chloe was pregnant, I can't even remember what the situation was. I think we were picking a builder to help do our house up, and he took us round someone's house and went, this is my work and duh-la-la and we met the woman and she went, oh hi, oh you're pregnant! You know, because she was. And then asked Chloe, do you know what you're having? Are you having boys or girls? And Chloe went oh, we're going to have, we're having two boys. And she was like, ohhh, my Goddd! That is so incredible. You're so lucky. Oh my goodness. Boys are so brilliant. They're amazing. They're the best. I've got one of each, I've got a boy and a girl. But the girl, she is a fucking nightmare. But my son, I adore him *Annie laughs*. Oh my God they're so- boy's are better. So you're lucky you got two boys because they're so much better than girls. And I remember standing there looking at Chloe going, is she for real? Is this a real conversation? As women, is this how we refer to our daughters. And I've discovered that it's not a unique stance.
Annie [00:31:26] Noo, it's not.
Jen [00:31:27] That so many women when they're talking about their daughters are like, eurghh God, you're lucky you're not having girls, they're a bloody nightmare. I tell you what, I can't wait till she pisses off! And then I think back to what I was like when I was a teenager, and I know I was more difficult than my brothers, because my mum told me I was. But I think there's something about young women, for a lot of young girls, there is something driving us.
Annie [00:31:51] I hate that word difficult as well. It's so annoying because it kind of just puts all of your complexities into this kind of negative box.
Jen [00:31:57] Exactly!
Annie [00:31:59] You're not difficult. You're different. You are different.
Jen [00:32:03] You're not pliant.
Annie [00:32:04] You're not boys.
Jen [00:32:05] Yeah, and isn't that a great thing? And God only knows what we need young girls to know is that they cannot be pliant, that they have to be able to know that they can make decisions, that they have agency, that they are right in standing their ground for what they want. And you're absolutely right. It's not about being difficult. It's about the fact that often girls have got more than one thought going on in their head at the time. Like my my sons, bless them *Annie laughs*. Bless them. One thought at a time. I need a poo. I'm tired. I'm hungry. Can I have a cuddle? And that's it. One thought at a time *laughs*.
Annie [00:32:40] Yeah.
Jen [00:32:41] And so it is easy, you know, to manipulate them.
[00:32:45] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:32:54] Here's a question. Have you and Chloe had the discussion of how you were going to speak to your boys about porn? As a mother of two boys. This is my biggest conundrum. How do I talk to you about porn? Because it's going to be thrust in front of your face, probably when you're about ten in the playground on someone else's phone. *Jen exhales* Like, I know! And it's terrifying when you see that so it's like, how do you normalise it because it's everywhere, but also try and convey the horrific aspects of it, whilst also not scaring the bejesus out of them *Jen laughs* about masturbation, you know what I mean? It's so complex!
Jen [00:33:34] It is complex. And I think the only way to have these conversations with your children is to not attach any shame to it. There's too much shame attached to children's sexuality, because we conflate children's sexuality with, I don't know, something horrendous like, you know, predatory behaviour by adults on children. But children have a sexuality and we all know that, we were all teenagers. We weren't all just thinking about, you know, quadratic equations. We were like masturbating and talking to each other about sex and doing stuff with our bodies, either to ourselves or to each other, you know? And as parents, that's really hard to reconcile. And I think there's a little bit of us that goes, well my kids probably won't be sexually active until they're 27. You know, when actually we might find out that our children lost their virginity at 14 and then that's like, oh my God, and I haven't even spoken to them about sex! So I think we need to- Chloe and I have talked about it. We already have a conversation about where babies come from and all of that because we've had to explain *laughs* why they've got two mums. So we've had that conversation about how babies are born and how they were born and how they were conceived. And I think we will talk to them about their sexuality. We've talked to them about consent and how it's important that they know that they can say no and that their bodies are special and no one is allowed to touch their body apart from them.
Annie [00:34:57] Mm hmm.
Jen [00:34:58] And I think we will get to a point where we, you know, in a year or so where we will talk to our children and go, you're going to see things. You're going to see videos of people, you know, having sex, and what you need to know is that this isn't necessarily what sex or sexuality is. Pornography is not the same as two people in a loving relationship. So, you know, what I'm trying to say is if you end up with a girlfriend and that is what you end up with, don't try and stick your dick in her ear because she won't like it.
Annie [00:35:26] Yeah, maybe it's like, it's looking at it like theatre. It's like saying to them, like, you just look at it like it's some sort of kind of exaggerated theatrical performance. I don't know. I'm still trying to figure it out.
Jen [00:35:39] Well, I think, you know, there's a little bit of me that wants to, like, put porn on the telly and go right, sit down. We're going to go through this together. Right, you see what he's doing here-
Annie [00:35:47] Oh god Jen!! Nooooo.
Jen [00:35:50] You see what he's doing here, she does not like that, not in her face. Now, don't choke a woman if he's not into it. I'm just spitballing, but the whole thing is that some of the images that boys are seeing are so horrendous and that they think that that's what they should do to girls and girls think that that's what they should allow boys to do. And somewhere along the line, we gotta just go, this is disgusting!
Annie [00:36:12] Yeah.
Jen [00:36:13] This is absolutely disgusting. And this isn't anything to do with- this isn't sex, this is something else Pornography and sex sometimes I think are not even- They've now become so kind of- They're like, split apart in much the same way that we used to refer to rape as sex.
Annie [00:36:33] Mm hmm.
Jen [00:36:34] You know, it's like rape is rape. Rape is an act of violence. And some pornography is violence and is often about dehumanising somebody. So Annie, I don't have the answer but I'm willing to like really scare the shit out of them so that they know *laughs* to have that conversation. And because, you know, we have had a bit of a swing in the other direction post MeToo, where all we do is talk about toxic masculinity and how men are bastards. So we've left this space for people like Andrew Tate to fill and go, I'm going to tell you what masculinity is and it's like, no.
Annie [00:37:10] Mmm.
Jen [00:37:10] So we as parents have to try to say, what are the positives of being a boy and growing up to be a man. So many. I tell you what isn't positive, is violence against women. And that doesn't make you a strong man. It makes you very weak, weak, weak man.
Annie [00:37:26] God, it's such a fucking minefield.
Jen [00:37:29] Answers on a postcard if anyone has any better ideas.
Annie [00:37:32] Both of us, please. I mean, sounds like you've thought it through more than me.
Jen [00:37:36] How old are your kids?
Annie [00:37:37] Nine and six.
Jen [00:37:39] Nine and six. I guess so, right, okay. So we're quite similar then in the kids' ages.
Annie [00:37:43] And I've had the chat with the nine year old.
Jen [00:37:45] Have you!
Annie [00:37:45] I decided that I didn't want him finding stuff out in the playground. Like he's one of these kids, he likes to know where he stands, you know, and I respect that. So I was just like, listen, you know, this is what happens in sex. I didn't go into a lot of detail, but I said, if anyone says otherwise, they're lying. That's how it goes. And we ended up talking about condoms because he was like, well, if everyone has sex. And I said, sometimes people just do it for fun. He's like, well if everyone does it for fun, then why, you know, don't they just make babies? And I was like, no, because there's this stuff called condoms or the pill *Jen laughs*. And then we ended up talking about condoms and just how gross they were. And like, he was like, ahhh, that sounds disgusting! *Both laugh* And then we just started going like, eughh condoms! And it was kind of fun. So I was glad I spoke to him about it because I think knowledge is power in those scenarios. It's like if he, you know, if he knows that stuff, it doesn't feel as scary, you know?
Jen [00:38:44] Yeah, I agree. Okay, so maybe, yeah, so nine seems like a good age.
Annie [00:38:49] Yeah. And you know, they're all chatting about it in school. I mean, they haven't got quite, you know, they're still young where they think, you know, they don't quite know what goes on.
Jen [00:38:58] No, and I'm grateful for that.
Annie [00:38:59] Which is lovely, yeah, because they haven't seen anything yet. But, um-
Jen [00:39:02] Fingers crossed.
Annie [00:39:03] It's not. It won't be long.
Jen [00:39:05] Don't know how you feel about this but I don't think I'm going to let my kids have a phone.
Annie [00:39:10] Now, here we say Jen-
Jen [00:39:11] Okay! I know-
Annie [00:39:11] You are the most! *Jen laughs* Listen, every parent!- 'Ohhh, no, I'm not going to have let mine'- *Jen laughing* 'Maybe when they're 15'. Everyone gets a phone at secondary school. That's just how it is. It's like, everyone.
Jen [00:39:28] But surely-
Annie [00:39:28] Do you want to be the the mum with the only kid in class without a mobile phone?
Jen [00:39:37] I'm willing to try.
Annie [00:39:38] Yeah, I know. I am, too. And I've told my kid, I said, you're gonna be the only one in the class, and that's fine. And he's like, *sighs*.
Jen [00:39:47] I mean, my kids have already said, so 13 we get a phone, yeah?. And I'm like, I don't know where you've got this random, arbitrary number of 13 is when you're going to get a phone, but you made that up because I've never said that.
Annie [00:39:57] I like their style.
Jen [00:39:58] 'All of our friends are getting a phone at 13'. I went, well, you can always move in with them and err see what-
Annie [00:40:04] What you have to hope Jen, is that by the time they're 13, and this is what I'm clinging onto, there'll be some sort of new trend just to be off grid. Like being online will not be a thing. Like there's this group of kids in New York, right, and they only use flip phones. They don't use smartphones and they do a deliberately. And I think I'm all for my kid having a phone and being contactable and even being able to text their friends and stuff, you know but-
Jen [00:40:26] Let's bring back Blackberries.
Annie [00:40:30] *Laughs* no WhatsApp for them. WhatsApp's fucking lethal. You get brought into these big groups, you get slagged off, you get- It's just horrific so I just think-
Jen [00:40:42] Exactly, I don't want my kids to be- I just remember being a teenager was tough. It was tough.
Annie [00:40:46] It was tough enough.
Jen [00:40:49] It's hard being a teenager and I would never want to go back there. Let alone being bullied because you've got mono brow, which I did.
Annie [00:40:56] Yeah. Well, I mean, thank God that there was no social media. Like I am, and you will be too, like the last generation to grow up without a mobile phone. Like I got my mobile when I was 19. I mean, it was obviously way pre smartphone, but it was like, it was a mobile nonetheless. But I managed to get all the way up to that point without that and that was- I'm so thankful. I'm so thankful that I lived through that time.
Jen [00:41:22] I was 24 when I got my first mobile phone because I resisted it, because everyone got one and I was like, hey, I'm a cool cat and I'm not having a mobile. And then very soon realised that actually I couldn't communicate with anyone without one. But the insanity is now that I can't leave a room without my phone on me.
Annie [00:41:40] Yeah.
Jen [00:41:40] I mean, it's so gross.
Annie [00:41:43] See, we are the worst because we're telling our kids don't have phones whilst we're looking up from our phone going, oh you're not getting a phone till you're 13, anyway what was I doing on my timeline?
Jen [00:41:54] *Laughs* Look, I totally can see that there is a great deal of hypocrisy attached to that, but I'm-
Annie [00:42:01] Listen, I'm with you on your fight. I really am. I really wish you, like I hope-
Jen [00:42:07] Let's reconnect in four years, and you tell me how you're getting on.
Annie [00:42:08] Yeah, I'd love to.
[00:42:08] *Short musical interlude.
Annie [00:42:18] Jen, before I let you go, what change would you still like to make moving forwards in your life? I mean, we've already learned that you love a nice, clean break. You like a clean slate. What change would you still like to make?
Jen [00:42:31] Well, sometimes I feel so overwhelmed by all the dreadful things that are going on. I'm like, which way to turn? What to look at, what to invest my time in, how to help, how to be, you know, how to leave a good footprint behind when I'm dead, you know. And I think more and more with my stand-up comedy, I would like to be able to tackle things that I feel really passionate about, that I feel are really important, that I feel are necessary and relevant and make those things funny. Because fundamentally, that's what I am as a stand-up comedian. So if I can't make it funny, I'm not going to talk about it. As a comedian, I haven't figured out quite how to do that in a sophisticated way. Rather than just the big broad strokes and me screaming into a bin, which is my usual way. And that's what excites me about comedy, is that you can always get better.
Annie [00:43:23] You never stop learning, yeah.
Jen [00:43:24] You never stop learning. I feel like I'm not even a third of the way through my trajectory of where I want to be.
Annie [00:43:31] How exciting.
Jen [00:43:31] Yeah, yeah, yeah. So that's why I love stand-up. So that's where I'd like to be. And look, I'm not saying- stand-up doesn't change anything. It's not going to change anyone's mind. It's not going to-
Annie [00:43:40] I disagree.
Jen [00:43:42] Do you think?
Annie [00:43:42] I think it really can change people's minds. it's so clever in that I think laughing is a very powerful thing. And I don't know. I think definitely it can. I think you have the power to change people's minds 100%.
Jen [00:43:55] Well, I mean, maybe. I'm not convinced by that. I think what it does is that it allows people who have the same views and opinions as you to be in a room and not feel alone and to feel energised by somebody tackling things that they agree with or that they feel frustrated about. But if by some freak occurrence it might change one person's mind and that's incredible, then that would be- That's beyond my expectation. My expectation is to be able to invite people to come and see me and for all of us to have this cathartic experience where we may even figure out a way to make things better or whatever it is. But we do it in a room, we do it together, and that's the best I can expect. Or for me to be able to figure out a way to do it or for someone to contact me saying, I saw your show, if you want to help, here's something you can do, or whatever it is. That's kind of what I would like my stand-up to be. At the moment, don't get me wrong. You know, I'm still in that time of my life with my children where that's predominantly all I see and all I do and all I have. But that will pass, you know? And as they enter into secondary school and adolescence, I know that will be the start of a new chapter and of a new direction for me as a comic and I'm excited about that.
Annie [00:45:04] Yeah, I'm excited too.
Jen [00:45:05] *Laughs* thanks Annie.
Annie [00:45:08] Can't wait. Hey, Jen, thank you so much.
Jen [00:45:11] Thank you so much. It's been an absolute blinking pleasure to be on your brilliant podcast. So thank you.
Annie [00:45:21] Thank you so much to Jen Brister. What a woman. The Optimist is on tour now. We'll put a link in the show notes for tickets. She's just put on another date at London's Alexandra Palace. That's a 10,000 capacity venue, by the way, so it really just goes to show you how popular she's becoming. I think there's tickets still available for that. Her book, The Other Mother, is also out now. Very fun and good read, and do please feel free to share this amongst all your friends and family. Anyone who's a parent, anyone you think who would relate and get something from that conversation. Rate us, review us, subscribe to us. Thank you so much for listening. We're going to be releasing another episode next Monday of course. Changes is produced by Louise Mason through DIN Productions. Thanks, seeya!