Edinburgh Fringe 2022
I Am Not A Gorilla
After five years of living her best gorilla life, it’s finally time for her to leave her cage and re-enter the human world. But before that, she’s going on a date. This surreal, clowny character comedy about being othered and lonely marks the comedy debut of Posey Mehta, a Cambridge and Gaulier-trained big fat idiot whose career high remains making out with Emma Corrin in a play.
Hi Posey, thanks for talking to The New Current, how have you been keeping?
Well thank you for talking to me! I’ve been good; I actually recently got Covid but it’s given me an excuse to hide in my room like a gremlin for a week, which I actually love. How about you?
Are you looking forward to binging your debut character comedy show I Am Not A Gorilla to Edinburgh Fringe & Underbelly this August?
I am! I’m in the mad panic stage at the moment. A friend shared this chart of the “artist’s process” that goes “this is awesome —> this is tricky —> this is shit —> I am shit —> this might be okay —> this is awesome.” I’m definitely at the “I am shit” stage right now, but I can feel myself rounding the bend into “this might be okay” so I’m just trusting the process and hoping I make it to “this is awesome” before the start of my run.
What are you hoping to take away from this Fringe run and what does bringing a show to the Edinburgh Fringe mean to you?
My director (the amazing Lorna Rose Treen) and I were actually chatting about this the other day. I’m so new to the comedy scene, like even among debuting comics I have very little experience and exposure yet, so my big goal for Edinburgh is to get more of both of those.
Edinburgh’s unique appeal to me is the chance to do like 25 shows in a row. Unless you’re on a West End stage, you don’t get that sort of opportunity a lot, but nothing can beat just having 25 nights to share work with an audience, hone your craft, bring joy. That’s what Edinburgh is about for me.
Equally, being a Fringe festival, Edinburgh allows me to play with the big boys in a way that is both terrifying and exciting. It might sound a little saccharine, but honestly my biggest goal of this festival is to make some friends and get to know the industry a bit better.
Can you tell me a little bit about I Am Not A Gorilla, what was the inspiration behind this show?
I actually first came up with the character of Gloria at Ecole Philippe Gaulier, which is the theatre school that I went to. Philippe, who is an infamously brutal clown teacher, had told me to put on a gorilla outfit as my clown and I hated it. One day, I went on stage and said, “Philippe, I don’t like this outfit and I don’t want to wear it. I know that the outfit is funny, but I don’t understand how I can be funny wearing it,” and people started laughing at me.
Now, Philippe runs the school is such a way that if you are getting laughter, you stay on stage, so I started doing all these simple, human things that I should be able to do without being laughed at: walking, going for a little jog, singing a song. At the end of them all, I’d turn to the audience and say, “I don’t understand why you’re laughing,” and people would laugh, like uproariously laugh.
Philippe let me do like this for nearly an hour, which was insane. I actually still have the recording of it, and it’s 47 minutes long. At the end, he said to me, “That’s your solo show.” Obviously the show is very different now, but that core, clowny kernel of, “I don’t understand why you’re laughing,” has definitely remained.
How much has your life and lived experience help to inform how you have written I Am Not A Gorilla?
Initially, I very stupidly thought that my own lived experiences wouldn’t factor into this show much because it’s just a silly little clowny comedy show, but of course they have. There’s stuff in this show about my relationship to food, to dating, to sex, about how media very deliberately presents fat women with unattainable ideals, about how the public consume fat bodies for entertainment.
All of that is drawn from my personal experiences, but the great joy of clown and character comedy is that it’s buried under these layers of abstraction that keep things light. The word “fat” isn’t mentioned once in the show because Gloria’s issue isn’t that she’s fat, it’s that people keep mistaking her for a gorilla, which is a much easier thing to laugh at.
Comedians are coming under a lot of pressure for their material, with one group or other taking offence to their jokes, when writing this show were you conscious about this and self-censored?
I read something by someone in comedy—already just a terrible start, my brain is a sieve—about how you shouldn’t self-censor in the writers room, you should self-censor in the edit, which I think I agree with. Even if the initial idea is a horrifically offensive thing that should never make its way on stage, it could inform a process that ultimately leads you to a fascinating, brilliant little gem of a scene or a concept. You absolutely need freedom to play without censorship to find the richest material.
But here’s the other thing. As soon as you get up on stage, you have a duty of care to your audience. They are there to have a good time; they’ve often paid money for the privilege of doing so. And that’s something I think we have to honour as performers. Offending marginalised groups, punching down, none of that is being respectful to your audience, which is something I am absolutely conscious of in my own work.
Why it’s still socially acceptable for bring up and make fun of women’s weight?
Ah ha ha ha, here we go! Prepare for the vibes to absolutely shift from ‘laid back comedian having a good time’ to ‘fat lady with things to say.’
OKAY. So. The big thing is that skinniness is often conflated with health. One of the reasons that fatphobia is still so widely socially acceptable is because it can masquerade under ‘genuine concern for someone’s well-being.’ This is, of course, bullshit, but it is very pervasive. Just look at Cancer Research UK’s ‘Obesity’ ad campaign.
With women specifically, I think it has a lot to do with conformity. I remember a fashion designer defending a lack of plus-sized models on their runway by saying that sample sizes are all size 0 because there’s less body diversity among models at that weight, so they don’t have to make so many variations of the same outfit. That says everything you need to know.
To me, there’s great beauty in this diversity inherent within fatness, but a lot of people see that very visible, very literal “otherness” as scary or off-putting. And it’s very easy to turn things that are scary or off-putting into the punchlines of jokes.
Sophie Dahl famously graced billboards all over the world in the iconic Opium campaign which was eventually banned (she was in the nip) and she, much like Rebel Wilson, went on to lose a weight which became part of a media frenzy. Do you think female celebrities are under pressure from multiple fronts to conform to societies “ideals” of what a women’s body should look like?
There is so much to talk about here. I could literally talk about this topic forever, but I’ll try to keep it shortish. The simple answer is yes, absolutely. Sophie Dahl and Rebel Wilson are two interesting cases because their careers were based, to greater or lesser degrees, on their size and they both faced pressure from within the industry to not lose weight because it was part of their personal brand.
But having your whole identity as a performer tied to your fatness can also be limiting, right? Wilson said, “I [lost weight] to get more acting roles. Now I can play the non-funny love interest in an Adam Sandler film,” which says pretty much everything I’m trying to say, but in a shorter and wittier package. If you’ve spend your entire career playing the fat comic relief, with so many jokes being made at your expense, I can absolutely see why you’d want to lose weight.
It’s also worth noting that Sophie Dahl, even before her weight loss, has always been conventionally attractive. At her largest, she was only ever a 16, which according to YouGov is actually the average clothing size of women in the UK. This is a conventionally attractive, white, average-sized woman, and look at how much her body was scrutinised. Now imagine being larger, not white, not from an incredibly well-connected, wealthy family.
When even ‘average’ women are seen as outliers, you can see how quickly the industry closes its doors to visibly other bodies.
On the flip side of this you have Lizzo who, in 2020, promoted a 10 day juice cleanse and faced a huge backlash online from tolls for “promoting weight loss” and yet male celebrities who lose weight don’t face the same level of scrutiny. Why do you think there is such a double standard?
This kind of illustrates my point. Lizzo is a much larger, black woman and, as such, is subject to so much more scrutiny than her white, straight-sized male colleagues. While I don’t personally subscribe to juice cleanses, I think this specific example also feeds into the idea that doing ‘healthy’ things is fatphobic. You see so much backlash against fat celebrities who enjoy doing exercise or eating vegetable-rich diets because they are in some way betraying their fatness.
Once again, louder for the folks in the back: YOU CAN LIVE A HEALTHY LIFE AND STILL BE FAT. These things aren’t mutually exclusive, folks.
"The fact I was achieving that weight loss by quite literally eating an apple and two carrots a day was entirely over-looked: people were just so flipping over-joyed to see me get less fat."
The fact I was achieving that weight loss by quite literally eating an apple and two carrots a day was entirely over-looked: people were just so flipping over-joyed to see me get less fat.
How damaging is this, not only for the celebrities mental health, but for the audiences who are watching this somewhat unrelenting attack on women’s bodies?
Obviously, it’s super damaging, because young people in particular model their own goals and aspirations on what they see in media. Polaris has some truly horrifying stats on this. 69% of girls between the ages of 10 and 18 state that celebrities motivate their ‘ideal’ body shape. 50% of teenage girls have used ‘unhealthy’ weight control behaviours like skipping meals, vomiting, laxatives, smoking, etc. Eating disorders are endemic among young women.
While so much of this stems from the media they’re consuming, their behaviour is also often being reinforced by the people around them. Back when I was your classic run-of-the-mill teen with an eating disorder, I was being praised so much family, friends, even teachers about my weight loss. The fact I was achieving that weight loss by quite literally eating an apple and two carrots a day was entirely over-looked: people were just so flipping over-joyed to see me get less fat.
What are some of the worst examples of how fat bodies have been represented in the media?
Anything that features a straight-sized actor in a fat suit. Absolutely.
I’m also going to mention a show that I actually love, even though I probably shouldn’t, which is Netflix’s Insatiable. Don’t get me wrong. It truly does handle fatness hilariously badly: the idea that someone could attain this ‘perfect’ body and change their whole life for the ‘better’ by just not eating is such a dangerous thing to promote. It’s a terrible, unhealthy depiction of fatness and weight-loss culture.
But it does make me laugh…so there’s that.
Moving forward what can the positive steps medias take in giving fairer representation?
Let fatness be neutral. Let it be absolutely not a factor in the show’s narrative, let it just be ancillary to the plot.
Also, let’s just have more fat folks having sex on screen please. Like we had that one scene in Empire with Gabourey Sidibe in 2015, and then the whole industry collective just decided that was enough? I want fat romantic sex, fat one-night-stands, fat people doing kinky shit. I want to see people of all shapes and sizes genuinely being attracted to, enjoying, and pleasuring fat bodies.
I am absolutely a horny little shit. Next question, please!
What has been the most valuable lesson you have taken away from writing I Am Not A Gorilla, and what have you discovered about yourself throughout this whole experience?
Give me just a second to climb down off my soapbox and sit back down in my ‘chill comedian’ armchair.
Ok, so my background is in straight theatre, where I’d quite frequently play the fool or some other comedic part, which got me into the mindset of seeing comedy as a building block of a larger narrative, rather than a thing in its own right.
Doing this show has been a process of discovering, “Hey, I can do something just because it’s funny. It doesn’t have to have a point; it doesn’t have to exist in relation to something serious. It can just be a good fun laugh.”
I’ve also learned I’m quite bad at being casually humorous in interviews because I just enjoy deep meaningful chats way too sincerely.
Have you always had a passion for comedy?
I’ve certainly always had a passion for performance, but the comedy thing would often happen by accident. Like once, I got up on stage to give a sports report in assembly at school, but fell up the stairs and in doing so popped all the buttons off my shirt and ripped my skirt.
I learned then that there are few things funnier to an audience of high-schoolers than a girl trying to earnest report on the under-16s netball team while holding her skirt together, trying to conceal a depressingly poor-fitting M&S bra, and avoid getting blood from her grazed leg on the stage.
What was your first time out on stage like?
I was Jackie Frost in my school’s nativity. I’m not actually sure where that character fits into the classic Christian nativity; I think they made her just for me. It was a great excuse to wear a skirt made entirely of plastic icicles and cavort around with a big wand.
I was also absolutely that kid getting up on a box in the living room and making their parents watch them. I was a massive Kate Bush fan (she really spoke to my melodramatic soul), and would do singing competitions—with myself, I was an only child at that point—where I’d be “Kate Bush,” “Kay Bosh,” “Kit Bash.” Obviously, creativity was not necessarily my strong point back then.
Do you have any advice or tips you would offer any one wanting to get into comedy?
Great question! If anyone has an answer, I’d love to hear it.
But for real, I’d say find your community. This industry can be isolating, especially if you’re making work on your own, and the people that surround you will ultimately determine if you have a good time or not.
And finally, what is the message you want your audiences to take away from I Am Not A Gorilla?
It might sound like a surprise after this pretty heavy interview, but I just want them to have fun. The last few years have been rough. We haven’t had many opportunities to just share a good laugh with some people in a room together. I want to create a space for that.
It’s a silly show about a woman who looks a lot like a gorilla. Some people will take more from it than that, which is beyond wonderful, but if folks just take it at surface level and go, “That was a really enjoyable hour of my life,” I’ll be more than happy.