Life & Culture

Television review: When Ruby Wax Met

Our critic Josh Howie has painful memories of the first time he met Ruby Wax - would that colour his judgement?


Programme Name: When Ruby Wax Met... - TX: 22/08/2021 - Episode: Ruby Wax Meets Again - Generics (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: New Yorker Gallery, Lumiere London Ruby Wax - (C) Burning Bright Productions - Photographer: Phil Summers

When Ruby Wax Met nearly every celebrity during the 90s, she wielded her honesty and humour to pry open their true selves. When I met Ruby Wax I vomited all over her brand new white carpet. I was twelve and had gotten drunk for the first time after surreptitiously knocking back abandoned drinks at a dinner party. I can assure you my positive judgement of her regurgitations aren’t driven by guilt, but I learnt some valuable lessons that night; don’t mix and match, and don’t judge a book by its cover.

The cover was how Ruby presented herself in her documentaries, what she herself is judging as she reviews that old footage in this new series. It’s someone brash, shameless, loud, and dominating. But that wasn’t the person who calmly and kindly reacted to her ruined carpet, and I was shocked by the discrepancy. What do you mean TV isn’t real? Why would someone pretend to behave that way? As Ruby dissects her old persona through the prism of her new career as a mental heath writer, lecturer and writer, we discover it’s because it worked. Except when it didn’t.

The first of the three episodes kicks off with Ruby’s excruciating millennial interview with Donald Trump as he first runs for President. But even as he dismisses and abuses her and she clings on like a terrier yapping at his heels, we learn so much. We learn he’s a bully, we learn of his immense ego, we learn of the finely honed emotional instincts that eventually took him to the White House, we learn of his charm when he decides it serves him. As Ruby says, “Trump read me”.When he immediately assessed that she wasn’t the supplicant and anonymous BBC reporter he’d expected, he shut her down leaving her nowhere to go.

There’s also huge insight here into how comedians access their powers and how laughter is a team sport. If the audience don’t like you it’s over. Ruby was scared by Trump and hence “got less and less funny”. Projection meant that, “He treated me like an idiot and I become an idiot”. He was smart and insightful enough to know he’d be the butt of the joke and hence he just refused to play the game.

So much of comedy is about belief, and once the audience lose faith in you, it’s very difficult to maintain that faith in yourself. Fortunately the opposite is also true, and it’s when interviewing the likes of Goldie Hawn, Carrie Fisher and Tom Hanks that we get to see Ruby fly. All of them respond to Ruby’s wit and silliness and ‘hit the ball back.’ The style of their return goes to their core: Goldie, secure and playful; Carrie, with style and purpose; Tom, solid and relaxed but subtly playing offence as defence.

The clip with Tom Hanks where he’s been told to laugh at everything Ruby says, and she admits that at the time she’d forgotten the set up and you see in the footage the confused joy that she’s killing had the whole family cackling on the floor. In our instagram era of ever more controlled exposure, there’s an anarchic pleasure to Ruby’s pioneering celebrity interviews and her experimenting with innovative formats. She’s always shared the laughter. Now she’s sharing lessons learnt along the way. Apart from to never to buy a white carpet.


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