Shhh! Don't tell my kids what I'm wearing


Like many mums, I've taken a career break to have kids. Now, nine years and three babies later, I'm heading back to work. But, perhaps unlike other mums, my going back to work involves performing in front of a live audience, dressed as a penis.

My new comedy show is at the Edinburgh Fringe but I haven't been able to advertise it much. I was doing well, I'd managed to successfully hide the flyers and posters from the kids for about six months but then, at the weekend, I had to photocopy the sound cue list. The next thing I knew my 10-year-old son looked at the piece of paper, turned to me and said sternly; "Mummy, that's inappropriate."

The costume has been easier to explain. My children think it's my sausage costume. They refer to it as the sausage in the loft, which is where it's kept. It was designed by Geoff Slack with an extra piece of material for the top which can be velcro-ed on and off. Although it's a bit grubby, having been in the loft for 10 years, I don't think I'll be taking it to the dry cleaners.

When I was at home with the babies, I was in a kind of bubble where success was measured by how much sleep I'd had or how well the baby had fed. I would feel triumphant if, for example, my medley of vegetables was eaten or I'd managed to sleep through until 5am with only two wake-ups. I'd sit on the Hackney Playbus with my toddlers, boring my friend to tears as I spoke about all the plans and ideas I had for re-launching my career.

I never thought then that I'd actually write a solo show, let alone perform it in Edinburgh, after all these years away. At times, I felt so desperate to get back on stage that I'd arrange play-dates for my kids if their friend's parents had anything to do with show-biz.

Slowly, I began developing a new show. I rebooted old characters such as Yiddish language teacher Eileen Schwartzberg, PC Parent, Jeremy the Captain of Schmeasy Jet, Yummy Mummy and The Northerner. I added a couple of my own songs into the mix and began to tell my story, including my Jewish journey and the transition into parenthood.

Where better to try out the new material than Limmud last December? We laid out three rows of seating, although I was thinking I'd be lucky to get 30 punters. I couldn't believe it when more than 150 people poured into the room.

There was no back-stage area and one woman had decided to sit on my seat, not realising that I was the act about to go on. It was incredible. I was surprised at how much they liked the wigs. Eileen Schwartzberg went down particularly well as did the jokes about my husband and the children.

However, some of the smutty puns fell a bit flat, so I decided to clean up. I'll let the costume do the talking.

Lack of confidence can be a huge barrier in going back to work, especially after having had children. I'd had a "script surgery" with the former commissioning editor for BBC Radio Comedy and she was so positive about my writing, it forced me to keep going. She said: "You do a great reveal". I went round telling everybody "I do a great reveal!". But I don't think the mums on the school run were that impressed. Many of the parents are artists or creative people living in Hackney so they're well-adjusted and cool. They're used to seeing me talking to myself on the way to school and know not to approach.

It's a relief for me that I no longer need to dress up for every school fete and do my "Switch off the telly, have a story with Pelly" routine. Now that I'm performing again, I can be like a normal parent and help, for example, run a stand for second-hand school uniforms.

Recently, I was asked "Is your mum a typical Jewish mother?" I said: "I don't know what that means." She said: "Is she neurotic and over-doting with her kids?" I said, "Ooh no – that's me".

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