Comedy: Prima Donna: She's a stand-up who's a woman who's a lesbian - in that order. James Rampton talks to the outgoing Donna McPhail

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The Independent Culture
Like it or not, Donna McPhail is known as the comic who 'came out' on stage. With some justification, she feels the seven minutes of her hour-long show devoted to her sexuality at Edinburgh last summer have been blown out of all proportion. 'All that lesbian stuff annoyed me,' she asserts. 'I hid it in the middle of the show, but all the reviews still read, 'Donna McPhail . . . LESBIAN' . . . But I'm a stand-up who's a woman who's a lesbian - in that order. I want to be a funny person, not a funny lesbian - which is a contradiction in terms anyway.'

As anyone who has seen her live can testify, she is a funny person, capable of making jokes about anything from dykes ('I'm not a proper lesbian, I don't fancy kd lang') to Depardieu - 'He's only a sex symbol because he's French. If he were British, he'd be a dinner lady.'

Part of her appeal lies in her aggressive stage persona, developed as a way of counteracting nerves. Crunching on a croque monsieur in a Regent St cafe, McPhail explains: 'The adrenalin you get before a show is equivalent to a car crash - that's why your bowels open so regularly. Your body is in shock. If you show that on stage, you're dead. So I give the feeling that you don't mess with me.'

Some beer-swilling, rugby- club types have certainly learnt not to mess with her. 'They heckle on a very personal basis. They shout, 'You've got no tits, I wouldn't shag you. You haven't got a boyfriend.' If they're trying to humiliate you sexually, all you have to do is turn around and do the same to them: 'What do you use for contraception - your personality? Where's your girlfriend - outside grazing?' Although it's not my bag politically, you have to do that to shut them up.'

Perhaps surprisingly, McPhail has also sustained some less than friendly fire from lesbian audiences. 'Sometimes lesbians forget to have a laugh, because we have to be so defensive all the time. That attitude can be very frustrating when you're doing a comedy show. They all mentally flick through their Politically Correct Dictionary before they laugh. You get women coming up and saying, 'It's not right to say you're a bird', and I have to reply, 'It's a joke. Shall I give notes out before you come in?'. I love having dykes in, but they take a long time to relax.'

McPhail, 32, has come a long way since she started out seven years ago in a Cambridge revue group called the Millies. With Jo Brand, she recently starred in a Radio 1 comedy show, Windbags, a second series of which is being made in the summer. They describe themselves as the 'Saint & Greavsie of the radio, except we have both got moustaches - and friends.'

Although prolific on the live circuit, this engaging, spiky comedian is still waiting for her big break into television. Quite rightly, she is remaining choosy: 'You won't see me in a sketch on the Bobby Davro show.'

Donna McPhail's 'Personality Disorder on the Rampage' tour: 3 Mar Manchester Buzz Club (061- 449 7482); 4 Mar Bristol Watershed (0272 276444); 7 Mar Cambridge Junction (0223 410356); 10 Mar Southampton Gantry (0703 229319); 11 Mar Crawley Hawth Theatre (0293 510022)

(Photograph omitted)