On International Women's Day in the early Eighties, Dowie would have been doing a stand- up gig in front of her regular followers at the Finborough Arms in Earls Court. She doesn't do stand-up any more. In fact, it turns out that she's never been a dyed-in-the-wool stand-up either. 'Anything went in the old days,' she says, with the nostalgia of an ex-anarchist after a revolution. 'That's why it was interesting.' Why did she drop it then? 'As soon as television got interested, stand-up got boring,' she says. 'All the comics started using their gigs to practice for when they were on television. I got fed up with people who were plotting their next move while they were still taking their last one.'
Dowie's answer was to start writing dramatically, even though she loathes whole-hearted theatre even more than she loathes half-hearted comedy. 'I hate the cowardice of proper theatre plays,' she says. 'They're not getting involved and they're not involving the audience. It's like watching telly.' Is she a telly-hater as well? 'No - because I can do a lot of other things while I'm watching telly.'
When you see Claire Dowie perform, this makes perfect sense. She swaggers on to the stage with beer and fag in hand and starts pouring her stories down the audience's throat. There's no looking away. She uses this direct rapport to build a rich storytelling structure which gives her audience a degree of character involvement they would never have got back at the Finborough.
What makes her so mesmerising to watch is her utter openness in performance. Leaking is the story of motherhood told by a woman who starts out by saying that she doesn't know what it means to be a woman. Once the audience has overcome its bashfulness, the way is open to follow Dowie on a delicious comic odyssey through the burst condom into a land of pre-natal classes and ghastly mother-baby books. No other comic has been so deliciously frank about this subject - and few have found such tenderness in it.
Some of Dowie's traditional following will doubtless be annoyed that she's a lesbian who has settled down with a gay man and a baby. But Dowie insists that her politics are about gender - and nothing to do with who she sleeps with. 'Dogmatic dykes don't like me at all, because I don't toe the party line,' she says. 'I never have answers. Just questions.' She does still have a strong lesbian following, of course. But they're the open-minded sort. 'I'm a thinking dyke's dyke,' she says. And does she have a message for her thinking dyke audience? 'I love you and I want to have your babies.'
'Leaking from Every Orifice', 22 Mar-17 Apr (8pm Tue-Sun, 6pm Sun), BAC, Lavender Hill, London SW11 (071-223 2223)
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