Jackie Clune: The show must go on

Jackie Clune's new show deals with life after lesbianism. Sally Chatterton wonders where the persona ends and the person starts
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The Independent Culture

"You look very happy. Why? Are you on drugs?" Jackie Clune, comedian, actress and self-confessed bitch, addresses the smiling waiter at our table. She seems infinitely more interested in being controversial than in filling her stomach. There is an awkward silence. The waiter looks perplexed. "I don't understand," he says. The mists clear. "Oh. No. I'm not on drugs; I'm just happy." But Clune has lost interest. The foil wasn't suitably discomfited for her liking.

You see, if you're not shocked, she hasn't done her job properly. Shocking is what she does. The splendidly lewd, crude and brash variety turn with a belter of a voice is currently venting her spleen on the London stage with a show that intersperses the ins and outs of her sex life (quite literally) with pop parodies. From Gary "Fatboy" Barlow to Céline Dion and Atomic Kitten, no pop queen escapes her tuneful vitriol. She's Pam Ayres's evil twin sister; she's a filthy Victoria Wood; she's Anne Robinson with sex appeal. Forget hostess trolleys and flameproof nighties – Clune is more your handcuffs and three-in-a-bed kind of girl.

Tonight she'll have the audience uncomfortably eating out of the palm of her hand as she curls their toes with her tales of coming in ("I'm not a lesbian; I'm a hasbian"). For not only has Clune ditched the Crimplene and flick-ups of the kitsch Karen Carpenter tribute show with which she made her name, in favour of high-heeled leather boots and the red-haired dominatrix look; but, in the Christmas version of the show she took to Edinburgh this year, she tells us how she gave up 13 years of Sapphic love for a gay Yorkshireman. "Get yourself a gay boyfriend," her line goes. "They're great cooks, they love shopping, and they're frightened of you."

Polysexuality is now a good thing. It's even on TV. Bob and Rose, Russell T Davies's recent TV drama, has gay guy falling for nice girl. So how was it for Jackie? "Yes, it's a mark of society's maturity that polysexuality can now exist," Clune muses. "But I just think that I'm rubbish at relationships. I got bored with the lesbian culture and thought: 'I'm going to try men for a while. See what that's like.' "

That didn't go swimmingly either. "We've split up because the domestic violence got out of hand. I didn't fancy him with all those bruises." She sits back, flicking her hair out of her eyes, spearing me with her green gaze. "What do you say to a man with two black eyes? Nothing. You've told him twice already." Gender-role-bending is her schtick, and she peppers her conversation with snippets from the show. But I've already seen it and heard the jokes, and it's all a bit too glib to ring true. What's she really like? "I'm a bastard, I'm a nightmare, I'm terrible," she claims, with a note of hope in her voice. "I'm a slag."

Hmmm. It must be awful, wanting so hard to be disliked. "There is part of me that is a bitch, that is nasty and nihilistic, and that's what I'm going to go with in this show. But even so, people do say at the end of it, 'You're quite sweet really.' Whatever you go for, there will be some subtext that you reveal, and I think that's what I do."

Maybe that's what has the critics masochistically begging for more: she'll be outrageously rude but then disarm you with a butter-wouldn't-melt smile and talk of kittens. The faint whispers of self-deprecation bewitch: "Make this woman a star," one critic pleaded this year at Edinburgh. But there is a needy Clune – at this she snorts, guffaws, almost gags – hidden behind the skirt-chasing, man-eating bitch, isn't there?

"I think there's an aspect of that in everyone," she says. "It's just not very interesting to be a whole person on stage. I'd be constantly contradicting myself: 'Oh, I can't stand lesbians. Well, actually, I'm just saying that for effect. Some of them are quite nice, I'm sure.' I'd end up doing a sort of Woody Allen thing, where I just get really neurotic on stage."

She's infuriating to talk to, continually contradicting, reassessing, joking. "Am I seeing someone? No." She takes a breath. "Well, actually I've got several people on the go. My friends can't believe how easy it is for me to pick up men. And then the men get you home..." – at this point I realise she's heading for a punchline – "and realise that there's only one of you and that there's little point in pulling just one lesbian. Doh." Clune told me earlier that she didn't rehearse her show. I'm not so sure.

She narrowly missed a Perrier nomination in Edinburgh this year. She shifts in her seat slightly before deciding to be arch about it: "Apparently I'm not ready yet. It's like being an oven-basted chicken. 'It's not quite ready; stick it back in.' " And she is unimpressed with this year's winners: "I went to see Garth Marenghi, expecting genius, and it was like a sixth-form sketch. It's self-satisfied and smug. 'Aren't we clever?' " she mimics. " 'We can send up Stephen King. And we went to Cambridge, did we mention that?' Oh, get lost!"

That's more like it: undiluted, fresh vitriol. But will she manage to cast her spell beyond the Fringe? She's just finished filming for The Bill ("a dream come true"), is to co-star with Meera Syal in a TV drama next year and is planning a one-woman show about Julie Burchill ("We're alike. We have a maverick streak; we're both irreverent and naughty"), all of which could leave her just a sashay away from household notoriety. She also hopes to return to Edinburgh next year with new material. Will she reveal more of herself? "I think I'll change tack and make the songs more personal. I need more of a challenge. It's too easy to take the piss." It's difficult to know whether to be relieved or disappointed.

'Jackie Clune's Bitchin' Christmas', Arts Theatre, London WC2 to 5 Jan, 020-7836 3334

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