Arabella Weir was always the one larking about. Serious acting was not for her. No wonder she started getting the kind of comic roles that have resulted in her cavorting nightly in the stage version of The Fast Show.
"I used to be pretty self-destructive," she muses. "That's one of the reasons it took me so long to make it. I worked fairly hard at making sure my career didn't take off, because I was so insecure." Any woman who recognises herself in Weir's sketch, "Does My Bum Look Big In This?" or the novel on which it is based, Does My Bum Look Big In This? The Diary Of An Insecure Woman (Hodder & Stoughton, pounds 9.99), will be all too familiar with such insecurities. How much of the character is based on her own personality?
"Oh, about 99 per cent." Despite the fact that she is by no means enormous, she claims that, like most women, she spends far too much time worrying that she is. And that's the whole point, she says. "The book is about every woman, about our genetic paranoia, irrespective of how we look." Which is why she decided to appear naked on the cover. She may be no Demi Moore, but Weir is hardly mammoth.
"Went to the sales, gave up after two shops," exclaims the novel's protagonist, Jackie. "Everywhere I went I knew the assistants were thinking, `Oh please, why are you bothering to spend money on clothes? Tents from Milletts would be more suitable.'
"It's funny," she says. "A lot of blokes just don't get the joke. So many of them make comments like, `But your bum isn't that big.' If you don't get it, there's not much point in explaining it."
Weir was even reluctant to take credit for acquiring the contract for the book. "It just evolved, really," she explains. "The publisher originally approached me about producing a Christmas book. I declined, but it did start me thinking that I might be able to get a novel out of the Fast Show character. When I agreed to take it on, I still didn't have a clue about what I was doing. Half-way through, I remember thinking that if I'd had any idea what it would turn out like, I wouldn't have agreed to do it."
As the main female contributor to The Fast Show, is Weir responsible for preventing it being too laddish? "I hope so," she smiles, "although I don't think the show is as much about lads as sad old blokes that you might meet in a pub." Indeed, sketches such as "Women Who Men Can't Hear" (speaks for itself) and "No Offence" (in which she plays an excessively- fake-tanned department store perfume-sprayer) are certainly in an entirely different mould from any of the male-oriented routines such as "Cockney Chris" ("I'm a little bit whaay") or "Filthy Duke".
"Basically, I'm allowed do what I like provided Paul [Whitehouse] and Charlie [Higson] think it's funny. And I think it's that generosity of spirit that makes the show so appealing... there isn't just one major star in every single sketch."
It's the first gang show since Not the Nine O'Clock News. "There were a lot of people doubting whether such a show could work on stage, but they've achieved it," says a spokesperson for its sponsor, Carlsberg Ice Beer. "Each sketch is so ingrained on the audience's minds, that the catch lines got huge cheers." She adds, "What struck me about Arabella in particular was what a good singing voice she has. She plays a really tacky singer called Trudi for the one sketch. It's incredibly funny, but she's actually got an amazing voice."
So now that she's writing her own scripts, I ask her about the allure of stand-up comedy. "Allure?" she laughs. "I'd rather have molten lava poured in my ears. While I can earn a living doing other things, I'll avoid it at all costs."
Work has begun on a second novel, for which Weir draws further from her own experiences to create a tale of three women and their life-long friendship. "Any woman who comes from a dysfunctional family will know how friends can provide an alternative to families," she explains, pointing to the impact of her parents' divorce on her teenage years. And yes, she says, "It will be funny. I hope. After all, I think women can laugh at themselves now more than they ever could. Probably because the days have finally passed when they felt they had to hold down three careers, 84 daily trips to the gym, and giving the perfect blow job. And the great thing about writing is that it provides an excellent second income. But if I wind up being Fay Weldon, so be it." She laughs: "I should be so lucky."
"Shooting Stars & The Fast Show Live", Labatt's Apollo, Hammersmith, 24 Jan to 1 March, Tuesdays-Sundays, 7.30pm. The season is expected to be extended.