We talk to physiotherapist and recovered incontinent, Elaine Miller, who moonlights as a comedian in her spare time! She’s on a mission to break down the taboos which surround incontinence and sexual dysfunction. She’ll be at the Edinburgh Fringe festival this summer talking all about that and you can find details of her show, Gusset Grippers, at the bottom. What a story!
An interview with Elaine Miller of Gusset Grippers
What made you decide to do what you do?
A bunch of us at the school gate were planning a personal challenge before we turned 40. One was going to finish her degree, one train for a marathon and I said I’d do stand up (better than thinking or running, right?). My choice was because of a story I told in my 20s at a party about a terrible date I’d had the night before (nothing criminal happened, but, seriously, it’s a shocker).
A bloke at the party ran a local comedy club and offered me 5 minutes on stage, which I declined, because “why would I want to tell a bunch of strangers about it?” Subsequently, whenever I watched comedy I thought “I could do that, that bloke said I’d be good”.
So I signed up for a “newcomers’ competition”, innocently thinking it was for newcomers. Turns out, you’re supposed to be Quite Good before you enter a competition, but I can recommend substituting bravado for skill and having a wee go anyway.
Why did you wait until you did to do it?
Lack of time. I just daydreamed about it as “one of these days I’ll give that a go”. Much like yoga and hoovering.
What are you hoping to accomplish?
That’s easy, to change the world, one fanny at a time.
How did you make the change? Who or what helped you?
Well, realising that I didn’t mind failing helped. Doing something just for fun is a whole lot of fun. I was lucky enough to be given some good advice from comedians and an indulgent woman at the BBC. That was validating and gave me a right brass neck.
How did your family and friends react?
My husband was initially a bit worried that I’d be rubbish and he’d have to say “no, dear, that was really very good” and nod enthusiastically. My parents seem to be quietly proud and pretend to not mind the fact that I am a potty mouth for a living. My daughter says “well, at least you’re not boring” whilst my sons think it’s cool that I’m on stage, but a bit embarrassing that I say “vagina” in public. My friends have come en masse to the gigs, which is really heartening. Some of them know the script better than I do, often handy.
How has your life changed having gone down this path?
It’s bonkers to be told “we would like to hear what you have to say, please come abroad and say stuff to us”. I usually only get as far as the supermarket, so I quite enjoy that. And then, when you get Far Away, you meet someone you’ve fan-girled for years who fan-girls you back. That’s surreal.
Usually no one pays me the slightest bit of attention at home. Most of the time I feel like a figment of my own imagination.
What advice do you have for women considering a similar life change?
Nike it, just do it. It’ll be a blast. Comedy’s a better high than a whole box of tunnocks teacakes – and I’ve tried them both.
What are you proud of and what keeps you inspired?
I’m most proud of the women who write to me to say “I saw your show, so I saw my GP and got referred on, I’m fine now”. I’m inspired by all the leaky ladies who haven’t heard me evangelise that you don’t have to put up with it. Seriously, don’t put up with that shit. Or pish.
What do you love most about being the age you are?
That it means I’m not dead yet. Never understood the modesty about age, the alternative isn’t awfully appealing.
What do you hate most about the age you are?
Same answer, nothing. I am hoping to blossom when I’m in my 80s, the odds are good by then.
What do you wish you’d known in your twenties?
That even my bad decisions and hard circumstances would work out OK in the end. They always do, might need a bit of time, often a lot of time, but they always become manageable eventually.
What are the most important business/personal lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Listen to the advice folk give you freely, without begging and for no personal gain. People are generally generous, kind and want to see you do well. Oh, and haters gonna hate. They’re quite wrong, that’s why they’re so cross.
Do you have a mantra that has guided you more than any other?
The worst anyone can say is “no”. And that’s not that bad. Someone else will say “yes”. Eventually. Just ask JK Rowling about that.
Which woman do you most admire and why?
Dead – Dorothy Parker, so very underrated. Perfectly, succinctly vicious.
Alive – Dr Catherine Hamlin who, with her husband, set up the Hamlin Foundation in Ethiopia. They train midwives and repair the birth injuries of women who have no midwifery care. These women are often left doubly incontinent and abandoned by their communities because of the associated smell. Dr Hamlin and all fistula fixers are my superheroes.
Is there anything people consistently misunderstand about you?
That I’m winging everything at all times. Don’t tell anyone.
How can Mutton Club readers find out more about what you do?
Have a look at www.gussetgrippers.co.uk, get in touch, don’t put up with leaking. Seriously.
Details for Elaine’s Fringe show Gusset Grippers.
Elaine Miller, physiotherapist, comedian, mother of three giant headed children and recovered incontinent is bringing her show, “Gusset Grippers” from the international speakers circuit to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
A shocking 1 in 3 women and 1 in 9 men wet themselves. Leaking is common, but never normal, and most cases of stress incontinence can be cured. “There is a perception that it’s an inevitable consequence of ageing or parenthood, but that’s not true. There is no need to put up with it.” says Elaine.
‘Startling and humorous insights’ Sydney Herald
The aim of “Gusset Grippers” is to break down the taboos which surround incontinence and sexual dysfunction. “Humour can do that, make it OK to talk about things which are embarrassing, and that will encourage people to ask for help.” That is vital because leaking is a barrier to exercise, and diseases of inactivity like coronary heart disease kill people, about 3.2 million deaths per year, according to the World Health Organisation in 2008. The ban on mesh surgery means it is very important that women are educated about vaginal prolapse and pelvic floor health. There is solid evidence that physiotherapy can manage even significant injuries.
Excitingly, the show counts as Continuing Professional Development for Healthcare Professionals. GPs, midwives, nurses, physiotherapists, urologists, gynaecologists, speech therapists, health visitors and fitness professionals have already indicated they are coming to have a giggle and gain some CPD points. Packs with references, reflective questions and a CPD certificate are provided.
Winner “weirdest show of the Fringe” 2013
“I love the story-telling quality. I could feel my cervix drop” Maxi Miciak
“A triumph” One4Review
“See this show, your knickers will thank you” Broadway Baby
Showing at Woodland Creatures, 260-262 Leith Walk, EH6 5EL Aug 4-6, 10-13, 17-20, 24-27. https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/gusset-grippers