An Interview with Grayson Perry

grayson perry in conversation

Artist Grayson Perry is taking to the stage as part of a nationwide tour to discuss masculinity. The shows, which run alongside the release of his new book, ‘The Descent of Man’, ask what is masculinity and what can it become. Expect an intelligent evening of laughs, discussion, insight and costume changes…

Let’s talk about the show Typical Man in a Dress. What could audiences expect to get out of it? What sort of time will they have?
When I do a show I’m aware that my main fault is that I try to pack too much information into a certain amount of time. So I’m trying to put together a show that is entertaining, where the audience are not overburdened with information. I’m happy if they come out of it with a couple of facts about masculinity and gender and they’ve had a good evening. My main struggle is trying to dampen down audiences’ expectations. Because I’m playing places like the Palladium where I don’t know what they think they’re going to get! Hopefully it will be funny. But I’m not somebody who overly prepares. My best jokes are normally in the moment. So I put together a set of images and ideas about masculinity and gender and hope that we have a fun ride on the way. That’s all I can promise!

The show is going to Bristol, London, Manchester, Worthing and of course Sheffield. Are you expecting to get a different reception in different places?
I am quite wary of playing Sheffield, Worthing and Manchester because I am a member of the metropolitan elite. Obviously, post-Brexit, I’m going to have to make jokes about who voted leave! I have a whole routine about it in my mind actually. I think it is a glorious moment in British comedy. Brexit has been such a gift because it’s given the chattering classes such a hammering and that amuses me greatly. Of course they are my home audience!

“I just love giving lectures”

grayson perry in conversationAnd are you expecting the view of masculinity to be different in different places? Are you expecting to get boos and hisses in one place but not in another?
I’m not going to kid myself that the people who really need to read my book or see my show are going to read my book or see my show. They’re not that kind of people. As I say in the introduction, if I really wanted to get through to these men I’d plaster it across a football shirt or down the side of a racing car. They don’t read books.

Do you think there’s a north-south divide or some kind of divide?
I don’t think there’s a divide between northern men or southern men. You know, I’ve met sensitive, lovely men all over the country. There might be stronger class traditions in different parts of the country. But I don’t think the middle classes of North London have a monopoly on male sensitivity.

How will the show be different from the book and television?
I’ve done the show because I just love giving lectures – I really enjoy it. And gradually over the years – I’ve been doing it now for about 25 years – I’ve sort of upped the game and played some big venues. I thought, instead of doing little book fairs, I thought I’d take control of it a bit. Also, I tend to always do a show as a one off, a talk or a lecture as a one off. I put them together just for that occasion. So I thought it would be nice to do something half a dozen times to really polish it. Recently I was Chancellor [of University of the Arts London] and I had to give the same speech to graduating students five times. I really enjoyed the fact that it made me ramp it up each time and I got much better at it. So I’m hoping the same thing will happen.

“I have a very particular view of masculinity”

Why this subject? What’s the one thing that has galvanised the book, the TV, the show?
I mean I’ve made the TV, the book, the show about masculinity because it is such an important subject. It underlies everything in the world. Gender is at the basement level of our identities and men are causing all the ‘aggro’. We need to examine what it is to be a man. Being a transvestite, and my experience with male role models as a child, has made me very aware of masculinity. As a transvestite, I don’t have a privileged view of femininity but I have a very particular view of masculinity. Also, I’m just fascinated by things that are everywhere but aren’t examined. I’m always interested in crystallising awareness about the unconscious every day. That’s the drive, that is why I’ve done class, that’s why I did identity. They’re things I can see out of the café window. And everybody deals with them every day, so they‘re big issues because of that.

Will you be Claire in your shows?
I will dress up in my shows. I think it’s part of the fun of it all. Also it is called ‘Typical Man in a Dress’ so it would be selling the audience short if I didn’t! Also, there is this kind of surrealism about giving a lecture on masculinity wearing a stupid dress. It is modelling as well. It’s appropriate in that situation. Sometimes I don’t dress up because I think it’s just a distraction from what I’m saying. But in this case I think it adds to it because I am a man in a dress. Yes, a man in a dress. I was talking to trans people the other day saying, you know I’m not trans, I’m a man in a dress. But I have no problem with my gender. I just like dressing up in the wrong clothes. And I think that is interesting modelling. Men come up to me quite often and say: ‘Oh I’d love to dress like that’. And I go: ‘It’s not illegal – you can’. What they are saying, I think, is that they would like the attention that comes with it.


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