Alex Fice speaks to Jessica Fostekew about change, identity and sexuality ahead of her upcoming show at Cambridge Junction
“Life isn’t always set in stone; we have more choice than we think,” says Jessica Fostekew, in that deep, warm, fuzzy voice that fans of The Guilty Feminist podcast will recognise immediately.
This is certainly the lesson Jess has come to learn over the last two years. During the pandemic, the 39-year-old comedian left a nine-year relationship with the father of her son and is now engaged to a woman. “I met my queerness as an adult – I’m pretty confident I was straight when I was younger,” Jess tells me. “I think I fundamentally changed, and that’s quite terrifying for some people to behold.
“It’s shifted the way I look at all sorts of things,” she adds. “Even with my most fierce opinions, I now have a percentage of me that thinks: You might change that. Something could happen that could alter even your most rock-solid belief or feeling. It’s a whole new way of living, really. It’s exhilarating – but it’s also frightening.”
In her latest show, Wench, which comes to Cambridge Junction this Saturday (8 October), Jess explores how this momentous shift in her life has impacted the way she sees the world and her own identity – covering issues both light-hearted and serious, from the growing pressure on comedians to get Botox, to her first close-up experience with homophobia.
Using a light touch to tackle some challenging themes and issues, Wench has come a long way from the original brief Jess set herself. “As ever, I set out to write one show and then it turned into something else. Initially, I wanted to write a show ostensibly about fun and promiscuity, but it’s ended up being a kind of subversion on the idea of a show about identity, politics and change.”
The pandemic has also played a part in this change of focus and tone. “Everybody has had these few years where their lives have been altered, and now I think we’re staring down the barrel of all the change we’ve endured and what that means for us. So, weirdly, I think that the show is actually about mid-life transformation and how to handle that at a time when identity feels like an incredibly loaded hot topic.”
Though Wench raises some important questions about the fluidity of beliefs, identity and sexuality, it doesn’t intend to offer any clear-cut answers to life’s more complex dilemmas. Rather, Jess hopes that her latest show offers more nuance than ever before: “You know when you write a GCSE or even an A-Level essay and you have to make one point, then back it up really clearly? I feel like that’s what my comedy has done until this show, whereas now I’ve hopefully gone up to degree level, where I’m more aware than ever that there’s never just one, clear, black-and-white answer to any dilemma,” she explains.
If the reviews are anything to go by, then Jess’s latest show promises to be nothing short of first-class. Head to the Junction’s website and snap up your tickets to Wench this Saturday at 7.30pm, for a dose of cracking comedy and plenty of food for thought.