Sharing her lived experiences is what makes Anne Gildea’s comedy so tangible, visceral and side-splittingly funny.
When the 56-year-old was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, she took on the Big C with her usual observational charm. Now her brand new show How to Get the Menopause and Enjoy Ithas hit the road, and no Mooncup is safe.
“I was plunged into breast cancer 10 years ago. I had terrible night sweats and as I say in the show, every night I was wringing out the bed sheets and my boyfriend’s neck,” laughs Anne.
“I never went, ‘Oh, this is the menopause’ — I just never connected it because of what was going on with the cancer.”
While the laughs come hot and heavy throughout the celebrated show, the dialogue is razor-sharp and achingly relatable to the 600,000 Irish women affected.
But beyond the audience, it has also been a learning experience for former The Nualas star Anne.
“Did you know that menopause affects the brain, bones and heart because of the fall in oestrogen? You can also get low mood and terrible brain fog.
“A stat that absolutely floored me was that women have twice the rate of dementia than men have,” she continues.
“My mom used to be the same size as me and now I say she is the same size as a coffee table — that’s all related to a fall of oestrogen and it leads to a loss of bone density.
“Those are the things that made me think ‘I am going to go on to HRT’, and I only found that out through the show.
“I can see the positives of HRT but accept that it’s not for all women. I don’t promote anything. I just want women to learn more about their bodies.
“The essence of the show is that women are in it together so let’s talk about it.”
And it’s real women that give the Manchester-born and Sligo-raised writer some of her best material.
“Women give me so many brilliant gags. I was talking about Mooncups and one woman told me her daughter was trying to get her to use one because they are more environmentally friendly. She described to her what it is, and she said, ‘Oh for God’s sake, I would need the Sam Maguire cup!’ That was Paula from Clontarf.
“Irish women are just so hilarious,” she says. “When I started out doing comedy in England there used to be this debate ‘are women funny?’ I remember seeing an article in Time Magazine that said ‘women can’t be funny and sexy.’
“Look at Joanne McNally — she’s like a goddess in her full power being the funniest thing you’ve ever seen. It is an amazing time to be doing what we are doing.
“Joanne talks to her age group of women and I want to talk to my women too. It is a shared experience. When we were growing up, nobody ever talked about the body. Everything unfolded like a litany of surprises at 12 or 13. Now this is like one of the great last secrets solved.”
Settling into middle age, the Dublin-based author no longer fears the thought of her golden years.
“I was always a little afraid of getting older but I have to say, each decade for me has been better,” shares Anne, who first found fame alongside Susan Collins and Tara Flynn as part of the singing trio in the 90s. “I have the middle-aged invisibility and I love that.
“I do try and keep fit and stuff, but I got the fat gene. I only have to look at a muffin and I pile the weight on. I have been trying to watch what I eat for the last three weeks and I have not lost a pound.
“I love clothes and I love Zara but I can barely fit into a thing. So I have to ask, ‘Do you have that in an XXXXXXL?’ I end up buying loads of Zara shoes.
“I really enjoy the process of maturing. You just learn so much about life and you really mellow out. And that’s why I love comedy — you just have to f***ing laugh.
“If you look at the fundamental absurdities, you have to live like you are never going to die. That’s what gets us up in the morning, and the surest thing in life is death and taxes,” shrugs Anne.
“Even having had the brush with cancer, you just re-engage with life like you are going to live forever.”