Ruby Wax became known for the Nineties series Ruby Wax Meets, in which she travelled across the globe to film off-the-wall segments with various public figures, such as Baywatch star Pamela Anderson and former sports star OJ Simpson.
There was also her late-night talk show Ruby, which aired from 1997 to 2000, and she worked as a script editor for the sitcom Absolutely Fabulous.
Now, Illinois-born Wax is returning to our screens in the new BBC Two show, When Ruby Wax Met…
Across three episodes, we see the comedian reflect on her TV career, her refreshing interviewing style, and the most memorable encounters including interviews with former American president Donald Trump, Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher and Hollywood star Tom Hanks.
Here, the 68-year-old – who has been married to producer and director Ed Bye since 1988 – tells us more.
What was it like to watch these iconic interviews back for the first time?
“You get my reactions while I’m watching it; I’m startled. It looked like I was having a great time.
If it wasn’t me, I’d be so jealous because, clearly, that was so much fun to hang out with people, and a few of them I became friends with. It was like the unpopular girl suddenly got access to all these really great, popular girls.
“Carrie Fisher and I became best friends. Staying overnight at her house, and her making me laugh and reading me bits of her book… what a joy.”
Who was your most difficult interviewee?
“Oh, Donald Trump! That was a car crash. Bad interviews still make good TV, but I just think it’s appalling, and it’s what not to do.
He threw me off his plane. I thought he was joking when he said he wanted to be the president. I thought he was being funny – and he wasn’t.”
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned from your career so far?
“I didn’t know it would be OK when you lose one job. I luckily reinvented, but it could be a tragedy if you hold on to something and they take it away from you, and you just keep telling people, “Oh, do you remember who I was?” and that’s your highlight. If you have one career, and it’s taken, find another one.”
Your fifth book came out recently, called a mindfulness guide for survival. Can you tell us more?
“I wrote it during the pandemic. It’s a workbook, so there are questionnaires, you can draw in it, you can write in it. It’s like a journal on how to survive a world that’s pretty rocky and be happy.
“I do mindfulness, but the book isn’t all about mindfulness. It’s a little bit about self-reflection because people were getting sick thinking about ‘what if?’ during Covid-19 and it was making them more ill than if they actually got ill, and I thought that was interesting.”
As a mental health advocate, how worried are you about the impact of the pandemic?
“I wanted the book out by August because I thought by December, people would be so traumatised, or they’d try to pretend nothing ever happened.
We’re not even acknowledging the fallout of this (Covid-19). But then, it just happened, and we don’t even know if it’s over.
“I ran these (online) nightly meetings called Frazzled Cafe (where people can speak openly about the stresses of modern life) every night during lockdown; that’s how I got the idea for the book. I still do it once a week and, believe me, people are still pretty panicked.”
Being in the public eye can be difficult. How was your mental health at the height of your TV career?
“I had depression, but I didn’t have it all the time. It was every three to five years. So, I’m lucky that I didn’t have a nine-to-five job because then you’d be fired. But I, luckily, wasn’t working when I was ill.”
The industry has changed in recent years. It’s much less rare now to have a woman centre stage…
“My daughters (Marina and Madeleine Bye) are a comedy act and they’re out doing live shows all the time. They’re called Siblings, and my daughter (Madeleine) produces shows, and it’s a lot of women who are coming up. So, they’re having their shot now.
“(Siblings) is very French and Saunders; it’s not what I do. But good luck – who knows who makes it?
“They’re in the last show of When Ruby Wax Met… watching me. It was Clive’s idea, the producer. He said, “Put your daughters in it, let’s see what they think”. They’re really funny.”
When Ruby Wax Met… starts on BBC Two on Sunday, August 22.