My favourite things: Ruby Wax

The iconic actress and author on Tina Fey, the ‘perfectly flawed’ characters of her favourite TV show, and confusing cosmologists for cosmetologists.

Ruby Wax smiles in front of a brick wall.

“Make me interesting!”

Ruby Wax’s parting words, as we end this interview, form an unnecessary appeal: there is no danger that Wax will come off as boring. Born in America but an icon in the UK, the OBE actress made her name in television, where she came to prominence as the host of a series of shows named after her: The Full Wax, Ruby Wax Meets…, Ruby and The Ruby Wax Show. She was a script editor for Absolutely Fabulous, and has written a number of memoirs and, most recently, And Now For the Good News…, a book to help readers find the sunshine behind grey clouds, or “the green shoots of optimism” in Ruby’s words, in our often disappointing world.

She is anything but boring, and her taste mirrors that fact: over the phone from South Africa, she enthusiastically plays us some of her favourite music while gushing “you probably won’t like this!” and seems personally affronted when we're unfamiliar with her favourite painter. Over the course of our call, we also discuss the incredible dialogue of HBO’s Succession, and the saving grace of her pandemic experience. Below, Ruby waxes on the other facets of culture she’s been enjoying lately.

Music: Deva Premal

I love HÄANA. It’s like she’s from outer space; I’ve never heard anything like her. She did the music for Burning Man: Art on Fire, which was a documentary about the festival. She captures what that looks like, as you start at the bottom and build a 100-foot robot that walks. I love the weirdness of it.

I also love Deva Premal. Hold on, you should hear it. Here she is; she sings in Sanskrit. [Playing music from YouTube.] This is her famous one – oh wait, we have to hear the ad about plastic surgery first. [The song plays for another 45 seconds.]

And I listen to bird sounds, to calm me down. And cricket noises. I’ve done that for a long time. I know that’s weird, but it does calm me down. I listen at night, and in the morning. I listen to forest sounds too.

TV: Succession

Succession would be my TV show. It’s addictive. It’s as mean as it gets. I like the cruelty and revenge, and you can’t top Succession for that – cruelty and revenge, together at last! All the characters are magnificent, so perfectly flawed. There’s so much believability in the lines, I was just in awe of how accurately it captured conversation. Everybody matched everybody.

Podcast: The Infinite Monkey Cage

I’ve listened to all of the episodes of science podcast The Infinite Monkey Cage, hosted by Brian Cox and Robin Ince. If you want to be intimidated, this is for you: they understand quantum physics, they understand astrophysics – and they get experts from around the world for each episode, and then have a comedian on to be a fool. That’s the part they play.

They had me on; I threw up when they asked me. Compared to Brian Cox, I was like something on the bottom of a shoe. I was trying to impress him, and I said, while we were eating dinner, “If there are parallel universes, how would I get the fork into just one mouth?” There was a cosmologist there, who I thought was a cosmetologist, a cosmetic surgeon, and I asked him what the best face lift he’s ever done was. I’ve learned about black holes since then; I would have liked to be sucked into one.

Art: Pierre Bonnard

I saw Dylan Lewis’s work here in South Africa. He’s a sculptor famous for his wild animals, many of which are abstract. And I love Salvador Dalí, and Matisse – those colours give me an orgasm.

But my absolute favourite is Pierre Bonnard; he did ‘The Red Checkered Tablecloth’. I want to be there, and I want that tablecloth. For me, it just represents peace. I can’t explain; it’s a fantasy of where I’d like to live. And there’s another Bonnard I love. It’s in the field, with flowers.

The Red Checkered Tablecloth by Pierre Bonnard
The Red Checkered Tablecloth by Pierre Bonnard

Comedy: Tina Fey

Tina Fey. I mean, nobody writes like her. As far as slaughtering a line, she’s the best. Everything, every line is funny. I like the spikiness; I don’t like ‘nice guys’. And Armando Iannucci, Veep; you know when you scream out loud laughing and every line is a winner? Every line.

Lockdown hobby: Frazzled Café

I do Frazzled Cafés [a charitable online community, founded by Wax, that provides a ‘safe and confidential’ space for peer-to-peer connection and discussion] and that’s what has kept me going. I really believe in community, and that was my community most nights. I didn’t know any of those people, but I got the compassion wafting from those screens. I didn’t lead it, it was facilitators, and it was not for mentally ill people – we’re not therapists – but it was a chance to ask, ‘What’s the weather condition in your mind?’

People understand – they get one or two minutes, they make it succinct, and then they get breakout groups and they discuss whatever they want there. The way people look at each other is with such care that I wish people in real life had that connection. A lot of people say that when they get out, they’re going to remember this.

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