■The comedian and actress, 62, reveals what keeps her sane and why she will never be a great baker
Your’re currently on the road doing stand-up but you also host panel shows, write books, act and star in pantos. What are you happiest doing?
Lying down! No — stand-up because it’s what I’ve consistently done for the longest time. I like the challenge of a grumpy audience on a Thursday night in Scunthorpe or wherever it may be. And I like the whole structure of stand-up too. And the person I tour with, Andy Robinson. So it’s always a nice event all round.
You’ve worked with so many comedians. Do you have a lot as pals?
I wouldn’t say a lot because we’re a very antisocial group these days. I have about seven really close friends who are comedians, the rest of them I’d turn the electric fence on for. Not really! But when you have a family it’s incredibly hard to have a social life. I sometimes look at the way single comedians behave and I wouldn’t say I’m envious but their lives are so simple. That’s one reason why female comics are very different from male comics because roughly half the female comics I know have the odd hiatus because they want to stop for children. It’s not entirely balanced between partners and I’m not sure it ever will be.
Are things better for female comedians now?
I do think it’s getting better. When I started in the early 1980s a lot of the women — and I did too — had to be more aggressive than we wanted to be just to get a foot in the door. We were gobby and a bit in your face but these days women have more of a choice — you have character comics, whimsical comics, musical comics. It’s nice to see women doing different types of comedy.
Which female comedians do you find funny?
I love Isy Suttie. I like her songs and slightly naive approach to what she does. I like Sarah Millican too, she’s done amazingly. I do think it’s much harder if you’re an ordinary working-class person to get a foothold in comedy and she commands huge audiences now.
You’ve been named as contender to replace Sandi Toksvig on Bake Off. Did hosting Bake Off: An Extra Slice make you a brilliant baker?
Not really. The thing that happens in Bake Off that I’d never be able to achieve is that they make stuff look amazing. If you have fingers like sausages, which I have, you’re starting from a losing position. I can make stuff taste alright but I just don’t have any artistic skill.
At what age did you realise you were funny?
About 12. I was the middle of two brothers and they were both funny — my big brother is hilarious in a much more traditional, telling jokes way. So we were all like that from quite an early age. We were a jokey sort of family.
You’ve done some amazing charity challenges. Which was the most daunting
The walk I did from Hull to Liverpool. It’s very difficult to do a stressful physical challenge and be nice to people! We’d set off at 7am and often not get to where we were going until 10pm. After about 4.30pm I’d be so bad-tempered I’d have to rein it in when someone came up to me and was annoying. I was only rude to someone once in that week, though.
You’re a big campaigner for mental health awareness. You must be glad things are being discussed more.
Oh, absolutely. It’s happened really fast as well. I shouldn’t be political but, unfortunately, the services available haven’t kept up with it. It’s all very well asking for help but if the help’s not there in the way it should be, then that’s a shame.
How do you keep healthy mentally?
Drugs and alcohol! No, I used to be a swimmer but I don’t at the moment. These things go in phases. Sometimes I just need to sit and stare at a wall for an hour and not talk to anyone!
Are either of your daughters keen to go into comedy too?
Well, they’re funny and they make me laugh but as yet neither of them have expressed a preference for stand-up. I find it funny how people in this business always say, ‘I’d never encourage my children to do it.’ I would, it’s a fantastic job. Just being able to make people laugh is great. Look where we are at the moment — we certainly need a laugh, don’t we?
What ambitions do you have left?
I’d like to do another film because I wrote the script for one of my novels last year, The More You Ignore Me, and I enjoyed that immensely. And I’ve just completed about the eighth or ninth draught of a script I’ve adapted from someone else’s novel so I’m hoping that goes places.
You don’t sit still, do you?
Not really! I’d quite like to but I can’t help myself. It’s the Protestant work ethic.
■ For Brand’s next UK dates, see ents24.com