When was the last time you watched an entertaining celebrity interview? The most fun to be had these days is watching something like The Graham Norton Show, where Hollywood’s finest perch on the sofa to tell some well-rehearsed anecdotes.
But it wasn’t always this way. In the 1990s, some of the most famous people in the world agreed to be interviewed by Ruby Wax. Her modus operandi was to barge into their space (hotel rooms, usually, but in Donald Trump’s case a private plane with gold-plated toilet fittings) and be loud, funny and exhausting. The one that sticks in the mind involved Wax rummaging in the Duchess of York’s drawers, which were covered in Post-it notes labelling the contents (small white T-shirts, small pink T-shirts): “You couldn’t open a drawer? What, are you too lazy?”
The BBC could treat us all by uploading the interviews to iPlayer, allowing us to dip into the archive. Instead, it has repackaged highlights of them in an odd new series, When Ruby Wax Met… (BBC Two).
The format involves Wax watching old clips and telling us what she thinks now – with the benefit of 25 years’ distance and a degree in cognitive therapy. But what she concentrates on is her own performance – and it was a performance, she explained, a “loud American” persona that she adopted for an earlier comedy show and never dropped. “I turned from the Ugly Duckling into Joan Rivers overnight,” she said. “It was a house style and it worked and it worked and it worked.”
Wax uses the show as a means of self-examination, pointing out that she overdid the shtick in her Trump interview because she was nervous and mortified that he could see straight through her. “I had a terrible father,” she said at one point in an attempt at quick-fire repartee. “I can tell,” Trump replied. “Because you’re angry. You’re aggressive with a smile.” Wax cringed while watching it back: “It’s very uncomfortable when someone doesn’t like you.” She was almost apologetic for her past behaviour.
All good therapy for Wax, I’m sure, but that’s not why viewers were here. We wanted to see the interviews again, not hear the presenter dissecting her own technique. Tom Hanks was a delight, gamely getting in on the joke. Carrie Fisher was whipsmart, OJ Simpson grimly fascinating. And for all of her angst about it, Wax’s encounter with Trump made for great television (and revealed a sweet side to Melania).
Trump called Wax “the world’s most obnoxious reporter”. He was probably right. But she delivered the goods.