Interview by Editor Kris Thomas
Ruby Wax OBE is the only child of Edward and Berthe Wachs, Austrian Jews who emigrated to Chicago to escape the Nazi threat in 1938. Once settled in Chicago Edward Wachs changed the family surname to Wax. Ruby had a difficult childhood and felt smothered by her demanding parents. Of course at the time she didn’t realise it was any different to any other child’s experience but she recalls how her parents wanted to mould her and only liked her until she could talk.
Her feelings of rejection whilst growing up have no doubt influenced her incredible drive and ambition and been a factor in her ongoing bouts of depression. Ruby has lived in London for many years and is married to television producer and director Ed Bye, they have three children.
Ruby took time to talk to me from her cycling holiday in France and I asked her about the challenges she has faced over her many years in show business. “I would say my challenges have been no different to anyone else’s. Everything is difficult but I’m not starving so that’s one thing! To make it as a female, to be rejected or be fired or have people say ‘you can’t do this anymore’. Everybody has challenges, maybe you just learn to reinvent or kick the door down.”
Ruby has certainly ‘kicked down doors’ during her incredible career to date and has met and interviewed some of the most famous people in the world including Madonna, Donald Trump, Liza Minnelli, Helen Mirren, Hugh Heffner, Goldie Hawn, OJ Simpson, Diana Princess of Wales, Drew Barrymore, Jim Carrey, Sandra Bullock, Eddie Izzard, Ewan McGregor… the list goes on. I asked Ruby, of all the famous people she had interviewed, who was most interesting, attractive and funny? “Carrie Fisher, my best friend for 30 years, she was beautiful and the funniest person”. I asked Ruby, was there anyone she really didn’t like? “Donald Trump, he was utterly terrifying”. Ruby interviewed Donald Trump on his jet in 2012. The interview was awkward with Trump refusing to smile throughout and it has been viewed 74,000 times on YouTube. Ruby has previously described Donald Trump as a ‘narcissist’ and a ‘sick person’.
Her new show – How to be Human
Ruby has a new show this Autumn – How to be Human. You can enter our competition to win tickets to see Ruby in Worthing at the end of this article. Based on her latest bestselling book, How to Be Human: the show is described as, ‘what you need to help you upgrade your mind as much as you’ve upgraded your iphone’. Ruby is joined by a monk, Gelong Thubten, who explains how the mind works, and neuroscientist Ash Ranpura who explains where everything that makes us ‘us’ can be found in the brain. Between them they discuss such weighty topics as evolution, emotions, addictions, relationships, sex, kids, the future and compassion. I asked Ruby if she still enjoy performing, after so many years? “I did 200 shows with Frazzled, I love touring and live sets. I don’t do much TV these days, the live stuff, this is what I love”.
Her new show and also her previous live show Frazzled, look at how we can use mindfulness to not only be calmer in ourselves but to be more compassionate and understanding of others. Ruby is clearly an ambitious lady, “Are you trying to bring this to more people to change the world” I asked her? “I don’t have a goal like that, what works for me doesn’t work for everybody. It’s my thing” she tells me. “In the book you get the full manual and it talks about why we are how we are and why we have negative thoughts.”
I ask Ruby, if it’s difficult to stop being funny when doing the serious stuff or if it doesn’t matter? “Pollution, relationships, kids, teenagers, addiction they’re all topics that comedians use. Bill Bryson does it with the History of the World, he tells you pretty much everything you need to know but the guy’s a comedian. That’s the job of the comedian, you take serious topics but make them really funny. That’s the ultimate, give someone something interesting so they say ‘wow’ I didn’t know that but you’re making them laugh at the same time.”
Ruby’s interest in the mind and psychology is a longstanding one. She majored in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley but left after a year without completing her degree as she wanted to go travelling in Europe. She describes getting into Oxford University as one of her proudest moments and in September 2013 Ruby graduated with a master’s degree in mindfulness based cognitive therapy. Following this in 2013, Ruby published Sane New World, which became a number one best-seller followed in January ‘16 by A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled.
Her own ongoing depression is well documented and she has stated that one of her problems was an ‘addiction to anger’. Since undergoing therapy and spending time in institutions, Ruby has come to know the triggers and to recognise the early warning signs of a bout of ‘The Black Dog’. Rather than keep busy and deny what is going on Ruby now ‘respects the illness’ and uses her coping methods to ride out the storm.
Ruby talks of mental illness as being very much as real as a physical illness. She advocates using meditation and mindfulness techniques such as focusing the breath to decrease levels of the body’s main stress hormone Cortisol. Cortisol is released as part of the body’s fight-or-flight response to help fuel muscles to respond to a threatening situation. However continually high levels can be harmful and result in all sorts of negative effects on the body as well as the mind. In 2015 it was announced that Ruby would be awarded an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her services to mental health.
This was her proudest moment she tells me, getting an OBE. Does she know Sussex? “Oh yes Brighton – I love that part of the world, if I didn’t live in London I’d live there, that’s the fantasy after France but now I’m here standing outside and it’s raining”. I leave Ruby to her damp day in France, and eagerly await my copy of How to Be Human.
“We can’t stop the future from arriving, no matter what drugs we’re on. But even if nearly every part of us becomes robotic, mechanical fingers crossed we’ll still have our minds. Hopefully we’ll use them for things like compassion, instead of just chasing what’s ‘better’ like a hamster on a wheel. If we can do that, we’re on the yellow brick road to happiness”.
How to Be Human tours the UK from the end of September to early December. We have tickets to give away to Ruby’s show at the Pavilion Theatre, Worthing on 15th and 16th of October 7.30pm.