Culture That Made Me: Stefanie Preissner

Culture That Made Me: Stefanie Preissner
Stefanie Preissner in her hometown of Mallow, Co Cork.

From Harry Potter and Clueless, to podcasts and Friends, Stefanie Preissner tells Richard Fitzpatrick about her cultural touchstones.

Harry Potter changed my life

I’m the same age as Harry Potter. I grew up with him. I was 13 when he was 13. I waited on the edge of my seat for J.K. Rowling to finish those books. I queued at midnight as a child for one of them. It transformed my relationship to reading.

It took me to a world that my friends and myself got lost in. There was a whole language – and a sport, quidditch – she created. The characters were so nuanced. They changed as they grew up. Their relationships were messy. They were like a blueprint for relationships in your own life. Ron and Hermione were nemeses that realised they actually liked each other as they hit puberty.

I learned more about the rise of fascism and the power of hatred through Harry Potter than I did through any history class.

Find your way out of that maze

Jayson Greene is a journalist. His book Once More We Saw Stars is a true story. He lost his daughter at the age of two in a tragic accident. It’s about how he and his wife navigate the next year of their grief.

I turn to literature for things that people have been through that I am going through or feel I might go through. It gives you a roadmap for dealing with things when fictional or real people have gone through them beforehand. It’s like the author is standing outside the maze calling you. You still have to find your own way through it, but they’re there as a compass to get you out of the situation you’re in.

I’ve written two books in the same vein. “This is how I got through this series of things. If you’re going through the same thing, I’m not telling you how to do it, but this is how I did it.”

Clueless and girls you can relate to

Alicia Silverstone in Clueless.
Alicia Silverstone in Clueless.

Clueless with Alicia Silverstone is a powerful film. Watching it as a young woman was incredibly empowering at a time when I didn’t even know what the word “feminist” meant. A lot of films you watch as a teenager, the girls are either mean or super nice.

These were complex girls who were difficult, unlikeable, bullish, but they were real. I could relate to them. When I measured myself against them, I felt seen and that I could be part of that world.

There was also this aspirational part to it because of the clothes they wore, they had driving licences, but these were girls who knew what they wanted – in terms of their school relationships, their sexuality, their femininity.

Don’t F**k With Cats

Don’t F**k With Cats is a crime documentary series on Netflix about this Canadian criminal. It’s edited by a fantastic Irish editor called Michael Harte. It’s twisted. This video went up on the internet anonymously of two kittens being vacuum-packed to death. There’s one thing you don’t do on the internet: you cannot do anything mean to cats. People would rather see someone getting shot. So these keyboard warriors look at the video over and over again, and, as a group, they track him down. Then it escalates. A video is released where he’s killed a person. Eventually, he is or isn’t discovered. He flees. They track him through an airport. It’s all true. I woke up my boyfriend in the middle of the night and said, “Can we please watch the last episode? I can’t sleep.”

Plenty of podcasts

I listen to about 20 podcasts a week. I like fact-based podcasts, to feel like I’m learning something. I like anything by Gimlet, an amazing podcast producer. One of their podcasts Reply All has an interesting thing called Yes Yes No.

They’ll take something on the internet that’s gone viral. They’ll ring up their producer: “Do you understand this?” He’ll say, “Yes I understand this bit, but you’ve lost me in this part.”

They’ll then explain all of the things you need to understand culturally to get a specific tweet, reference or meme. It’s very interesting.

Theatre that pushes boundaries

Tom Creed directed a play called Attempts on Her Life by Martin Crimp. It was bananas. It was nine scenes about this non-existent person. You’d to strap in to go along with it. I’m a very literal person. I like documentaries, facts, science and none of it made sense.

My brain was trying to make connections the whole way through it, and it was failing. That was the point of the show. It frustrated me and challenged me. It’s very rare that I’m able to sit back and go, “OK, I don’t understand this, but I’m really enjoying it.” I don’t like theatre that could just be television. When the set is a kitchen and everyone is sitting around a table. It’s boring.

I love theatre that pushes the boundary of the medium and Tom Creed is phenomenal at doing that.

Why I hate stand-up comedy

I hate stand-up comedy. They come out and say their jokes, which they’ve written beforehand. Then you’re meant to laugh. It’s all very forced. I like watching shows where it’s off the cuff, where people are really witty.

That’s what I admire in people – their wit, how sharp and quick they are. I hate when people tell jokes, when they recite things they’ve decided are funny for an audience who are there to be impressed into laughter. It’s a weird paradigm. It unsettles me. You know when you’re young and you’re at a family dinner and some elderly aunt asks someone to start singing? And everyone is, “Oh, God, this is awful. That person can’t sing.”

That’s how I feel at live comedy. I hate it. It makes me incredibly uncomfortable.

Friends – a scriptwriter’s masterclass

The cast of Friends, at the height of the nineties comedy phenomenon.
The cast of Friends, at the height of the nineties comedy phenomenon.

The more you watch Friends, the more layers of comedy you discover. There’s soft comedy and hard comedy in it. Any idiot will laugh at soft comedy because it’s out-of-context funny. Phoebe and Joey are soft comedy. If Phoebe says, “I don’t believe in dinosaurs” that’s funny in itself, but the hard comedy comes from the fact she says it in front of Ross, who we all know is a palaeontologist.

Friends also has this nostalgia thing for me. It was the ultimate appointment viewing where Monday nights on RTÉ was Friends and on Tuesday morning we’d come into school in Mallow and talk about how funny it was.

So when my TV show Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope was on the Friends slot on Monday nights, it was a really big thing for me – to take up that real estate.

Basically … with Stefanie Preissner is a weekly podcast. Stream it now on Spotify.

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