I first laid eyes on Absolutely Fabulous at age thirteen. My friend Gabe introduced me to it. We may have been a chubby girl obsessed with rabbits and an openly gay aspiring stylist, both too young to take the subway alone. But we felt like Ab Fab heroines Patsy and Edina — the obstreperous fashion-frenzied duo of fabulous British drunks, portrayed by Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley — were speaking directly to us. Their behavior may have been motivated by abject greed, a hunger for tabloid fame, and several snootfuls of cocaine, but they were hilarious, self-actualized, and totally obsessed with each other. The only people who didn't seem to notice they were freaks? Them. It wasn't just funny. The show inspired a kind of take-no-prisoners approach to middle school that we desperately needed, and it came in the form of these VHS tapes.
Patsy and Eddy — or as they like to call each other, "Sweetie Darling" — have been destroying our screens for over two decades now — and fans are still clamoring for more. An Ab Fab name drop still means you really are the crème de la crème of fashion and/or useless celebrity. My only goal on a recent trip to London was to meet and interview Jennifer and Joanna, and meet them I did: Jennifer in the mirrored bar of a chic hotel where she insisted we order Champagne (on brand and wonderful) and Joanna at a very British tea room, where she presented me with violet chocolates, in keeping with her reputation as England's most polite and esteemed grande dame. We edited and combined their interviews into one sassy little package here.
Both Jennifer and Joanna are stylish, warm, and standing in total opposition to their characters, but the twinkle in their respective eyes let me know I had Patsy and Eddy in the flesh. We talked defying reputation, women behaving badly, and writing what you know. It was, indeed, absolutely fabulous.
Lena Dunham: Jennifer, how did the concept of Patsy and Edina appear to you?
Jennifer Saunders: Edina came because fashion was just becoming big. People kind of knew Gucci, who Gucci was. It was unusual, but people were just starting to hear those words, Gucci, Prada, all that. I knew a fashion PR, and I thought, That's a genius job for a sitcom character, so we did her as a sketch. We also had another friend who had an absolutely bonkers mother who was eccentric and wild, and me and Dawn [French, Saunders's longtime collaborator and the co-creator of the show French and Saunders] just combined the two. Edina came in the sketch, and then I had a different idea for Patsy. I thought she would be this low-life journalist, this hadn't-changed-her-pants-in-a-week sort of weirdo.
And then someone said, "Well, why don't you get Joanna Lumley to do it?" And the second we had her, we had all her background, which is [her work as] a very successful model. She gets the joke of herself, so the second you've got that and you've got someone who the whole nation is in love with, and who is absolutely lovely and beautiful, and you get her to drop her pants …
Joanna Lumley: The fact that I'd been a model was useful because I knew how [models] were and could bring all sorts of the ridiculous elements of modeling. It's like plays. You sometimes have to do things, say things, you don't believe, but you're in the play, so you believe it. It's divine but utterly ridiculous. Also because of the vague rock-and-roll element — Jennifer and I knew rock and rollers and had had some time in the ridiculousness of that world. All I really wanted to do was to make Jennifer laugh, because I'd heard if she laughs that'd be good, and then we could go on.