Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Douglas: One giant leap for womankind

As a fellow white Australian female comic...

and after a couple of good nights' sleep, I feel strong enough now to talk about Hannah Gadsby's latest stand-up comedy special, Douglas that I watched live with about 2,000 other woman-identifying humans and my husband (and maybe another 12.5 man-identifying humans, if appearances are anything to go by) in Auckland last Saturday night.

It was brilliant.

As I prepare to stage my own solo stand-up show in the same city in a few weeks time on a slightly smaller scale as evidenced by the much bigger title 'Joke She Wrote: The Egg and Sperm Race II',  I feel I am nonetheless more inspired than intimidated by Hannah's astronomical achievements on the global comedy stage and her unique comedic talents as seen on epic display in this second of her international comedy specials.

Douglas, as reviewed in rave terms - by a man! - in 'London is Funny'  last year, is a show first and foremost about the absurdity of being a woman in a world where men get to name your body parts (including 'the Douglas pouch' located in our nether regions, after which she says her dog is named, and I don't doubt it) and mansplain to you about the importance of positivity: 'Ya know it takes more muscles to frown than smile' in a dog park. I guess men feel they have to tell us to smile because so many of them struggle to make us smile by any other means. It doesn't work. Perhaps they should come to our shows to try and get a better handle on what actually makes us smile - and frown. Just a thought.

But Jack Whitehall was doing his goofy privileged white-boy thing on the same night as Hannah's show in a 12,000-seat stadium just around the corner, so that would no doubt have absorbed most of the comedy-minded men in these parts, and many of the women besides. Because women go to see men of all orientations and arts perform (I've seen a fair bit of Jack), but men, well, they haven't quite made that 'giant leap' that Neil Armstrong claimed walking on the moon was for their kind to be confident enough in their manhood to pay money to see a show with no men (and a bit of feminism) in it. And for my money that's the giant leap they need to take; never mind the moon.

And although Hannah received vicious criticism from men for her breakout tour de force stand-up show, Nanette, men who told her that show was 'not comedy', as if they knew better than she did what made women (and a few good men) smile and laugh out loud, and as if she hadn't been fairly upfront about the show's more serious aspects, which she totally had, the fact that she has taken that hostility and turned it into a seriously funny follow-up show that doesn't shy away from calling out men like that who think they can shame and shut down a woman - a comic - of her calibre, is encouraging for the rest of us and a potential giant leap for womankind, I think, and by 'womankind' I mean of course all of humanity.

Following in those giant footsteps of Hannah's is not going to be easy when my turn comes, but I am happy to be honouring and I hope contributing a very small something to the new tradition of call-out feminist stand-up that she, and a few other brave female comics, has helped launch by giving it a go. 

Baby steps.

Oh and happy Year of the Rat -- god help us...

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Lambs to the laughter (and me)

This was me - a sheep in lamb's clothing - last night at around 10pm (my bedtime for a Tuesday) second last in a long line-up of lambs in lamb clothing who had come before me, dressed to fit in - baaa -trying to make the lambs laugh...

To be fair, it was a stinker of a night and the short skirt and bare legs that are a little young I can see now, kept me cool while sitting through the youngsters - mostly rams - doing their baahaha thing.

I think at the point this snap was taken I was asking the guy in white shirt if he masturbates in his car... From the rear side slice of his face you can kind of see he is smiling, which is just as well, as he was one of the few audience members remaining after most had left at half time (it was nothing I said!).

Still, you can sleep when you're dead, or so they say. I have my doubts. I struggle to sleep in just about any situation. No rest for the... and all that. But I made the barman laugh, which I figure is a special victory considering how much rookie comedy he would have seen and the fact that he was probably the only sober person in the room.

Also, I think that guy will think twice before masturbating in his car (which he confessed to), which is probably a small but significant public service. You're welcome. Hopefully that makes up for neglecting you for months. I've been busy! as you can see...

Sunday, June 16, 2019

For Emily (a not so quiet passion)

Just got around to watching the 2016 dramatisation of Emily Dickinson's life, A Quiet Passion, by screenwriter and director Terence Davies and thought it might be apt to come out of my blog hibernation to write a few words about it, Seeing as Emily herself lived in a kind of hibernation. In part this was due to the times she lived in, times when women's words were only allowed so far through the golden gate by the bearded gatekeepers who doubled as the gate-builders, those with hammer and nail in hand failed to fully grasp the main difference between sword and pen, namely that the male advantage is lost with the latter.

Sticks and stones may hurt her bones, and did, but her words would not be silenced and shut out for ever. Her words did not rust or warp, as the nails and pales of the gate did. And so through 'the gate' to immortality those words took her and with her us, the women writers who followed her, quiet and not so quiet, indeed less and less quiet, if in her shadow still and always. But it is a warm and welcoming shadow. 

The poem I wrote last night was kind of written in her honour, though she would probably turn in her grave to hear it, so I don't presume it is for her exactly. In fact I wrote it in bed wrestling with wakefulness in the wake of watching her story portrayed with startling intensity by former 'Sex And The City' star Cynthia Nixon, a role for which she was nominated for Best Actress, and a story that made me feel, more than I had done before, that Emily, whose collection of poems I have only just last year begun to read with any close study, was a kindred spirit indeed.

So as her bright light and long shadow grows on me, a developing influence that along with lack of sleep probably shows through in this poem, I say cheers Emily Dickinson, a not so quiet passion.

A not so quiet passion

In the black and white night
the shadows come out
to shout
the colour of  time
hangs about
grazing the mind
warm and cold mingles
double, not singles
in the black and white night
cruel can be kind

Monday, April 1, 2019

11 years ago today

April Fool's Day 2008 was the final submission day for my PhD in political studies, a date I found a little ominous at the time.

But it has proven quite apt, in fact, because even though the subject matter of my thesis was about as far from funny or foolish as you can get (violence, gender injustice) last year, ten years on, I found myself making good use of the old PhiD by mocking the stigma attached to it for those of us who fail to make proper use of it, as I have failed, in my Auckland Fringe stand-up comedy show: 'The Egg and Sperm Race' for the purpose of making people laugh, which people duly did. And laughter is the best medicine, so doctor I was and am indeed.

They say nothing is wasted and I think this outcome proves this true as well as anything could, even if the ten-year research and writing period leading up to that 2008 Fool's Day was time-consuming, terrible and tortuous for me and all other members of my family and several (former) friends too, and even if it now looks as if my comedy career is also all but over for the foreseeable.

But they also say there is no fool like an old fool, and I'm starting to see what that means, and that means that I am still learning, learning about some other letters as well as P, H and D, which means my brain continues to function and grow, which is a good thing, probably. My husband might have a different point of view; he doesn't call me doctor indeed (though sometimes Nurse).

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Mosque magic

It felt right somehow that we were stuck in traffic for over an hour making our way in to our local city-side mosque (the country's oldest mosque, Ponsonby's Al-Masjid Al-Jamie, opened in 1979), a place the existence of which we had just learnt of earlier that day when it was reported that it and other other mosques in our city (Auckland) would be opening their doors for people of all faiths to pay their respects and show their solidarity with the Muslim community of Aotearoa New Zealand in the wake of the slaughter of fifty Muslim people, men, women, and children, whilst in prayer at their mosques in Christchurch the previous Friday. 

There was an armed police presence beyond the flowers and words of love and solidarity that gave me a jolt of unfamiliarity bordering on fear as we walked in through the double gates, having been greeted at the gate by a young Muslim man who told us 'thank you for coming' with a smile that was also disarming for its openness and warmth. We had been asked to dress 'modestly' whilst attending the mosque, though a head scarf for the women was not required, and I had chosen not to wear a scarf, after some considerable deliberation. Now, seeing that every other apparently non Muslim women, except one, later on I saw one more, had chosen instead to wear the scarf I felt my choice consistent with my faith in the ongoing fight for female freedom and equality was questionable in that moment when the purpose of our visit to the mosque was solidarity with Muslims and the scarf, worn so poignantly and I think rightly by our prime minister Jacinda Ardern when she spoke in the wake of the killings to Muslim people in Christchurch, has become one of the most public symbols of solidarity. 

It is not about me indeed and I did not intend for my bare head to be a political statement at all and hoped it would not be seen as that or make anyone uncomfortable - I certainly dressed modestly in every other respect. I just felt I could not consistently wear a scarf and hoped that my bare-headed attendance at the mosque, humble in every other way, and sincere in my solidarity with the suffering of the Muslim people of Aotearoa and outrage at what was done to them and their faith by a man of my race and country of origin, might show its sincerity all the more. In hindsight that was probably presumptuous, and standing out with my bear head was probably drawing too much attention to myself, though for me wearing the scarf felt more conspicuous and a little gratuitous, even culturally inappropriate on some level too. But it was not about my feelings, it was about the feelings of others, those who were inviting me into their place of worship in the wake of terrible violence done to them and their community because of their faith. That was what I should have considered more.

There is much to be learnt from this violent act of racism and anti-Muslim aggression, not least for those of us who take it upon ourselves to try and teach others and fight for what we believe is right, as I have done for much of my adult life, if on a very small scale, and visiting a mosque for the first time last night, being warmly welcomed by several Muslim people serving us tea and snacks, inviting us to join them in prayer, has taught me that as individuals we are small indeed, as factions we are divisive, but as one people fighting with kindness for each other, for peace, for tolerance and togetherness, we are powerful and strong. As-salamu alaykum, peace be upon you and us.   

Tuesday, March 5, 2019


It's a funny word 'comeback', isn't it? Perhaps not for everyone. I think it might sound funny to my ears because they still ring with Rose in Titanic calling 'come back!' so pleadingly and pathetically for the life-boat to pick her up before she freezes to death. Of course that was two words not one. But still. In my head they're similar enough. But they worked rather better for Rose that night than they did for me this Sunday night just gone when I attempted my comedy comeback...

In hindsight I probably made too much of the comeback concept, after having had only ten months off stand-up, if following a fairly big and traumatising brouhaha between me and the comedy boss and associated people. Have I mentioned the details of that here? I can't quite recall. But it was messy and life-changing for me, having waited so long to start stand-up and doing pretty well at it up until then.

'So this is my big comedy comeback' I said to kick off my Sunday night set at the small trendy inner-city bar with corner stage, 'well, medium sized', I added after a pause. That got a faint laugh from the FOUR people in the audience, one of them my husband, and whichever of the other comedians performing that night who bothered to watch from the shadows at the back of the room. I couldn't tell how many of them there were.

I was the only female on the line-up apart from the emcee - Mexican, cute, young and bubbly - and courteously sat through all of the other comedians' fairly samey young male comedy about dicks and dope. My all-new (not young) set about tree masturbation and horse clitorises was probably not quite so samey and seemed to throw and or exhaust the patience of the tiny audience, though they didn't respond much better if better at all to the dudes and emcee. Comedy really does need a crowd.

But my husband said heading home that my material was too absurdist and 'brainy' for a pub audience, not that the three people with him constituted an audience exactly. But he reckons I'll have to 'dumb it down' next time, and shorten it too. What me, long-winded? Noooooooo.................

We'll see, if there is a next time. The guy who runs these gigs and who coaxed me back to stand-up - which took some coaxing as I was (and am still) pretty battered and bruised by that brouhaha - didn't show up, as he had said he would and as he invariably does. He texted forty-minutes in to say he wasn't feeling well but might come in later. He didn't. And I didn't get his text till I got home (forgot my phone as usual), when I replied 'you didn't miss much.' But when he got back to that to say they 'usually have a good crowd' I couldn't help telling him that his presence there (he's a very well known local comedian) probably makes the difference. He hasn't replied to that comment, possibly assuming it came with some blame, which I guess it did, but only a little. If you're sick you're sick and there is a bug going round. The thought that that 'bug' might be me and that the fallout from the brouhaha was responsible for keeping other comedy people and friends and possibly even him away, I am trying not to entertain, though there is some strange comfort in it. At least I might matter, if in all the wrong ways.

If I do have another comeback after this, I think I might have to dumb down (or is it dumb up?) my outfit too. Not quite sure what I was going for there, I changed my mind to my dance shorts (cut off long pants) and tights (red) at the last minute for reasons not entirely clear to me. I heard an old and wacky comedian recently comment that when he dressed smartly the audience were more willing to accept his wackiness and laugh at it rather than cringe with worry that they were listening to the sad ramblings of a madman. I think I might have to take a leaf out of that guy's book, I'm sure people's tolerance of wackiness (and scruffiness) in women is even less than it is for the unfairer sex.   

'It's a bit like Louis C.K.'s comeback, only I don't like to use the term "comeback" in his case....don't want to encourage him' I also dared to say last night. It got another faint laugh. But I don't think I'll be able to re-use it; you can probably only comeback once.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Pussy Riot (Auckland)

Pussy Riot founding member Maria Alyokhina, imprisoned for her anti-Putin and patriarchal church-state protest
So I took my daughter to Pussy Riot in Auckland last night and it was an experience and a riot alright but we had to work for our riot (and our 'pussy'; there were a couple of blokes added to the line-up of five, in my view two too many).

First of all our tickets bought online were invalid, thanks to a scam run by someone called 'Dada King' and the booking agent Viagogo, though we thought we were booking through Auckland Fringe. And second, the female punk rock band from Wellington (forgot their name) who were on before Pussy were SO loud and ranting I had to rush out and buy ear plugs, well in fact the guy at the bar took pity on me and gave me a set for free. But still.

There is a common thread here I know, I am too old for this shit! The Dada King's of this world see people like me coming and people ranting at insanely high volume, girl, boy or other, is not anymore my idea of a fun night out, though the wild vibe was some fun with the bright orange, I don't look square at all, plugs in. And Dada won't see me twice! No sir. With our bank's help we are working to get our money back from Dada and Viagogo, who facilitated his (apparently he is a he, no surprises there) shameless thievery. I'm embarrassed to say how much he took us for, but hopefully we can get it back and he can go to hell with all the other false (and real life thieving) kings. We were not the only Riot fans he scammed either. There was a whole queue of us, and not all of them 'old' either.

But the show, despite these slight obstacles, was still worth going to (with freshly minted legitimate tickets) on a wet humid Friday night, standing room only, especially to see the principal Pussy and founding member, Maria Alyokhinawho was sentenced to almost two years in a Siberian prison for her efforts to challenge the corrupt patriarchal administrations of church and state under Putin. She makes for a compelling front-woman providing the main narration of the story they told with surtitles and video taken of their church-based protest and political aftermath that is drawn from her memoir.

I think they might have had their day though, Pussy Riot, and been co-opted a bit by the wider cause of fighting against church and state and political imprisonment -- they showed footage of a whole bunch of blokes, old and young, apparently former political prisoners now released; there's obviously a lot of that still going on in Russia -- at the expense of the feminist fight against the actual man that Pussy Riot was, or at least seemed to be, originally focused on, even if that apparently wider protest against corruption in high places is no doubt worth rioting about too.

It's just that we've had so many riots about that, indeed Russia practically specialises in them. And the extent to which what has happened to Pussy Riot is yet another case of feminist activists being sacrificed and partly silenced for the so called 'greater' good and purpose of serving one or other fight for power and justice between men, then I can't help thinking it is a bit of a sad sign and day for women of the world.

But let's hope this is not the essence of the situation and that Pussy Riot can still symbolise for women around the world the power and importance of our voice to stand up against corrupt men and the women who continue to put up with and defend this gender hierarchy and ignore the inevitable corruption that results from having too many men at the top.

Pussy Riot reclaimed the p-word from a term of female sexual objectification and demeaning used by men to a term of empowerment and solidarity for politically woke women. That is a great thing. Let's remember that and make sure that the riot doesn't become louder than the PUSSY. Riot on!