Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Comeback?

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!

 


Saturday, February 16, 2019

Loving Levy

Deborah Levy's second memoir The Cost of Living saved my sanity in Sydney over Christmas last year when our sons... well, let's just say there was a midnight visit from a man and woman in blue. It is too close to the blood bone to say any more than that now. Even this probably says too much. With my boys (now young men) I feel increasingly it is better I say nothing at all. I am trying.

It was a very emotionally expensive time, a time when the cost of family and motherhood especially rose steeply in my eyes and I felt I might fail to rally the emotional funds necessary to pay for it all. I had brought Levy's slim book (a pre-Christmas gift from my husband) with me to read -- if I had time, between all the festive family fun I had planned and organised from a great distance of time and place before this watershed moment. Badminton was going to be involved in these festivities, the best value family sport because nobody cares if they don't win and any number can play, even an odd number -- as we are. And a shuttlecock has no sharp edges and moves in such a playful way too, sometimes getting stuck in the strings before you realise it and give the thing that isn't there a great hopeful thwack with your racket. Ha, ha! What a great, easy laugh that never failed, or never did fail. There would be no badminton this festive season; there would be no boys in fact after the first night (22nd). And it was going to take more than a stuck shuttlecock to save us.

So after drawing breath the next morning with my husband, who was not spared but blamed for taking my side, I picked up Levy's slim book and it, she, spoke to me of motherhood and womanhood in my time, and time of life, and I felt immediately I could face what I was living, the cost of living my life in and through those terrible moments to find a way back, or forward, to... I don't yet know what or where. But Levy made me believe there would be a what and where.

And yesterday I finished her even slimmer, fantastically titled, first volume of memoir, Things I Don't Want to Know and felt again my breathing ease as the hope of recovery and redemption from the challenges ongoing with my boys (men) returned. This is what a good book, a good author, can do. It is better than badminton indeed.

And it did not matter that I had read her memoirs in the 'wrong' order, the second first, for this one is in part a long essay response to Orwell's 'Why I Write', and a stand-alone piece in that respect, plus one that plays with chronological time anyway.

She writes, she says, to 'speak in my own voice', which she knows is much harder to do than it sounds, harder for a woman, that is. She challenges Orwell's claim that 'sheer egoism' is a necessary quality for a writer, countering that 'even the most arrogant female writer has to work overtime to build an ego that is robust enough to get her through January, never mind all the way to December.' I know exactly what she means.

Right now, January just done, I am not sure how I will make it all the way forward, and back, to December. Indeed I can't imagine how we will ever achieve another family festive season. But knowing that Levy is writing a third volume makes that imagining a little easier, and gives me the courage to figure out how I might find the words to write and fight my way out of the mire and back into the magic of motherhood. Perhaps it's time to turn down the volume a bit. Take a leaf out of Levy's book.     


Monday, February 4, 2019

Sisters to Saturn, brothers to brioche

It's a brave new world indeed and Netflix's new series 7 Days Out showing the final week of preparations leading up to some of the world's biggest live events (albeit almost all in America) provides an insight into some of this brave newness...

Saturn, image courtesy of NASA's Cassini mission 1998-2018

Or at least the first three episodes do, we baulked at the fourth episode on the Kentucky Derby. But the first three, and especially the second and third episodes, were brilliantly done and offered inspiring insights into our changing world.

The first episode on the top dog show (Westminster, NYC), shows us just how BIG dogs are in our world and that the people who become the biggest dog people are some of the most colourful (crazy and charismatic) people in that world. There is something about dogs indeed, and even though I don't quite get what that something is (my sister is the dog person in our family), I found it fairly compulsive viewing from a social science point of view.

But the second episode on the final week of the 20-year NASA mission to scope out Saturn for new information about the sexiest planet in our solar system, including taking this image and thousands more, was next level inspirational and has deservedly been nominated for an Emmy.

It also provides another revelation (Hidden Figures take two) into the influence of women in space exploration, with a woman being responsible for engineering and building the Cassini probe that would travel a billion or so miles from Earth and through the eye of a space needle to find its desired target and gather the information needed. We always have been good at sewing (She is pictured here hugging the project manager upon the completion of the mission). Oh and the lead scientist on the project (pictured applauding) was a woman too, so it was a regular sewing circle situation, you could say, except it was in space, the final sewing frontier, it seems.

The third episode provided a nice point of contrast with the second on almost every front, being about the re-opening of a grand New York restaurant, voted best restaurant in the world in 2017, after a total restaurant makeover, from the food to the forecourt. It all had to go. It doesn't sound quite as impressive as the Saturn probe, but it almost was, the tension in the final week before re-opening with a full guest list of people prepared to pay not hundreds but thousands for their dinner, almost makes earthly cooking look harder than space sewing.

And more interesting to me indeed was that blokes (cis gender) were at the helm of this event, a team of two men, one in charge of the kitchen, the other the front of house. And so it struck me watching this episode that although the Saturn probe was a little like sewing, it was really more about space exploration, a challenge that has tended to be thought classic men's work, whereas work in the kitchen and dining room has tended to be thought classic women's work, celebrity chefs notwithstanding.

So for me these two events are big indeed in so far as they challenge gender stereotypes and show how well we can do when we think outside of imposed and, for women especially, narrow cultural confines and expectations to allow all people to discover what we are good at and have a passion for.

These funky space-age chef hats, with cunning air vents for head cooling, are enough to show us how far we can go when we stop caring about expectations to look cool and focus on being cool and useful instead, even if the greater purpose of wearing any kind of large white hat in a kitchen remains something of a mystery to me. The universe works in mysterious ways indeed. 






Thursday, January 31, 2019

Me Two (Gillette)

Herein my two cents worth on the debate over the Gillette 'the best men can be' ad...

I know it's a little last week but I've been a bit caught up with other things and it's never too late to discuss razors, I feel. Plus I need to get my January blog tally up to a towering two before the month's out. So two is the word of the day.

The Gillette ad popped up fairly promptly in my orbit via an online women's group I follow. It received mostly favourable commentary in response, though some women thought it didn't go far enough to address men's 'unmanly' behaviour, and a few thought it as well a shameless attempt to jump on the bandwagon of the Me Too movement and make some money - probably for men - same as it ever was. And as it got me and other women in the group and no doubt other groups besides to watch an ad that we would have otherwise steered well clear of, then share it, discuss it and even blog about it, there can be no doubt that the ad worked to extend Gillette's market reach, which does stink a bit of the appropriation and exploitation of politics and pain - women's pain - for commercial (probably men's) gain.

Then again the old problem of gender politics being sidelined and trivialised as a 'women's issue' was not going away on its own without men stepping up, with whatever ulterior motive got them to do that if that's what it took, to own the challenges of gender politics as theirs too, and I think for that reason the ad, for its definite weaknesses, does quite well. At least it's a start as far as the world of advertising goes, which is a pretty big and historically far from feminist-friendly world.

However I do have one concern about the ad, I regret that its main message, the call to arms for men to step up and be better in their behaviour towards women was diluted and distracted by the inclusion of a segment on very young boys play fighting and their fighting being broken up by a gently-spoken man. In my experience having raised two boys and seen many more raised, play fighting amongst boys is natural and has nothing to do with boys developing toxic attitudes in adulthood about male superiority and the entitlement to dominate, demean and abuse women, a connection that is implied in the ad. And if the main issue is fudged in this way it not only lessens its political potential to actually change minds and behaviour for good, but it is likely to aggravate those men who are most reluctant to accept that change is needed, as indeed it appears to have done in this case.

If we are serious about challenging toxic masculinity and creating a more gender just world, as increasing numbers of people are, the focus needs to be on changing what boys are taught about girls and women through the role-modelling of their fathers and other men they know and see on their screens, teaching that to date, sadly, has been generally encouraging of sexist attitudes and behaviours, with females consistently treated and represented as sexy and or stupid and invariably secondary to men. And the ad fails a little here too, because women are hardly in it.

Still, it's a start and it gets more right than wrong, which in the fraught world of gender politics is to be commended. And therein is my two-cents worth. Now I'm off to shave my chin.










Monday, January 14, 2019

Really, Sarah Silverman?

Don't be a silver man, Silverman, be a golden woman...

'I heart you, America?' Really, Sarah? I can think of another h-word more fitting than heart for a woman living in the US today. And it's no surprise to me that the show on Hulu was cancelled after one season, even if this was, according to some, because it was too left-wing and PC.

Rubbish I say; it just wasn't funny (I never saw it but that's the word on the street) and I am not surprised, because Silverman seems to have come to politics a little late and with a degree of naivety that is frankly disappointing and very unfunny.

Her choice in 2016 to be an outspoken advocate for Bernie Sanders (he was apparently a guest on her show; enough said) before coming round to support Clinton too little too late, being a case in point. She did nobody any favours with that first major public political decision of hers, in my opinion.

I like her comedy, generally, and think she's pretty sharp and daring too, which is good in a comic. But since the election flip-flop and then more recently her decision to tell the world that she sometimes used to like watching Louis C.K masturbate (though sometimes not too) and that it was different for her than it was for those other women who very much did not like being pressured into watching him masturbate because she and Louis were 'equals' and he had 'nothing to offer her', I kind of have a last-straw feeling about her comedy and character now.

Her long friendship with Louis obviously put her in a difficult position since he was exposed as a serial masturbater and pervert, but deciding to attempt to support him in this way that clearly added insult to injury for the victims of his perversion by implying that these other women were victimised because they weren't Louis' equal, is hard to reconcile with a person who actually understands or cares anything about the seriousness of the endemic sexual abuse and harassment of women by men, especially men in positions of power. It's so not reading the room, which is something a comic should be good at.

Perhaps they should get a room (do a show together).

Sure she has a right to 'speak her truth' and see the world her own way and not empathise with women victimised by men because she personally hasn't suffered it. But I don't have to like it. It's just so fucking old to be confronted by yet another influential, successful woman whose first reflex is to support and defend a powerful man (indeed men) rather than the less powerful, some of them career-ruined, people of her own gender who have been victimised by that man and had to hide their wounds for years or risk losing their careers.

Her apology when one of his victims stood up to her comment was genuine enough, but the woman, who was clearly re-victimised by Silverman's cocky assumption that it was different for her, did not seem to think it was enough.

And she is right. If we want true gender equality, it's not enough for one or two of us to get it at the expense of the rest. Indeed that minority success of a few women has been a major obstacle to real equality for women for centuries. What we want is an equality where we all get to live with a sense that men (and other women) recognise our shared and equal humanity. No one who makes another person watch them masturbate, clearly against their will, cares about that person's humanity. That's the bottom line, and the top line too, and Louis needs to own it and apologise for that and explain it in full. What was he thinking? Was he thinking? If not why not? Let's have it out either way. It's your turn to squirm, Louis.

So I say don't be a silver man Silverman, be a golden woman and get Louis to apologise and explain himself properly and humbly. Never mind feeling the Bern, get Louis to feel the squirm, as he got all those women to squirm, and you might just redeem yourself. Now is not the time for naive politics and patriotism. Now is the time to get them to feel the squirm.

Happy New Year...
(This was developed from an earlier unpublished post of mine but seeing that Louis is still making mistakes in his ill-judged attempted comeback, I figure it is topical enough).

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Funny Cows

This is not about cows -- heads up for the uninitiated.
I miss this shit 
This is my final blog for the year, a year that has been very fucking funny and very fucking far from funny too.

It has been an interesting year you could say, on and off the comedy stage. I put on my first hour-long 'one-woman' comedy show at the Auckland Fringe Festival and it sold out. We even had to turn some people away. Some of my friends may never speak to me again. Serves them right for underestimating my pulling power. Hmm...

There were a lot of laughs at those three 50-seater shows and at one of them an English guy in the audience told my husband he should pack me off to the Edinburgh Fringe pronto: 'She's just as funny as that lot', said he. So you never know, after what happened later in the year, my husband may well do that.

Because after I made it to the semi-finals of the Raw Comedy Quest (to find the country's funniest new comedian), my second and final year of Raw, and performed to a very good reception on the night, applause break and all, I got royally shafted by the man who runs and judges the comp and had to watch yet another batch of less funny (on audience reaction) teenage and twenty-somethings, 70% of them male, be put through to the finals ahead of me for the second year in a row, some of them only in their first year of Raw, and I snapped. I became a very unfunny cow indeed.

And Friday last week, after months of wrangling with the Comedy Guild and then the Human Rights Commission over my claim of gender and age discrimination against that shafter in chief, I spent three hours in mediation with him and a woman called Holly who did her best to keep things civil between us but did not entirely succeed. Nothing was resolved (I'm sworn not to disclose any details of what was said there), so I might still take my complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal that is a public process open to the media, to get this thing out in the open and on record. It shouldn't happen, what he did to me. Change is needed.

Meanwhile the shafter in chief has banned me from his club, which happens to be the only comedy club in the city and the main club in the country, which has shut down my stand-up 'career' for the time being. Last month I also bailed on my Fringe show before cancellation fees for the venue kicked in, losing my nerve after all that has happened since the last one.

"Maxine Peake is magnificent in Adrian Shergold’s
unflinching drama about a stand-up on the 70's northern club circuit".
The Guardian.
All is not lost, though. I am still laughing indeed, not least at the Brit film Funny Cow, reviewed by The Guardian as a film full of 'grit and wit' that we watched a couple of weeks back and it reminded me of all that female stand-up, especially mature female stand-up, can be and and is, which was reassuring, even if I can't be doing it for the time being. It's one of the best films I've seen in years. You've got to hand it to the Brits, they do grit and wit better than anyone.

Hopefully I'll find a way back to stand-up some day soon and even make it to the Ed Fringe one day, preferably before I lose my grip on the wit.

Merry Xmas.