Saturday, November 11, 2017

Excuse me there are so many crumbs in my comedy

Please note this story has been edited.
A full transcript of the story is available on request via email:
justinesless@yahoo.com

I have been writing this short story since I first stood up to a microphone  in a comedy room over a decade ago.
I am doing an MA by research in creative writing at La Trobe University on gender and comedy, this story which forms part of my creative response has been written after many interviews with women in the comedy industry and hours of research.
When the news broke about the US comedian doing what he did (I will not blemish my blog with his name or details of his actions) I decided to publish this on my blog.
This story is for every woman who has ever felt unsafe, violated, insulted, hurt, or undermined in a comedy room.
For every woman who has felt paralysed by the intense anger when they are dismissed on stage, not given gigs, had an MC openly criticise them then introduce another 26 year old single white male like they are a hero.
Comedy is a craft that requires hours and hours of work to do it well.
You are not 'just born funny.'
There are so few spaces where you can learn the craft and the comedy rooms, bars and clubs remain male dominated and controlled.
To every man who says I haven't seen you perform so I can't give you a gig. That comment is probably to a woman, be the change, give them a gig and think about why you haven't seen them perform.
This story is for every man that has ever said : 'Women just can't take a joke and that's why they aren't funny.'
This story is in response to Melbourne International Comedy Festival and the need for that festival, as the highest grossing festival in Australia to support women, to not dwindle Jeez Louise into a one hour address in a 30 day festival, but to be a game changer and support all women everywhere to get into and remain in comedy.
STEP UP TO THE MIC LADIES AND STAY THERE.
MAKE SOME NOISE.
TAKE UP SPACE.
KNOW YOUR POWER.

SPIRAL BOUND  a short-ish story.

The doorway is filled with a huddle of them, waiting for the night to begin, smoking cigarettes and swapping stories.
No one notices Mary go in. She can go most places and simply not be seen, except to the charity shop where she volunteers each week. Customers and people who work there notice both her absence and her presence. But in most other situations she is just an old woman getting about her business, invisible in the rush of life.
Mary is greeted by the dank smell of smoke and the dregs of Carlton draft that have found their way to the carpet over the years.
After getting a glass of water from the jug on the bar, Mary sits at the back of the room, her bag next to her, the current notebook she is using and her pen, waiting for the night to begin.  
It’s the usual kind of set up, mismatched chairs, an old sofa to one side, some fairy lights draped around the walls, a microphone on a stand, a space, sometimes slightly elevated, but often not, where the acts will perform.
The person who runs the room is strutting as people approach him, shaking his hand, all of them speaking just a little too loud, wanting to be noticed.
The online information had said the evening started at eight, but in keeping with the shambolic nature of these events it’s not until 8.30 that the proceedings begin. The crowd that’s been milling out the front move inside. There are only four ‘real’ punters, and they sit on one table flicking their thumbs over their phones, filling their glasses from the jug of beer in the middle of the table.

The guy who runs the room heads to the stage. Mary has the measure of him: his walk, his demeanour, the crumpled checked shirt, runners, scruffy pair of jeans. The Uniform, she calls it.  He’s like so many of them and all of them make her think about Corry....
Please note this story has been edited.
          A full transcript of the story is available on request via email:
          justinesless@yahoo.com

Monday, October 9, 2017

Excuse me Doreen has some crumbs she wants to clean up.




An extract from the Newstead Short Story Festival Tattoo
Launch Party - 
This is the story of Doreen:



Brian, Brian Brian!
Do not confuse Doreen’s lament with those of a woman in the throes of passion.
Brian!
Doreen makes contact with Brian’s body, by way of a short sharp kick to the calf. Brian’s nocturnal nasal noises pause momentarily, then settle once more into their regular, rumbling inhalation and lip flapping exhalation which habitually interrupts Doreen’s sleep.
‘Brian!’ she shouts, just to feel a moment of relief. Doreen stands, then crashes back onto the bed vengefully, willing Brian’s snoring to end and wishing that she could go back to sleep. The futility of the wish leaves her fuming.

Doreen drops her legs over the side of the bed into her slippers, she slams the bedroom door then
edges along the dark passageway, her forget me not floral nightdress ballooning around her legs as she makes her way to the living room.
I remember the time I had stood out there on Brian’s lawn one Sunday, looking at the patterns that the mower had made, just waiting there alongside the garden gnome. I was there because Brian had taken it upon himself to make the gravy, out of the blue, not so much as a by your leave. He’d just got up off the chair from reading the Sunday paper, calm as you like and said:
 ‘I’ll make the gravy today.’ Just stood up, strode across the kitchen linoleum, all how’s your father? ‘I’ll make the gravy.’ He’d said. Like that’s what he did every week.
What possessed him I’ll never know. He’d got the box of Gravox down from the cupboard, scraped the meat juice from the bottom of the pan and stirred it and stirred it. I wouldn’t have minded if this is what he normally did, but it wasn’t.
I had looked pointedly at Brian whilst he’d stirred the gravy. I was wearing the expression I  normally use for when I have too much loose change in my purse. But that didn’t work. So, I tried the expression I’d used that time when we’d gone to Aunt Peggy’s funeral and afterwards in the church hall, Joan Hampshire, the woman from O’Keefe Street had come in all organized, a pavlova base, cream in a bowl already whipped and with what everyone had assumed to be a tin of passionfruit for the top.
Then out of nowhere, Joan had pulled three peppermint crisp bars from her bag and smashed them with a rolling pin. Lord only knows where that had come from. Who brings a rolling pin to a funeral?
But there she was, bold as brass, with her three peppermint crisp bars, a rolling pin, a shop bought pavlova base and some whipped cream. At a funeral.
I’d had pulled my lips tight, flared my nostrils, jutted my chin out. Then I made a braying noise, pushing the air out of my nose, quickly. I  assumed that this would have had an effect on Joan. But Joan had acted like it was the most natural thing in the world, standing there making a peppermint crisp pavlova at a funeral. Never mind that there were forty-five of Louise Dalggetty’s scones already made.
The expression hadn’t worked that day on Joan, Doreen’s neighbor, but Stella folded her arms, pressed her lips together, raised her eyes brows and had given me a quick nod of the head in approval.
I’d got that expression out the day that Brian had made the gravy. But it made no difference. Brian was even whistling whilst he stirred. I’d stood out there in the garden next to the garden gnome till it was done. I’d even left my pinny on, gone outside and stood next to the garden gnome, its nose was bulbous, its gut protruding, not unlike Brian, I’d thought at the time.

We didn’t speak about it over the roast dinner, which truth be known was a bit stringy that day.

Excuse me there are crumbs in the Newstead Short Story Tattoo





This piece was presented at the 2017 Newstead Short Story Tattoo
in the 'Political Animals' Session. 




Jews drink, four cups of wine, then pour a fifth for Elijah. Elijah’s cup is poured, but not drunk, every year during Seder, the celebration of Passover.
The cup is raised and the lament begins. L a shana habahh b’ Yerusalem.
Next year in Jerusalem. The statement reminds us that we have survived again, and to commemorate another feast awaits us. The statement : ‘Next Year in Jerusalem,’ also serves as a reminder that no matter what, politics aside, there is always a safe place to go should things nasty again.

Say the word Jew often enough in a range of places and you either laugh or cry.
Personally, I can’t say it enough, but I only started saying the word Jew on repeat recently, because I come late in life to a lot of things.

Like comedy I started when I was 38. The catalyst was my husband giving me a look when I went into labour with my second child that could only mean one thing: he was too pissed, so I would have to drive myself to hospital.

I took to comedy like others take to the drink. And when I would stumble out into the night searching for a stage in another dimly lit bar in Melbourne,  my husband’s words echoing in my ears as he gestured to the television, the couch and the kitchen sink: ‘Is this not enough for you any more?’ And it wasn’t, dry stoicism morphed into wry wit as I grappled with the beguiling beast that is comedy and my desire to fill that chasm of need with the laughter of strangers.

I came late to education. Having failed year 12 twice, I steered clear of classrooms till I was 30, then I got a bachelor of Community Development which equipped me to quickly arrange a wide variety of chairs and tables into welcoming circles, the intellectual acumen to distinguish between a working party a subcommittee and steering group and a wardrobe filled with non-threatening footwear.

And at 50, I’ve just started my Masters by research in creative writing on gender and comedy – women in comedy – please don’t get me started.

And I came very late in life to coming out as a Jew.

8 years ago my mother was over here on her  annual visit from UK.
She puts a piece of paper on the dining table and says I have something to show you. It’s a hand-written family tree. My mother looks at me and she says:
‘My father suicided when I was 12.
My mother went to a Swiss finishing school; they came from wealthy families; they dealt in furs and diamonds.
They fled Germany and went to England, everything stolen from them.
My mother baked honey cakes when I was little.
My father loved me, he called me meine Liebchen.
He was always running, though. He would hold my hand and make me run too. He said that if we didn’t keep running that the Gestapo would catch us.
He was born in Obernkerken.
His name was Ludwig, his brother was Fritz.
Next to their names are their uncle’s names Julius and Siegfried.’
Below that is the date 1942 and beneath that two words
Died Auschwitz.

I looked at her and she looked at me and I said, ‘Well that explains a lot.’


I grew up in North East England, a lot of things had closed down: the ship building, the steel works and most of the coal mines. So when I asked my mum anything about her past and she shut down, too, it kind of went with the landscape and I never pushed the issue.
As kids, we knew that we were Jewish, but we didn’t celebrate it. It was just something that sat in that bucket, the bucket of shame, like not having a car, or a phone or not being smart at school or always having head lice – shameful. You just didn’t talk about it.

So, I saw this family tree and something in me shifted. Like the time I sneezed a bit of carrot onto a woman’s hand-I was working in a fruit and vegetable shop at the time. I looked at her she looked at me and I said, ‘We’ll not charge you for that there bit of carrot on your hand.’

 A tree dating back to 1853 with branches burned off  and we were still here. So it felt like it was time to come out as a Jew. My knee jerk reaction to everything in life to date had been to find the funny and this was the mother of all opportunities to do just that.
So, I created the inaugural Melbourne Jewish comedy festival because Jews and comedy, who knew that would work right?

But here’s the thing: there are 58,000 Jews living in Melbourne, and six of them live in a little shtetel called Preston. I am one of those six Jews. I’m what is known as a fabled Jew of the north. I am so far outside of the bagel belt I can’t even see the poppy seeds around the edges.

Coming out as a Jew is one thing. Getting some Jews in a room to be funny under the banner of the newly formed Melbourne Jewish comedy festival as a completely unknown Jew in Melbourne is another thing all together.

But some things you just can’t push against, they are primal, they remind you that there is something bigger than you and your red lipstick wearing sarcasm.
It’s a life force that made me realise that something came before me and there will be something after me and my glittering shining moment on earth is to add something and that thing is laughter.
And I couldn’t fight against it – it was primal - Like when I had my first child when I was 30 and it was beyond me – because lord knows having children is an absolute pain in the butt, right?
The urge to have them means the continuity of the human race; and they are born cute so you don’t reject them.
But of course you spend the first few months covered in sate pooh and having let downs, During the kindergarten years and most of the primary years, you stink and have very greasy skin because of all the fundraising sausage sizzles you must run. And then they become teenagers: I gaffered up the bedroom window, nailed it and glue gunned it, but my teenager still escaped.
And one night when I had picked her up from who knows where at who knows what time, she stated all the things she wanted: a t-shirt from jjays, a new phone and an overseas holiday, because it was an absolute embarrassment that we only went to Wilson’s prom over the summer.
My response was, ‘Enough with the lists already.’
‘Mum,' she replied,'you should just be grateful that I’m still talking to you.’

Seeing the two words, “Died Auschwitz” on the family tree. And creating the festival was like that: primal, the continuation of the species, a compulsion, a statement that we are still here.

Don’t get me wrong I didn’t go as far as going Kosher, but I began to go from being a bit Jewish to being a bit Jewy. Even my kids were like suggested that I  should change your name to ‘Jewstine Shlep.’

I became  like the old Jew in the joke on the desert island.
His name is Hymie, he has been on the dessert island for years  when he is finally rescued
The old Jewish guy, Hymie, takes the sailors who rescue him around the island where he has been all these years.
He shows them the temple he’s built. It’s incredible, adorned with shells and seaweed.
The sailors are amazed.
Hymie takes them to the other side of the island. ‘Here,’ he says, ‘here is the other temple I built.’ It’s equally exquisite with architectural magnificence particularly in the bima area. The sailors are dumfounded. ‘These are amazing,’ they say, ‘but why two temples?’ ‘This one –’ Hymie points to the first one on the other side of the island – ‘this is the one I go to. The other –’ he nods towards it – ‘that one I wouldn’t be seen dead in.’

I became that Jew , we have a perfectly good comedy festival in Melbourne, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Melbourne Jewish Comedy Festival, that is the one I go to. The other one – pah! – I wouldn’t be seen dead in it.


Being a Jew became a point of pride and a huge learning curve: Melbourne is the second largest population of holocaust survivors outside of Israel, and there are so many Jewish institutions: Jewish news, Jewish film festival, bagel appreciation society, and a radio station. I had a radio show called the Kvetch with Sless but that was nowhere near enough, we had to make it the whole day. The lines were jammed with people wanting to complain: about the weather, about their sons, about their grandchildren sitting in hipster cafes all day on milk crates. We should have just taken all the other shows off air and called the station kvetch fm.

I get so Jew’d up, in fact, I even decide, at 50, to go to Israel for the first time, taking with me a comedy show called ‘Next Year in Jerusalem’. And there I am wondering around a Tel Aviv night having done a gig in a bar.I get lost on my way back to my hotel, so I ask a woman for directions. We get talking and I tell her I’m the creative director of Melbourne Jewish comedy festival. She gives me a wuthering glance. ‘Oh,’ she says, ‘We’re all Jews here.’

After Israel, I take the comedy show to Krakow, because someone had to do it.
It’s a very strange thing to stand at the tourist booth in Krakow and have the choice of a day trip to Schindler’s factory, white water rafting, or a day trip to Auschwitz. Nine thousand people visit Auschwitz every day. There’s no business-like Shoah business, it would seem. I took the tour bus, I laid the stone in remembrance for my family who had perished there. Then I got lost in the car park trying to find the tour bus..


Doing comedy in Krakow was the most ironic thing I could do. Slightly mad, deeply meaningful and a very tough gig. The show I had performed in Melbourne in front of back slapping mates yelling ‘Mazeltov!’ at the end was greeted in Krakow with such earnest expressions that my face ached from laughing at their non-reaction. The 50-minute show got truncated to 23 minutes, and at the end when I asked by way of breaking the earnest ice, ‘Any questions?’ a guy stood up, wanting clarification on a line I glibly throw away ‘I’m one of seven sisters from five different marriages’. ‘Of those sisters,’ the guy had asked me, ‘can you just clarify of the seven sisters can you tell us are they all Halachically Jewish?’

Tough crowd, right? Not as tough as the gigs I get in Melbourne, the Jewish gigs I get asked to do – invited to events on the basis of being Jewish, to events, to gigs – and I’ve not even had a bat mitzvah.

When I came out I had no idea that there were so many ways to be Jewish. There’s orthodox, liberal, reform and everything in between. And there are the rabbis. Whatever you do just don’t shake a rabbi’s hand – it’s forbidden.

The tagline for the festival is a celebration of culture through comedy and, indeed, that’s what Jews do – we do comedy,  we are known for it. That and the holy days every week to celebrate the fact that we didn’t die.  we eat unleavened bread at Passover (we didn’t die); we let’s light candles and eat greasy foods  during Channukah (we didn’t die); We eat dairy foods and mainly cheesecake during another celebration – again  - because we didn’t die.

The odd thing about this, though, is that Jews aren’t known on the Melbourne cultural calendar for their food – for literature, for philanthropy, for comedy, sure – but it amazes me that there aren’t chicken soup bars on every corner with blintz and bagel bars or festivals of unleavened bread, maybe there’s an opportunity there, we run out of jokes we can open up a kosher food truck.

I’m a Jew, I say it, all the time. I can see the stifled yawn of friends – ‘Bless, she’s a Jew, but she only just came out’. You can tell by my hair. I say I’m a Jewish woman of curls.

To say it, to own it, to act on it and to quote the great Jewish writer: Arnold Zable: ‘We all have a story to tell the denial of that story can lead to despair.’

But if I you think I’m a late starter, I took my mum who is 74 to Germany for the first time in July this year,  There was me, my kids and my mum, three generations of Jews. We stood at the door of her family homes, the summer house and the city house. I wanted to knock on the doors of these houses and say, ‘I think you’ll find that these houses don’t belong to you.’ But repatriation is not that easy and the Holocaust, no matter how you look at it just isn’t funny.

 But survival – now there’s a punchline.




Thursday, September 28, 2017

Excuse me

When I went away for a while.
I came back and found a whole load of crumbs on my kitchen bench.
And I have left them there for someone else to clean up.

Crumbs a metaphor 

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Excuse me there are crumbs in my academic referencing

So I've held a mic for a few years now.
Got heckled by my own kids.
Been in a few comedy festivals.
You know the drill:
Pay some money to register.
Think of show title.
Find venue.
Promote show.
Write show.
Perform the show.
Persuade friends and strangers that your angst is their angst just funnier.
Not won any awards at festivals.
Not had a stellar trajectory to commercial success.
Not lost money, but not made lots of money either.
Created my own festival because I don't like how many festivals are run.
Done many, many, many gigs in bars at conferences, events allover the place, in church halls and synagogues - I'm not fussy, book me I'm yours.
Did a comedy tour to Amsterdam, Krakow(don't ask) Israel and UK.
Swore so many times that I would NEVER go back to a comedy room EVER.
Because I always feel violated in those spaces where the 'humour' and attitudes go unchecked.
But like a sad suck I do occasionally go back there, because gawd knows I want to try out some new material on a stage in front of an audience...

And now my trail of comedy crumbs has led me into the hallowed halls of a university.
Where I can scatter my comedy crumbs all over a thesis and creative piece of writing.


Writing about gender and comedy.
Creative piece set in North East England 1976  about a woman who wants to do stand up comedy in the era of the legendary Bobby Thompson.

If you'd like to tell me about your experiences of doing stand up comedy.
I'd love to hear them...
How to quote a joke 




Thursday, August 17, 2017

Excuse me it's time to follow the trail of crumbs


More musings on other sites:









Red Light District (2017)
Scored a gig at the Comedy Club in Amsterdam.I am on my own in the city. It’s a buzz. I have never been on my own before, no really, never.
READ FULL ARTICLE HERE 

Funny Women Down Under (2015)
My kids hate watching comedy on TV with me, especially shows like Live at the Apollo or highlights from Montreal or Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
READ FULL ARTICLE HERE 














Cultural Capital - a call to arms (2017)
This is a call to arms inspired by Alex Fein’s recent JWOW article ‘Exile Never Felt So Good.’  I was glad to see someone had written about how hard it is to do this thing: to add to the Jewish cultural landscape... READ FULL ARTICLE HERE


J is for Jigsaw(2016)

I grew up in the working class town of Sunderland, North East England. It is a cold harsh place, filled with closed coal mines  discontinued steel works, a defunct ship building industry, heavy drinkers and aggressive soccer fans. At school there were kids who burnt down classrooms and bullied others relentlessly ...READ FULL ARTICLE HERE
    
Inner City Jew(2016)
I am a fabled Jew of the North, of the red lipstick wearing, Radio National quoting, back yard chook owner variety. I am conversant in acronyms, grant writing idioms and the bureau speak of the not for profit sector from my day job and I can wax lyrical for hours about the perils, pleasures and pitfalls of doing stand up comedy, but the language of orthodoxy sometimes leaves me flummoxed... READ FULL ARTICLE HERE
                                                                                


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Excuse me there are crumbs on my holiday photographs

As the crows flies:
Melbourne - Amsterdam 16,435km
Amsterdam - Krakow 1,219 kms
Krakow Heathrow 1,438km
Heathrow Tel Aviv 4,950 kms
Tel Aviv Newcastle 5,296kms

Amsterdam 20 June - 26 June 
Cheese
Beers
Jewish quarter
A city built for bikes
Gig in a bar 
Rode at night and came upon a windmill, thought it was a darlek.
Small hotel - friendly staff
Anne Frank house so many people waiting to go in and look - where were they all 1939 -1945?
Dope smoke everywhere - made me panic
Everyone so polite and friendly 
Great markets
Went to more supermarkets than museums
Watched : Punchline, Trainspotters 2.
Read Shrill Lindy West


Amsterdam canal - near Anne Frank House 





















Krakow 
26- 30  June The drive in was grim.
The Jewish quarter was nice
Food truck parks everywhere
The festival had great posters and promotion
Gig in old part of krakow in a bar was great
They worked hard to get an audience
Paid 300 zlotys!
Festival gig tough crowd
Visited Auschwitz - the scale of it - the sheer bloody scale of it - the rooms full of hair, shoes and spectacles
9,000 people go there every day
Hotel very spacious
Beers amazing
Food good and very cheap
Festival was an earnest crowd -
Sam and Gina Rosenberg from Melbourne
Holocaust over load - so much reflection and tourism related activities
Jewish Cultural Festival Krakow





















Israel 1 - 9 July
Met by cousin and Aunt at Airport - big smiles all round
Hotel in Jerusalem 3 Arches 
Visited the Old Town which leads onto the Wailing Wall
Went to the men's bit instead of the women's bit - oops
Soon got ushered out
Masada the house the Herrod built 
The dead sea sinking fast 
It's not easy to navigate if you don't speak Hebrew
The market vast and so much halva..
Got kicked out of a taxi and a bus ..
Tel Aviv
YadVashem
Israel Museum
Family - 
Family trees sitting next to cousins for the first time - the holocaust then and now changing the landscape for Jews everywhere

The state of Israel exists as a safe guard agains the holocaust
The country is only 78 years old 
But has achieved so much
It is a city built on sand - can it survive?

Peering over the precipice of the replica of the wagon that took people to Birkenau.
Never again the whole of Yad Vashem in its architectural grandeur screams
Never ever again


What matters now is never again any where ..
Never again for humanity ..


Tel aviv - used materials that were incompatible with the climate.
Steel and sandstone grate
So the city is being rebuilt and patched up 
 Shabby chique - is the look

Family in Tel Aviv
Walking to Jaffa
Falafel 
A city being built 
The west bank
Palestine Arab Settlements
The bus to Tel Aviv

West Bank warnings on DEFAT websites -
But I never felt unsafe.


Masada - the house that Herod built