Thursday, June 14, 2018

Excuse me the crumbs can no longer be ignored



‘The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.’ Eli Wiesel


Some comedians gathered in a pub in South Melbourne, as a community. The gig that was meant to go ahead that night was cancelled as were many across Melbourne. The room is run by women, it was good to have somewhere to go, we hugged each other, looked at each other as people, instead of competitors in the space where so few crumbs that represent success can be found; the crumbs of financial recognition, the crumbs of commercial success, the crumbs that amount to more than the ethereal fleeting tremor that is laughter. We stayed a while, we raised our glasses, shared stories about what a brilliant comedian Eurydice was. But we didn’t feel defiant, or able to peel back the dreadfulness and find the essence of how to change or challenge what had happened. We spoke instead about offering lifts to each other at future gigs, of offering to walk each other to tram stops, to each other’s homes, of offering nothing more than friendship and support to each other.
            I started doing comedy over a decade ago, I took to it like some take to drink. I wanted to devour it, to be immersed in it, to understand it, to make sense of the world and spit it back out with pithy punchlines that would leave audiences breathless with laughter.
            The only place I could find to learn how to learn how to do stand-up comedy was in c
omedy rooms. Unlike other art forms, like dance or acting there aren’t any folk laws, or methodologies and techniques passed down from one comedian to another. In short there is no rubric of humour to guide the aspiring stand-up comic. Instead you just have to stand up in front of a live audience and give it a go, fail a lot, get up and do it again.
           
It took me some time to understand what was happening in comedy rooms and come to terms that often it was the antithesis of fun or funny. I mis understood the advice that it would take up to two years to get a gig in certain rooms. I misread the stream of no’s that I couldn’t MC or aspire to headline. I misread it all as ‘just not funny enough.’ It took me a while to separate the need to get stage time to work out material in spaces where I often felt undermined, invisible, insulted and many time felt unsafe because of the endless diatribe of misogyny, of racism and of terse anti-Semitic remarks.  I would feel a flush of anger, the fury of disdain, but so often sit in silence because I wanted another gig in the room, or I didn’t want to be seen as someone who ‘just didn’t get the joke’.
            After five years I gave up trying to get stage time in comedy rooms. It became tedious being patronised too and frustrating that there appeared little likelihood of getting more than five minutes on the bill. Instead I found other ways to carve out my comedic aspirations; through writing and researching, performing comedy at events, conferences and festivals and as an ultimate act of immersion I created the Melbourne Jewish Comedy Festival.

           
Much has been said in mainstream media about women lacking the ability to be funny, frankly it’s a nonsensical claim. When I started doing comedy there were no all-female rooms. Now there are, and in those spaces, there are frequent and open discussions about gate keeping, about unequal representation of women on line ups, repeated comments around men simply refusing to book women. There is often talk of how we should counter this. There are often suggestions of how room runners and commercially successful comedians can and should counter this, by stepping down to ensure that women are on the bill.
            When you have amassed more than five minutes of stand-up comedy the progression is often to stage a solo show at Melbourne International Comedy Festival (MICF.)  The ratio of men to women in comedy rooms is usually two women to eight men, at this years festival shows by women came in at 22%. Not many women do comedy, it's a tough gig.
         The festival is the highest grossing festival in Australia, it has huge economic clout, it could also have enormous social clout. At the Jeez Louis, women in comedy forum, in 2017 there were questions posed to MICF director Susan Provan around lack of gender equity on MICF televised shows.  Provan’s response was that the televised shows represented the festivals demographic. ‘But,’ an audience member countered, ‘MICF could be a world leader, a game changer and always categorically televise shows that with a gender balance, right?’ Wrong, the same messages will continue to be sent out, some of them subtle, some of them pervasive, ‘the revolution will not be televised.’
            When I first became a mother I was staggered by the isolation I felt, the ebb of autonomy, I worked less paid hours to become the primary caregiver, I stayed at home and baked. It was, as I saw it, my function to do so. My daughters are teenagers now – take up space I tell them, know your power, make some noise I tell them.
            Today I add a caveat though, take care I say, be careful I say, the homicide detective in charge of the murder of Eurydice Dixon has said that women should have ‘situational awareness.’  The detective did not pledge to call out sexism when he saw it, in the ranks, online or on television, nor did he say that he would do everything he could to counter violence against women by insisting that it is men that must change their behaviour, neither did the Premier and neither has the Prime Minister. 

             I saw Eurydice gig many times, her comedy was out of the box, her manner her comedic skill, her sense of style made you sit up and listen.
            She told this joke, I am paraphrasing: 'Women need to up their game and start suiciding more, we want equality with men and they are outstripping us on suicide rates.'

           So funny, so clever. I gigged with Eurydice and have gigged with so many other women over the years, to my shame I have never offered a lift or asked if anyone is ok to get home.
           
A comedian’s job is to interrogate their world, distil it, and through the alchemy of chutzpah and carefully chosen words create an exquisite moment of surprise which generates laughter. And you should be able to just get up and do it all again and again and again and again and again and again.
        
 Eurydice Dixon - you were incredible - our comedy world is bereft.


Monday, May 28, 2018

Excuse me but never underestimate the power of a home baked item



(yes I look this good when I wake up)



Saturday, April 14, 2018

Thirteen Hundred Crumbs

I have counted them all, there are thirteen hundred of them, on bench tops, littering the floors, dropped casually whilst watching the telly, cast aside, unwanted.

I have counted them all and gathered them up into a collection of short stories called Thirteen Hundred Crumbs.


Every week I will post a few crumbs here on my blog, extracts from stories that are waiting in the wings, ready to be swept off their feet onto the pages of a book and into the homes of crumb lovers everywhere.


So do excuse me, because now, even after all these years, all the gigs, all the laughter I have tried to squeeze out of audiences there are still crumbs in my comedy.


Crumbs from the story SPIT AND POLISH


Grandpa John comes in for the kiss. He smells of Germolene. His head, shoes and nails are as shiny as the one -pound coin he’s holding up high, like it’s a golden doubloon just in from a shipwreck. It’s the last Friday of school term, before we finish up for the long summer that is never hot. We’ve just had our lunch, a pastie from Marks & Spencer, dead posh.
Grandpa John never just hands over the pound coin, so that I can say “thank you”, then head back down to school. Instead he pinches it so tight I expect it to be bruised by the time I get it. The wiry red hair on his hand and fingers is tufty and looks like it’s been stuck on badly. His nails are shiny, like he’s spent ages polishing them.
My nails are stubby and the cuticles are ragged and misshapen. My mam tells me that I should push the cuticles down or my nails won’t be able to breathe properly. I think she’s daft for saying that, though, because I don’t think that nails can suffocate...

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO FOLLOW THE TRAIL OF CRUMBS ON THIS STORY PLEASE CONTACT ME DIRECTLY ON justinesless@yahoo.com
IF YOU ARE A PUBLISHER, THEN PLEASE GET YOUR PEOPLE TO TALK TO MY PEOPLE.


Friday, December 29, 2017

Excuse me there are crumbs in my wordle

I have a lovely collection of short stories which form part of my Masters by research in creative writing.

My supervisor tells me that they are  sub - miss - able.

I say they are un- miss - able.


The wordle below offers up the very best words from the manuscript.

If you would like to post a review then please do so.

If you represent a publishing house
 then please get your people to talk to my people.



Please note: there were no crumbs harmed during the making of the manuscript.


 

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