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Sunday, July 27, 2014

I interrupt this blog for an important announcement.

Batman was walking down the street as I parked outside the Northsider Birthday bash venue.
I hadn’t been to Rubix Funhouse before, so I took it all in: the graffiti, the bar, the lighting, the very cold concrete floor and the eclectic crowd, complete with a month old baby and a collie dog.

I chatted to a few people in the crowd: a greens candidate, a lady who works for an online music company, an Irish lady, with the kind of accent I could listen too all night, I smiled at Batman and wondered if I too should have worn my knickers over my pants for the party. I also spoke with Joel, the Northsider editor in chief. Joel looked dapper in his bow tie, we spoke briefly, then I stood to one side, hogging the heat lamp.

I had worked on the set I was going to do for some weeks.  It would be a mix of Northern corridor humor, a joke aimed at the plethora of hairy faced young men strutting the streets of North Fitzoy. There would be plenty of jokes about my Northern suburban idiosyncratic ways: my non threatening footwear, because I work in the not for profit sector, my penchant for quoting Radio National and a joke about living in Preston: ‘Which is a hole surrounded by traffic and filled with good people.’

I’ve been doing comedy since 2006. The comedy catalyst was the birth of my second child, Jess. When I went into labour with Jess, my husband gave me a look that could only mean one thing: ‘I’m too pissed you’ll have to drive yourself to hospital.’

Since then I’ve done 8 Melbourne International Comedy Festival shows, gigs at book launches, conferences and have MC’d lots of local government and not for profit events. I blog about comedy and I’ll talk to anyone who will listen to me about the virtues of doing stand up: how it has liberated me, how it connects people, how it has saved my marriage and changed the way I see the world.

So I did my set for the Northsider Birthday bash. I knew that I hadn’t quite nailed the ending, I should have stopped at: Epping is the new docklands what with climate change and all. But I wasn’t quite on keel that night. Instead I finished the set with an old joke about audiences, bricks and renovations. 

Then the very understated Dane Certificate did his magic. I don’t know how, but he did and it was amazing. Joel and Marianne started to give their speeches, just as the call I had been waiting for finally came through.
It was my brother in law, my sister had just given birth to her first child, a girl.
I was so relieved. It had been a long journey, not just the birth, but the whole getting pregnant bit too.
Maybe I should have opened the set with: I’m one of seven sisters, from 5 different marriages and my sister is about to birth another girl.

I left Rubix crying with joy, I spoke to my sister briefly. ‘The birth, it’s just like a rave party yeh?
Full of e’s, episiotomy, epidural, exhausting.’ 

I drove home feeling elated, comedy can make me fell like that sometimes, so too, I was reminded that night, can birth. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Béchamel - a great source of inspiration.

Globally we have reached peak oil.
But in local government, the rich seam of comedy gold 
will never run dry .

MICF 2011
I decide to collaborate with a mate, Fiona Clare for the 2011 MICF show.
Collaborating means lower costs, double the marketing  and only half a script to write.

We both have very different comedy styles. Fiona is full of whimsy and is a singer song writer, my delivery is dry and acerbic and I don’t sing or play anything. 
In deciding the format, the content and the show title, we acknowledge our different styles, but concede that Béchamel is a pretty name for a sauce, but a cruel name for a child.

The show is inclusive and accessible, it has a cry baby session and complimentary tickets are given to arts access members, the set is home made and crafty and the cure for head lice is simple yet startling.

The show opens with me standing Neanderthal like, shoulders hunched, I am stooped, my chin is pushed out and I say:
Underwhelmed, underpaid, undervalued.  Feeling like a victim.
Then I left the not for profit sector and took my first swipe card – into local government.

Since the birth of Jessica, the hovering in dark dingy comedy rooms, the trip to comedy perdition and back, I have kept writing, kept honing, kept watching other comics and slowly understood that the funniest material I can write is about the what I find funny, not what I think others will find funny. 

I learn over time that my delivery style is dry, the drier the better, the sparser the content, it is laden with irony, deep sarcasm and a smattering of self deprecation. 

I no longer angst over each word when I write now. Often it is the rhythm of a joke I am interested in, or an idea and how it links with another idea. I  perform knowing know how to start the joke and where it will finish, but the journey to get to the punchline is not always devised giving the material spontaneity and freshness.

The discipline of doing a MICF show every year becomes de rigueur. Before one show is finished another show is germinating. I write all year, keeping notebooks from all of the gigs I have done. Developing a new show every year is about challenging myself, making sure that I craft the comedy, hone a story, make a satisfying show and honor the creative process by writing the best jokes possible. It is also about creating a product, getting a good marketing image and committing 100% to the delivery. It helps  committing 100% because if you believe in the material and enjoy it , so to will the audience.  

For the béchamel show, the easy part of the writing  was the not for profit, local government material.  Each day at work, as a local government officer ,there was always a new rich vein of comedy gold opened up that just had to be mined. The material was tweaked and added to for each show, there really was no end to the humour within the hallowed halls of bureaucracy.

In béchamel I take my first swipe card into local government:
It is lovely in there, all bright and shiny. On my desk when I arrive, there is a pile of stationary: post it notes, high lighters, even on my telephone my name is on it, should I momentarily forget who I am:
Local government Justine Sless speaking.

I begin working in earnest. I have been employed to develop an intercultural centre. When I went for the interview I was asked to give my definition of interculturalism:
It’s Japenese, it’s people from Iran, from Iraq, from Italy, I intertwine my fingers to demonstrate the inter part of the word, I get the job.

My first day at local government I create a community engagement strategy. It’s all flow charts, arrows pointing in different directions and nice colors.

After a while, my wrist begins to ache a bit because there is no mouse pad. 
I ask Maria, the administration support worker , if I could possibly get a mouse pad. Maria hands me a book about the size of a yellow pages book.

Here Maria says, here use this.

I put my wrist on the book, it’s a bit uncomfortable but I reckon I can manage. I continue working. After a short period of time I sense that Maria is watching me.

Justine, she says, 
Justine that book I gave you.
That is the office stationary order book.
Oh I say, sorry ,I have just left the not for profit sector and we are used to just making do.

I leave local government and start working in education and this is what happens:

Janine comes into the office and Lisel goes up to her and says:
Janine under your white trousers we can all see your green underpants.
All that day Janine had to wear her long black jacket, so that we could not see her green underpants.

Just then the telephone rings and Valerie answers it.

Education Valerie speaking. Yes, yes oh yes, oh ok right then ok, fair enough ok then bye.

We all tap our computer key boards, avert our gaze and pretend like we weren’t listening.

Then Valerie tells us. Apparently her husband John had been to the Aldi supermarket to buy a travel hair dryer. When he gets there, all that is left is a lurid purple colored one, so he doesn’t buy it.

Oh Valerie, Oh mate I say I hope that hasn’t ruined your holiday.

Next week: 
Australian politics is a lot like English High Tea.
There are three layers ,which is lovely,  but it’s a bit much.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Chalk it up

James leans heavily against me as we leave the hospital. He’s a big bloke and he puts all his weight on me. I feel like a complete bitch, but I say it anyway:
I’m leaving in the morning, no matter what. I have too.

The car is packed. An assortment of items fills the boot: a plant stand, some fake turf and some wooden building blocks.

Ruby hops in the car and immediately begins to tuck into a bag of lollies.

Jess hesitates before she gets in:
Mum my back’s itchy.
I lift up her t-shirt to take a look, expecting to see a scratch maybe, or at worst a flea bite.  
My heart sinks. Her back is a mess of small familiar looking welts.
You’ve got chicken pox. I say,  Get in the car.

We stop at Robe, a has bean kind of a town, just after the border of South Australia and Victoria.
Jess’ face, back, legs and arms are by now spattered with chicken pox. I will the pox not to get worse, for her not to break out in a lather of a fever, for the journey to continue well and for it not to fee like all the stars are conspiring against us. 

We stay overnight in Robe, at a very ordinary motel and head off early in the morning for Adelaide.

Don’t move from the house I tell the kids and don’t answer the door to anyone, I will be back in 2 hours.

I can’t take Jess to the cry baby session with the chicken pox. Ruby is old enough to look after her, but I have never left them in a strange city before and Adelaide is strange.

I leave them in a holiday house we have rented in Glenelg for the duration of our Adelaide trip. I head off to the Burnside library, for the first show in the my Adelaide Fringe season: a cry baby session.

I set up the fake turf, the wooden building blocks, the plant stand and assortment of domestic items that create a quirky looking set. 
Excited librarians bring in some chairs. 
We are so happy to have you here. Can we get you a water? Or a cup of tea, even?

The set at the Burnside Library South Australia
Mothers with babies, some older folk and a guy who is clearly a reviewer settle in to watch my Adelaide Fringe offering: A handful of Walnuts

Babies cry, Kelly Menhennett a local musician has agreed via email to do the music during the cry baby shows. Kelly sings and the babies stop crying. I hand out some sponges, I tell a collection of the best jokes from previous shows and Kelly plays some more.
I deliver the punch line: If a friend comes over for dinner and they offer to bring something, tell them just to bring a handful of walnuts.

I pack up, thank the library staff and Kelly and drive back to Glenelg. 

The kids are fine. They tell me that they have had a walk around the neighbourhood to try and find a park. I’m furious, shocked and so relieved that nothing happened to them.

There is no show the following day so we 'do Glenelg': the Maritime museum, the shops,  eat ice creams and damn fine kebabs.

The next day I head to the North Adelaide Community Centre for the second cry baby session.
I have had to pay an enormous amount of money to perform at the venue. The cost I was told, would pay for promotion.
I arrive to 4 dozen chairs set up in rows, most of them are empty.

I do the show, Kelly sings to the babies and to the mums, she sings to the two men who look confused and walk out three jokes in. 

I finish, pack up and go back to Glenelg. James is there with the kids, having flown in earlier. He is still in pain and looks very tired.

It will be fun, let’s all go as a family. We haven’t been back for years.
I’d said all those months ago, when I had registered for Adelaide Fringe.

I do 4 evening shows at The Treasury. It's  a small 20 seater venue, under the Medina Grand, a hotel in the city centre.

Audiences  at The Medina are lovely, hotel staff could not be nicer and the shows go well. 

Sunday morning, I turn the car around to drive home.
James flies out, as he is still too unwell to drive the distance.

As we head up out of Adelaide city centre towards the freeway, I begin to do the math: accommodation, food, venue hire and festival registration.
I stop doing the math. The show has haemorrhaged a huge loss.

I look in the rear view mirror.
Jess chicken pox, thankfully were not a full blown doozy of a case and almost look like they are fading.
Ruby is tucking into another bag of lollies and they are both watching a movie on the portable DVD player.

We drive, we stop for the toilet, we stop for more ice creams, we stop at the big lobster.

When the sat nav’ tells us we are only 3 hours and 20 minutes from home, we vote not to stop at the accommodation that we had pre booked in Horsham.

It's after 11pm as  we pull into our drive - way. Our dog Holly comes bounding out of the house to greet us.

I have driven 9 hours straight, performed  6 shows at 3 different venues in five days.
I have fed the kids a lot of guilt ridden ice creams and a variety of confectionary. 
I have told some jokes and discovered that there tends to be three types of reaction to being given a coloured sponge: the person who is happy to receive, the diffident recipient who leaves the sponge behind, the recipient who wants to be able to choose which colour sponge they get.

I felt a huge wash of relief that Jess' chicken pox faded almost as soon as they appeared.
I felt anguish that James was so sick and yet he still came to Adelaide.
I felt blessed that my family came to the 3 evening shows laughing and cheering each time. 

All of it, the financial loss, the pox, the long drive, the ice creams, the sick husband. 
All of it, I chalk it up as done - my first interstate festival.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Pains Sans Frontières - thank you and goodnight.

Many thanks to the musicians who played along side me during comedy festival, early years health promotion shows,kindergarten AGMS and interstate at Adelaide Fringe.

When there are babies in an audience, there is a distracted air, mothers are torn between focusing on the show and their baby.

During one show a 2 year old ran around and around the audience, crashing indiscriminately into chairs, audience members and the set. 
Each time the music played though, he would stop, be completely still and listen. His mother visibly relaxed and momentarily enjoyed the show.

I would begin talking again and the 2 year old would resume his running.

We had music about Vegemite and Harry Potter from the amazing Moira Tyers, faux lullabies, innuendos and harp playing from Linda Beatty, ukulele tunes from Katie Hull- Brown and beautiful bluesy tones from Kelly Menhennett 

Pains Sans Frontièresa show for mothers and babies, early years health practitioners, the sleep deprived and the fundraising fatigued.

Bookings: justinesless@yahoo.com