In 2018 when my son and I were trying to cram as many shows as we could into our ten days at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, I had no idea that two years later I would be on the other side of the microphone.
Comedy came into my life by stealth. My daughter called to say that she had enrolled us in a comedy course and against the odds convinced me that I would be going to support her, a seasoned actress and performer, rather than the other way around.
It seemed like a harmless bit of fun, but I had no intention of taking it any further. On the first night, I learned that at the end of the course each participant was to do a ‘set’ at a comedy room. I remember thinking, “Well, I just won’t do that”. But of course, decades of conditioning about playing well with others and not letting anyone down found me on the stage at the end of the course.
I know it seems terrifying to get up on stage and try to make people laugh. It is. It’s a special form of self punishment. I’m yet to do a gig without worrying about the possibility that people may not laugh and I may need to leave Canberra forever to dodge the embarrassment. But it’s addictive.
A large part of the high is knowing that people relate. Knowing that you aren’t alone, and showing other people that they aren’t alone. When it comes to women older than 40, I think our experiences become very private. What happens to us is something we are meant to keep to ourselves.
I think a big part of being a comedian is making yourself uncomfortable so your audience can be comfortable.
Comedy is notorious for having a ‘type’. Cis white males of a certain age. There is a persistent cultural belief that ‘women just aren’t as funny as men’. In fact a US study found that 63% of American men believe that all men are funnier than the average woman. That’s reflected in their comedy scene where only 11% of the top comedians are women.
It’s hard to find the actual statistics on Australians because the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) groups comedians with buskers, circus clowns and magicians; but according to an Australian blog, of the top 25 Australian comedians, seven (28%) are women.
So the stats might be a bit better here but the truth is, when people look at an older woman, they don’t think we are going to be funny. But at the end of the day comedy is a levelling force, you either get the laughs or you don’t. So when you are up on stage, whether you look like a comedian or not doesn’t matter so much.
Throughout the world, it is an undeniable barrier when it comes to getting booked and getting an audience to take a chance on you. So how did FIVE women of a certain age become mainstays of the Canberra comedy scene?
Chris Ryan, a Canberra Comedian (now Sydney based) who has performed sold out solo shows since 2016, has gone out of her way to push for more diversity in the Australian comedy scene. It was her course where I got my start; her open mic rooms (which had a deliberate focus on gender parity) where I met the women with whom I perform.
Chris’ willingness to mentor budding comedians and, using her contacts, to push for women in the scene to get a shot was integral in getting us all involved. If comedy has taught me anything, it’s the importance of women supporting other women.
Canberra, generally, has a very supportive comedy scene. The bookers are encouraging, as are the other comedians, even the young men! One of them commented recently that I reminded him of his mum, only funny. I’ve decided to take it as a compliment, but quietly dread the day I meet his mum just in case it’s not.
Our show, the Women’s Room, sold out very quickly at last years Canberra Comedy Festival and we are looking to take it to the Sydney Comedy Festival. We developed a show for women and the men they bring along. We joke about what we know, our experiences in life. Between the five of us we cover just about everything and nothing is off limits – the quirky, the embarrassing, the depressing and the tragic. We have very different styles of comedy, so it’s a bit of a rollercoaster. Sue describes us as “relatable mixed with ‘oh my god did she just say that?’”. And that pretty much sums it up.
We all perform independently, and have done sets throughout the country and across the world. We feel lucky to have found an enduring passion in the afternoon tea phase of life.
- Our new show The Women’s Room 2 – Just Add Estrogen opens in six weeks at the Canberra Comedy Festival (and we’re still arguing about how to spell oestrogen).
Picture at top shows the cast of The Women’s Room 2, including Jacqui (far right). Also pictured are Tanya Losanno (left seated) Trish Hurley and Sarah Stewart (right seated). MC Sue Stanic is not pictured but is an integral part of the Women’s Room. Photo: Creswick Collective. Posted with permission.
Jacqui worked as a management consultant for more than 20 years and has degrees in Business, Counselling and Social Psychology. She found comedy later in life and last year was part of the sold out Canberra Comedy Festival Show, The Women’s Room. Despite many of her jokes revolving around death, dysfunction and her general dislike of practically everyone, she is described as surprisingly upbeat.