Happy New Year! This is a blog version of the Serious Comedy Newsletter I sent out on 18 January 2021.
I hope you had a chance to catch a breath over Christmas and New Year’s, and you’ve emerged from that part of the New Year where you just wander around the house holding a piece of cheese and wondering what day it is. It’s a common affliction amongst anyone over the age of 13, but you don’t really become bothered by it until your mid-20s. It’s the most predictable, annual surprise in the Western calendar.
This was originally going to be a “welcome to the festive season” newsletter then, “Merry Christmas” then, “how goes Boxing Day?”, quickly followed by “Happy New Year” but in the end it’s scraped in as “January is definitely here”.
I’ve got some exciting news about shows that are coming up both in person (in WA) and online in Melbourne (and streamable from anywhere online).
It’s still a horribly uncertain and scary time to be working in the arts, but when you buy a ticket, that money is held in trust by the ticketing companies and isn’t released to artists or producers until the performance has happened. As audience members, you can rest assured that if you book tickets for a show and it’s cancelled due to Covid, you’re automatically entitled to a refund or reschedule and every major big and independent ticketing company I’ve come across have been swift and helpful processing it (barring a few horror stories of jumping through hoops from early on in the pandemic).
So please, check out these shows below and buy tickets, and afterwards if you’d like further rambling yet insightful and understatedly witty commentary, you can read on.
SHOWS (IN PERSON, Western Australia)
Andrew McClelland: A Seated Walking Tour of Western Europe
2 – 6 February 2021
His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth
Book tickets via Perth Theatre Trust now
This is the show WA has been crying out for! With the world suffering under pandemic restrictions this is the quickest, funniest and indeed only legal way to see Europe.
Armed only with Google Street View, a big screen and an enthusiastic but flawed knowledge of history, Andrew guides you (rather hurriedly) through the great plazas, past the spectacular cathedrals, over the weird statues and through the modernist architectural follies of Europe’s greatest cities and towns.
See the things! Learn their stories! Get no exercise! See London! Paris! Feuchtwangen! Fucking! (The town in Austria. Grow up.)
Never has a European walking tour been so quick, funny and indeed, cost effective.
“In a word, brilliant … Raucous laughs and lengthy applause shows McClelland got the ingredients right” ★★★★½ Daily Review
“His goofy, fun-loving personality is undercut by a sharp wit and craftiness … The material is all top notch” ★★★★½ Beat
Louisa Fitzhardinge: Comma Sutra
2 – 6 February 2021
His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth
Book tickets via Perth Theatre Trust now
Australia’s favourite grammatical comedy is back by popular demand after sold out seasons at FRINGE WORLD 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020!
Louisa’s found true love in the English language, but it’s hard being a grammar nerd when there are people selling ‘potato’s’ and misusing the word ‘literally’ at every turn.
All she really wants is someone who’ll snuggle up with her on the couch and seductively whisper puns into her ear. Ideally in multiple languages. Is that too much to ask?
It’s nerdy. It’s pun-filled. And it might just make you want to learn a language … or at least start erasing those damn stray apostrophes on café blackboards.
“Comma Sutra is a brilliant cabaret show – brilliant in content and performance alike.” ★★★★★ The West Australian
“Comma Sutra is beautifully crafted. Genuine and utterly hilarious, Louisa and Greg will have you laughing at linguistics, chortling at commas, and sniggering at semantics.” ★★★★★ Pelican Magazine
“Comma Sutra is an exceptional production with immaculate presentation, quick-witted and sharp comedy, a gripping story and breathtaking music… Fitzhardinge’s punchlines persistently stick the landing (figuratively) and leave you in fits of laughter (literally).” ★★★★★ Gutter Culture
(I’m not producing this season, but heartily endorse Louisa and her show)
SLIGHTLY SERIOUS PREFACE AND CONTEXT
I’ll preface the rest of this email (and future emails) by saying that nothing in this newsletter is criticising measures to keep Covid as under control as possible. I have friends in the UK who are suffering through the horrible effects of mismanagement and incompetence during the pandemic. Almost everyone I know in the UK has had someone they know pass away from either Covid or problems that could have been addressed if the health system weren’t overrun. (A nuanced discussion on this is really beyond the scope of a comedy newsletter, unless you are from some sort of government department looking for input on how to help the arts industry mitigate financial risk. If you are, please do get in touch.)
To give you an idea of the world in which we still live, I saw in the New Year (and my birthday) by following the media announcements of border closures with Western Australia and wondering if the only tour Andrew and I had booked for this year might get cancelled. Louisa Fitzhardinge also has a season in Perth (which I’m not producing but will proudly recommend) and is in the same boat.
As of writing, anyone who has spent any time in NSW, QLD or VIC (I think that’s all at the moment) in the 14 days prior to arriving in WA will be turned back at the airport. There’s no opportunity to fly in from those states and quarantine either in a state run facility (or anywhere else) regardless of whether you’re willing to privately fund things. So yesterday Andrew and Louisa flew to Tasmania for two weeks so they could then fly on to WA and perform their seasons. They’ve both got long lists of things to do and visit, but it’s not like a two week holiday is a convenient way to trim fat from the budget of a production that’s already got reduced venue capacity and is sailing close to the wind.
We’ve also got our show West is Best coming up on Sunday 31 January. This is the fifth time this show has been rescheduled and cancelled. It might be more, because I genuinely got fuzzy after the third time. When we had scheduled to announce the show in early-mid December (based on a normal lead-time for marketing and spreading the word) was when the Sydney outbreak happened. As we sat tight for a few days it grew… and spread… and it’s really hard to launch an event (which costs money to advertise, that you can’t get back if you need to cancel) with that hanging over your head. And given we were originally expecting to broadcast this show in JUNE, there’s still another round of re-organising as some performers and production experts are no longer available, we need to use a different space for a certain segment, which means a different technical set up…. You get the idea.
GUILTY CONFESSIONS & MY HORRENDOUS FAILINGS AS A HUMAN BEING
After the second lot of our show cancellations, every time I’ve had to send out a cancellation email for one of our online shows, I spent a day and a half in bed bingeing Netflix. I’ve had some really woeful festival seasons in the past in terms of ticket sales (all critical successes though you understand), but I’ve never cancelled and rescheduled so many performances in my working life. It’s a far cry from November 2019 when I was contracted to be the marketing manager for Peppa Pig Live in the UK with my good friend and colleague in London (who I’ll refer to from hereon in as Polly).
I got lots of really lovely emails from people in response, and it broke me remembering how much I missed audiences and helping bring to life a show that brings people meaning and joy. It sounds sappy, and I was quite taken aback by it. Stupid emotions. Stupid Netflix.
One of the bizarre things about being launched from complete lockdown back into a very tight schedule of shows (as we were in November with four shows in five days) is how hard it’s been to start again. Not in a self-pitying way, but just having a real sense of “there’s a good chance this won’t happen or will have to suddenly adapt to new circumstances and I don’t have the energy to embark on that so maybe I should sit in the garden and stare at quails instead”.
I’ve spoken to a lot of people in the arts who feel like this (sans quails), but I also had a really similar conversation with the old Italian man who runs a bakery up the road from me (a discussion which he led, which surprised me). And then other people, from different age groups, political persuasions, and in different parts of the world.
As I’ve had more of these candid conversations, I’m struck how similarly we all feel, and how surprised we are that we’re not alone in feeling that way. So in the interests of your amusement, dear reader, allow me to confess my horrendous failings as a human being, the low-hanging-fruit of New Year’s resolutions that I’m trying to grab at, and why a dry wit is a helpful tool when skating close to a nervous breakdown.
1. I am terrible at systems.
I love creating them. I love working out the relationships between disparate categories and shaping them into something that makes sense to people. I have terrible trouble actually following them. My mum recently reminded me of the filing cabinet she’d bought me as a graduation present, no doubt hopeful I’d have some semblance of order to my paperwork, if not my wardrobe. She still laughs with horror at the memory of finding I’d used the top draw to store hats and scarves instead of files. To be fair, I did file the hats chronologically based on the style of era of each hat.
I’m recently-discovered ADHD, so in many ways it makes complete sense because ADHD (especially in adults) isn’t so much lack of focus as the lack of ability to regulate focus. I’m a very difficult person to bore about a subject – I’ve had railway historians run out of stories talking to me.
I like learning about most things, but that also means that when I fall down a rabbit hole reading about the different sub-species of flamingo, I don’t stop after 15 minutes. Unless I get interrupted by something, there’s every chance I’ll look up and seven hours will have passed and I’m irritable because I’ve forgotten to eat. All that’s great for when you end up chatting to an exotic bird expert at a party, or you want to identify which type of flamingo the kitsch garden ornament is modelled on, or mention in a moment of jovial conversation that Madison in Wisconsin has a plastic flamingo as the City’s official bird*. But it rarely resolves the several emails you were meant to send, the kitchen that needs cleaning, or the weird meal you have to scrounge together because you missed the supermarket closing time. Nor does it populate the filing cabinet.**
**I distracted myself for 15 minutes trying to remember which city it was, and then reading about the history of the lawn ornaments before the irony tapped me on the shoulder.
2. I am 100% enthusiastic about the first 80% of a project. The remaining 20% is like a long march through wet sand.
Not having good systems in place does nothing to let you even accidentally tick off a task in the last phase of any project. When you KNOW you aren’t completely stupid or incompetent, it’s very hard to reconcile a healthy sense of self-worth with the figure that’s sitting in the middle of the floor in tracksuit pants, trying to stick invoices and receipts back together with tape because the cat wanted attention and attacked the ‘to be filed’ pile. Even less so when your attempt at solving the cat issue by feeding her treats has just resulted in her throwing up said treats on the partially reconstructed paperwork.
3. Caring about your work, family and friends, and respecting your colleagues is the worst.
If I didn’t believe in the projects I’ve worked on, and I didn’t have a close knit group of colleagues who I like and want to help, I wouldn’t have anywhere near as much guilt and anxiety about my work and life. I sometimes wish for a life and job that is dull and boring. It would certainly take away the stress of failing to keep up with whatever element of my work or life is currently falling into neglect.
4. I’ve ignored a bunch of stuff, and it still hasn’t gone away.
I’m intensely annoyed that my mum was right and there are no magical fairies who do all the unpleasant work when you’re asleep (or watching Netflix). Given the instinct to believe in these magical beings is so strong in us, it seems a cruel trick of evolution to allow it to continue.
Faking your own death isn’t a rational solution to anything, but listening to a podcast* that explains why it’s such a bad idea is a good way to confirm this, and there are some darkly amusing stories in this area.
Changing habits is probably an easier road to take in the long run than an elaborate scheme to disappear, and it’s not a proportional response to having allowed some email responses to lingering in your drafts folder. However, I am much better at the first 80% of any project, so if I’m playing to my skills, it may be the fake death is the more rational option. At the very least, it’ll start well and I could improvise the rest.
PICK THE LOW HANGING FRUIT AND GET A TASTE OF REDEMPTION
So, having shared my shameful failings as a human, allow me to also share the walk-over-low-bar New Years’ resolutions I’ve made.
1. Systems are good. Systems are easier when there’s less stuff to systematise. I will have less stuff, and I’ll start off with a basic list.
Sticking to systems is painful, and I somehow missed out on the family gene that leads my mum to alphabetise the spice cupboard. You have to have set systems up with enough thought so that it’s not impossible for you (not anyone else, YOU) to keep them up, so I’m starting with very general systems that I’ll gradually hone. I have already upgraded from the beta-phase of “this is the room of stuff that I would like to ignore” and broken in down into a lot of subcategories of things I want to ignore. (Severe but irrational guilt; Logistically difficult to sort out; Abject terror at scale of task.) It makes my ignoring of the problem far more efficient.
2. Taking a small break to wander in the garden, call a friend, or go grocery shopping isn’t a betrayal of the hallowed To Do list.
Wrapping up the final parts of a project, be it personal or work, is tedious. Whether it’s the washing up after you’ve had someone over for dinner, or sorting your tax receipts, it’s not fun. But there’s only so long you can leave it until the metaphorical pile of dishes in the sink starts lurching like the last seconds of a Jenga game.
If I can watch half a season of The West Wing in order to avoid doing something I don’t want to do, spending 30 minutes weeding the garden isn’t going to significantly affect the backlog and it does make dealing with it slightly less unpleasant. The trick is to ensure that it really is a small break, rather than seventeen back-to-back small breaks, some of them highly productive until it’s bedtime and too late to begin the task on the list.
3. Family, friends, and colleagues who you respect (and respect you) are the best and help you screw up less (and you help them screw up less too).
It turns out, some of my friends hate starting projects and really struggle to get enthusiastic about the hard work at the beginning of an idea. Music to my ears! Move aside, let me get stuck in and pass the baton to you as I fall into a catatonic stupor at the thought of preparing the final exit report. I’ve been really lucky in the last few years to find some special people who are great to work with. I think it’s often much easier to do nice or helpful things for other people than yourself, and if you’re lucky, you end up with similar people who’ll do the same for you.
Lots of us have experienced this during Covid-times when you see someone going through a rough patch. If your friend hasn’t got a working kitchen for two weeks and has two jobs, it seems like a no-brainer to help someone out with cooking a few meals that can go in the freezer, or looking after a kid for an hour so their parents can have a work meeting on Zoom. Polly, my friend in London UberEats-ed me chocolate ice cream at 1am because I was having sugar cravings while I worked away on a tricky spreadsheet.
It’s just working within your capacity and resources, and sometimes you’re the one with the stove and connected plumbing.
I often get upset with myself for getting behind on something that’s for a friend or colleague whose opinion I value. The reality is that things fall through the cracks all the time for everyone, but if you’ve got people around you with different strengths and different perspectives, and you can share what’s going on, you save each other all the time in small ways.
I know that none of the people I work with now would endorse me trying to work through a two-day migraine, or for that matter, faking my own death to avoid awkward emails (the latter confirmed via text message).
Last night, I went to bed at 3.30am having cleared out three storage bags of clothes to be dispersed to friends, charity shops, and animal shelters, and I was content in the knowledge that given I’d already screwed up the priority order of my to do list and not finished off a few tasks earlier in the day that I’d meant to, it’s fine to call it quits and pick up again the next day.
The more I remember to keep in touch with friends and work with colleagues who nurture me (and vice versa), the easier it is to avoid falling into the bottomless pit that is true crime podcasts or US political analysis.
Some of the people I work with now, I wish I’d had as a mentor when I was starting out in the workforce. The longer it takes longer to meet these people, the more you also have to unlearn when you do and that’s hard.
Remember to tell people like that in your life the impact they have, because initially you will almost certainly have wanted to scream at them or hide in a cupboard until they relented. I’ll do some of my tasks. They’ll be late and they’ll be imperfect. Hell, I’m posting my Christmas cards out next week (Thursday at the latest, I swear).
4. Say things out loud to people.
Remember that standing next to a Jenga tower of unwashed dishes, whether real or metaphorical is not an enviable position. If you tell people about your unpleasant task list, they can be quite helpful in reminding you about it, or telling you to eat a sandwich when you’re asking if the Tax Office will accept a blood sacrifice instead of the paperwork that tells them they owe you a significant amount of money.
Seriously, it’s really helpful to have an informal work-buddy who you can share with and make sure you’re both accountable. Polly is similarly afflicted by being “smart but messy”. Whenever one of us is in a slump, we’ll send the other our lists of That Which Must Be Done (“Don’t say its name!”)
We work out how everything is prioritised by importance, urgency, and required time, and then rated for emotional trauma so we know how often to check in on each other, and what likely internet purchases might result (recommendations in the post script).
If you can say out loud to a friend or colleague “I think it might be better if I just started a small fire rather than try to sort that paperwork” and not realise it sounds like a poorly thought through plan, your friend or colleague will provide you with the requisite slap across the back of the head.
WHERE TO FROM HERE, I HEAR YOU ASK?
I often finished up newsletters with the note that if anyone’s got anything interesting to send me I’m always happy to get emails from people (and I’ve met a few great people out of this newsletter list).
But that is a small lie. I do like hearing about people’s interests and factoids, but email is just the pits for me. So um, still please do get in touch, but go through the Serious Comedy Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/seriouscomedyshows) page. (Now there’s a company that’s keen for you to know when your page has any sort of activity, no matter how dull.)
In the meantime, I hope you’re all starting out on a promising and/or less horrific 2021. Remember to keep in touch with people who make your life better. Hell, you could even catch up at a comedy show (hint hint).A few of us have got some really fun plans for the next few weeks, but what with ‘everything’ (see detailed description of personal and professional deficiencies above) I’ll leave it with you as an enthusiasm for what’s to come rather than a promise of what to expect.
I’m living and working in Melbourne’s inner west, on the land of the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung and Bunurong peoples of the Kulin Nation. I acknowledge and pay my respect to their Elders, past, present and emerging.
INTERNET PURCHASES RESULTING FROM AVOIDANT BEHAVIOUR
1. A 2 year subscription to ABC’s Organic Gardener magazine. (I do not regret this. The last issue had a great article about frogs.)
2. Electric socks (Polly submission – upon finding you can’t wash the socks without breaking them, and the battery pack you have to wear with them runs down in four hours, Polly would not recommend this item.)
3. A fashionable mute-green cape, which actually turned out to be for Elf cosplay, but I’ll still wear it.
TRUE CRIME RECOMMENDATIONS
1. Cold Justice (via Amazon Prime in Australia)
A reality tv show produced by Dick Wolf (of Law and Order) that brings a whole team of experts and specialists into small towns of rural America to help resolve cold cases that have created division in the community by speculation. It’s not sensationalist, it’s very victim-centric, and it genuinely seems to do a lot of good in areas that are desperately under-resourced.
2. Bear Brook Podcast (https://www.bearbrookpodcast.com)
The case that eventually led to the development of forensic genealogy as a specialty. There’s been discussion about expectations of privacy and policy creep by allowing law enforcement to use this information. The field was able to develop initially because it was being driven by a victim of crime who was asking law enforcement for help in gaining information about her own life (that is, it wasn’t law enforcement trying to identify a suspect or perpetrator).
3. The Man in the Window podcast by the LA Times (https://www.latimes.com/projects/man-in-the-window-podcast)
This series follows the crimes of the Golden State Killer, and although the journalist is very respectful of the victims and isn’t sensationalist, it’s still quite graphic. However, as this case is currently before the courts, they’ve been doing mini-episodes and interviews on some of the recurring themes. The episode called The Language of Rape is a great insight into how even in our very recent history, there simply wasn’t the language to articulate what had happened to many of the victims (emotionally, physically, or legally). The legal language is so inadequate, some of the most vicious assaults have been charged as burglary because it was the crime which carried the harshest (or sometimes only) penalty. It’s a very stark and clear-cut example of how language can help heal, and I think it’s a very instructive way of thinking about how more commonplace abuses have been able to persist. This situation has only changed in very recent times.
If you weren’t alive in the era where this sort of suffocating neglect was commonplace, then your mother or grandmother was, and it’s worth understanding what that kind of world does to a person. This episode in particular is a very simple way to understand how to listen and talk about a difficult subject, which, statistically, several people you know will have experienced something like this.