There’s a bit in David Quirk’s new show, Cowboy Mouth, where the Melbourne comedian and actor talks about the Overview Effect. It’s a term that refers to a common experience for astronauts who have seen Earth in its entirety from space. “They have this spiritual, overwhelming experience and some of them have to turn to religion or science to come to terms with the beauty of this thing that they understand, but that we down here don’t understand.”
Melbourne-based comedian and Triple R ‘Breakfasters’ host Geraldine Hickey is a bad liar – although she’s getting better at it. “I used to be hell-bent on being completely honest in my material, but now I think my priority is to be funny. I’ve done all my big stories. [Now] everything I write starts from an honest place, but then it goes on a humorous journey.”
In her decade-plus career, Hickey has learned a lot about looking after her own mental health as a comedian – which, she admits, is not always the healthiest career path.
No one can accuse the Bedroom Philosopher – real name Justin Heazlewood – of being guarded when it comes to talking about the harsh realities of being an artist in Australia. The musical comedian’s 2014 book Funemployed is a very personal insight into his tumultuous 12-year career, which culminated in a 2012 show that left him in massive debt, burnt out and angry at an industry that he had poured everything into: his time, money, health and self-worth. The memoir is laced with interviews with other artists and demystifying tips on navigating the arts industry; he devotes a whole chapter to the mental and physical toll of being an artist. “It was really healing,” says Heazlewood. “I felt like going, ‘Hi everyone, I’m massively unhappy’. I think a lot of artists are like, ‘oh, better not let anyone know that I’m struggling or I might not sell as many tickets ‘cos I won’t look cool as shit’.” Heazlewood believes that being a comedian is particularly hazardous to mental health.
“Because you’re kind of not,” adds Laura Davis, “unless you’re making it particularly hilarious and shiny and easy to digest, which is kind of the job you have to do.” The Perth-born, Melbourne-based comedian describes her experimental approach to comedy as an “almost medicinal approach… trying to think about what people might need”. Her new show, Cake in the Rain, is about “heartbreak and the end of the world and how we tend to find more meaning in negative experiences than what we do in positive ones”.
More than a decade ago, at the beginning of her stand-up career, Hannah Gadsby would kick-start the writing process by listing of all her faults on a piece of paper. “I felt like I had to explain myself, so I started thinking, what am I? I had such low self-esteem, so none of that was positive. And that’s how I wrote a show: everything that was awful about me.” In her new show Nanette, the Melbourne comedian is addressing a time in her life when her self-esteem suffered the greatest blows – her formative years in rural Tasmania in the mid-’90s, when the entire state was debating whether to legalise homosexuality.
It is not an understatement to say that Ruby Wax – veteran American/British actress, comedian, academic and author – is a pioneer when it comes to talking about mental illness and making it damn funny. The UK-based comedian became the self-described “poster girl for mental illness” nearly a decade ago, when posters for British charity Comic Relief appeared in Underground stations across London saying “one in four people have mental illness, one in five people have dandruff. I have both.” From there, Wax wrote a hugely popular show about the at-times debilitating depression that she had suffered from in silence for most of her life. Since then, she has worked as a mental health campaigner and gained a master’s degree in in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy from Oxford University. But Wax is quick to mention that her new show, Frazzled, is not about mental illness.
Make the most of your MICF
The MICF is in full swing, with hundreds of funnypeople vying for your comedy dollar. Here, in no particular order, we present our top picks of the festival. Whether you're into sharp political satire, keen observations or flights of surrealist fancy, there's something here for you.