It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog, but I’m full of words, phrases, passion and thoughts whose presence is easier to process through a computer right now so I’m posting a blog mid-Fest!
It’s the 15th of April, 2018. There’s one week remaining of Melbourne Comedy Festival, and yesterday was my favourite day of all of the days that join in what I heard somebody calling “Comedian Christmas.” Yesterday was the Deadly Funny National Final. If the festival is comedian christmas, then Deadly is the bike your parents said they couldn’t get you and then surprised you with. It’s the trifle after a dinner that was so delicious and filled you up so much, but you still make room for it because otherwise, what’s the damn point!
Firstly, a huge congratulations to my bala Leon Filewood who took out the whole dang show! He is 2018 Deadly Funny Winner! And, from my experience, this is a life-changer.
(From left to right: Kimberly Lovegrove, Elaine Crombie, Kylene Anderson, Maggie Walsh, Aunty June, Dora Smith, Michael, Leon Filewood, Dion Williams (Tyler Saunders on the shoulders!), Richie Fejo, Bill Makin, Ghenoa Gela, Kylan Ambrum and Jalen Sutcliffe)
For those reading who don’t know what Deadly Funny is, or why it is so important and has changed the landscape of Australian comedy in Australia, please let me tell you.
Deadly Funny was conceived by the awesome brain of Jason Tamiru 13 years ago. He recognised that blackfullas can bloody spin a yarn and that, given a platform, that humour that we share with mob could be used to break down barriers and fight some damaging stereotypes. And I could not be more grateful for that idea. Because he was absolutely right.
When I won in 2014 the competition was still fairly small (well, comparatively to what it is now, I mean). We performed in a 200-seater venue at the Comedy Festival and there were only 4 finalists. Good finalists, of course, culled down from the heats that took place over the nation, but there were still only 4 of us.
And how far we’ve bloody come! The Final was held at the Fairfax Theatre in the ArtsCentre, with 12 finalists! For many of them, the Final was their second time ever performing comedy, the first being at the heat. I definitely didn’t meet anybody who had performed more than about 10 times MAX. And yet the staandard of the show was incredible. I don’t say that with a bias, I say that as someone who consumes a lot of open-mic comedy and also partakes in it.
A common thread of black comedy is an underlying political message. It’s not because we’re inherently political people specifically, but more that once you identify as Indigenous, society asks you to wear a certain level of responsibility, demands you have a certain level of knowledge and invites you to justify your existence/status/place/standing etc in society at large.
My favourite stand-out line of the whole show was from Kylan Ambrum who opened his set with “Hello black people! Oh, white people… I didn’t know you were coming!” This line already illicited a laugh as it was an incredibly clever thing to say, and honestly, a lot of the black audience was thinking it. Once the laughter died down though, he absolutely sent the audience into a frenzy by following with “neither did my ancestors a couple of hundred years ago!” And then he laughed it off and made everybody feel as though they were a part of things.
A number of topics were discussed such as online dating and how if men stopped being superficial they might find a nice Murri woman who loves to cook AND suck dick, the hilarious and somewhat surreal ramblings of a ‘deep thinker’ (Maggie Walsh, my new obsession. I’d pay good money to have her be my inner voice/narrator), an American accented conversion attempt that confused Dora into thinking she should open up her ass and cleanse her hole (instead of her eyes and soul) and an incredible impression of white people dancing.
Even if we disregarded the entire competition performance and final show, the day still would have been my favourite though. Because from when I arrived at 9.30am, to when I went home after my final performance at midnight, I never stopped laughing or smiling. I got more hugs yesterday than I’ve had all festival. That’s not even an exaggeration. I gave – and received – more genuine expressions of love than I have in the last 3 weeks combined. That’s what black comedy is. It’s community, love, encouragment… family. I received words of wisdom, gorged on kindness, wrote impromptu sketches, songs and jokes with strangers that became friends.
As somebody who has struggled to find my voice within my community and as somebody who carries the burden of a guilt about not knowing my culture the way I’d like to, Deadly reminds me every year exactly what it is, and exactly how deeply embedded into my nature my heritage is.
I write jokes about where I think my understanding falls short and my frustration at not being able to inact change. I write jokes about the frustration of that frustration. The burden of that frustration, wanting to show other people how great my culture is and then seeing their fear or over compensation/ dishonesty in owning up to their own lack of knowledge.
Last year somebody I have respected for a very long time gave me sage words of wisdom. Or, at least, I think they meant to. I cannot be angry at their attempt for it was based on a misunderstanding/misconception of why identifying as Aboriginal in my comedy was important to me. I was told that in order to find the right path in my comedy there would have to be a time where I would have to decide whether I was “an Aboriginal comedian or a comedian.” I was assured this was not their opinion, but an opinion that would be echoed in the scene at large. Whether or not that was true, this statement rung around in my head for months and months. First it made me fearful, then it made me angry and now it makes me sad.
I don’t believe the statement to be true, for the record. I can’t help being Aboriginal so, by default, my decision is already made. I know where the statement came from of course, the intentions and beliefs that underpin it, that there may be difficulty communicating to a wider audience, that I am probably more susceptible to backlash, or open to criticism and I had to decide whether I wanted that. But thats why it makes me sad.
Isn’t it funny to think that we are still in a time where somebody feels concern for you because of criticism or difficulty you might face just because you are proud of an element of yourself? I think the irony in the advice is that I’ve had to make that decision all my life. I am racially-ambiguous enough to a wide portion of society that I could cruise by without some of the shit, the racial slurs, the “you’re one of the good ones.” But I refuse to – because I am proud. And the statement of pride is one I believe all Aboriginal people should be able to wear without fear of prejudice.
Deadly Funny is a showcase of how blackfullas are naturally funny, because we’ve always had to be. Humour is such a huge aspect of our culture…you know they say comedy is just tragedy plus time… Well, there’s still a long way to go… so we’ll still be pumping out some shit-hot comedy for a while I reckon.
The truth is though, I do really believe what I say here. The standard of Aboriginal comedy in Australia is so high, especially for the low (but rising) number of comedians we have. I truly believe Deadly is changing the landscape of Australian comedy as we catapault our yarns into a space where they can be heard and appreciated. Humour, for mob, is like a slow process of weaving a net. Each yarn adds to the tapestry, each new element adding a peice of a shared experience that white Australia has never had much of an understanding or insight on. I hope that as it continues to grow, the strength of the net improves and we can use it to bridge the gap.
The gap exists still, and sharing experiences, open communication and finding common ground through laughter is a fucking great way to start mending.