In the summer after my first year at university I worked in a bacon factory in my home town. In the section called the Bacon Room. I saw a lot of bacon. Let me give you some advice about eating bacon. Don’t.
It was quite common for uni students from my home town to come back from Melbourne over the summer holidays to work in the bacon factory. It was a good way to earn money but also save money by staying with your parents and eating all their food. Despite these practical advantages I wasn’t very keen. I applied for the job out of guilt and desperation. I’d had no luck getting a job in Melbourne and I had to have a job over the uni summer holidays. Not so much for financial reasons, but for pride. All my friends had summer jobs, it would have been totally weird to spend three months doing nothing.
My application was successful (possibly due to nepotism as I had two uncles who worked there) and sick with anticipation and nerves, I started working in the bacon factory at the end of November 2000. It was a hard job. Getting up at 4.30 every morning. Performing mind-numbingly tedious work for ten hours a day. Dealing with people who seemed to hate me and shouted a lot.
At the end of my factory stint my sister convinced me to enter Raw Comedy with a stand-up routine about the bacon factory. I got through to the National Final. Suddenly, it was all worth it. That was the true value of working in a bacon factory! To mock!
Years later, reading through my bacon factory diary (presumably on a train) it struck me that there was a an actual story arc to my time there. Characters were introduced, tensions built and then resolved. It was almost as if there was a point to it. That hardly ever happens in real life, and has certainly never happened in any other diary I’ve kept. Usually my diaries are like: meet someone, crush, crush, crush, rejected, pine, pine, pine, pine. And then I never mention them again.
Excited by the real life narrative neatness I thought I’d found in my bacon factory diary I tried to milk the experience in a different medium and wrote a manuscript of a novel based on my time in the factory. It didn’t work. It turns out that real life is too messy and apparently I’m an unengaging character who seems a bit immature.
I can’t quite give up on it though, and recently it’s been on my mind again. The themes I was trying to explore in my novel have played out in the recent democratic shenanigans across the world. Work, class, gender, racism, sexism and sexual harassment. The bacon factory had it all!
We’re coming up to the 16 year anniversary of my time as a factory worker, which is very exciting as 16 is a square square number. So, I aim to write once a week, exploring my experiences 16 years ago when I picked up bacon and put it back down again for two months.
Names will be changed. Pigs were definitely harmed. You are very welcome.
The rise in the popularity of podcasts has been an absolute boon for me. I have listened to audio books since a tot, but podcasts have added an embarrassment of riches to my audio options.
Here are the podcasts that I regularly listen to and what they bring to my life.
1. My absolute favourite podcast dares not speak its name on this blog. However it is extremely popular so if you google “My Dad Wrote a” all will be revelled. I have become evangelical about this podcast and regularly and annoyingly proselytise to friends about why they should listen if they want to have happy and fulfilled lives.
Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales put their dazzling friendship on display while chatting about politics, films, books, art and cooking. They jam recording in around midwinter balls, television appearances and apparently cooking more biscuits than seems feasible. Crabb and Sales’ all-round competence in their hectic lives and brilliant careers is almost annoying, but they have enough self-depreciation and awareness to stop my smugdar from raising the alert and making my arms throw things. They also recommend a lot of good stuff and have a list of links to follow up on.
Bit of disclosure – I am sometimes on this podcast but far more often I am just listening and laughing. Hosted by my good friend, Vaya Pashos, Neighbuzz brought me back into the Neighbours fold after years in the wilderness. Before Neighbuzz was invented I hadn’t watched Neighbours since Karl and Susan were having marriage troubles! (Sorry, that doesn’t really pin the timeframe down.) I enjoy listening to Neighbuzz even when I don’t watch the show because it’s funny.
Damian Callinan performs all the roles on this very clever and very funny podcast. The only problem for me is that you do actually have to listen to it. I often consume podcasts while pretty actively involved in housework and letting my children develop independence by unsuccessfully trying to ignore them. Bodgy Creek does not work for that. You can’t appreciate it properly while having a conversation about making playdough, which we don’t need to do because we made playdough last week and it is in the fridge and we’re not making any more. So Bodgy Creek is a treat podcast for me when I have time to concentrate.
I have been checking out some podcasts about the US election, however, often I become just too terrified by the whole thing and disengage. Then I go back to my number one podcast at the top of this list. You should listen to it. Really, you should. It will make you happy even if the world as we know it is going to end. We have a rogue comma. Just try and forget about it.
PS: Obviously, I don’t listen to the first podcast mentioned in front of the children either.
All the funny people at my school were girls. I regularly laughed so hard at netball training that I thought I would collapse. Eating lunch was perilous as there was a high probability that someone would say something hilarious and I would spit out my sandwich. Two of my best friends once put me in the bin and I nearly wet my pants I was laughing so hard.
On the other hand, the boys were not so funny. I can only remember a handful of funny occasions. Once in Year 8 some boys did an hilarious parody of a Life Be In It ad where they changed the last line from ‘They were exercising’ to ‘They were trespassing’.
But I could name the incidents where a boy made me laugh hysterically on one hand, whereas I’d need to take my socks off just to get through the top shelf netball japes.
From this, I conclude that girls are funnier than boys and by extension women are funnier than men.
Couple of things. Almost all my friends at school were girls. I sat with girls at lunch time and in class. After school I did extra-curricular activities with girls. 90% of my conversations were with girls. So it’s possible that the boys were actually hilarious I just didn’t know it because I spoke to them a lot less often, and when I did talk to them I had other things on my mind like the fact that I didn’t know how to talk to boys.
With maturity has come a greater understanding that people with different genitals are people too. You can just talk to them like you would with any other person. And by actually speaking to them and listening to what they have to say I have come to realise that some men actually are quite funny. Try it, you might be surprised.
When I was at uni I did a lot of stand-up comedy. Now I don’t. I worry that if I talk about my experiences of sexism in comedy it will seem I’m blaming sexism for why I wasn’t more successful. I’m not. As Julia Gillard said in her farewell speech, gender doesn’t explain everything in relation to her prime-ministership, but it doesn’t explain nothing, it explains some things. She then asked the nation to ‘think in a sophisticated way about the shades of grey’. I’m not expecting the nation to reflect on the demise of my limited comedy career but I am prepared to have a crack at it myself.
Before I started doing comedy I was talking to a friend about who we would see in the Melbourne Comedy Festival. She told me that she didn’t like female comedians. My jaw dropped. This girl was one of the funniest people I knew but she believed women belonged in the audience, not on the stage. How was it so?
I went to school with a lot of funny girls. I can remember about seven or eight girls who could make me laugh so hard that I couldn’t go on with the netball game. The idea that women might not be as funny as men had never occurred to me because it so demonstrably wasn’t the case in real life. Of course, the boys at school may have been funny too, to be honest, I hardly spoke to them so I’m a poor judge.
I knew women were funny but I deeply doubted that I could be funny. Performing comedy was a dream of mine that was so secret it was almost shameful. I would never have tried it if my sister hadn’t suggested I enter Triple J’s Raw Comedy competition and then made me fill in the form. I was so fearful on the night that I could barely speak. When the audience laughed at my first joke I had a feeling of relief and wonder almost as intense as falling in love. It felt like the best thing that had ever happened to me.
Over the next few years I did more comedy and I did okay and received a lot of support and encouragement. I got to the National Final for Raw Comedy, I was selected for the Melbourne Comedy Festival’s show Comedy Zone, I was an awarded a Moosehead for my show Kathy Smith Goes to Maths Camp, I appeared on the short-lived ABC show Stand-Up! I did a gig on average once a week and occasionally got paid for it.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that my first comedy performance at Raw Comedy changed my life. I suddenly had a mega-fun dream-come-true hobby as well as an instant group of friends. I’d struggled to make friends in my first year in Melbourne. Suddenly, I had heaps! I could go to comedy rooms and people knew who I was, would talk to me and give me compliments about how funny I was. For the first time since primary school I believed I was going to have an exciting life.
When I started doing stand-up comedy I quickly realised that I would often be the only woman back-stage. I always notice when I’m the only woman in a room. I always feel uncomfortable to some extent. Doing comedy I coped with the awkwardness by focusing on what I was there to do. If I went well on stage, then no-one could deny my right to be there, including me.
Of course, there were other female comedians and I tended to gravitate towards them as well as other women involved in the scene. There were also quite a few men who I had a lot in common with – lefty, university educated, middle class. In many ways, it was easy to fit straight in.
But there were some things. In my first year of performing a friend of mine wanted to run an all-female comedy night and asked me to help her. I was very enthusiastic. Until I spoke to another comedian about it. He was older (24!) and more experienced (by six months!) so was definitely in a good position to offer career advice. He told me that an event like that could tarnish my reputation. There was no need to bring gender into it when I was doing so well. So I pulled out of organising. Meanwhile I continued to go to comedy nights week after week where I was the only, or perhaps one of two women performing. Not that I should have been counting, as gender wasn’t an issue apparently.
For a few years I ran a comedy night in my home town called Newstead Ha Ha. I booked comedians who I knew, and paid them shamefully badly, but we were all used to that. The third Newstead Ha Ha was by far the funniest. As it happened, and entirely without trying, I only included one man in the line-up. Afterwards the town put on an amazing spread and the locals and comedians chatted. The comedians were amazed that not a single person commented on it being ‘an all women night’, or about them being women at all. People in Newstead weren’t used to having all-male comedy nights so they didn’t notice an all-female one.
Another time I did a spot in a new room that was in a slightly rougher than usual pub. The guy who was running and hosting the night insisted on making a big fuss in his introduction about the fact that I was female and implied the audience needed to be gentle with me. Later, I told him that I didn’t find that helpful and it actually made it harder for me. He explained to me why I was wrong, and how it was all part of a larger strategy to foster diversity in comedy. He had good intentions but he wasn’t listening.
There are formal efforts to support the participation of women in comedy like Jeez Louise, which has morphed in form over the years but is a workshop or forum on women in comedy and is produced by the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. I absolutely loved my first Jeez Louise where I got to know a lot of female comedians better, learnt some things, and argued in a debate ‘That Women are Fucked’ in the affirmative. The next year at Jeez Louise there was a panel including a male comedian giving advice on how to get ahead in comedy. One man suggested asking a more established comedian for mentoring. A female participant questioned whether this would be interpreted as a sexual advance if a woman did this. He became very angry at the insinuation and the entire forum devolved into apoplexy with deep concern and attention given to the fact that a man’s feelings had been hurt when he was nobly trying to help us. Later that night another male comedian, who wasn’t involved in the incident at all, got on stage and supported his friend by saying that he’d spent all day at Jeez Louise ‘being told I’m a cunt because I have a dick’. It got a big laugh. (Note: I originally wrote this as ‘being told I’m a dick because I don’t have a cunt’. I can’t honestly remember which way round it was, both work! It’s certainly not like one of those crappy poems where you change one word and the whole thing falls apart.)
I was once very excited to get a five minute try-out spot at a comedy room that was notoriously difficult to get booked for. I had been told that it was very hard to do well in this room because the audience had come to see the head-line acts and were hostile towards the try-outs. So I had suitably low expectations but I did very well. One of the other comedians said I had ‘a very tight five’. High praise indeed. I expected to be asked back, but I wasn’t. Later, I was told that if I wanted to get booked again I should keep coming to the night and hang around at the bar. Although I certainly had spent a lot of time hanging around comedy rooms ‘networking’, I didn’t think I could at that particular venue. I would have felt weird, and actually unsafe. It was the most discouraging thing that ever happened to me in comedy. I realised it wasn’t always enough to do well on stage.
Lots of people who I used to do comedy with have stopped performing for a variety of reasons. For me, after I finished uni I was sick of hanging around in pubs three nights a week. I had other things to do. It was too much work and there had been too little reward. I wasn’t as excited by the art form, either. I did the occasional gig but it wasn’t as much fun because I was less practised and therefore less funny. I started writing books and that’s what I focus on now. I don’t like to mention my comedy past as it creates too much expectation that I’ll be funny, which I can’t always live up to.
There are female comedians in Australia having great careers and doubtless other women in comedy will have different views to mine. Possibly, people interpreted, or remember events very differently to how I do. Writing them down, these experiences all seem very subtle and even unimportant, and perhaps they were. Except that women are still under-represented in comedy and they shouldn’t be. Doing comedy is very, very fun and women are funny.