Have you heard the one about the fe­male co­me­di­ans who had a se­ri­ous con­ver­sa­tion about gen­der equal­ity? Sarah Ken­dall and Celia Pac­quola let So­phie Ted­man­son in on the joke. Styled by Monique San­tos. Pho­tographed by Hugh Ste­wart.

VOGUE Australia - - News -

Co­me­di­ans Sarah Ken­dall and Celia Pac­quola on their craft – and gen­der equal­ity.


So­phie Ted­man­son (in Syd­ney): “When did you two first meet?” Sarah Ken­dall (in Lon­don): “The first time I met you, Celia, was at one of the com­edy galas at a green room and Tom Ballard was there and you were talk­ing about how you guys had lived to­gether.” Celia Pac­quola (in Mel­bourne): “We had, and he used to pee on the toilet seat!” SK: “That’s right! I have a ter­ri­ble mem­ory but re­mem­ber that.” CP: “Be­cause he was 19 at the time and it was to­tally fair enough. It was a co­me­di­ans’ house and I re­mem­ber peo­ple would go: ‘Oh my good­ness, a share house full of co­me­di­ans, you guys must just be a riot!’ And I’d be like: ‘Nooo, it’s re­ally not!’” SK: “No, no, no! Too de­press­ing for words.” CP: “We talked about the fact that we should all try and buy a house be­cause we were too old to be sit­ting on bean­bags any­more. We also dried our wash­ing on a plas­tic Christ­mas tree that we never took down be­cause it was strong enough to hold un­der­wear and a light T-shirt, but not jeans.” SK: “I think you were in the right cli­mate to get away with that! I think if I did that with my fam­ily’s clothes [at home in Lon­don], we’d just smell like a seal colony. That wet dog smell …” CP: “I’d watched a bunch of Sarah’s stand-ups and I had been fol­low­ing you a bit ev­ery­where. In a non-weird way.” SK: “Ah, my huge on­line pro­file!” CP: “When I go to Lon­don peo­ple say: ‘Oh, you’re Aus­tralian, you’re go­ing to know ev­ery other Aus­tralian fe­male co­me­dian’, which I gen­er­ally do, which is sort of an­noy­ing.” SK: “Yes, we to­tally do.” CP: “You had this leg­end sta­tus and some gig story about the guy go­ing down the aisle, and every­one there was like: ‘OMG, Sarah’s the best, she has this amaz­ing story’, and I was like: ‘OMG, she sounds so cool!’” SK: “That was the story about the heck­ler, right? The guy who ba­si­cally threat­ened to rape me and I turned it into a stand-up rou­tine and then the rou­tine got big­ger and big­ger and longer and longer, as your rou­tine does. What ends up on stage after a cou­ple of years barely re­sem­bles the ini­tial in­ci­dent and then I just started to worry about do­ing that ma­te­rial be­cause I couldn’t be en­tirely sure as to whether peo­ple were laugh­ing at the right places at the right times. On a good night peo­ple would laugh at the good places for the right rea­sons and the story had pathos and they got it. But on a bad night it felt like I was go­ing: ‘Ha ha ha, isn’t this funny this hap­pened?’ A stupid au­di­ence would laugh in the wrong bits and it ap­peared like I was go­ing: ‘Oh, this re­ally funny thing hap­pened when this guy threat­ened me!’ I felt like I couldn’t be en­tirely sure that it was be­ing re­ceived in the right way, so I stopped do­ing it.” CP: “The whole goal in this game is prob­a­bly to get re­spect in the com­mu­nity, and every­one, be­fore I met you, would say: ‘Yep, she’s the best!’ But I do re­mem­ber meet­ing you at an au­di­tion for an ad in Lon­don.” SK: “Oh, that was the worst au­di­tion.” CP: “We bonded over how we hated it. Was it the au­di­tion for 3D Yoda from Star Wars? I just re­mem­ber we were sit­ting in this tiny wait­ing room think­ing: ‘Fuck, I hate au­di­tions.’” SK: “I do re­mem­ber that but I can’t re­mem­ber the prod­uct.” CP: “I did so few, if it was with me it was ei­ther the Yoda or the yo­ghurt – I hate yo­ghurt and you had to eat it in the ad.” SK: “That’s act­ing!” CP: “Yeah well, this is the prob­lem … so I ate it and they were like: ‘Okay, do it again, but can you try one where you en­joy it?’” ST: “What is it like be­ing on the com­edy cir­cuit and be­ing fe­male. Do you sup­port each other? Is there ca­ma­raderie?” CP: “Over­all co­me­di­ans have a ca­ma­raderie, so you can go any­where in the world and meet up with co­me­di­ans, but then there’s the other fac­tor of be­ing an Aus­tralian. It’s not just nec­es­sar­ily a bond be­tween fe­male co­me­di­ans, that’s there with every­one, but as a woman it’s one of those things where the longer you do it, the less you have to talk about it. I re­mem­ber when I started I was re­ally out­spo­ken about it, but now I just want to tell jokes. I’ve al­most for­got­ten I’m a woman.” SK: “I’ve been do­ing this now for 17 years. Ac­tu­ally longer; I started at uni in 1998, so my first proper show was in 2000, but the land­scape has re­ally changed. It was far more boysy then, there sim­ply weren’t as many women do­ing it. What has been so amaz­ing over the course of my ca­reer is see­ing more women at each fringe fes­ti­val do­ing re­ally in­ven­tive and in­ter­est­ing things. I find the men are re­ally into it as well. It’s a much nicer cli­mate, if I’m be­ing com­pletely hon­est. You know, I think the way it was 17 years ago, it was far more of a boys’ club and you had to nudge your way in and try and oc­cupy some sort of space in the in­dus­try. Whereas now I think I would have trou­ble list­ing all of the fe­male co­me­di­ans do­ing great shows. It’s hon­estly like a ten­fold in­crease, which is fan­tas­tic!” ST: “Has the huge pop­u­lar­ity of peo­ple like Amy Schumer and Tina Fey helped change peo­ple’s at­ti­tudes towards fe­male co­me­di­ans in gen­eral?” SK: “I don’t know. I watched two se­ries of Amy Schumer re­cently and just loved it. I love the thought that 10 years ago it wouldn’t have been made. But we live in this me­dia bub­ble where we go: ‘ Holy shit, isn’t Amy Schumer amaz­ing!’ But there is also this huge le­gion of hu­man be­ings who are dread­ful to her on­line. So I think yes, she has made so much progress, but it hasn’t been an easy ride. I think the push back is al­most as fright­en­ing. It is un­nerv­ing when you re­alise how much it ag­gra­vates peo­ple when a woman like Amy Schumer does what she’s do­ing. I love the fact that she ag­gra­vates peo­ple like that, but it has just opened this door and it’s an easy path for us now with the me­dia bub­ble a bit.” CP: “I don’t think a switch has been flipped where the uni­verse is like: ‘We’re okay with women in com­edy now.’ While it is bet­ter, I think the only way for­ward is more vis­i­bil­ity with women – it’s harder to be what you can’t see. Amy Schumer can have her own show and she’ll pave the way, but I think she’ll be the first to ad­mit that there have been th­ese other great women like Joan Rivers who have had an even harder time. I think it’s great that peo­ple like Amy Schumer and Tina Fey are so vis­i­ble and even though it was so hated by cer­tain groups, the fact that there even was a fe­male Ghost­busters is huge! It’s all progress, but it’s def­i­nitely not an even play­ing field.” SK: “Ex­actly, and I think peo­ple like Amy Poehler and Tina Fey openly talk­ing about the misog­yny of work­ing in the SNL [ Satur­day Night Live] en­vi­ron­ment helps. Th­ese are my favourite co­me­di­ans full stop. But I also know that they’ve had to fight to oc­cupy that space and I think some­times you can un­der­es­ti­mate that. I think some­times if you go: ‘Oh, look at them at the


Golden Globes, they are the best hosts ever.’ But it’s been 10 times harder for them be­ing fe­males to get to that point.” ST: “Why do fe­males still have to fight to be recog­nised as funny? Does it go back to the whole world­wide at­ti­tude of misog­yny and fem­i­nism and sex­ism?” CP: “It is tied to in­her­ent, sys­temic, long-serv­ing misog­yny, sex­ism; it’s all a power thing. Some men don’t want to lis­ten to women in con­trol of a room, be­ing pow­er­ful. It should just be ‘funny is funny’ and that’s it, but it’s not.” SK: “Which I think this is why the fes­ti­val cir­cuit has been such a break­through. Fes­ti­val au­di­ences are gen­er­ally ac­cept­ing and they’re the coolest peo­ple on the planet! Fringe fes­ti­vals have been an amaz­ing way for peo­ple to build up a pro­file as co­me­di­ans, be­cause you get to have more space to be your­self. You have an hour to be in a room, peo­ple are pay­ing to see you, so you can lit­er­ally do what­ever you want with that hour. I think that’s why it’s so ex­cit­ing see­ing th­ese women com­ing through, be­cause there are all th­ese voices do­ing well, they’re sell­ing re­ally well, they’re win­ning tonnes of awards. That’s why when peo­ple say we’re not funny you go: ‘Well, that’s not a fact.’” CP: “But also, as much as I’d love peo­ple in the world to be­lieve that women are just as funny as men, I strug­gle with it be­ing a woman’s job to change this. I don’t know whether you’ve had this, Sarah, but I’ve had women come up after a gig and say: ‘I don’t like women co­me­di­ans, but I like you’. I just feel like: ‘Oh great, do I carry a list and tick some­one off when I’ve turned some­one around?’” ST: “You are both very suc­cess­ful: Celia, you’ve done dra­matic act­ing and won an AACTA award last year for The Beau­ti­ful Lie – con­grat­u­la­tions! And Sarah you’re do­ing so well in Lon­don and are now also one of the faces of Ge­org Jensen’s new ‘You Can Never Be Too Much You’ cam­paign. How do you balance it all and how im­por­tant is it to find other projects that work for you?” SK: “The Ge­org Jensen thing only took me a morn­ing, so I can balance that well. It’s such a cool con­cept; I mean, when I read the pitch, in the rest of the cam­paign there was the Bri­tish heavy­weight cham­pion boxer and Dan­ish film di­rec­tor Su­sanne Bier, and I re­mem­ber think­ing: ‘Wow, I’ve seen some of your movies!’ I felt like I was rid­ing on th­ese peo­ple’s coat-tails slightly.” ST: “How do you balance other parts of your life with work?” SK: “I think just hav­ing any spare time I have to use it as ef­fec­tively as I can. I have to grab any mo­ment when I’m not be­ing re­quired to be a par­ent and use it ef­fec­tively, and that’s re­ally hard for me! I’m a pro­cras­ti­na­tor and I’m lazy, so I’ve had to fight my nat­u­ral in­cli­na­tion to just sit on a couch and smash a box set or it’s re­ally hard for me to do any­thing.” CP: “It’s a com­bi­na­tion of hav­ing to say no and say yes to ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing and any­thing, ter­ri­fied that ev­ery job will be the last job and just be­ing re­ally sin­gle and alone. I’ve re­ally been able to balance things, be­cause it’s just been work.” SK: “You’ve just de­scribed my heaven!” CP: “But for me the balance is that I need va­ri­ety. I was just do­ing stand-up at nights and then my days were wasted days so I love get­ting an act­ing job that I can do in the day. If I have some­where to be at 10am, I’m like: ‘Check me out in the real world, peo­ple!’ I’ve got to work on my per­sonal life a bit more; I re­ally should have more friends, but, you know, no re­grets!” SK: “I do agree though, there is hor­ror when your diary isn’t full. I re­mem­ber see­ing a doc­u­men­tary about Joan Rivers and she was in her 80s go­ing: ‘What’s hap­pen­ing in Septem­ber? Why is Septem­ber empty?’ I feel like even when I’m 90 and I’m com­pletely de­mented I will still be pan­ick­ing.” CP: “Also, I like be­ing needed.” ST: “So will you still be do­ing stand-up when you’re in your 70s, like Joan Rivers?” CP: “I’ll def­i­nitely still be do­ing com­edy. But in what form I don’t know.” SK: “Tour­ing would be the most de­press­ing thing in the world. I’ve never been so lonely and de­pressed as when I’ve been tour­ing. Hav­ing said that, I do kind of agree … I know I’ve been quot­ing dead show­biz peo­ple, but peo­ple like Debbie Reynolds said: ‘You’ve got have your live act to take out on the road.’ I think in a sense it is our bread and but­ter.” CP: “There’s noth­ing as well, just noth­ing. No props, just you.” SK: “Yes, and in a sense it is like a trade that we have – it’s our hair­dress­ing or our plumb­ing – the trade that we can take out and earn some cash from, be­cause TV gigs do inevitably come to an end. I think it also keeps you sharp. There’s some­thing about the de­mand of a live per­for­mance that keeps you clued in to what’s hap­pen­ing in the world and you see young per­form­ers com­ing through and you can see what’s chang­ing. I think it’s a good way to in a sense keep your­self rel­e­vant.” ST: “It must be an ex­tra­or­di­nary feel­ing, hav­ing noth­ing but the au­di­ence in the palm of your hands, laugh­ing at a joke.” CP: “The re­al­ity of it doesn’t oc­cur to you, well, ac­tu­ally it oc­curs to me when I’m sit­ting in an au­di­ence; you re­alise the scope of what an au­di­ence is and how many in­di­vid­u­als there are.” SK: “That is so true!” CP: “To be able to com­mand them and have them all ex­pe­ri­ence some­thing at the same time with dumb thoughts you’ve had is pretty cool.” SK: “It’s so lovely, as you say, when you’re in the au­di­ence go­ing to see one of your friends do­ing a show. I had this thing when I was sit­ting in this theatre watch­ing all the peo­ple com­ing in and I was think­ing: ‘Ev­ery sin­gle one of th­ese peo­ple is com­ing into this room from a sep­a­rate day and a sep­a­rate ex­pe­ri­ence and a sep­a­rate so­cioe­co­nomic level, some of them caught the train, some of them would have driven, some of them are mega fans, some peo­ple are re­ally drunk …’ And then he comes out and paints pic­tures in peo­ple’s minds with his words and they’re laugh­ing and the whole thing feels like this mir­a­cle. The joy of it nearly over­whelmed me, I al­most cried!” ST: “Is there any­thing too taboo for you to joke about?” CP: “I don’t re­ally do any­thing like pol­i­tics or any­thing risky. My jokes are about me and it’s al­ways been that way. When the joke is about me I can’t be ac­cused of steal­ing and there’s no chance that some­one could come up and ac­cuse me. Se­condly, it’s not up­set­ting any­one, be­cause I’m the joke.” SK: “I don’t think any sub­ject is taboo; it’s how you han­dle the sub­ject. I’ve heard fan­tas­tic jokes on re­ally dif­fi­cult top­ics. I think any dum­b­ass can make a joke about an of­fen­sive topic, but when some­body does a joke on a taboo topic and makes it some­thing that you’ve never thought of be­fore and you’d never come at it from that an­gle I think that’s al­most like the mas­ter­pieces of what we do.”

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