freudian nip

For this sydney comedy duo, current events are usually a laughing matter.


Jenna Owen and Victoria Zerbst of Freudian Nip talk a lot about making sure your actions line up with your values. The comedy duo, who spend time churning out satirical sketches for SBS’S The Feed – and probably your social media scroll, too – plan on making work that matters to them and their communitie­s for a long time to come. In this, they’ve found a surprising inspiratio­n: Shannon Noll.

The pair met the muso last year filming You’re a Vision, their bonkers Eurovision mockumenta­ry. While shooting at his house, they asked how his career was going. “He was like, ‘Yeah, I’m always working. I’m so lucky. I get to tour around regional Australia and there’s audiences of a couple hundred and people love the music,’” Jenna says. “He goes, ‘I get to do that whenever I want. And it’s the dream – what could be better?’ I just remember being so inspired by that. He’s more than a meme, Shannon Noll! Those are his values – he gets to do what he loves. He gets to make people happy.”

We’ll have to wait a while to see if Victoria and Jenna achieve Noll-like career longevity. They already have a pretty epic origin story, though. The two met at Sydney Uni, and might have been destined to connect, Victoria recalls: “I was living at the time with Jenna's best friend from high school, and I had a couple of friends who knew Jenna from Wollongong. I remember one of them told me, ‘You and Jenna will either be best friends or worst enemies.’ And we were best friends.”

For the record, Jenna is equally smitten with her comedy partner. “As corny as it sounds, neither of us have sisters,” she says. “It’s like we’ve filled that hole with each other.”

Back when this meet-cute happened, the university’s comedy scene was pretty blokey, often sending all-male shows to the Sydney Comedy Festival. Almost on a dare (and as a bit of a middle finger to the patriarchy), Jenna and Victoria created an all-female festival show – that kept on selling out. In and around this, Freudian Nip came into being. Now, you can see them weekly on SBS taking on everything from the destructio­n of Indigenous heritage sites to the phenomenon of shit boyfriends.

“Bringing satire to a younger demographi­c is our big, overarchin­g MO for what we do,” Jenna says. Which is why you might have seen them acting out the Liberal leadership spill as private-school girls, rebranding Bill Shorten as “Chloe Shorten’s husband” during last year’s federal election, or re-enacting a socially distanced rom-com for a skit called “Love in the Time of Coronaviru­s”. That last sketch is their biggest hit yet, racking up 30 million views worldwide, bringing the LOLS to China, Iran, Italy and beyond.

It was also a test of something Jenna and Victoria identify as a big deal in satire: their ability to read the room. “What do people want to laugh about and when? Normally I think we’re quite good at reading the room,” Jenna says. “Knowing that people don’t want to laugh about stuff yet. Or they do want to laugh about it, but in a very specific way. With corona, that was changing so drasticall­y every day… We had to kind of map the mood of the country.”

Sometimes, Jenna says, they might get into a topic and decide that comedy won’t help at all. “You think, this is not a sketch. This is an explainer or documentar­y. We can’t sum up the complexiti­es of all the different sides of this issue with two winks and a silly voice.” It means staying engaged with the news cycle, even when the world is on fire – something Jenna admits to struggling with. By contrast, Victoria is all in: “I love my phone! I love seeing what’s going on. I’m very much addicted to the news and what’s happening.

“I’d always come to my therapist with problems about the world and about injustice, and a lot of that was just a place to put anxiety. The biggest thing I’ve learnt is being able to engage with the news while also knowing what I can and can’t control. And if you feel you can do small things about the things you can control, it makes it a lot easier to engage.”

Victoria points to Jenna’s volunteeri­ng work and fundraisin­g for domestic violence charities as some ways they’ve found to engage, taking small actions against the avalanche of gross that is the 2020 news cycle. She also calls their video sketches “small acts of resistance”, which hopefully makes her therapist proud. Right now, Freudian Nip is doing two a week: a reactive skit they quickly write, shoot and edit on what they call “One-hour Wednesdays”, and another piece, usually involving the wider SBS comedy team, that’s conceived and pitched on a Wednesday, written and produced on a Thursday, and shot on a Friday.

Budgets are small. They do their own hair and make-up, and mostly just wear their own clothes. Plus – despite what an unnerving amount of people believe – they write all their own skits. “That is 100 per cent the most insulting thing,” Jenna says. “Also, to look at our comedy and just go, do you really think a man could have written this?”

The production grind can be brutal, Jenna says, but it’s strengthen­ing their comedy chops – and their collaborat­ive brain-twinning powers. “Every week feels like you've done a bit of a slog and you feel quite fried by the weekend. But I think, honestly, our brains and our ability to work together have gotten so much better. We can do things quite quickly now.” And Victoria agrees: “When we’re sitting next to each other with our computer screens and Google Docs open, a lot of the time it just feels like it flows.”

For Victoria, who admits to being “quite conflict-averse”, some of the big, early lessons were about communicat­ion: how to advocate for herself and support her comedy partner while ensuring their output was funny as hell. At one point, they even had a Google Doc titled “Conflict” where they’d go and work out their issues. One would write an essay on their frustratio­ns; the other would read through and comment, resolving problems as they went. “It sounds really Type A and kind of funny,” Jenna says. “But the thing about

Google Docs that’s so beautiful is that you just delete it after. When it's resolved, you resolve it.”

The pair talk a lot about what they’ve learnt from each other, and how those lessons have helped them navigate other friendship­s, and even romantic relationsh­ips. As if the two comedians – who both identify as queer – are working out their issues on each other before taking their relationsh­ip skills to a wider audience. One thing Jenna has found in their partnershi­p is commitment. “When things are really, really hard, and you're having conflicts and bad weeks, there’s a fundamenta­l understand­ing that you’re both going to be there and in it,” she says. “You’re in it for the long haul, and you’re going to make it work.”

Beyond the SBS stuff we see on screen, Jenna and Victoria collaborat­e more widely, performing live shows with The Chaser and producing the occasional stage revue (including the lovingly titled “Freudian Nip School of Performing Arts Annual Showcase Evening”). They also work separately on acting projects, music and docos. They accept invitation­s to perform solo, as well as together. Back in the day, that might have been the source of some Google Doc therapy, since they work in an “industry that pits women against each other”, as Jenna says. These days, it’s an opportunit­y to play and connect with even more communitie­s and create even more laughs.

So, what’s the end game? There’s an ambition to produce their own long-form sketch show (and some wistful chat about a Kath & Kimtype sitcom), but ultimately, it’s much simpler than that. “Be friends forever!” Victoria says. “We write our values down. Like, as a sketch team. I think success for us would be living with those values and putting them first. The most important thing is having autonomy over the stuff we make. Even if that means a smaller, more humble career. Knowing we’ve been loyal to each other, loyal to our community and we’ve made stuff that we feel matters.”

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