|“Oh, you’re a comedian?” “Ah, Yes.” “Should I know you?” “No.. Not yet that is.” What possessed me to write my first play, complete with songs, and perform it with a musical theatre actress in the country’s (and one of the world’s) largest comedy festivals is beyond me. The truth about being a comedian is that paid gigs at my level are few and far between, the apprenticeship is about 10 years, and I’m a second year. Even after what can conservatively be described as a ‘successful’ comedy festival show, I consider myself an apprentice. And you won’t find a school offering a much better learning curve (i.e. vertical), than Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
Last year I decided I had the perfect idea for a comedy festival show, and I had the perfect performance partner, a smart, talented and beautiful young musical theatre actress and new comic, Jacky Claff. We decided the show, later christened Fran and Roxanne are best friends would be about the ups and downs, the familiarity, the love and the bond of best friendship. I thought it was one of modern society’s most important relationships, yet one about which the least was written. Unsurprisingly, much of the script’s content was taken from personal experience. Like the time I told my best friend I was applying for a job in her industry, and she lost it. I won’t soon forget the night I sent the fledging script to her without thinking, sheepishly explaining that a part of it might roughly be based on us, and settling back in nauseating discomfort to await the reading. An sms arrived hours later, which remains my favourite review to date. “I’ve just read the bit, and my stomach dropped, but it’s ok”.
The show brought its own friendship challenges. Jacky and I are good friends, but we’ve known each other a year, there’s years between us in age, and we brought completely different skills to the show. What I expected from her as a producer made our dynamic different to that of two performers, and at times scarily similar to the relationship between the characters. Separating whether I, Lou felt that way towards my friend and colleague, Jacky, was difficult. Was it just a reflection of how the straight-up sarcastic Fran felt towards the narcissistic diva Roxanne? Or had it nothing to do with the characters, and everything to do with a lack of sleep, stress and working full-time throughout a 15-show season?
There’s nothing quite like being thanked for your performance after a show – genuinely thanked, for making people laugh, for reminding them of good times, for helping them forget the here and now. That’s not a commodity, but it’s what makes this worthwhile. I guess what we set out to do was fly the flag for friendship. And without doubt we put ours on the line in producing this show. Friendships are strong though, if they’re made of the right stuff; much like comedy festival shows.