One of my favourite times of year is right around the corner. Melbourne International Comedy Festival (MICF) treats us to a smorgasbord of international comedy talent, and perhaps most importantly, the return of some of our best comedians from their tours overseas. One of Australia’s most renowned comedians is making the long haul flight back home, and I spoke to her on a hazy Saturday morning (4:30pm Kansas time) while she was elbow deep in post-it notes.
When I phoned Felicity she was sitting square in the heart of suburban Kansas. It’s not the first time she’s been there: she recounts an amusing story about being a camp counsellor there as a teen, complete with “pine trees, log cabins…and when we got off the bus, there were already camp counsellors there clapping…and they had made up a song for us.” There are no camp counsellers this time, but the people are still “kind and mid-Western,” even if the scenery isn’t always great. Kansas as a place is best described using fairly bland adjectives because hey, it’s a fairly bland place. “Flat, dry, and sparse” stretches are intermittently interrupted by sprawling shopping centres and giant pizza chain stores that just rest, guarded by moats of car parking and highway.
On her second night in Kansas, Ward plays to a club that has a $10 flat drinks charge so patrons load up with jugs of beer all for themselves and are treated to some of Australia’s best exported comedy. This night sees one of the sights that infuriates/disappoints/confounds comedians more than any other: smartphones. The modern problem of audience members lighting up their faces with their enormous luminescent smartphones while the show is in progress arises, in particular an otherwise unremarkable woman sitting with her husband in the front row, texting on her phone at the very beginning of the performance. Ward has a much more moderate and empathetic response to dealing with texters than many other comedians, and she asks the woman who she’s texting. “I don’t like to be mean,” she tells me, and it’s lucky she doesn’t, because it turns out that the lady was texting her kids. “How many kids have you got?” Ward asks.
The answer? “Well, two of them we just adopted because my brother died, and then the other three are ours.”
“I didn’t say it, but fuck me, that’s a tough way to start a comedy routine.”
Unfortunately, her gentle approach doesn’t seem to gain her any respect, and they proceeded to get “shitfaced” and “were kind of dicks for the rest of the night.”
Moving on from that grim experience, I ask her to read a joke from one of the palm cards floating around the room, and it’s unusually topical for her: Woody Allen. While she tells me it probably won’t go in the show, on the phone, she has a bit of a go at what she sees as a recent trend towards a permissive support of high profile men who have been accused of paedophilia. This is embodied by friends of hers posting articles that defend the accused with little regard for the potential victims along with vaguely favourable, but notionally uncommitted text like ‘this is interesting’ or ‘there’s two sides to every story’. Ward draws out the hypocrisy of individuals supporting accused paedophiles when they’re people of significant repute who’re responsible for famous artistic works. This insight into Ward’s new show demonstrates that she is unafraid of covering complex topics and can do so with effortless aplomb.
She goes on to address those that do tackle politics in comedy: “There are so many people that are really good at it. I’d say in the past, I have been not informed enough to be really political, and I would dare say that I’m somewhat in that category. But there are things that I’ve become so sick of saying: you know what Felicity, don’t have an opinion about it, you’ll just get upset. I’ve got so sick of being not upset that I’m like, fuck it, it’s probably time to say something.” One of the more political issues she has commented on in her stand-up is a bit about asylum seekers, which she tested just before she left the UK and will be making an appearance in her MICF show this year, The Iceberg.
Shortly afterward the MICF, Ward departs for South Africa to drop some comedy, after she gets back from safari, of course. South Africa is a huge market (51 million people!) with a unique comedy culture and even attempting to break in speaks volumes about Ward’s courage and audacity, not to mention her comedic talent. She’s excited to test out her comedy chops there, as the majority of her material is “specifically Australian,” and written specifically for Australia and the UK.
Check out her new show, The Iceberg, at the MICF: her page is here at the Comedy Festival website. My one request is you wait until after the show to text any recently acquired orphans.