Stand up comedian Geraldine Hickey has been performing for 17 years. Like many of Australia’s hardworking, long standing (pun intended) comics, she started out as a contestant in RAW comedy, the national open mic competition where new performers present their five best minutes to crowds of thousands. We caught up with Geraldine to talk about facing your fears, having good mates and supporting the next generation of comedians (by hosting RAW, of course).
You were a RAW contestant yourself, 17 years ago! How was that experience, and looking back on it, how did it shape the next 17 years?
How did it shape who I am today?
Man, at the time it was… like I loved it, it was so great.
For me it was the only way that I had to get into comedy, or that’s what I thought at least. I was living in Albury at the time, and drove down to Melbourne for my heat. Growing up in Albury, there wasn’t any live stand up at all. The only stand up that I had seen had been on TV. So I think that put me at a bit of an advantage because I never saw people be nervous up on stage, and I just kind of went ‘well this is how you do it’. Of course I was nervous, but I just didn’t realise how nervous I should’ve been. I walked in, and it was at the Comic’s Lounge, and it was packed, there were hundreds of people there. But I just thought that was normal. These other comics that come through now, they’re so used to doing gigs at these little pubs, and they’re lucky to get an audience of 20 people. I just went in and was like ‘this is how it is’.
Where did you go from there? If you go in expecting to always have an audience of a couple hundred people…
You fall back down to earth very quickly afterwards. I didn’t do a lot of gigs straight after RAW because I just didn’t know how the industry worked. I just went ‘once I do RAW then that’s it, people will just call me’ because I didn’t know. It took me about 12 months to work out that ‘oh this is just the beginning’ and I need to go and ask to do gigs and book gigs in.
I think I became friends with the right people, as in people who had a good work ethic and who really wanted to do comedy. I just surrounded myself with people in the same boat as me, and just kept gigging and got better and better. Well, hopefully.
So that’s people like Celia Pacquola and Kelly Fastuca? Do you still live with those guys?
Oh, I live with Celia, and I’m actually right now, literally in the middle of moving out. The removalists came today. We had our last night together last night, but Celia and Kelly will be living together and I’ve got a place on my own, but we found places that are quite close to each other so we will still be hanging out quite a bit. We try to have dinner together every Sunday night, and we’ve done that for the last couple of years. We call it family dinner.
Building a real comedy family to help support each other.
Yeah absolutely. I don’t think I’d be where I am if I didn’t have people like Celia around me. I mean, talk about work ethic. I come home and she’s constantly working and constantly busy. And you can’t be complacent around that, I just feel like an idiot if I’m not going ‘oh, yeah I’m doing work as well mate, yeah’. It’s helped a lot.
Is that the kind of advice you’d give to this round of RAW contestants?
The advice that I always give to any RAW contestant, because you know they come up asking me afterwards ‘do you have any advice’ and I’m like ‘yeah just do what you were doing, every night for the next five years, you just have to keep getting up.’ Sure, you might be lucky and get a big break in the next year or so, but chances are you’re just going to have to just work and work and work for years. I’m still working – it’s been 17 years since I did RAW. There have been so many good things that have happened in the last 17 years. I don’t look back at my career and think ‘oh it’s taken me so long to get to where I am’ because there’s been small steps along the way where I go ‘I’m doing good!’ It just keeps on going. You just have to keep getting up.
Definitely. You’re the darling of Triple R too, so you’re working in a related industry. Has that influenced your standup at all, doing radio?
It’s funny, I really had to change my creative thinking once I started doing radio. My job is to do all the talk breaks, so when we have a guest it’s like ‘what are we talking about’, that’s my job to come up with. I was so used to coming up with concepts that would take weeks and months of thinking and trying different ways to make it really funny. Whereas once I started doing radio it’s like ‘no, no you gotta think of something now, go!’ Then once you say it, that’s it, you can’t say it again, you have to go onto something else. It took me a while to reconfigure how I approached my writing for stand up. I realised that I can’t talk about what I’ve said on radio again, but I can certainly take what I’ve said on radio and develop that more and have it as part of the stand up show.
Has much of that come across into this year’s show, Plucky?
Yeah a little bit. This year’s show talks about conquering my fears. I actually had the idea first and did it as a talk break just to see if there was something in there, and of course there is, everyone has fears and anxieties.
When you say ‘facing fears’ do you mean like anxiety like public speaking, or doing a RAW heat, or do you mean spiders and phobias?
All of it. I looked at my fears. I was afraid of going to the dentist, so I went to the dentist. And a fear of being naked… so… I don’t get naked in front of the audience, but I went to a Japanese bathhouse where you have to naked.
Also looking at… well, my father was recently diagnosed with dementia. So, dealing with those fears. Most fears, if you face them, they go away, or you can handle them, exposure therapy type thing. Whereas my dad having dementia… the fear is always going to be there. Facing that fear is not going to make that any easier. If anything, it’s going to get worse over time. So I’m exploring that, I guess.
Wow, there’s a whole spectrum of fear and anxiety there.
Exactly. There’s so much there.
Have you ever been afraid on stage?
Every time I get up! Absolutely!
I knew that would be a silly question but I thought ‘oh I’ll just ask anyway’.
The anxiety and the fear is always there, but it’s a lot more manageable now. I am so much more confident on stage now. Harley Breen told me ‘when you’re on stage, you’ve got a strut. You strut. You’re so confident. Not in an arrogant way at all, you just have this air that you know what you’re doing.’ And I’m like ‘yeah well I do!’ I am quite confident, but oh my gosh the anxiety is still there, but nowhere near as bad as it was. For years I would spew before every gig, but thankfully I don’t do that anymore.
Was there a turning point? A show where you realised ‘oh hang on, I’m really good at this’, or was it gradual confidence creep?
I think it was pretty gradual. I did a show a few years ago though, just after I’d come out. That was a huge turning point. I think a good comedian is someone who is essentially themselves on stage. You’ve got to find your own voice. For me, I always thought it was there, but accepting that I was gay, that’s huge part of finding myself and being that person on stage and being confident to being that person on stage. That show… it must’ve been 2012, Turns Out I Do Like Sundried Tomatoes.
That would be a pretty big turning point, to be able to just be fully yourself on stage.
You’re doing Plucky and It’s My Show as part of The Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year.
Yeah! Oh man I’m so excited about It’s My Show. It’s just a show with some mates where you just get to have a bit of fun. The idea came from last year during the festival when I was a bit lonely, I wanted a reason to hang out with my mates. I also wanted platform for people to experiment and have a bit of fun with their comedy that quite often doesn’t come up for certain people. I don’t want it to be obvious, but it’s just women involved in this show. There are no men. You see so many male driven things, like a live podcast, where they’ll only have one woman on. And everyone else gets to have a good time and just muck around, yet often the female comic is there and there’s so much pressure on them to be Funny. Whereas everyone else is there to have a good time. So I just wanted create a platform where we just got to have fun. We’re all funny anyway, I just wanted to have that space where there’s less pressure.
Sounds like a space that’s just a bit more comfortable. It’s not the feature of the show, it’s not a line-up that touts itself as all women either, it’s just how it is.
Yeah. It’s me hosting it, and the regular cast are Isabel Angus as the DJ, Laura Duneman and Kelly Fastuca and Nicolette Minster… They just do whatever they want. They’ll have something planned but I won’t know what it is. It could be a character piece, or a PowerPoint presentation, or some stand up, or a game, or whatever. It’s just fun. I’ll have a reasonably new comic to do five minutes, and a special guest that I have a chat with each night. It’s just your class tonight show, but with only women.
So you’re hosting some of the RAW heats and preliminary finals, and you hosted last year as well.
I host it most years, because oh man I love it. I love it so much. I love watching, especially the first round heats. Just because I love seeing new people just nail it and be really surprised by it. It’s joyous to watch. When you get people who are so nervous and there’s so much doubt, because they don’t know, they’ve never been in front of an audience, they don’t know if they’re going to be funny or not. And then when the audience laughs they go ‘oh, oh my gosh I am funny!’ and it’s amazing to watch.
And also, I love watching the complete opposite of that. When you get the really confident, arrogant guys that have been at a BBQ with all their mates going ‘you’re so funny’, those class clown type of blokes, just such wankers. And then they get up. And they say something horrific thinking that they’re being edgy, and the audience goes ‘nah, not into it’ and you just see everything leave from behind their eyes. They’re like a deer in headlights. Everything that they had planned, their next joke, fucks right off, and they’re just left standing there going ‘oooh, everything I ever thought about myself is wrong’. I love watching that. It is quite rare, but when it happens it is so sweet to watch.
Geraldine Hickey is hosting tonight’s RAW heat at Kindred Studios, Yarraville. Doors open at 7pm, and tickets are available via the RAW website and at the door. For information and tickets to other RAW heats across the country, including State Finals and the Grand Finale on April 15, head to the RAW page of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival website.
Plucky runs from 28 March – 21 April (no shows on Sundays) at 7:30pm at the Imperial Hotel as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets range between $22 – $27. For accessibility information and to book, head to the MICF website.
It’s My Show is on Friday and Saturday nights from 30 March – 21 April at 11pm at the Vic Hotel. Tickets range between $20 – $25. For accessibility information and to book, head to the MICF website.