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Five minutes with Sarah Kendall

Jessica Schumann

The Canberra Comedy Festival is just around the corner with its Opening Gala Night set to kick off the five-day festivities next Tuesday at the Canberra Theatre Centre. Armed with 60 shows and the world best comedians, it’s the biggest festival yet full of madness, laughter and belly aching laughs. I caught up with Aussie funny girl and fellow redhead, Sarah Kendall, ahead of her Canberra show on Saturday 21 March.

The Australian-born comedian now finds herself residing under the grey skies of the UK and is very much looking forward to the warmth of the nation’s capital (yes, folks you read right!). Over a glass of wine (well cup of tea for me, after all it was 10.30am here in Australia) and a scratchy phone line, Sarah filled me on her latest work and what Canberra can expect from her new show.

Jessica: What have you been working on lately?

Sarah: Hmmm, what I have been working on…My brand new show A Day in October. It’s about about a boy I went to school with, who drowned and was dead for 11 seconds. It’s about how it changed his life and mine, and the ripple effects an event like that can have. You can make any story sad or any story funny. In life, there’s a mixture of both. The show is supposed to be darkly comic.

As a natural redhead, were you the subject of teasing throughout your younger years?

Yes, I thought I endured enough teasing then but even at 38 years old, you still come across people who still make fun of you for being different. I had some 50 year old fat, bald guy turn around and call me a ‘Ginger’ just recently and I thought to myself ‘Really, people still do that?’. For comedians, anything that makes you different we use as our comic voice. That’s why we stand on stage and talk into a microphone. If there is something that makes you different — be it the colour of your skin, hair colour, piercings, haircut, sexual orientation — anything that makes you unique is where your voice comes from. Being a redhead makes me feel differently and think differently; it’s uncomfortable but it’s also about owning it. If you own it, that’s f***ing great. But when you’re called a name or teased abusively, then it’s a different story.

Did you ever think you would win awards for being funny as a career?

I didn’t know where I was going to end up with it. I love a good story, whether in a book, a film or being told live by a performer — I really get excited. If I’m excited then I know people will be too when I tell the story. If you don’t feel that then the audience won’t feel it either. There is something primordial about it…like cavemen telling stories around the fire.

What’s the secret to creating new material? Do you ever test it out on anyone before the show?

I tend to do a little of both. I go to Stand Up clubs, run in jokes and then I also tend to work on a story and write the story. Pegging jokes into the story afterwards is a lot easier but I’m more concerned with getting the story right and then the jokes.

Last year you wrote a piece for The Guardian about a heckle that was actually a sexual violence threat and you used it as material for a show. How do you find the balance in trying to make a statement in a comedic setting about something so serious?

I think the difference is knowing what is off-limits to you. I’m angry at myself for telling the story the way that I did in my show 12 years ago. The tone I took was that I took it like a good sport, but in hindsight, reality and 12 years later, it was far more serious. I wasn’t serious about it then and how it really made me feel which was frightened. I just made it into a story…into an anecdote which is why I then wrote that piece for The Guardian.

But I think if you’re a decent person and an intelligent person you can make the judgement call about what you will and won’t talk about. You see serious topics spoken about with stupidity, but it’s how you talk about it, how you put it up for discussion. It’s about using your brain and being respectful.

For any reader not familiar with the material, I wrote the piece for The Guardian because I take what happened to me extremely seriously — I’m a woman and I’m mother to a daughter. It’s about saying this isn’t funny; it’s not a joke and it’s not a laughing matter. I wrote it because I never mentioned in the show how frightened I actually was.

Your show Get Up, Stand Up took a romp through the sexualisation of mainstream culture and the erosion of feminism. What does feminism mean to you?

No brainer, civil liberties. It’s all the things that you think you are born with rights too but then as you get older you realise it’s not like that — it’s not equal. It’s about equality. I find it disturbing that there is a generation that don’t want to be associated with feminism because they don’t understand and I still scratch my head as to how people find it objectionable. I mean we’ve even got the #meninism floating around out there.

With International Women’s Day just yesterday, the conversation about feminism is sure to be hot topic. Do you think feminism is still alive and kicking? YES! I’m so excited and buoyed up by the progress we have made especially in comedy. When I started doing festivals there weren’t that many females. We were a small band of woman, a band that knit together in a hostile environment. I look around me now at amazing talent coming through. There are women that are so interesting with these great unique voices. It’s still tough but much better than it was 15 years ago. I flush with pride when I see the next generation of women coming through — they are women I’m proud to work with.

Cliché I know, but are there any women you would like to collaborate with or who you finding inspiring?

Inspirational women? That’s everyone. I get so much from different ages and different types of women. There are other comedians that are mums and we drink far too much together. We cry about how tired we are, balancing work with kids. And then there are the young ones and I just love the freshness in their approach — pure comedic voices that haven’t been tampered with or had the edges knocked off them.

I was so sad when I found out that Joan Rivers had died. She was an inspiration. I remember listening to a speech she gave about a terrible stage in her career, for love or money. Her husband told her she could turn it around. I take comfort knowing that there are older women out there who have done the same battles and so there is much strengthen to be gained from that. To see someone who has gone before you and done it, you know you can work your way out of anything.

What can Canberrans expect from your show?

Canberrans can expect a funny, really great story. Wow, I sound like such a wanker. I love telling stories. I think if people are into a longer story in their comedy then my show is the kind of show they should come and see.

Giveaway: win one of two limited edition HerCanberra Comedy Festival hats!

Thanks to the Canberra Comedy Festival, we’ve got two limited edition HerCanberra Comedy Festival hats to giveaway. To enter simply tell us which comedian you’ve got tickets to see at this year’s festival. Email your answer to [email protected] with your contact details and you could win! Competition closes Saturday 14 March at 5pm. Winners will be notified by email on Monday 16 March.

The essentials 

What: Sarah Kendall’s A Day in October
When: 6pm and 7.15pm Saturday 21 March
Where: The Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre
How much: $25 per person
Tickets: Online via Canberra Ticketing
Web: canberracomedyfestival.com.au

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Jessica Schumann

A 'rambling ranga' at heart, Jessica Schumann is a bubbly, creative social thinker who thrives on words, social media and an innate knack for sharing stories. When she finds the time to write, Jessica seeks out the beauty in change and the essence of human condition. Varied and diverse in nature, her writing delves into the enviable world of people, travel, food and culture. When you can't find her in a nook writing, just follow your nose and you’ll soon find Jessica indulging in her other passion – cooking – or curled up on the couch with a good book in hand. You can find her over at ramblingranga.com.au. More about the Author

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