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New faces and grey hair at the Canberra Comedy Festival

Molly McLaughlin

If you’ve noticed an explosion of hilarious female comedians over the past couple of years, you’re not alone.

Breakthrough shows like Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette and Nakkiah Lui’s Kiki and Kitty have ushered in a new era for the Australian comedy scene, and the Canberra Comedy Festival, which kicks off this week, proves that Canberra is no exception. We spoke to two of Canberra’s rising stars about breaking into comedy, their inspirations and what not to miss at the Festival this year.

Frances McNair has only been doing stand up for less that a year, but she has already made a name for herself as one of Canberra comedy’s most weird and wonderful up and comers. At the Festival she will be performing as part of both Look At Me Now Mum!, alongside Maddy Weeks and Betsy Bailetti (pictured above), and Pilot Season, a sketch comedy show.

“We came up with the title of the show because we were just brainstorming names, and we realised this was not something any of our parents ever thought we would be doing,” Frances laughs. “It’s like ‘Oops, sorry, I’m going to take a gamble in throwing myself into a career that is not steady whatsoever. Love you!’”

Frances got her start as one half of sketch comedy duo Sweaty Pits, and, like many other local comedians, was introduced to the comedy world through the annual RAW Comedy competition.

Frances McNair

“That was the first time I ever had any contact with anyone in the Canberra comedy scene and everyone was super lovely,” she says. “Then I was in Melbourne during the Melbourne Comedy Festival and I saw ACT Like A Lady, which is performed by four female Canberra comedians. It was the first time I’d seen myself properly represented and I realised stand up was something I was allowed to do. I hadn’t really thought about it before, and I just thought it was really cool.”

Her initial foray into stand up, however, was a complete disaster.

“There was an open mic night at Smith’s Alternative, and I got up I forgot everything I was going to say. Someone laughed really loudly after my first joke and it shocked me so much I just forgot everything. I don’t really remember what happened, but I got home and I was like ‘I’m never doing that again, nope, that was terrible.’ But then I went to an open mic at The Front the next week and I got another laugh and I was hooked.”

Since then, she has developed a unique voice, influenced by absurdist comedians like Aunty Donna, Demi Lardner and Tom Walker.

“When I started doing stand up it was mostly social issues and very traditional, and I felt like I was pretending. It was like, ‘Yep, I’m doing stand up, but I’m not enjoying this 100%.’ Then I saw Demi Lardner, who has this bizarre and crazy way of presenting her stuff and it kind of gave me permission to be weird in my solo act. Now I’ve started incorporating stories into it and that’s where I feel a big connection.”

Chris Ryan, an established regular on the Canberra comedy circuit, also got her start through RAW Comedy, six years ago. At the Festival this year, she will be performing a show called Grey Matter that attempts to reconcile her ageing appearance with her feelings of inner immaturity.

“Going grey should be a sign you’re getting wise and mature, but I don’t feel how I look is adding up to who I am,” Chris explains. “I still feel like a teenager inside, I’m quite judgemental and impatient and not that smart, so it’s all about not living up to where you should be at in life by now.”

Chris is one of the few mums doing comedy in Canberra, but she believes that makes her shows relatable for her audience.

“I’m sort of telling the stories that I think a lot of women my age would relate to: kids, work, partners, family, in-laws, that kind of stuff,” she says. “It is funny, and you’ve got to laugh at it because life’s quite ridiculous when you think about it. I encourage people to not take it all so seriously.”

Chris Ryan

Although she has performed in Sydney, Melbourne and regional towns, Chris emphasised the importance of the Canberra Comedy Festival to herself and other Canberra comedians, as well as local audiences.

“For many local comics, the Festival is the only way you’re going to get an hour-long show because the organisers know you and they know what you can do. It really is a way for local comics to step up to the national level. It’s incredible to have such talent in one place for a short amount of time, you can actually binge watch all of your favourites live instead of online or on the telly.”

She suggests choosing a headline act and also a local name to support, and recommends audiences check out Tom Gibson, Luke Heggie, Becky Lucas and Urzila Carson. Frances agrees, recommending the ACT Like A Lady show and Anthony Tomic in particular.

“You should definitely go and see the big names because they’re amazing,” says Frances. “But you get surprised when you see people that you could bump into in the supermarket on the stage and they make you wet your pants laughing. And then you can totally say ‘I saw them when they were just in Canberra’.”

For tickets and the full program, check out the website. The Canberra Comedy Festival runs until March 25.

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Molly McLaughlin

Molly McLaughlin is new to Canberra and is attempting to prove to her friends that the capital city can be cool. This mostly involves frequently going out for brunch and then posting about it on social media, along with trekking up hills and around art galleries. She is half way through her uni degree but spends most of her time reading, writing and planning her next adventure. More about the Author

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