Mandy Nolan, our 2018 entertainer of the year
MEETING Mandy Nolan is always a highlight of my day.
You never know what she's going to say next, on or off stage, and it may be hilarious or outrageous, but it will always come from a place of kindness, unless she is talking about an ex-lover or someone despicable. Of course.
She's hard to miss, at 6'1" she just known people will react to her, and react they do.
We sat for a chat with this queen of punchlines and, as usual, Ms Nolan did not disappoint.
What did you want to be when you left school?
I was going to be a journalist and a model. When I left school I went to university and studied journalism, I was in a modelling agency and doing a bit of catalogue work. I think I wanted to be beautiful and smart - I remember not having a clue what I wanted, I just really wanted to please people around me.
Then I came across feminism and I discovered that conventional ideals around being beautiful was a construct used to oppress women by making them objects. I joined a feminist theatre troupe on campus, took acid and failed my last exam second semester for Journalism. The rest is history. Ironically I got heavily criticised by my lecturers for being too opinionated, they said 'that will never run'. They didn't forsee the impact of social media and how there now is a role for writers like myself with strong polarising opinions!
When did you realise you could pay the bills and be a full-time comedian?
I was 28. I had just had a baby and we were living in a shed. The baby slept in a bassinet we scavenged from outside Vinnies. We lived off pizza we bought with my cheque book from Legend Pizza. I decided that if I was going to make a go of it I'd at least have to make enough money to cover the cheques. Money has never motivated me. I can live with nothing. It's a powerful feeling to know that you can survive literally on your wits!
How many regular gigs do you run at the moment?
I have been booking The Big Gig at the Ballina RSL for over 11 years now. It's testament to the club who have really got behind the whole concept.
When you have venues that really support what you do its impossible for it not to be a success. I am so fortunate that I have been able to partner with venues who are willing to take a risk and stick it out for the long haul to make it work.
There was a time with the Big Gig early in the piece where our numbers dropped off but we stuck it out and we came back with a vengeance! I also run Country Club Comedy at Ocean Shores, it's the first Tuesday of the month. I have run comedy nights in Byron at the Services Club for well over a decade- its such a great venue and the staff are awesome, as with the Mullum Ex-Services, another venue I book comedy into.
I have a long-standing open mic comedy at the Courthouse Hotel in Mullumbimby to help nurture the talents of new comics. Kingy Comedy is the free monthly comedy night at Kingscliff Bowling Club, it's been for about five years there, it packs out as well.
I have also just started booking comedy with the Lennox Bowlo and the Bangalow Bowlo. I love our clubs.
I think they offer the perfect opportunity for comedy. They usually have a charter which is about engaging community and they're really keen to be able to offer regular free shows.
It's been really important for me as a comedian who choses to live regionally to build a thriving comedy scene here. Now I have ex comedy students running their own rooms. There was nothing happening in the comedy scene when I moved here 25 years ago so I feel really satisfied that my passion has inspired other people to get involved.
You also write books, is there a new one coming soon?
Actually I have a work of fiction that I'm tossing around at the moment. I've written three memoirs and one collaborative memoir styled book with Ellen (Briggs) and I'd like to try something different. Ellen and I are also writing a web series for next year and we're at the beginning of creating a podcast. I can't tell you what it is yet but like us on Facebook and you'll know as soon as it happens!
Tell me something about yourself that is not a joke but nobody knows about you.
I have an indigenous sister, Shirley, a year younger than me and a sister about 14 years younger who was adopted from Sri Lanka when she was two weeks old. My younger sister came along when I was quite a bit older. But Shirley was there from the beginning.
Growing up in the South Burnett in an area prone to extreme racism with indigenous family really opened my eyes to how we treat our first nations.
I remember being about 6 and I used to get teased at school for having a black sister.
So one day I walked home on the opposite side of the road from Shirley. She cried all the way and kept calling me over but I wouldn't walk with her. I feel such shame about that. I know I was a kid, but that's where that bullshit starts. I still feel sick inside about that day.
My grandmother was at home, she found out what I'd done to Shirley and she gave me a hiding that I'll never forget. "Family is family" she said. I don't agree with hitting children but I think I deserved it and the message stuck with me through life.
I never walked on the opposite side again, and I never will. A little black girl and a skinny old white woman taught me that.
The success of Women Like Us
Hit comedy show Women Like Us started some years ago as a way for Mandy Nolan and Ellen Briggs to vent their frustration as a couple of female comedians.
Former comedy student turned into fully fleshed peer, Ellen Briggs has travelled the country with Mandy Nolan in a show that has been to every small hall and stage they have been able to book in the country, mostly to sold-out shows.
"We are up to about 105 shows now," Nolan said.
"We have some local shows over the Christmas season: at the Byron Services Club on Monday, January 14, and Pottsville Community Hall on January 19.
"The show was just some- thing we put together on an intuition that there was a market for a show that had such a strong women's perspective.
"It's very funny. You certainly don't have to be a woman to enjoy it, but it turns everything on its head in that the audience steps into a female framework."
Nolan said audiences loved their show because it was a regional female take on normal life.
"Men's perspectives, particularly white straight men, have always been seen as universal and I think it's an exciting time in comedy, because the rest of us who have been pushed to the margins are finally being heard," she said.
"People are enjoying our comedy and what we have to say because they want to hear something different, especially female audiences.
"And, yes, our feel is regional. Ellen and I love living in Mullumbimby and we feel that there are enough comics with a city perspective. Our regional audiences really appreciate that we totally get what it means to live in a small town and our jokes are framed by that. I think in the end though, if it's funny, it's funny, it doesn't matter where you live."