First published on 27 Apr 2012. Updated on 7 May 2012.
She’s been nominated for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s highest honour – the Barry – so is Felicity Ward a bit too high and mighty for us these days?
I do feel particularly honoured to speak to you, you know, now that you’re a Barry-nominated superstar…
I am on a time limit here, Andrew. I’m not the same person that I was two days ago, you know, before I had this nomination. Two days ago I was not far away from going back to Woolies and working as a checkout chick: now you’re lucky I’ve got the time to speak with you, quite frankly. [laughs] I really hope that sarcasm translates to the page when you write this.
So this year you’ve had the nomination, your big screen success [in Any Questions for Ben] – it seems like the last little while has been a pretty sweet time to be Felicity Ward.
Yeah, it’s been a fucking great year, I’m not going to lie. Like there’s obviously been things that haven’t been that great that happened, you know, sort of real things that happened. But as far as being a comedian, it’s good. And what’s great is that it didn’t start out like that.
At the beginning of the year we had like the promo tour for the film and then the film happened, but because I was so focused on trying to finish the show that I’m now performing I had no time to get swept up in it or get too excited about it – or get an ego about it. I was like [mock aggressively], “yeah, this is great that I have a red carpet, but I’ve got a show to write; I’ve got a fucking closer to finish, okay? So I’ve got to do these photos and then I’ve got to go back to my hotel room and cry and write jokes. Okay?”
Is that the trick, to cry first to get to the funny?
No, but that did actually happen one day while I was doing the film. I was so tired because we were having things every night and we were getting up doing radio stuff every morning, and one day I was in Sydney – I think it was before the premiere maybe? – And I had about four hours so I went back to my room and I was writing. And it was miserable outside, and I’m writing away and then this thought came through my head: “it’s just not funny enough.” And then I started crying and then I was just writing jokes crying, and then I started laughing at myself, crying, writing jokes. I’m like, “you are a joke of a human being, really. This is not how you do comedy; you don’t do comedy crying. That’s not the best way to do it.” [laughs]
But that’s powerful – it suggests that you’re dragging something from the soul.
I don’t think it was like that: even though there is some dragging things from the soul in the show, this was just like “I’m tired. I want a full meal,” that kind of stuff.
Are you trying to tell me that wanting a full meal is not dragging something from the soul?
True: that is as primal as it gets. And while we speak about this, I’m pulling half a sandwich out of a bag. I hope you don’t mind.
Just look at the way your life has changed. I mean, here you are: Barry nominated, eating a sandwich, living the life of Riley…
[chewing] Mhm. And it’s a good sandwich too.
What manner of sandwich is it?
Turkey and lettuce and cheese and cranberry sauce, and avocado.
See? You’re commanding the entire animal/vegetable kingdom.
That’s right. Nature is at my beck and call, Andrew: at my beck and call.
So this show has been a long time coming?
It’s been sitting in my pocket for six years. There’s a hint of some of these ideas in previous shows but this was the one that I went, “right, I’m going to do this balls out. I’m going to go in and if I fail, then I failed spectacularly.” In the writing I got a script editor on so that the narrative arc in the story structure was right and was strong, ‘cause that’s not something that I’m naturally good at.
Where did it come from? I mean, your show last year was very much a series of bit strung together, whereas this one is clearly more of a start-to-finish narrative…
The last one was a lot of bits of stand up put together, and that was completely intentional. I don’t think that Daniel Kitson is personally responsible [for the new show], however, Daniel Kitson is an incredible stand up. Now, many years ago, probably even six years ago, he came to Melbourne and he infused a lot of people’s ideas about what shows should be, and having an emotional tang to it. And then for years afterwards I would see shows that were more sentimental than they were funny and I was like, “I never want to be that. I never, ever, ever want to be that.“ You know, comedy show: it has to be funny.
That's a pretty good rule of thumb, generally.
And not to say that there shouldn’t be emotional moments: like Celia Pacquola writes hilarious shows and they have these moments in it that you go, “ooooohhhhhh!”, and of course it’s the same with Kitson as well. And so my aim was that if I’m going to go down this path, I have to work so hard at making this funny. ‘Cause the pathos of the story and the gravitas is already there; so my job is just to make it as laugh out loud funny as possible. And you only have an hour, you know? So if you’re setting something up, the joke had better have been worth taking that two minutes.
So despite being about love and loss and so forth, the show is funny?
It’s really funny. It’s really, really funny. I’ve never been happier with a show than this one. Every night I love performing it; the audiences have never received a show of mine consistently. I’ve never felt as good about performing as I do during this show. I just love it; I’m having the time of my life. And I’m not joking, although I do really hope that irony translates in the rest of this article.
It’s OK: there’s going to be a lot of italics.
Oh, I hope so.