upfront and personal with geraldine quinn
Aisling Philippa discusses ‘Upfront’, the all-female lineup at The Melbourne International Comedy Festival, with host Geraldine Quinn.
I’m gonna ask the really obvious question: explain Upfront to someone who’s never heard of it.
I think the standard reply when people look puzzled when I say ‘Upfront’ is, ‘It’s the all-female-lineup flagship event’ during the Comedy Festival. Because it is one of the biggest gigs that they put on.
I noticed a few big names in the program.
It’s really good, obviously.
So, with that, is Upfront televised, or is it more exclusive?
It isn’t, actually. It isn’t televised. I think it has been filmed in the past, but I’m not actually the best to ask about that because the last couple of years I’ve been lucky enough to host it.
I’ve noticed that with the comedy festival that there’s a lot of stuff tends to happen that I don’t realise – I’ve only just moved to Melbourne – so coming into Melbourne I’ve realised that the Comedy Festival is a lot bigger than what I thought it was.
It’s one of the biggest comedy festivals in the world. And they’ve just started branching out to India and other subcontinental countries. It’s huge. But, that’s not what we’re here for.
True. You brought it up before – you have a history with the Comedy Festival, and Upfront, and I was wondering if you could give us an overview of what that looks like.
I think this is my fourth year [hosting Upfront]. Seven years ago I’d pitched to one of the associate directors to do a band at the festival, which was Spandex Ballet. I was asked three or four years into doing that gig, ‘Hey, can you host Upfront’? And very thankfully and generously, they’ve asked me back, and it’s just getting better every year. Have you ever been to the event before?
I haven’t! Because I’ve been living up north, this is definitely going to be my year to check out all of the Comedy Festival stuff.
I’ll tell you a story. Last year or the year before, Adrienne Truscott was on. She’s one half of the Wau Wau Sisters and she did ‘Asking for it’, one-lady show about rape. She did the whole thing without her pants on. It was incredible … and it was her first stand-up show. There’s a rather performance art element for her. She came onstage, and she did this piece where she pretended to be Gwenyth Paltrow. And she’s wearing an apron and no-one in this enormous room can see, except the band, that she was completely nude underneath.
And she had ‘I’m starving’ written on her back. And she turned around at one point, and I don’t know how well they can see in that huge room that she had ‘I’m starving’ written on her. And we could see as soon as she had walked out, and we couldn’t laugh too hard!
I’m guessing you really had to contain yourselves on the sidelines.
I’ve got a loud laugh that’s developed from twenty, twenty-five years watching my friends do standup. I’m vocally supportive.
What goes through your head when you’re “Upfront” of the audience?
I think it’s important for us to be engaged with what’s happening on the stage, because the audience can see us reacting. And it’s a completely honest reaction. But there is also a little bit of my brain literally watching the clock because of the tight turnaround – and also eyeing off my script a little bit so I don’t say the wrong person’s name, get the time right, double check that they’re still on.
What’s the most rewarding thing for you from performing at Upfront?
It’s a genuine honour that they’ve asked me back so many times. It’s a really huge event. The thing is that it’s not just the best female comedians, it’s some of the best comedians, full stop. And that is the thing that keeps boringly coming up, so I’ve never introduced it as ‘You’re going to see the best female comedians’, you’re gonna see some of the best female comedians in the world, and that’s it. So to be asked to do it at all, let alone to be asked back three, four times, that’s amazing. It’s a joy watching your friends and colleagues do amazingly. And so backstage between the performances has always been a quite a joyful atmosphere as well. It’s not a competitive atmosphere. It’s just a really great show.
I know you had brought it up before, with Adrienne Truscott’s performance, which had a very female perspective to it, do you find that happens a lot with Upfront?
No, no, not at all. This is the perennial problem, isn’t it? People think: ‘Oh well, they’re going to talk about women things’, like men talk about men things? You mean like humans talk about human things, and all their differences? No. If anybody said to me, ‘Oh no, I don’t want to hear a whole night of “insert cliche here”, well then I’d be like, ‘Well, you’ve never been to the show’. And I’m a musical comedian, Adrienne’s a performance artist, Geraldine Hickey’s a standup … everyone’s completely different. You cannot lump everyone into a gender or a gender-identity that way, and that’s why I never introduce it as a night of female comedians.
What would you say to a young person walked up to you and asked what would be your best advice for getting into comedy?
Why are you asking me? [Laughter]
You’ve gotta elaborate on that one.
In your life, there’s only so much you can control. And there’s a limit to what you can do to change things. But you can work on what you produce. You’re not going to get every review you want, even some of the good ones are not going to be correct. I’ve had shows where I’ve gotten amazing reviews and thought, ‘Mmm, didn’t deserve that’. And others where I thought, ‘Huh, that deserved a bit more’. Every outside eye is a tool, but none of it is as important as you being self-reflective enough to try to make what you produce as good as you can, and keep trying to make it better and better. Because that’s the only thing you’ve got control over. Go and do everything you can to make it [your work] good, and understand that the whole world is capricious, [and that] everybody can get everything and nothing in a second.
Geraldine will be hosting Upfront Wednesday 19th April at Melbourne’s Town Hall. Tickets to the performance can be found here.