Ahead of her upcoming Sydney Comedy Festival gig, the quirky and ever-lovely Felicity Ward chats to LARISSA BRICIS about public transport, expensive cockatoos, and being a futuristic Stevie Nicks.
Your new show, The Iceberg, is about the layers of perception that exist within society – “what we see, what we think we know, and what is actually going on.” Seems like pretty serious subject matter.
Serious? Not at all. There’s like, ten or fifteen minutes where I talk about racism in Australia, and asylum seekers. But the rest of the show is plenty of tits and dicks material. I think it sounds a lot deeper than it is. The concept itself I came up with – well, I didn’t ‘come up’ with the concept; that existed already – but I came up with that as a concept for a show a while ago. I thought, it’s broad enough that if I want to talk about something stupid, then it’ll be able to be appropriated into that. Or if I want to talk about something serious, it’ll be able to be appropriated into that as well. So it was just broad enough to fit in any kind of stand-up that I wrote for the show, and there are all kinds of things in it!
Is it your extended time covering the overseas comedy circuit that’s driving the critique, or something else altogether?
I suppose what I didn’t really realise until I started performing the show is that it’s a little bit of a reflection upon Australia now that I’ve been away from it.
So, the first half of the show is what my perception of Australia is now that I’ve been overseas or, while I’ve been away, maybe what the perception of Australia is in another country. And then also experiences that I’ve had while I’ve been away. But it’s not [specifically] “when I was backpacking in London”, or “when I was working in a bar”, I just happened to be in London while that was happening.
You know, I spend a lot of my time on public transport. Surprisingly, there’s a lot of my material that’s set on public transport [laughs] I only got my license last year, so I’ve always caught public transport. I’m only on my P’s! I’m thirty-three. Someone on Twitter wrote to me last year “You said that you were on the tram. As if you were on the tram”. I’m like, “Dude, I totally am. I am on the tram all of the time!”
I’d also like to mention the image for your tour, where you’re looking fabulously 1970s: big hair, flowy fabric, the customary cockatoo-on-the-arm. What on Earth inspired this?
It’s actually a Stevie Nicks poster. She went through this phase in the late 70s/early 80s where she posed with a cockatoo on her arm all the time – completely inexplicably, and irrelevant to the material, and her creative direction. It’s just like she went, “I think this photo needs more cockatoo”. Google it. I saw this photo and it just made me laugh so much and I thought, if ended up doing a show called ‘The Iceberg’ that would be a funny image to go with it. So the [image and the idea] came about at the same time. The idea came just over a year ago, maybe after my last show, Hedgehog Dilemma. At the end of that I came up with the image and the idea, so it’s sort of been percolating for a while.
And then when I decided to do this show this year, I was in London so we had to do the photo-shoot over there. And, because cockatoos are in no way native to London, the cockatoo cost more than the photographer did! Yeah, it was great. The owner of the cockatoo was bald. We all kind of hung out together twenty minutes before the shoot. Whenever you work with animals, it’s good to have some time to say “Hey, I’m Felicity!”, and the cockatoo says “Hey, I’m Hector”, and you figure out that you’re fine with each other.
When we started and I had the outfit on and everything, from the moment he hopped onto my arm, he just kept biting my hair. Obviously he hadn’t seen hair like that before. It’s hilarious; everyone’s like “I love your big hair in the photo!” I had done nothing to my hair in that photo. I washed my hair. That’s what Felicity with washed hair looks like – a boofhead, a 1970s futuristic Stevie Nicks.
As you’ve said before, the world of comedy is a very strange one indeed. Having years of your own experience tucked away, what words of wisdom do you have to share with the aspiring performers lurking in the shady corners of UTS?
I don’t know if I have any wisdom; I’ve got a lot of war stories, and a lot of scars. I suppose it would be that I still get caught up in not running my own race. My manager said to me once that a career takes a really long time and I think that was a really good thing for me to hear.
I started acting when I was a little kid, and that’s all I ever wanted to do. I didn’t start stand-up until I was twenty-eight, and was never ever gonna try it. I came into it by accident and realised that I loved it! So that came really late.
I’ve had the most success with stand-up, as opposed to any other art form that I’ve tried. And, even within stand-up, I’ve had really quick success, and then really slow success, or my expectations of myself have raised over the years, forgetting that they’re not always achievable. Comparison is toxic, I will say that. If I compare myself to anyone else, that’s a toxic experience. I haven’t been through what they’ve been through to get where they are, and they haven’t gone through what I’ve gone through to get where I am.
I’ve got friends who have been stand-ups for many years whose success has just exploded in the past few years, or people that were really successful really quickly and were able to maintain it, or those who weren’t. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t come around again. You just never know. For me, I’ve just got to keep making the things that I want to make. I’ve never written for trends or anything like that. I just write what makes me laugh and whatever comes to my brain. In that regard, if anyone’s considering writing comedy, just write what makes you laugh.
I’ve really been enjoying reading your blog, and particularly found an affinity for a piece called ‘The upshot of being ugly’. You wrote, “You will never regret being interesting. You may regret trying to pretend that you’re not”. Being a media personality yourself, how important do you think the value of uniqueness and self-acceptance is in our society, and where do you place yourself in this representation?
For me it changes all the time just depending on how my self-esteem is. I love – I was gonna say that I love being a bit different but some days I just feel so mediocre and so bland and I really regret that, and other days I regret not feeling ‘commercial’ enough. If my self-esteem is good then I really like being a little bit of a weirdo and I like being myself. I guess it all comes back to ‘run your own race’, and that’s applicable to life as well. The more things that I do that make me really happy, the happier my whole life will be.
It’s perception, again. The older I get the less I know about more things. I often think ‘Oh, I don’t know that, or that’, whereas before I would’ve thought that I did know. I’m really glad that I’m interesting, I will say that. I’m really glad that I was weirdo of a kid. Until meeting other people, I didn’t realise it was interesting that I knew Japanese, for example. I was in a grunge band when I was a kid. I just did all of these things when I was a kid because I liked [pauses] I liked being a bit of a weirdo. Keep being a weirdo! Have you watched any Freaks and Geeks?
Not much, no. Only a few shorts.
It’s actually so great. It’s set in a high school and there’s a scene where the teacher says, “If you think you’re cool then you are cool. I think I’m cool, so I am.” His students disagreed, and I probably would’ve too. But, to an extent, if you’re having a good time that’s really all that matters. It’s all that matters.
Don’t miss the ever-delightful Felicity Ward at Enmore Theatre from Thursday May 8 to Sunday May 11. For tickets, head to sydneycomedyfest.com.au.
More about Felicity at felicityward.wordpress.com.