The purpose of comedy, including stand-up comedy, is to make the audience laugh. Many comedians are content to limit their ambition to that simple goal. They strive to find the best jokes and reality is not important to their art. Others try to get a message across while still making people laugh. Many comedians of Asian, Polynesian or Maori ancestry tackle racism; women comedians, sexism; gay and lesbian performers, homophobia; scientists, psuedo-science; doctors and nurses, quackery; etc.
I'm a geek, I have computers, a 3D printer, a lot of textbooks and a pizza addiction to prove it. When I first started doing comedy I was having fun. My most successful early set was on hand sanitizer, my least successful ever set was on the funny side of quitting smoking (I've subsequently read the script for that set & have no idea why I thought it was funny). In the early part of 2015 as I was leading up to the crisis that led to me transitioning I was after laughs, just that. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't but it mattered little as I would have new material next time I was on stage.
Then it all changed
I came to the conclusion that I had to transition & having reached that conclusion I had to decide if I would become Julia on stage now or later. I decided sooner rather than later was better and having made that decision I drew a line under my old material and wrote an entirely new set of jokes. That first set wasn't great and some of the jokes were lifted directly from gay mythology. There was very little of my true reality in it. As the only MtF transgender comedian performing stand-up in New Zealand I was, to an extent, an ambassador to the cisgender world so I realised that I needed to make my material funny and "Truish", meaning it was either based on a real event or a psychological / emotional truth for me. Over time I replaced almost all the jokes that didn't match this new requirement.
When I say based on a real event, it still had to be funny to qualify as comedy so I was still free to edit minor details and possibly change the ending of the story to give me a twist ("punch line"). One of the amazing things about my life is that funny things just happen to me. Maybe they happen to everyone, but I am on the lookout for them. As an example I used to do a joke about cycling on Park Road in a miniskirt and spotting a motorist getting flashed by my pink panties then nearly driving off the road when he realised I was watching him back. This really happened, except they weren't pink panties but pink bike-shorts. I doubt he would have realised that. Even the punch line was true. I still use a joke about being intimidated out of using the ladies' toilet at Wellington airport despite wearing a skirt, top, heels and lipstick and using the men's toilet. In reality I slipped into the first available cubicle and got out as fast as I could. As told on stage I change the ending to a commentary on poor aim by men at the urinal ... because it's "truish" men and women both laugh at that joke.
Another example from around the same era. The joke tells how I was using the exercise gear in Cornwall park to stretch my back and a small child asked me if I was a man or a lady & I replied I was a lady but used to be a man. He asked what happened & I looked straight at his mother and said "When I was your age I let my mother kiss me and I think I caught girl germs". OK, that never happened, a few times uncontrolled children did ask me questions, including being asked what my gender identity is. The closest to the punchline of the story was when a child asked why I was doing this strange exercise and I addressed the mother & said, I didn't know how to explain that this helps popping my bad back back into place to someone her child's age.
Then there were the jokes that were psychologically or emotionally true but not based on anything that had actually happened to me. My first set included a retelling of the male gay observation that once a hundred miles from home, heterosexual men forget how to self pleasure and end up in gay bars. Obviously the travelers involved are actually closet gays or bisexual, but it's a funny observation. I don't tend to find myself in gay bars much and have subsequently been approached in non-gay bars by men but at the time I told the joke it had never happened to me. On the other hand, I'd been warned and it was something I knew might happen. One joke I've been using until quite recently involved what might happen if I was forced to use the male toilet, again real only in an emotional sense.
Despite my rule about the jokes having to be based on reality, there were some jokes that had no basis in reality but were "fun" to do so they were kept in my repertoire. Two triplets of them were:
These days when someone says I run like a girl I just smile and say "Thank you",and
When they say I throw I like a girl I just smile and say "Thank you",
And the guy who said I punch like a girl? Well, his jaw's still wired.
Now I'm on estrogen I've noticed some issues with my drivingThe first of these was the joke I did last night that I've decided to retire, the other is actually from one of the last times I performed presenting as male, although then it was about "a friend" but it's going as well.
- Parallel parking has become a massive challenge
- I can't reverse a trailer ... but then I never could
- I can send a text message at 80 km/h in a school zone
So what's next? I can't go much further, comedy has to be funny, when I have a good anecdote that needs a twist I'll still feel free to add it. I'm interested in telling my story and through me the reality of a middle-aged MtF transgender person. I'm not interested in being preachy, but when I have two jokes that get the same amount of laughter I'll go with the one that passes more useful knowledge. My motto is now "Laugh now, think later."
I have a proposal in for a show at Auckland Fringe 50 Years Before The Frock that will be entirely true, composed of anecdotes that occurred during the 53 years between my first questioning my gender identity and the night I first walked on stage as Julia. I'm promoting this as a non-comedy show that I intend to be brutally honest with the laughs and the tears my journey has demanded of me, with a fair amount of bafflement as well. This will be an interesting exercise, obviously I have to select stories that are relevant to my journey. I'm looking for ones that are capable of being told in a funny way but when I have a story that's too important to miss and I can't tell it funnily I'll look to at least bracket it with stories that are funny.