Whether it’s through her stand up comedy, writing, comedy coaching or humour therapy, most folks hereabouts have heard of Mandy Nolan. You need a nap after reading her resume. Throw hard-working mother of five, devoted partner and passionate feminist into the mix and you have a picture of the person who for the last thirty years has been publicly speaking about the things that we all think, but some are too afraid to say. In her current show Women Like Us, Mandy and fellow comedian Ellen Briggs talk about the many roles of women and finding the funnies in what, for some, are our darkest moments and biggest pressures. We couldn’t think of anyone better to have a chat to in the lead up to International Women’s Day.
I first met Mandy at a writer’s event where she was speaking about her book Boyfriends We’ve All Had (And Shouldn’t Have), a hilarious tome which could have been extracted directly from my brain. She mentioned how during the press for the book’s release, so many interviewers commented on her frankness, describing her as “brave” in that snarky, back-handed compliment kind of way. She was struck by how conservative it all seemed. I asked her to elaborate on that.
“It’s like you end up thinking why are people shocked about how honest you are?” asks Mandy.
“I think ‘Christ, how dishonest are people?’ I generally assume that most things I’m going through probably other people are experiencing, but we kind of pretend we don’t. I think that’s part of the conditioning of being a woman, particularly now.”
“We’re mums, and our mothering time corresponds with the years we’re supposed to be getting ahead in our careers, and we’ve got a huge amount of pressure now around our health and vitality but it’s also around attractiveness and what our home looks like and what we look like and we’re not supposed to be ageing. The bar keeps getting higher and higher.”
“To admit you can’t keep up is an admission of failure and incompetence and we don’t want to do that and that’s where I come in as a comedian because I admit failure and for women it’s a real relief and its a unique appeal about my comedy.”
In their show, Mandy and Ellen tell stories about women who generations ago were rendered invisible. Now perhaps they aren’t, yet we still are not seeing their experiences reflected in any real way. An example would be a middle aged woman who has dedicated her life to her family. While in the current day and age there may be a world of options now open to her that previously weren’t, you can still open any interiors magazine and see these beautiful botoxed middle aged women sitting on designer beds in stunning homes. These images don’t reflect reality and can make women feel like failures. Much of Mandy’s humour lies in the everyday struggles of ordinary women.
“One of my things that is a joke but also not a joke, is that I’ll talk about women in that we perform the tasks that no one else wants to do because their lives are far too important. The boring, repetitive, mundane, thankless tasks that keep everyone else’s lives ticking along nicely. A lot of it we don’t want to be doing but that’s just what we do, and men look around like ‘what are women talking about’. It’s the wiping down of the bench, the endless putting away where women spend hours like zombies walking around the house. It makes you crazy! And that’s the joke I make; we start off really nice in relationships but we can’t sustain it and we reach a tipping point and next thing our partners go ‘Why are you so angry all the time?’.”
“It’s why feminism is still so important. It’s almost implicit in our homes, that the gender roles have pretty well remained the same. My husband is fantastic but the fact that I have to say he’s fantastic is because he’s still the exception.”
“We still have a long way to go. It’s a big picture all around fair payment in the workplace and around our working, and managing small children in childcare. A lot of mums either feel or are made to feel guilty about putting their children into childcare so they can work. I don’t think men go to work feeling guilty like women do about having their kids in childcare. Men are also not judged by other men for it.”
Feminism is a central theme to all that Mandy discusses.
“I’m very much a feminist, not the way I started out which was as a really annoying academic feminist who was judgemental about other women’s choices. Experience and maturity have changed that. I’ve lived with domestic violence in my early twenties, I’ve experienced things I never thought I would and it really opened me up to not judging other women’s choices.”
“I look around at my shows and I think about 10% of the women there have been Botoxed. I don’t want to offend women who choose to get Botox, but I wonder how it became normalised without any public discussion around how safe is it? What are we frightened of? What’s going to happen to us? Are old women invisible? I try and do it in a funny way to draw attention to the stuff I think about. Maybe there are women there thinking about whether or not they should go and get their first shots and I hope it creates a different way of thinking or at least a dialogue, where these women explore if they’re doing it because they really just want to or if they are frightened of ageing in this society and because they feel like they’re not enough the way they are.”
Mandy feels that the kind of societal pressures that make women feel like “not enough”; the pressures that drive women to inject themselves and undergo traumatic cosmetic surgeries, come from many different sources. Even some unexpected ones.
“Last night I was doing a show, a talk about violence against women, and this other woman did a talk. She was a yoni expert and according to her, women should be having 76 different types of female orgasm.. These are the kind of things that women have to deal with. I mean how are we supposed to fit that in now? ‘Sorry honey mummy’s busy she’s going to be orgasming all week’. It’s like we have this liberation but it also creates a new set of oppression.”
“This kind of thing is very complicated when it comes to managing the kids. There’s a van that drives around advertising injectibles, you know? I worry that my 21 year old daughter has grown up around this. She just says in casual conversations ‘when I get my breasts done’. She wants to get them reduced, but it’s all around not appreciating who you are.”
“Byron Bay is one of the worst places with cosmetic stuff and nobody talks about that because the people that do it also wouldn’t eat anything that wasn’t 100% organic, you know they really value health. It’s a huge hypocrisy. But you know also I bleach my hair, I wear makeup and get a spray tan to hide the veins on my legs, I’m not sitting here in a pair of hemp trousers, knitting a kale bikini and steaming some quinoa.”
“I’ve almost wanted to do a facebook pledge page where we place our pledges not to get any surgery done. You know I’ve got four daughters, for me it’s really all for them. My lack of enquiry and my generation’s lack of enquiry are are affecting our daughters and our daughter’s daughters and we are changing what they inherit.”
These are the kind of subjects that makes Mandy’s comedy so incredibly appealing to women.
“Comedy is about men,” she states.
“It’s a man’s world and it’s generally young. No one’s going to program middle aged women talking about their boring middle aged lives, and yet there’s a bunch of middle aged women out there who are sick of listening to young guys talk about their cocks. We’re not disappearing like our mothers did. We’re staying visible and we’re resentful, cranky, pissed off!”
“I think the audiences at our shows give a really interesting view of women, and the men that come along really love it because they really love women.”
“The male feedback has generally always been great, for some reason I’m always surprised how many men turn up to our shows, it’s actually a relief to the men as well. Generally, they always get on board and enjoy it. That actually did suprise me, I underestimated how switched on a lot of men are, particularly when they’ve grown up with mothers and sisters and wives. My shows aren’t man bashing thing, it’s funny, and I love how much they like it. I’ve never had bad feedback from a man afterwards, not to my face anyway.”
Mandy loves the feedback she gets from the people in the crowd.
“A woman came to the show last night in Byron, she told me that seeing my show was like therapy for her. She said she was going through all this stuff around her age and not liking herself, but she came out feeling so much better.”
“Just being in a group of women who might be feeling oppressed by life and all hating ourselves, our shitty car, or our shitty kid, and knowing you’re not alone and you’re not perfect and that’s okay, being able to have a laugh about it, I really love that I can help that happen.”
Folks who are interested in checking out Mandy Nolan and Ellen Briggs at Women Like Us had better do so quickly, as the first show at Currumbin RSL has sold out and a second has been booked for the 1st April. Tickets can be purchased here. Mandy also has regular gigs all over the coast. You can keep up to date with her shows and writing at mandynolan.com.au.