Solo shows are incredibly hard but immensely rewarding. They are also extra hard when you are committed to comedy about serious topics. Ellen Mahoney’s Feminem is one of those solo shows. It will piss some people off. But also, a lot more will walk away feeling that bit braver and more like crash tackling intergenerational bullshit to the ground and leaving it there.
By the end you find yourself loudly rapping her name, unlike the misogynists who’ll hate this show, well…maybe because they won’t ever get to moan the name of a woman like Ellen. She’s no longer up for your repressive efforts, dearest chauvinist.
And that, regardless of the usual first solo show nerves here, means this is a successful first solo show.
And it’s one of those shows succeeding by pissing the patriarchy off and that’s glorious.
Feminem starts in a dark place and rises to a cry of empowerment. It’s fucking authentic and there’s crushed pink velvet and frank talk of women’s bodies (yes! vaginas! menstruation! run away little scared misogynist!).
I don’t know about you, but I reckon that’s a winning combo, right there. Unlike most of the old school comedy scene, this show is not dominated by way too many dick jokes (with no context), or one kind of joke or standard pace of boom boom tish. It combines some slow burn story telling, into a joy crescendo of rap and raunchiness. It’s authentically awkward and I for one, hope as Ellen rolls out more solo shows, she doesn’t lose that quality for the sake of some mythical ‘polish’ imposed by the conservative arts tone police.
Comedy festivals are about a mix of levels of experience and right now, we need Australians backing emerging comedians like Ellen Mahoney, more than ever. As one critic (rather ironically) commented she also refuses to centre the Trump loving ex story, which they were disappointed in. But this show does not centre violent men, but rebukes the underlying factors that mean societies value the narrative of violence and then not better talking about the escape story.
Sorry not sorry, this show is not about bad bad men, like some might like Ellen to do – just so they can fall back and level at her the man hater trope. It’s about survival.
And for the ‘that’s not comedy pundits‘, I ask – do you really want a lesson in why we laugh?
Laughter, *shifts into splaining mode*, in case you didn’t know, is often the way we survive some pretty big shit in life. The Aussie (largely male) aversion to dark forms of storytelling is the why and the how of poor mental health rates. If a show like this starts conversations, in a culture that doesn’t talk about emotion enough, then great.
Laughter hangs around in the limbic system and reminds us how to survive, just like rage does. The two uncomfortably cohabit and you can pontificate about what other people laugh at as much as you want, it ain’t gonna change that.
If you have ever walked on stage as a woman and done any performance related to the attitudes of abuse (or any performance really), there are two things that the patriarchy hates:
- A woman on stage speaking her mind about misogyny instead of being the sweetness and light and passivity expected of us – and Ellen is no wilting flower. She’ll be called angry in that way women are not allowed to be, because basically allowing us anger, would be, frankly, allowing us the same humanity afforded to men. Makes ya wonder if they are scared we will do to them, what they will do to us, don’t it?
- A woman on stage who does not conform to the repressive ideas that we must be perfect before we are go up on stage – whose performance is authentic and raw. Any woman who challenges this, no matter how perfect she may look, will be called out for not existing in the impossible double standards that mean we may get stuck in not trying at all. Ellen starts with self-depreciation and literally builds herself up on stage – a demonstration for other women that perfection is misogyny myth making. Get up there, give your one shot, once the first one is done, keep going – you’ll get plenty more shots.
Ellen Mahoney gives the middle finger to both these old school concepts. Now I’ve written a list above for some of those men (not all men!) who will take offence at her show, before any more plug away at a keyboard in a momentual misogyny self-own moment.
I kept my splaining to only two points, there are more. But we wouldn’t want others doing all the inordinate amount of emotional labour women normally do on your behalf. *this is sarcasm*
There’s a section in this work that critiques the notion, subtly, that there is only one kind of feminism, by calling out conservative white liberal feminism.
You know, the kind of feminism that puts sex workers down and Instagram influencers (and the fuss they make about only fans is ridiculous too) in a conceptual and equally patriarchy round file. Feminism, like the rest of humanity has different versions. But the fact is, if a woman making a living on Instagram makes you uncomfortable, you ain’t all in for all *women.
The fact is, we have a right to critique each other, and if we don’t, we fall back into the box of being passive and getting along so we don’t displease the menfolk. Another key tactic of the patriarchy.
Women can still lift each other up and have tough conversations with each other, life ain’t no quilting circle in Victorian England no more.
We should be laughing at systemic attitudes that cause us to suffer and the planet to burn. That is the burden of the arts.
And if you don’t count comedy as art…do you really want to die on that hill over there of separating high and low culture laughter like a pompous bull’s-pizzle? *bull’s-pizzle is Shakespearean, dear, some high culture for you*
Comedy can have meaning and still be comedy, just like any performance based artistic medium. While the debate rages about putting trauma on stage, I wonder why comedy is considered different to other performance – where trauma is a key part of performance and is allowed. Maybe because in recent years, it’s become dominated by straight white men who don’t like talking about their feelings.
Ellen Mahoney’s solo show Feminen is a prime example of why we need comedy to be raw and authentic in the same way we need theatre to be – and it doesn’t give the perfection bullies a hall pass either.
And as if, by a stroke of the universes irony pen arrives, this morning my news feed sprung up at me, and there was this piece about art about domestic violence in the Melbourne Museum being erased yet again.
If you are a survivor, go see Feminen. You won’t be erased.
*By women I mean all women, this blog rejects TERF discourse.
Ellen Mahoney on Instagram, and on Facebook.
Directed by Bev Killick.
Feminem tix until Sunday the 10th April – https://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2022/shows/feminem