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Byron Shire
May 9, 2021

The day after Mothers Day

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What does it take to be a mother and a standup comedian? With Mothers Day on the agenda, Seven chats with three women comics, Jenny Wynter (direct from Melbourne Comedy Festival), Ellen Briggs, and Mandy Nolan about being a comedian and a mum.

What do other mothers think of what you do? Can they trust you to keep their secrets?

J: The mums I know are some of the funniest people I’ve ever met; they simply don’t have the urge to get up on stage and make a career out of it. If anything the mums I’m closer to share stories and anecdotes and almost want me to get up and share them. I think some might like to be my ghostwriters!

E: On the whole, the response I get is one of almost gratitude that I actually say the things that they often think about being a mum. I do sometimes get the ‘Don’t you dare use this as material’ when friends are telling me things. I almost never would do that! There are also some that feel sorry for my kids.

M: No.

How have you managed to balance motherhood and a career like standup comedy?

J: I guess just wanting so strongly to do both has made it more of a compulsion than an achievement. We have embraced a seasonal way of living: ie bursts of ridiculously busy times, like festivals and/or touring, followed by downtime to stay at home and pretend to be a highly slack version of a domestic goddess. Also having an extremely supportive partner helps bucketloads.

E: I wouldn’t say that I am balancing it really. I would like to do a lot more standup but with my husband also having a job that involves travelling, I have to say No to a lot of gigs as we generally prefer to have one parent at home; and he earns enough to feed the family – I don’t! That’s okay – my time will come! I’ll hit the seniors circuit before too long.

M: Generally I bring the kids with me and leave them in the car.

How has having a family held you back careerwise?

J: I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately; it affects everything. When I take my family with me on tour, it means we get to be together but it also means disrupting their school year (though we homeschool during those times and their school is very accommodating); and it can almost double the cost of the tour for us (family-friendly accommodation, meals, etc). But when I tour without them I feel like my heart’s been put through a cheese grater. It limits the opportunities I can take up, for sure, but I’ve also managed to do a ton of amazing stuff with them.

I’m actually having a little break right now after the insanity that has been 2012 so far (endless touring since January) to try to work out exactly how we can manage both. If you have any answers please tell me!

E: The travel is the main thing for me. We don’t have family close by and I don’t like to rely on friends to look after my kids. I didn’t start comedy until I’d had the kids anyway, so I think they’ve actually inspired me rather than held me back. I think the fact that I don’t live in a city holds me back more than my family ever could.

M: They have robbed me of my figure, my good looks and all my money. I will grow old, get dementia and refuse to go into a nursing home. One day they’ll be sorry.

How could things be different to help women with kids in a more unconventional career?

J: I think we should help each other! One vision I have is of putting aside a bit of spare cash and setting up an interest-free loan initiative for mothers who are artists or are in unconventional careers, to help kickstart an idea, whether it be a tour, an exhibition, whatever, but a bit of a leg up so that it’s not your own cash that you’re trying to source for it to start with. I just know for myself the financial pressure of investing in your art is huge when you’re supporting a family, so I’d like to share the love around with similarly challenged mums.

I’ve also toyed with the idea of putting together a ‘Mums in Comedy’ tour with a shared nanny or two to spread the load. Having conversations like this helps too; it’s always nice to know that you’re not alone.

E: In this career, a comedy club or bar is not the type of work environment that you can take your kids to work in! In a dream world, we would have kids’ rooms at every gig where we could take the kids and know that they’re not going to be exposed to backstage banter by comedians!

M: Men should have wombs and give birth out their penises. They could stay at home, while we conquered the planet.

What are the challenges that you face as a mother that you take on stage?

J: Exhaustion. Thank heavens for adrenalin or there’s no way in heck I could even keep my eyes open some nights. Also when I’m missing them terribly it’s hard, but I just remind myself that I’d better have some damn fun up there or it really is a waste to be apart. So I make it my mission to enjoy myself.

E: The challenges I’ve always touched on are the unrealistic personas we all show to each other about how it actually feels to be a mother. One of my big revelations was that once I had kids it was presumed that I immediately was in love with all kids and babies. Also how judgmental we are as mothers towards other mothers. We aren’t very kind when we see someone doing it differently from us.

M: I use my time on stage to complain to a bunch of people who have paid to listen to me, and I generally get a much warmer reception than I do in my own home.

Do you think we women tell the truth about our mothering experiences to each other? If not, why?

J: I think it’s a mixture of truth and untruths. I think, firstly we don’t want to terrify each other! Take childbirth, for instance. I think it’s a great metaphor for parenting, in that the reality of both is that no matter how prepared you think you are, you’re never going to actually understand what it is until you’re doing it. So I think there’s a strong element of not wanting to frighten somebody.

I also think that with my closest friends, I’m absolutely ‘let it all hang out’ about my mothering experiences. I think we all need to have that, a safe place to share where we are falling apart without any pretensions. I suspect that we don’t do this with everybody is more a reflection on society’s pressure to have it all together, to find motherhood fulfilling almost all of the time and to be perceived as ‘a good mother’.

E: No! This was a huge shock to me and I have vowed to be completely honest to others because of it. This is where some of the comedy comes from. There are huge stigmas attached to women who aren’t seen to be ‘coping’ or being the SuperMum. Even that terminology is ludicrous. No-one ever told me that there would be days where you hate your life and resent your poor little kids… and then the guilt of feeling like that kicks in. Let’s not even get started on Mothers’ Guilt! Let’s face it, there are some days where being a mother sucks and not many people will admit that.

M: Of course not. If we told the truth how would we ever make ourselves feel superior by making someone else feel inadequate?

Why are we so competitive with our kids?

J: I think motherhood is a job without many tangible job-performance evaluations, so I think sometimes we cling to some ridiculous things about our kids to assure ourselves that they’re – and therefore we’re – doing well. And the reverse: we compare to see where we’re failing. I remember a friend of mine being worried when her son was all of three months old that his penis was smaller than other babies’ she’d noticed. I just thought, well, even if that were true, what on Earth would you even be suggesting you do about it? It’s insane. And a minefield for comedy material.

E: I’m not. I love that my kids don’t excel at sport especially, because I hate it, and I really hate watching kids play sport. I haven’t got the energy to be comparing my kids to others. Anyway, I have twins so I just compare them unfairly to each other.

M: Because it proves that we’re the best. No-one wants a loser kid.

What kind of mother did you think you’d be?

J: An earthy arts mother, one who baked, sewed, painted, made organic veggie mash and spoke in gently hushed tones while breastfeeding the seventh baby.

E: I never imagined I’d be very good, to be honest. I am like an angry bear without sleep so that was always a worry. I never really worried about what I would be like as much as worrying about what they would be like!

M: Magnificent.

What kind of mother are you?

J: I can’t sew for crap; I bake but usually from a packet mix; my kids wouldn’t even know what organic veggie mash is; and we’ve drawn the line at three bundles of joy. Our house is one big chaotic, crazy mess but we all laugh and sing a lot. Both very loudly.

E: If we can gauge how we are on how our kids are, then I’m a great mum. I have two very confident, laidback, funny, nice, respectful kids (so far, anyway). I am quite strict in some ways, and then in other ways I’m really slack. I’m completely honest with them and I’m pretty sure I get that in return. I’m still not used to the mess though. Kids are messy and I don’t like that at all.

M: Crap.

A Mother of A Comedy Show at the Byron Services Club, next Monday at 8pm. Doors open from 7pm. Tickets $15/20 at the door or book 6684 3443.

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