It’s hard to pin down just what is so intoxicating (and I use that word carefully) about comedian Fiona O’Loughlin, but as an audience member it is possible to think ‘I could listen to this woman forever’.
Growing up in an Irish-Australian family, it seems to me that storytelling became second nature. It was what they did every night around the dinner table, and there’s really no storyteller on the comedy circuit quite as enthralling as O’Loughlin.
Starting out as the comedian mum of five who hailed from Alice Springs, a lot has changed in the decade or more that has seen O’Loughlin go from Central Australian obscurity to the darling of the Melbourne comedy scene.
Her marriage is over, her children mostly grown, she’s living in Melbourne, and in the past five years she has waged a very public battle with alcoholism. Now sober and enjoying recovery, Fiona’s latest show, My Brilliant Career, shows O’Loughlin at her most incisive. She has this rare ability to navigate the human condition with humility and humour.
‘I do get heaps of quiet time, and I have this amazingly simple fucking life that I didn’t know existed. I had to leave a husband and give up drinking to get it, living with just Mary and me.
‘I’ve upped the ante of autobiographical standup – I talk about being single because now I am ready to tell all about it. There’s so much I couldn’t talk about before! There is this delicious story that takes up half the show; it’s about my ‘nearly’ affair. Of course I was accused of it, but it never happened!
‘I have never had a show so full,’ says O’Loughlin. ‘It was over-written by an hour. I couldn’t believe it – two hours came out of me!
‘It’s tongue in cheek and the poster image is me looking as pleased as punch, and meanwhile there is a holocaust behind me!’
O’Loughlin talks about her marriage, admitting that the two have become friends. ‘I have no fire in my belly to fight. I feel so happy when he stays with me in Melbourne. I remember seeing him on Christmas Day and there he was with all his brothers and I got this… Oh I love you like a brother feeling.’
Reflecting on her childhood, O’Loughlin laughs, ‘I was a melancholic kid. I didn’t like the way the world worked. I used to think that it’s not fair that adults are in charge and I am in trouble and I don’t have a voice and I married into that – men of my generation are handed down this belief that life is just drudge, and now I’m single and I’m free and I’m not in trouble and I can do as I please. I am not trouble – I love being 50!’
It’s a refreshing take on most women’s dread of the middle years, with many seeing it as the beginning of their ‘invisibility’.
‘Being a standup female comedian is one card that is precious – we are not invisible and we won’t be. I don’t feel that and I don’t act that – I get a real kick out of ageing. I love my old hands; I have vanity about my face but not my hands – it would be lovely to look at our whole bodies like that!’
‘It was a roundabout that took me five years to see the light – I kept relapsing because I would carry around the sack of shame and that was so heavy, like a massive bag of potatoes; every day you take a potato out but it is still a bag of potatoes. I think one of my sisters just wants me publicly flogged in the town square! I have guilt and shame about how many people have turned up to see me and there’s a drunken waste of space on stage! I am very accountable for that, and every single day I think of that, and if I could, I’d do the making-amends tour!’
So what was the turning point for O’Loughlin?
‘It was getting caught with my hand in the cookie jar and breaking my agent’s heart, who was a good friend. I lived like Lance Armstrong, I thought if I didn’t have two little tiny vodkas, that I would be letting my audience down – then I got caught red handed. Nine times out of 10 nothing would happen, but you are putting dynamite next to a lit flame every time, and one in 10 times there would be another consequence. I got caught red handed, so I said, tomorrow night I am going to do it without my two vodkas, and then I did it, and I was funnier, and clearer!
‘I couldn’t put alcohol in me before a show now if I were paid a million dollars – the smallest price to pay for sobriety is that you are little bit boring…’
O’Loughlin believes her life as standup comic offers something that many other recovering addicts don’t have.
‘I was so lucky – I had to relearn to be a standup, and my standup life has never known me without alcohol, and every day I have a gig I have a shot of adrenaline like no other. It used to be something I had to get through; now I can’t wait! I am such a lucky duck.’
Fiona O’Loughlin performs at the Byron Brewery on Friday with MC Mandy Nolan and support Damian Power. Tix are $20 booked or bought online; $25 at the door. Bookings – 6619 0529.
Find this and many other great gigs in Echonetdaily’s North Coast Gig Guide.