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Byron Shire
April 22, 2021

Mandy Nolan’s Soap Box: Dying to be funny

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Apparently I am likely to die prematurely. Well, at the very least a few years sooner than comedic or serious actors. A recent study shows that the funnier you are as a comedian, the shorter your lifespan is. Standup comedians don’t do well in the longevity stakes.

I heard this reported on Radio National when driving to a gig the other night. I almost drove into an oncoming truck. I thought, if I do that it means that I’m really funny. Like totally piss-funny. Drop-dead funny. Now, if I live to 89, or beyond, it will be proof that in the funny arena, I wasn’t even pulling a below average. That’s a pretty harsh performance review.

To be successful you have to leave the spotlight for the big light. I mean, when you are driving to a gig you don’t want to hear that if you were really talented you need to die. I’m already working in a bowling club. In a regional village.
I’m only a few rungs up the career ladder and to truly succeed I need to fall off.

I have to admit that standup comedy is not a career path that encourages good habits. For a start, you only work an hour a day a few times a week at best. You spend most of your time talking about yourself. And not really listening when other people are talking. So there’s a lot of alone time. And then there’s the weird life you live in the hours when everyone else is at work. Like a big kid home sick when your parents are out.

Comedians generally spend a lot of time on the couch. They call it working. But it’s basically couching. Eating shit food. Smoking. Drinking. Checking Facebook to see if anyone’s talking about you. It’s a strange lonely club of depressives, alcoholics, misfits and narcissists. And that’s the functional comics.

A lot of the time we are either in transit, in a hotel, or at home recovering from the night before. In standup comedy, it’s totally acceptable to drink on the job. That wouldn’t happen at the bank. If you rocked up to make a transaction and the teller had a beer, you’d be questioning their competence. But for us, that makes us appear more competent.

In fact, most people expect you to be a bit out of it. The more screwed up you are, generally the more people like you. You never come back from a gig going, ‘Wow, that comedian was so together. I love how they really integrate the principles of work/life balance.’ No, people love you because you’re broken. At least a little bit. No-one wants their broken clown taped back up. So that’s probably a major workplace safety issue right there.

It’s harder for us. Comedy actors get all the glory but, you know, in my mind, they’re just overpaid karaoke stars. You see, comedic actors are just doing time on someone else’s script. Standup comedians are the whole show. It’s just them. Their life. Their ideas. Their stupid unasked-for opinions. Their sad need to be loved by people they will never know. And in some cases never like.

Then there’s the issue of toast. It’s the main food group for comedians. That’s if you don’t live near somewhere that sells late-night kebabs. You know when you’re downing a crate of simple carbs before your 1am bedtime that personal health isn’t high on the list.

There’re not a lot of healthy food choices available on the road at midnight. Wholefood merchants are all tucked up in bed soaking their quinoa for the big day ahead. No, we get Krispy Kremes, McDonald’s and KFC. One of the theories is that being funny all the time is bad for your health. Well, at least being expected to be ‘on’. Serious people don’t have this kind of pressure.

Being serious is easy. But pumping out the funny… it’s relentless. In fact that was the name of one of Bill Hicks’s shows. He was so good he died to prove it. Bill Hicks was just 32 when he died of pancreatic cancer. John Belushi cracked a drug overdose at 33. Chris Farley from Saturday Night Live had a drug overdose at 33. Andy Kaufman died of lung cancer at 35. Mitch Hedberg – another drug overdose at 37. Sam Kinison, car accident at 38. Phil Harman, also of SNL and The Simpsons, died at 49 in a murder-suicide by his wife. (So I guess she tried to make him funny?)

Robin Williams, suicide at 63. Richard Pryor was 65. Even though he’d previously set fire to himself, he managed to die from a heart attack. But he did have multiple sclerosis. Just two years short of the 67. One year’s life expectancy for the funniest fuckers. Early death. It’s good for business.

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