Hugs achieved: x1
“I don’t like to be too predictable in what I do”, says Alice Fraser as we discussed her 2017 Melbourne International Comedy Festival (MICF) show ‘Empire’. In following up her successful shows ‘Savage’ and ‘The Resistance’, Alice wants ‘Empire’ to have a fitting story to complete the trilogy. “I had a really strong sense of the metaphor to use, the sense I wanted the audience to have”, says Alice. In developing and trialling her show, Alice discovered what story she had in mind, “oh, this is the story I want to tell… oh fuck… how am I going to tell this story”?
For anyone that has never seen any of Alice’s stand-up before, her material is clever and humorous but also often covers new ground at a personal level. “The way I sort of describe it, there are things I will not talk about on stage… but the things I will talk about on stage are sometimes the things others don’t talk about”. Alice does not talk about her sex life, her relationships or her friends without their permission, “that is kind of what most comedians talk about”. These are “the things comedy is meant to cover”, “hilarious dating stories and fun things your mates did or said”. She continues, “you take that off the table, there is an artistic restriction there… that forces you to bring things onto the table that wouldn’t otherwise necessarily be there”.
When discussing some of the pitfalls of stand-up, including sets entirely focussed on drug and alcohol consumption, Alice makes her position clear. “The role of a comedian is to be an outsider… I mean that’s what they are… the best comedy comes from when you are looking at the world, and you’re looking it from the outside and you’re seeing the strangeness of it”. “When you are deliberately introducing randomising factors… like drugs and alcohol… it’s not that you have special insights into the world. You’ve kind of changed the world in relation to you… so that you can have unusual insights into stuff”. Alice is not completely against comedy covering these issues; “it can be done well… if you bring the audience into your shoes… into that world”.
‘Empire’ is deeply personal but it is Alice’s engaging stage presence that drew me in and hooked me to the performance and her narrative. Alice notes she may have inherited her eye-drawing nature from her father “who is very dignified… he comes into the room and fills the room”. Her skills on stage were “honed” with ‘Savage’ in Edinburgh, a show that discussed “some brutal things…there are some real intense, quiet moments”. Alice performed at a venue called the Laughing Horse, in the Gothic Room that did not have a separating door between it and the rest of the venue, “literally nothing between you and 100 people watching the football”. She describes her approach to this room with some intensity, “there are people literally screaming a metre behind you but you’re going to listen to me and I’m going to talk no louder than this”. As Alice focussed on improving her engagement, she could “feel” the material getting stronger.
Comedy “is all about being self aware, and self conscious”, says Alice. “I’m not a natural comedian… I see it from the outside… of being really interested in how it works”. “It is a difficult addiction/job to have…the difference between workaholism and narcissism is very narrow”. Alice began her stand-up career in New York, an exciting but daunting experience. “The open mic scene… a nightmare”, Alice notes, adding that it had the “comradery of most war zones”. “You can do twelve sets in a night if you go in at four… which is both a good and bad way of doing it”.
“On one hand you look at comedians and what we do, it’s an hour a night, ‘it’s not hard’", Alice says as the hypothetical critique. “But… in that hour on stage, it’s exhausting. You’re trying to control the reactions of sixty people, which is an impossible task”. Alice describes the process of trying to “sense what they (the audience) like, what they don’t like, change your rhythm, change your pace… all of those subtle things take an enormous amount of focus”. And even when a performance is finished, “you’re adrenalised, so you’re not going to be able to sleep for another hour and a half, maybe two”.
With so much effort and heart going into each performance, the impact of a poorly written review can frustrate a performer. “From the perspective of a comedian, the two stars and the three stars are useless”, “they’re not going to be able to use it for their publicity… unless there are some good pull quotes”. With more intensity, Alice describes how a review lacks meaning if “some dude… gave it four (stars) from the gardening section”. All this considered, Alice speaks positively of journalists who have a consistent voice that can make a review useful. Even when there are constructive criticisms to be gained, she notes though that “the problem with that, is everyone’s process is different… a review of my show three nights in will not give you an idea necessarily of what you’re going to see six nights in”.
In addition to the hard work that goes into putting together and performing ‘Empire’, Alice is also a writer and podcaster. Alice hosts the podcast ‘Tea with Alice’ in which she drinks a cup of tea with a different guest each week and “solves the world”. Alice also writes for SBS Comedy and is “doing some jokes for The Project”. This is her first time working a “day job” during the festival and Alice “wouldn’t advise it” due to the heavy workload of the MICF itself.
“Comedy gives you that instant feedback, that endorphin hit… it’s an addiction of sorts”. In addition to the chemistry of performing, Alice is “interested in communication and ideas” and expanding the way an audience views the world. “Most people are very closed to new ideas” but comedy is a platform that attracts attention and is frequently used to broaden people’s perspectives. A simple but clear message, “stop thinking you’re right about stuff, everything is more complicated than you think it is”. ‘Empire’ is a show that is interesting and different, performed by a comedian who sets high standards for herself and backs them up with skill. But don’t take my word for it, as Alice comments, audiences will enjoy the show “because it’s good and it will blow their minds”!
You can see Alice Fraser in ‘Empire’ from 30 March to 23 April 2017 [no Mondays] at The Chinese Museum. For more information and to book tickets, click here!
Check out Alice’s writing for SBS Comedy here and download an episode of ‘Tea with Alice’ on iTunes. If you like what Alice does and you want more of it, you can click here to support her on Patreon.
If you have a Melbourne International Comedy Festival (MICF) show you want reviewed, contact Hugging Comedians on Facebook, Twitter or through the website.