Australian comedienne Felicity Ward, based in London for the past three years, is about to embark on her new month-long 50% More Likely To Die tour, her most ambitious to date. Included in Ward’s itinerary are a brace of Yorkshire shows, Huddersfield’s Lawrence Batley on 7th October followed the very next day by an appearance at the Harrogate Theatre. Felicity is super excited as it will be her first time in either town, “I’ve been told to get a fat rascal at Betty’s.”
Taking the plunge with a first stand-up performance in her late-twenties, Felicity’s own comedy heroes are a mixture of home grown (The Late Show, Judith Lucy) and international (League of Gentlemen, Maria Bamford, Strangers With Candy) and we also manage to bond over a shared fondness of Norman Gunsten although Felicity is worried about the current output from her homeland. “There’s something incredibly conservative that’s happened to Australian comedy, not comedians themselves, but shows commissioned and watched by people. There’s only really one channel [ABC] that makes comedy but if you look at all the Australian commercial networks and you count up how many home grown programmes have been made including panel shows over the last five years, I would say less than twenty.”
The supremely affable comedienne concurs with the irony of her new show’s title, confessing “I was reading a book on mental health statistics and saw that sentence and thought it would be a really funny juxtaposition for my show, especially next to a pic of me looking all happy.” Felicity’s health challenges have provided a rich source of material although she stops short of describing it as cathartic: “I don’t use that word because I work out all my s**t offstage before I talk about it. I don’t get onstage having not first dealt with what I’m talking about with a therapist. It is very rewarding to make people laugh about mental illness, that’s fun. The last show I did was more skewed towards IBS. This show started out as one about mental health statistics and then 5 days before my first preview I left my bag on the bus; laptop, wallet, keys. The twelve hours either side of when I lost my bag were so unbelievable that this show then became about that; the series of events that preceded and followed that moment. It was like the comedy Gods wrote a show for me; kind of a comedy version of 24, with just as much intermittent breathing as Kiefer Sutherland.”
Talking about her condition, Felicity lays waste to the perceived link between comedians and mental illnesses, elaborating, “I wasn’t diagnosed until I’d been doing stand up for two or three years so it hasn’t always been a part of who I am because I didn’t know that was what I had. I don’t think you have to be mentally ill to be a comedian, I don’t think the rates of mental illness are higher amongst comedians. It’s just the irony of you having depression whilst having to make people laugh. Depression and comedy are two concepts people don’t understand if they don’t have them. If you’ve never had depression, you don’t understand what it is. If you’re not a comedian, you don’t understand how stand-ups make a living……they’re both daunting unknowable things and if you put them together they become very noticeable, I think that’s why people think all comedians have a mental illness and it’s not true.”
Raised in South Eastern Australia, Felicity explains her protracted journey to London, “I haven’t lived in New South Wales since 2008. I [first] moved to Melbourne and then I moved over here three years ago.”
The comedienne talked at length about her own drawn-out adjustment to the hurly burly of life in The Smoke, “I love it now, but it took time. I lived with another Australian girl for the first six months and asked her when she planned to return to Australia, ‘Not for a while, it takes you a long time to love London and once you do, you’ve got to get your money’s worth.’” Felicity elaborates further: “There’s like eighteen months of no-one making eye contact, people pushing and hurting you and making no apology or acknowledgement of it. It actually drives you a bit mental because you think you don’t exist, London makes you think that you’re a ghost but once you like it, it’s like, I’m going to milk this happiness for everything it’s worth.’ Not surprisingly, Felicity is pretty sceptical or the recent ‘Tube Chat’ initiative that’s been in the news, “That’s hilarious, it will never happen, the whole of London is one silent protest”.
There’s also the small matter of our British Isles climate as Ward confirming she still misses the Australian weather: “Course I do. It’s not so much the warmth, it’s the blue sky. You can be in Tasmania in winter, 5 degrees but the sun is still shining. I’d never gone ten days without seeing the sun before moving here, I thought I was going to go mad because I’d never been without it for that long. On the flip side, Felicity doesn’t miss her homeland’s vast array of deadly creatures as we discuss another of this week’s amusing stories, this time featuring the unfortunate Australian gent bitten by a spider on the privates for a second time this year whilst using a portaloo, although Ward’s sympathy is somewhat lacking… “Mate, if it’s happened once then you check your toilet”.
Find out more about Felicity at www.felicityward.com.