Fiona O’Loughlin, comedian
My priority is laughter ...
She’s the kind of woman who demands public respect for the new Cadbury Caramel Twirl on Facebook and tells such hilariously hypnotic stories that they’ll leave you chuckling like a beast and struggling for breath. Fiona O’Loughlin has been tapping on funny bones since she first stepped on to the stand-up stage as an Alice Springs mum of three with a knack for telling a good yarn. Despite a shaking leg and lack of prepared material, Fiona felt that fear and did it anyway. But while she may have been a latecomer to the comedy scene, Fiona has certainly made up for her tardiness with stellar performances on stage and television screen over the past 15 years. Before our relatable comedic hero brings her new show The Truth, The Whole Truth and Nothing But The Truth, So Help Me God to the Brisbane Comedy Festival next month, The Weekend Edition dialled her number to talk nerves, Brisbane breakfasts and that brave personal confession …
We were excited to hear you’ll be appearing at the Brisbane Comedy Festival again this year!
So am I, oh my god! I love that comedy festival! It’s just so gorgeous being in the Brisbane Powerhouse and there’s a school camp kind of atmosphere because you’re all in the same building and know that you’re on stage and all your buddies are in other rooms doing the exact same thing – I love it.
You obviously know Brisbane pretty well …
I don’t know what it is about Brisbane, but that city has been so kind to me. Brisbane was where I fell down on stage, and Brisbane is where they let me get back up. It’s just been unbelievable.
Is there anything on your to-do, to-see or to-consume list while you’re here?
Oh I just think Brisbane does the best breakfasts in Australia, they’re crazy good. It’s a tough life isn’t it! Wake up about 11:00 am, have brunch, then do a show for an hour …
What can you tell us about this show? That’s a pretty ominous title …
Well even though a big part of my profile has always been ‘the woman with all the children’, there’s a lot I haven’t said about what life was like in Alice Springs. So I’m really spilling, everything’s on the table, from racism to drugs. It’s really weird, it’s one of the darkest shows I’ve written in many ways, but one of the funniest. I’m autobiographical and I always will be – I’ve worked out that that’s the only instrument I can play!
Is it therapeutic to get all of your stories and feelings out in the open? Or is it tough to relive the experiences every time you perform?
It’s just the only way I know how to do stand-up. I find it very therapeutic and really exciting – especially when you’ve got a brand-new show. I’m really happy with this one. It’s over-written by about an hour, so if you come you’ll see a different 20 minutes every night because I only have one hour on stage!
Is it true that you never rehearse your stand-up shows?
Never! I’ve never put pen to paper or rehearsed. When they’re stories that you were there for, then I don’t think rehearsing would be of any value. But they’re definitely stories I’ve told friends. It’s amazing how much you keep finding that’s right there under your nose, and things that happened that never in a million years did you think would one day be in a show …
How do your children handle stories being told about them?
Well I don’t talk about them so much anymore – they’re old enough to get lawyers! I’ve only ever talked about what’s in front of me, so when I had all the kids at home, that was what my world was made up of. So it’s changed and my demographic has changed too – one of my kids was in a pub the other day and there was a young metal-head guy who overheard that she was my daughter and he told her, “I love three things in this world: metal music, my dog and Fiona O’Loughlin”. So that’s pretty cool!
Your younger sister Emily Taheny is also a comedian, was it always a battle for laughs over the dinner table in your household?
Things were different back then, there weren’t enough laughs for my liking. She was so much younger, she was just a joy and she revolutionised our house. I was a really melancholic kid, I didn’t like the state of childhood much at all, I especially couldn’t stand it when my mother would say “That’s enough fun for now”. Then my sister Emily came along and they’d really softened, as parents do, and she was just born to perform. She was the funniest toddler – she could mimic all our aunts before she was three. And we corrupted her terribly … We had those letter magnets on the fridge and mum would come home and there’d be a sea of profanities on there. All my brothers and sisters were funny and good storytellers, it was just our culture. I recognised really good timing in my dad and he was a really good listener – I think that’s the key to being a good storyteller, you have to be as good, if not better, at listening. I learnt a lot, it was just absorbed. I was lucky that was the environment.
If you could give any advice to the teenage version of yourself, what do you think you’d want to tell her?
Don’t smoke, you idiot! Seriously, don’t … If I could go back and slap myself hard in the head, I would.
You got into stand-up later in life after you’d started a family; what gave you the balls to finally give it a go?
Yeah I had three kids by the time I started stand-up. I used to MC for local cabarets and things in Alice Springs, nothing professional, and the Arts Minister of the Northern Territory at the time was in the audience one night and he said to me, “You’re doing stand-up. You should apply to our office for a grant”. I didn’t know what to apply for, so I asked for $600 – I didn’t want to be greedy – and I caught a McCafferty’s bus from Alice Springs down to Melbourne. Two nights on a bus, left my husband, holding a baby – they all thought I’d gone mental … And then I found this world that I just had to be a part of.
So that experience changed everything?
Back then, I didn’t even know what I wanted out of it – my only goal was to maybe one day headline at a comedy club – that was as far as I thought comedy went, I didn’t even know there was an international comedy scene. So I’ve had a wild ride and I’m more excited about it now than ever. My priority is laughter – I still wake up every day and thank my lucky stars that I was allowed in this game.
Can you remember that first stand-up gig in Melbourne?
I walked into The Star & Garter, which was a pub in South Melbourne, and it was a real hub for comics back then. Bob Franklin was MC-ing and Brad Oakes said, “Do you want to get up and do ten?”. I said yes, but I didn’t actually have ten minutes. I didn’t even know what ‘do ten’ meant!
Was it terrifying?
Oh it was absolutely terrifying! One of my legs just went off on its own tangent; it was like it was having an epileptic fit and I could do nothing about it.
And what did your kids think of those early shows – were they cheering you on or rolling their eyes?
They’ve always cheered me on. What I say on stage is nothing compared to what I say off stage … I just really changed it up with mothering – my sister used to call it ‘the land of do as you please’. It was like, “You want to play on the roof? Fine. You don’t want your dinner? Have a banana”. I just think you can cut so many corners and spend more time playing. I was really good at mothering back then, and then my mothering wasn’t so good when I hit the skids, but they’re very forgiving and we have very open channels. I’ve never hidden anything from them. It’s kind of hard to make jokes about them because I’m just besotted with them.
I’ve read some really adoring reviews of your shows, but what’s one of the worst or most unusual reviews you’ve ever had?
Well it was me being vain, but in Edinburgh there was a review that said, “Fiona O’Loughlin is a pretty middle-aged woman” – and I was like “I think he called me pretty!” But my daughter said, “There’s no comma, mum. It means you’re pretty middle-aged”. How vain am I! If only that comma had been there, dammit …
You’re a mum of five, what would you say is one of the most important lessons you’ve learnt since you’ve become a parent?
I get really tired of hearing parents say, “All I want for my kids is to be happy”. I want more than that. I really want them to be generous, that’s all I want. The most generous people I know are the happiest people I know.
Now I don’t want to be pain in the ass, but I just want to touch on your Australian Story appearance briefly. If there’s one key message that you want people to take away from your own experience with alcoholism, what would it be?
It can happen to anyone. It’s a tricky thing, alcoholism is a disease, but it’s a disease you get stamped with – so there’s an element of responsibility you’ve got to take as well. You’re the first person to know and the last, if you know what I mean. I’d say, just say it out loud to someone. Immediately. Today, if you’re reading this. And that’s just the beginning. It doesn’t matter who you say it to, but just say it out loud.
What are you most proud of in your life so far?
Oh my kids, definitely!
Finally, what does ‘success’ mean to you?
Being able to do what you love and make a living out of it. My dream is to just keep doing stand-up. I’m really good friends with Joel Creasey, which is really odd in this game – 51-year-old women don’t usually have best friends who are 24-year-old guys – but I was walking along with him and I said, “Oh I can’t wait to be 70” and he was like, “What are you talking about? You’re mental!”. But it’s the joy of stand-up as you age – you find that you can say more, and that’s got to be the pay-off for wrinkles! I just feel like the luckiest duck in the world that I get to do this for a living.