Can’t be pretty and funny? Ha!

Shelly McConchie found stand-up comedy by detouring through performance poetry with a memorable poem about female body hair that did not quite elicit the expected response.

Once well and truly bit by the proverbial bug, Shelly packed her bags and left Townsville behind in search of the bright lights of…. err, Glasgow.

Ok, it’s not the Hollywood dream story you might have been expecting, but it was a strategic move that placed Shelly smack-bang in the epicentre of arts appreciation and a stone’s throw from that bastion of independent performance art, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Now, Shelly is back and set to hit the Townsville stage again in Laugh ’til You Leak, an all-female comedy line-up celebrating International Women’s Day.

We caught up for a quick chat.

How was life chasing fame in Glasgow?

In Scotland there were so many events on literally every night of the week. Initially, I found it hard to get my foot in the door, so I pretended I was more experienced than I was and entered myself in a comedy rap battle. I didn’t win but I did laugh a lot and it’s really nice to hear the recording of a big audience laughing at my stand-up. Once I’d met people, I was able to go to a gig and end up with two more gigs from that gig – a comedy cluster of sorts..

And you did get to notch an Edinburgh Fringe Festival on your belt. Tell us about the experience?

I emceed a show at the Edinbugh Fringe and participated in a small set and bizarre fixed arm wrestle against other comedians, which for some reason had to accompany my set.

The Fringe was not really the experience I had hoped. Originally, I was offered a show every night at 2am for the whole Fringe (25+ days). I said I was not sure the location of the room would suit my show as there was no bar, and it was up about 50 sets of stairs. The organiser got angry and offered the spot to someone else. I went to that guy’s show and he made a joke about a female audience member and said “shut up b£$ch”. It made the whole Fringe bitter-sweet.

How was the overseas experience, and your performance opportunities, impacted by COVID-19?

I made the weirdest show up for the Glasgow International Comedy festival. It was going to be basically 45 minutes of me doing random things… Jokes, poetry, comedy, weird costumes and alter egos. I had to cancel it due to COVID-19 just the night before it was due to be performed, and after busting my guts rehearsing until 2am while working a demanding job I was relieved just to be able to have a nap.

Post-COVID, gigs moved online and I participated in a few comedy Zooms, one being a combined American and Scottish comedy show. The best part was we chatted with all the comedians after the show and they asked lots of questions about Scottish food. Scottish food is basically a recipe for diabetes, and you can order something from the chippy called a “pizza crunch” which is deep fried pizza. Scotland was heaven for the Arts. I really hope to bring that appreciation back to Townsville and it’s awesome to see that since I’ve been gone, we have our very own Northern Fringe Festival!

“It can be hard for women to be funny when society dictates that to be a good woman you have to be polite, respectful and follow the rules.”

What inspires your comedy and what’s your process for refining your work?

Nothing inspires me more than people saying “You can’t do this” or hearing yet another penis or ya mum joke. The way I do comedy, if I have a time limit for a set, is to record things into my phone when I think of them. I was climbing Castle Hill a few days ago and I thought of a line about dingoes, so I sheepishly said it into my phone. I hoped passers-by just thought I was having a riveting conversation about native fauna. The next stage, after making a set and recording and rehearsing, is to perform the set live and listen to the laughs. I find it excruciatingly painful to hear my own voice but listening back to a live recording is really good feedback. Another tip that helped me is that you should aim for a laugh four to six laughs a minute and not go more than 30 seconds into a set without a joke. That said I find it really difficult to commit to rehearsing anything, so I often go for my spontaneous “tarot” card readings and things I can make up on the spot.

Laugh til You Leak is an all-female comedy show marking International Women’s Day. Where do you see comedy fitting in with other International Women’s Day events?

Comedy is typically performed in pubs and bars. Often the publicans, managers and owners are men: sometimes they can be amazingly supportive and sometimes they can gatekeepers who like to just keep their buddies in the club. Now I am saying #notallvenuemanagers, but yeah quite a few still.

My good friend Jacqui Bisson has done a fantastic job of running a huge International Women’s Week event in Townsville for the past 10 years. The evolution of her project is that things just keep getting better! The Herbert Hotel, where we are performing for IWD 2021, has been fantastic. Laugh ‘til you Leak is about curating an event for Townsville women to participate in, where women from all walks of life are invited and encouraged to share their unique perspectives. There is such an abundance of talent that it would be a shame to not do an all-female line-up. The audience can be anyone but for the second year running we have sold out! If the weather allows us to host the event outdoors we will be able to sell a few additional tickets on the door.

What do you say to people who think ‘women aren’t funny’

I once helped a confused American guy buy a train ticket in Spain and we got to chatting. He asked what I did and I mentioned comedy. He went on a rant about how pretty girls never realise they aren’t funny because no-one ever cuts them down. I was just like ‘You think I’m pretty?’

It can be hard for women to be funny when society dictates that to be a good woman you have to be polite, respectful and follow the rules. Even in school, boys are rewarded with attention for being the loudest or funniest and girls tend to be rewarded for being quiet. Anyone can be funny and it really does take all sorts. I love comedy from people outside my world as they share a little bit of what it’s like to be them. In Scotland I heard comedy from a blind comedian, queer folk, people from all over the world, comedians with stammers, autism, you name it. These people exist in the world and it certainly is a beautiful thing to see them shine on stage.

 Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Townsville is a gold mine for female comedians. There are so many voices that we need to hear. There are a bunch of regular open mic nights where you could dabble in that cater to men and women, including the Centen and Molly’s. Our all-female group meets up every Wednesday night in the Herbert. While Laugh Til You Leak has sold out for this year we hope to be able to sell even more tickets next year so no one misses out. We will be performing at the Townsville Fringe at the Empire tent under the name Livin’ our Best Life.

Laugh til You Leak is part of the International Women’s Week Townsville celebrations

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