Portrait

Comedian Anne Edmonds serves up a slice of middle Australia. By Romy Ash.

Comedian Anne Edmonds

I’m waiting for the comedian Anne “Eddo” Edmonds in the bar above the foyer of the Victoria Hotel. The foyer is bright and sparkly, hung with a chandelier, but within the bar the wood-panelled ceiling feels too close. There’s a lone man drinking a pint of beer in front of the television. The bar is otherwise empty. On the television, a woman, looking wretched, mourns her 16-year-old son. He was murdered 20 years ago and still her face breaks. There are floods next: Queensland is going under. Regular blokes shovel damp sand into bags, and there’s a shot of an industrial bin swamped by water. Smiley plastic faces of the news presenters as the program turns to sport.

“I got your text,” Edmonds says. “It is weird in here.” She’s got a dry-cleaning bag slung over her arm, her outfit for tonight’s opening show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, No Offence, None Taken. We slump into the armchairs that are too low and deep, and in a way I think it’s appropriate. She takes much of her material from middle Australia and I’m feeling it here, in this weird room.

“I’m always interested in people’s stories first,” she says. “Who I see around in everyday life and what they’re saying to one another, and it often comes from pain, to be honest. Like, I see a lot of people struggling,” she laughs, “including myself. Not in a big way, but just, you know, life.” She’s soft spoken and I have to lean forward so I can hear.

“Raylene the Racist”, the first skit Edmonds performed nearly a decade ago, launched her comedy career, and was like a bolt of lightning, revealing to Edmonds her comedic self. She was living in Darwin, working in mental health and at 28 had never performed comedy before.

“I wrote it because I’d been watching on A Current Affair a story about people trying to get a mosque shut down. It struck me: What would it be like to be run out of town for being a racist, rather than a Muslim?” she says. Raylene is a single mum, struggling to make ends meet and scrape enough money together to feed her son, Adolf. Edmonds does a beautiful job of her, tugging on heartstrings, evoking empathy in the viewer and then revealing the horrid persona.

Edmonds says, “I think there’s something about that white middle-class person that looks normal but is perhaps harbouring some deeply disturbing views about the world. I remember my mum saying about that character, ‘Oh, she just looks so nice.’ I think a lot of white Australia can be a bit like that, these throwaway comments, ‘Oh yeah, but they shouldn’t be allowed in’, and you’re like, ‘What?’ ”

Edmonds works with satire, and, in her stand-up, with personal stories where the jokes are dark and tragic. She says comedy can be a coping mechanism. “You can cover some extremely dark and deep stuff on stage through comedy and make it okay through laughing, somehow. I think it is quite powerful. ‘This was disastrous, and here’s the funny side of it.’ And hopefully there’s people in the audience going, ‘Oh yeah, I know what that’s like.’ ”

As she talks, Edmonds twirls her hair, pulling her blonde curls around and around her index finger. It’s very endearing, a child’s trait. I ask her if she’s one of those dark and depressive comedians. “Every comedian I know struggles,” I say, “but on stage undergoes this incredible transformation, into this vibrant hilarity.”

“Yes,” she says and laughs. “Unfortunately, yes. I’m quite in touch with that side of myself. There’s a lot of ups and downs in my life, I guess. It is an interesting side of the same coin, really: laughter and sadness. You’ve got to understand both. Particularly in the sort of comedy that I do, which is quite personal and dark.

“I think an understanding of both things is necessary to be funny. I’ve certainly got an understanding of sadness. You know, you’re laughing, but you know that where it’s coming from is something sad. You know, that’s human – that makes a strong connection.

“I love being on stage, probably more than anywhere else, I’m happiest on stage because it’s so in the moment, and a lot of sadness comes from worrying about either the past or the future. So there’s something about being on stage which is so present that it overcomes all that sadness. And there’s an audience, and they’re so important, and they’ve turned up to see you, and they’re invested. That energy is unbeatable, very powerful.”

We walk down into the bowels of the Victoria Hotel, to the room where she will perform in a couple of hours.

“Are you nervous?” I ask.

“Yeah, terrified,” she says.

“How does it manifest?”

“In sometimes crying. But I’m not crying right now. Give me a minute. Sometimes being sick. 4am wake-ups, going, ‘Noooooooo’.”

We step on stage together, the seats rising steeply away from us. The lights are already stage bright, hot and blinding. I step down to get a look at her from the audience’s perspective, to see if I can see the beginnings of it, of the transformation.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 8, 2017 as "Eddo chamber". Subscribe here.

Romy Ash
is a novelist. Her first book, Floundering, was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award.

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