Felicity Ward is an Australian comedian, writer and actor. She is best known for her appearances in television series Spicks and Specks, Thank God You’re Here and Good News Week. Felicity’s first stand up show Felicity Ward’s Ugly As a Child Variety Show won a Best Newcomer award at the Melbourne Fringe Festival and her second show Felicity Ward Reads From The Book of Moron was nominated for Best Newcomer at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. She is now putting on her latest performance, Busting a Nut, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Felicity is being praised by critics and has been featured on Netflix, BBC Radio 4, Live from the BBC and Mock the Week. Here Felicity tells Mandy News how she got started in comedy, what it was like moving to the UK and performing at Edinburgh and what her sketch-writing process entails.
Felicity, please introduce yourself and tell us how you got involved in the world of comedy.
Oh gosh, this is such a boring story – because it was a decade ago! What a horrible thing to say out loud. It’s a convoluted story.
Effectively, I went to see Adam Hills, who hosts The Last Leg. He had a TV show in Australia and was doing a live version of that show. The person I was seeing at the time was friends with him, so we went along and ended up having drinks afterwards. We were all having a good old time and then Adam went to buy me a drink. I said I wanted a coke and he said I could have anything I wanted. I said I didn’t drink and he said if you could be half this funny, I will get you on my TV show because we don’t have enough women on.
He ended up getting me on the TV show and then his wife had a variety show that she did during comedy festivals and asked me if I wanted to do something during the Melbourne Comedy Festival. She said it didn’t have to be stand-up, which I said was good as I’m never going to do stand-up.
I was a tour manager and production manager at the time, so my idea was to do a trivia game with someone in the audience. I was going to buy these toy tanks that shot each other with infrared electric shocks and if they got it wrong they got shot and if they got it right they could shoot me.
Two days before this show, which was the last night of the Melbourne Comedy Festival, I ordered the tanks. I was on the phone when I buzzed the postman up and when I went to find them they were gone. I don’t know if the posty took them or someone in the building took them; I don’t know what happened, but they were gone.
So, then I had two days and my first set was 12 minutes long. I had to write 12 minutes of stand up in two days. Fortunately, I always kept a notebook from my sketch days, so I just trawled through that.
That was my first gig and, afterwards, I thought "this is what I want to do".
So there was no inclination at all towards stand-up before that?
No, not at all – not for stand-up. Sketch, yes, and doing a one-woman sketch, yes, but not stand-up.
When did you start writing sketches yourself?
I was a kid. I mean I don’t understand people that say they are an introvert and they do stand-up. I do understand it, in that they find a voice on stage that they can’t in real life but I’m a natural attention seeker. I have always been like that and always wanted to be on stage.
I used to write dumb, little sketches in primary school and in high school I was always writing poetry. I used to watch a lot of sketches and sort of discovered myself when I was about 11 or 12. There’s a group called Working Dog in Australia and they had a show called The Late Show, which I just thought was the most incredible thing. Then, I found League of Gentlemen and Strangers with Candy – they’re my big stepping stones in terms of my inspirations.
Are you currently living in the UK or over in Australia? If over here, how did you make that transition?
As of a month ago, I have officially lived in the UK as a stand-up longer than I’ve lived in Australia as a stand-up.
I moved here in May 2013. I did a lot of back and forth in the first couple of years, but less and less as the years went on.
I got to a point in Australia, where I wanted to get better and I wanted more people to see my shows. I was doing all the gigs I could and just felt like I needed a fresh start – or a kick up the bum – and I got both of those when I came to England.
Your show is called Busting a Nut – can you tell us a little but about it and the process of putting it together and taking a show to Edinburgh, which is a very big, difficult place to do anything?
It is. Well, this is my eighth stand-up show at the Edinburgh Fringe, so I’ve had some practice.
This is almost the first time where I’ve had no theme – at the moment, there isn’t even a beginning or an end or a middle. There’s just an hour of straight stand-up.
My last show ended up being a story of something that happened to me in a 24 or 48-hour period. The time before that was about my anxiety and Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and how that came to be. The show before that had a bit of political comedy, with an overarching theme of appearances versus reality.
This is the first time that I’ve just been writing stand-up as I go, doing clubs as I usually do over the last two years. So, this is the first time that I’ve done something as traditional as this, if that makes sense? This makes it sound high concept, but it’s actually the opposite – it’s just an hour of jokes.
When you’re creating the show, is it something you workshop?
Yeah, it’s really interesting. There are bits of stand-up that work well in a club on a Friday or Saturday night in a club, which I’ve been doing for a couple of months and they really pop as their own individual bit but, when I put them in the context of the show, they get their edges softened a bit.
I just have to get the structure and order right. And getting all the links right, so it doesn’t sound like “and here is something about yoga” – “now, we are also going to talk about getting sick and using crystal healing”.
Segues are a real pain in the arse.
Talking about segues – is that what becomes the hardest things about putting a show together, marrying everything together. Do you have a process to work on something like that?
Basically, you want to make people laugh for an hour, so you have to figure out the best way to do that.
Sometimes, it’s a problem that the jokes aren’t funny enough and sometimes the segues aren’t good enough and sometimes it’s a problem with the tone of the show. Maybe, I have a bit that I can open with on a Friday or Saturday night but it’s a bit spicy at the top of the show. There’s also stuff you could probably have got away with a couple of years ago.
That’s what putting a show together is – figuring out what the problem is. It’s a process of elimination. Every year, you think “which thing haven’t I got right this time? Is it just the order? Is it the entire concept? Is it that I don’t want to do a show this year? What could the problem be?”
But, I am really excited to be in Edinburgh this year because I haven’t been here to do a show for two years – I’m pumped.
The show runs to August 26 in Edinburgh then, after that, you’re taking it on the road for all of October and November. Do you find that the show is constantly morphing and changing as you perform?
It slowly morphs. It always happens in previews - I think I can make a bit work and then after two weeks in Edinburgh, I just think “drop the bit, you can’t make it work, people aren’t laughing”.
Other bits inevitably get longer or things happen over the course of the run.
I did this show a few years ago and I had this bit about how I consider myself very good on buses – I don’t stand in the aisle; I won’t stand in the wheelchair area if anyone needs it; I tuck things away; I’ll sit in the window seat not the aisle. I have very good bus etiquette, right?
During the last week of Edinburgh Fringe, this guy wrote that he was the Head of Transport in Scotland and he said “just to let you know that your bus etiquette is appreciated”. I was like “oh my God”, because the section was about how I’m hoping that someone notices; like, there’s a secret society and someone will come up to me when I’m on the bus and put their hand on my shoulder and say “we see you and we see what you’re doing and we appreciate it”.
That’s the dumb joke and it actually came true. It became a part of the show that right at the end I’d read this tweet out from that guy.
So, things tend to happen that the show just gets naturally longer as life happens.
Other than being a touring comedian with your own shows, you also appear a lot on the radio and TV panel shows – what are the difference challenges you face doing your work as a stand-up comedian compared to these panel shows?
There’s a different challenge with every different medium of comedy you do – it’s just going “which way am I going to fail this time?”
The Radio 4 series that I’ve just finished, which goes on air during August, has been months of non-stop writing, with redrafts and writing and redrafts and writing, and then redrafts and then doing a preview of it and then cutting bits.
I want to do the best job that I can and I want audiences to think I’m doing the best job that I can. Even if people don’t like me, I want them to think “that wasn’t my cup of tea, but maybe someone thought that was funny”.
That’s the aim. It’s rarely how it goes because Twitter is anonymous and people are a***holes.
With panel shows, it’s a much quicker turnover. Then, a stand-up show can take months or even years – depending on how many times you do Edinburgh – to craft your material.
Do you feel performing on a show like Mock the Week, where you have to freestyle a lot of your comedy, keeps you on your toes?
Yeah, and the filming goes on for about three hours. So, you have to be on high alert for two to three hours just to be as funny as you can and try to remember that you’re on camera. Not just think “oh, I don’t know anything about that”.
You said you have a new show on BBC Radio 4 coming out in August and then after the Edinburgh Fringe you're touring the UK. What else have you got coming out?
I had a special released on Netflix, under the Live from the BBC series – that’s on Netflix at the moment.
Also, Deborah Frances-White, the host of The Guilty Feminist podcast, made a satirical news pilot and I wrote on that. So, most of May, I was in the writers’ room for that.
I’ve literally finished a week ago and I’m still in the edit for Radio 4. And, it turns out, I have to send a lot of invoices – my admin is real backed up. You know that one; the old self-employed song – “I can’t eat, but it’s my own fault”. It’s a great song.
I hate it and I surround myself with people that can help me – I used to have a bookkeeper and an accountant. I’ve just got an accountant now. I have to do my tax in two different countries and, for someone who has a phobia of paperwork, it is a living nightmare. Every year, I’m like “I’m so sorry I’m nine months late, can we still submit it?”
What advice do you have for people who want to get into writing and performing comedy?
There are no shortcuts; you only get better with practice; some people start better than others, but a career takes a really long time.
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Felicity Ward is at the Edinburgh Fringe throughout August and touring nationwide.
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