When she’s not travelling, Queen of Comedy Chris Ryan calls Canberra home. Born in Sydney to an agricultural economist dad and Renaissance woman mum, she lived in India where she went to an international school saying that she developed a strange accent. From an early age, she knew that she wanted to pursue a career in comedy. She has earned spots on Sydney Comedy Festival Showcase tours to Queensland and NSW, the Canberra Comedy Festival Gala, TEDxCanberra, Floriade Nightfest, the Fearless Comedy Gala and CanBRA Comedy Gala in 2018. She has performed in sold out shows at the Canberra Comedy Festival and at The Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
The Street talks to Chris before the debut of Bogus, her new show in the Canberra Comedy Festival at the Street Theatre.
Well, you have described me as a “Queen”, so comedy is the only option. How else can I live with being a privileged, white woman whose authority and wealth comes from being born into the right family? Plus, I never became an Olympic gymnast or made enough pop songs to sit back and watch that sweet coin roll in from my own perfume line.
WHERE DO YOUR STORIES COME FROM?
I keep my stories inside a vault on the ocean floor off the coast of Tierra del Fuego. Often, I forget the combination to unlock the vault and I can rarely hold my breath long enough to go and retrieve one. The stories materialise in the vault after I have dinner with my parents, or try to make friends with a woman my age or a mate ruins lunch telling me about a story from Four Corners.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR SHOW BOGUS THAT IS COMING TO THE STREET THEATRE FOR THE CANBERRA COMEDY FESTIVAL? WHAT CAN AUDIENCES EXPECT?
Firstly, people’s expectations are one of the main reasons everyone is so miserable and feel like failures. I will be asking the big questions like: Why don’t flies follow you from inside to outside? How can we expect politicians to be good people? and would my partner be happier if I were a lithe, hippy gardener called Astrid?
HOW DO YOU TEST YOUR MATERIAL?
I test my material by telling it to anyone who will listen to me but more often, to people who will not. My family are harsh critics, but they are funny, which is good. There are plenty of open mic nights in Canberra where you can tell your new bits to a room of comedians who are staring at their own notes or who like totally different comedy to yours and a sprinkling of vaguely present civilians. It’s fraught, but necessary.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN THE AUDIENCE IS NOT WITH YOU?
When they are facing in the opposite direction, ordering a Burrito. Literally. I once agreed to a corporate gig with a Burrito chain where I was expected to perform comedy in the Canberra Centre food court at lunchtime to people that had no interest in comedy, they just wanted a spicy chicken treat with jalapenos and guacamole. So did I. The speaker was so huge it was up to my shoulders but it didn’t work. So, I was standing in the food court, holding a microphone as a prop, miming jokes to ravenous, disinterested public servants.
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN IT’S NOT WORKING?
Comedy is like sex, if it’s not working you either double down and mix it up or go to sleep wondering where you went wrong. Either way, it’s up to you, well, me (in this analogy).
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE FACE OF COMEDY AND THE GENDER BALANCE.
Like a bitchy mate from Year 9, comedy has many faces: one might make you feel bad; one is super smart; and, one will make you laugh until you wet your pants. I can’t hold a gun to people’s heads and make them try comedy but I try to encourage everyone who is funny to give it go, especially those whose stories are largely missing from the scene (such as everyone who is not a heterosexual young, able-bodied white male).
DO YOU THINK THERE IS A STYLE OF COMEDY EMERGING OUT OF CANBERRA?
There are many styles of comedy emerging from Canberra, as it should be. There’s the burlesque-get your tits out-cabaret-mash-up; the emotionless deadpan stand and deliver; or, there’s me – a tap-dancing rat with a gold tooth, beckoning you closer, whispering “we’re all going to be alright”.
WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?
I watched an online video of a Weaver Bird turning strips of grass into a nest without opposable thumbs. They use more than 1000 strips to make the nest, using only their beak and feet to tie knots. Plus, it’s the bloke Weaver Bird that makes the home and I’m a sucker for watching guys do work around the house for their family. This was inspiring for so many reasons, not the least of which is you can make something great yourself even if other people look at you and think “she probably can’t do that”.
WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WATCHING CURRENTLY?
I am (slowly) reading a non-fiction by social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson called Mistakes Were Made: (But not by Me). I cannot get my family to communally watch anything on TV because it is not 1985 anymore. We all have the ability to stream content and have no patience for less than first choice viewing. Gone are the nights when families sat around watching Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley or Family Ties – I kind of miss that.