GETTING TO KNOW: FRANKIE MCNAIR

Frankie McNair has performed comedy all over Canberra and interstate including; Floriade Fringe Festival, Canberra Comedy Festival, and Melbourne International Comedy Festival. She also is known for being half of comedy duo Sweaty Pits with Miriam Slater, whose debut show Pity Party was nominated for “Best Comedy” at the 2018 Melbourne Fringe Festival, and also won the 2018 Sydney Fringe Festival “New Zealand Tour Ready Award”.

Photo Credit: Rory Gillen

The Street talks to Frankie before the debut of her new show in the Canberra Comedy Festival – Frantasia – at The Street Theatre.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WANT TO MAKE PEOPLE LAUGH?

I was super timid as a kid. If you looked at me wrong I would burst out crying. By myself, different story, I was an absolute dork and borderline obsessed with Jim Carrey. I thought he was the funniest person on the planet (prove me wrong.) I used to watch Ace Venture on repeat and mimic him in front to the TV (“and now a Yak” is still frequently said in our house). In year 3 I had this teacher who was SO mean! Like, looking back, she was just stressed and underpaid but to 7 year old me she was MEAN. We had to do a skit in class and I got up and it was the first time I had ever seen her laugh.  I dunno, I wasn’t really exceptional at anything as a kid, but I could always make the crying kids laugh by being silly and make teachers crack a smile and it was probably the only times as a kid I felt I was naturally good at something.

WHERE DO YOUR STORIES COME FROM?

I think my stories and ideas are a mixture of real life experiences and just my brain being a whack-a-doodle. I really like pulling the ridiculous out of a simple life experience and taking a concept or idea and just thinking ‘cool…how can I make this bigger? How can I make this larger than life?’ Some stories I tell are earnest, some are incredibly embellished, and others involve conspiracy theories about the dentist and getting somebody to dress up in a “Tooth Cop” costume just because I think that is very funny.

HOW DO YOU TEST YOUR MATERIAL?

Open mics baby! Slugging it to open mics is the way to do it. I have an initial idea or concept and jump up and see what worked and what needs to be tightened (or completely canned) and then I go to another one and do it again and again and again and refine that bad boy. It’s actually pretty cool getting the opportunity to see where I can improve and getting to discover my voice and finding out more about the way I find joy in performing.  

HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN THE AUDIENCE IS NOT WITH YOU?

Ooooooooooooft. It’s a magical moment. There’s this beautiful silence that falls across the room and the twinkling glow of phone lights speckled throughout the venue as people begin to retreat to a safer reality while a cosy blanket of tension is placed over every person there, like a tea towel over an anxious budgie.  It is quite beautiful really.   

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN IT’S NOT WORKING?

Address the awkwardness and make light of it. It humanises you and shows that you’re self-aware and not just trying to torture every one. One of the most awkward things I’ve seen is people getting frustrated with the audience if things are going poorly. I always try to remember that no-one in the audience wants you to do badly. They are on your side. They are there to laugh and have a great time so show them love and generally they will show it back. And always keep trying to do your best! As soon as you tap out so does the audience. In every audience there are, what I like to call, ‘supportive soccer aunties’. Find them. Look at them. Address them. These are the people in the audience, who no matter how bad you are bombing, are still leaning forward in their chairs and beaming with hope for you. And also, just reminding myself that I’m a human being with lots going on and one bad night does not dictate the rest of my very early career. Bad nights are some of the best learning experiences. As long as I’m always striving to improve and going into a situation with enthusiasm and love that’s a pretty solid foundation to keep going off.

YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMEDY AS A COMBINATION OF STAND-UP, PHYSICAL COMEDY, AND A LIZA MINNELLI FEVER DREAM. TELL US MORE.

Me doing comedy has been a bit of a weird self-acceptance journey. Originally, I did musical comedy. Then straight stand up. Now there are elements of stand up, sketch-comedy, burlesque, physical comedy, and surrealism. And I love it so much! I still struggle to accept that ‘I don’t have to do traditional stand-up in order to be a comedian’. What I do isn’t “traditional stand-up” and that doesn’t mean it is less than. I have the intention of making people laugh + I make people laugh = comedian. It’s pretty simple. It’s easy to forget that and I begin comparing myself to others and beat myself up for not being them, and as soon as that story starts playing in my head I hate doing comedy. I can easily over complicate being a silly goof by trying to fit in with the labels that I’m often given. “You’re a prop comic.” “You’re a sketch comic.” “You do comedic burlesque.” “You’re an actual gremlin”. I tell stories in my own weird and wonderful mash up of ways that brings me joy. No one has the same voice. That’s the exciting and awesome thing about performance and comedy.

HOW DO YOU WORK IN COLLABORATION WITH OTHER COMEDIANS?

IT’S THE BEST! Everyone brings such different energy to the table and when you put all your dumb ideas in one melting pot, either a majestic butterfly or Frankenstein comes out (and usually Frankenstein is funnier). My friend Emma Holland and I used to meet up at least once a week and just write jokes in silence in each-others company and then occasionally look up at one another and say “is this funny?” and read out what we had written and then we would just add onto it or scrap it. It was the best. Last year I was part of the sketch show Pilot Season which was written by a group of Canberra comedians (we formed the group Whett Brekkie) and it was maybe one of my favourite moments in time. Everyone is so valuable and funny and when you give them the chance to shine and just get lost in their flow for an idea, there is nothing like it. GET OTHER PEOPLES’ OPINIONS! LEARN FROM OTHERS! BE INSPIRED! COLLABORATION IS A WONDERFUL THING!

DO YOU THINK THERE IS A STYLE OF COMEDY EMERGING OUT OF CANBERRA?

There has been a surge in prop comedy, and my god if it isn’t my favourite thing ever. It’s just so silly. But I think Canberra is filled with such a wide variety of comedians that every one’s style is slightly different and that’s really exciting to see.

WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?

Taking some time out for me that isn’t performing all the time. It sounds counter intuitive but right now pooped! I’m currently on tour with Sweaty Pits, physically and mentally exhausted, and have just been so go go go over the past year that I haven’t given myself time to recharge and “fill me cup”. That doesn’t mean that I’m not having the best time in the world! It just means that as wonderful, fun and life giving performing is to me it is also a lot of energy. It’s easy to get all consumed by the thing you love doing that you kind of lose sight of why you do it and that it’s also the silliest thing in the world. It’s usually in moments that I’ve taken a step back and am just being that the concepts free flow and I have the energy to create new ideas. So just trying to remember to take time to be a silly grub is pretty fun and inspiring for creativity.

WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WATCHING CURRENTLY?

I just discovered Oh Hello-On Broadway on Netflix and it might be one of the funniest things I have ever seen. Aunty Donna have always been a massive inspiration for me and they have a new web series out. My mate Harris recommended the book Truth In Comedy and it was an absolute game changer. Also currently reading a book called Just Eat It about intuitive eating which is dope and just for me, as well as watching heaps of funny birb (bird) videos online. 

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