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How does Comedy Facilitate Healing? Maureen French

My name is Maureen French, I am a Darug woman from the Hawkesbury river area. I’ve only been doing comedy for 6 months. I’m actually a nurse of 50 years. And in that six months, my whole life has changed, it’s amazing. The people I’ve met, the experiences I’ve had have just been amazing and wonderful. 

What have you been up to since Deadly Funny?

I’ve been on tour for a week with the Koori Comedy group. That was an amazing experience. We went to Bowraville, which if anyone knows the history of Bowraville back in 1965 Charles Perkins heard of extreme racism in Bowraville, at the Bowraville Theatre Aboriginal people could not enter by the front door, could only enter by the back door, could only enter after the movie had started, sat under the stage, couldn’t even see the movie, had to exit the theatre before the movie had finished so the whites wouldn’t see them.

We did this (performance) at the Bowraville Theatre with the express purpose of doing an Indigenous comedy show to bring back some laughter. My daughter was working the door, giving tickets out, and an elder came up to her in tears and said this was the first time he had ever entered through the front door, that he was with Charles Perkins in 1965 and he’d never had the courage to go to the theatre since. He was in tears. A lot of Elders came up to us afterwards and said “thank you, you’ve brought he laughter back to Bowraville”. And that was the main reason we did it. 

I felt so connected to these people. I was never able to say what I was as a child growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, my parents were terrified I’d be taken away. My father was a World War II veteran fighting in New Guinea. But when he came back, he wasn’t allowed to vote. The vote didn’t come until two years after he died from Malaria that he contracted in New Guinea. 

I remember sitting in the car outside the school where my mum would vote, and I remember saying to my Dad when I was about 8, “Why don’t you ever vote Daddy?” and he said “oh darling we’re not allowed to” and he wasn’t even sad or angry, he was just “well that’s the way it is”. 

So I had all these suppressed feelings for many years, and doing this comedy has brought out a lot of hidden and deep-down feelings to me. It’s been very cathartic. And joining the mob, all the people I’ve met, same stories that we’ve had. The younger ones are absolutely amazed that we’ve been through all this. Comedy has been really cathartic to me, it’s just been fabulous. A lot of Elders at Bowraville said to me “you are so inspiring, we are going to do what we want to do too”

Can you tell us about any standout moments from your experiences in Deadly Funny this year?

I had the BEST time, I was honoured to be invited to go there (to Melbourne). I’d only ever done one stand-up show before, which was the heat, and the next thing I know I’m on the stage at the Forum, in Melbourne, at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. It was so surreal. I had such a wonderful time. You and everyone else were so wonderful. All of the other comedians were just gorgeous people and I’m still in contact with all of them, we’ve kept a very close bond. 

My hotel room was party central, we all went and partied in Aunty’s place for a party each night. It was the best experience. I loved every second of it and I learned so much. 

How can comedy help to facilitate healing, or contribute to healing country? 

It’s a fusion. It all comes together like a matrix. It’s a healing process. I mean. Reconciliation means coming together, and that’s what we’ve done (through comedy). We’ve come together. I think we need to stop looking at each other as Black, white, whatever, and do start to listen to each other’s backgrounds and stories. And we’ll understand more. Knowledge and education is the key that opens the door to our children’s future. The more they are educated, the more they learn about our past, the better they’ll be prepared for the future, so that it never happens again. 

We must not have that bitterness kill us off though, we must move forward, we must never forget, we MUST move forward. It is time to move forward. 

Do you have any reflections on how your nursing career and your emerging comedy career interplay? 

My nursing experiences does come together with my Aboriginality as well, I’ve had a few experiences of racism in nurses. I’ve had people say “wow, you’re doing nursing and you’re an Aboriginal? Gee you’re quite pretty for an Aboriginal” - And all women my age have copped that. 

With nursing, when I started out as a nurse, I was THE Aboriginal nurse. There were no Aboriginal doctors, no such thing. Now there are quite a few, a lot of Aboriginal nurses, and they are going out to the communities, which I love to see. I didn’t have that opportunity when I was young, it wasn’t there for us, if I had, I would have gone out to the missions and nurtured and mentored young women to do nursing, to help their people. So nursing has impacted a lot. 

My Indigenous background and my nursing has run in parallel; each has helped the other. Comedy has always been a forcefield for me. I’ll laugh at you before you laugh at me. Or I’ll laugh at me. Comedy has always helped, and the two have gone hand in hand. And I am so proud to see Aboriginal nurses and doctors and lawyers and politicians. That wasn’t seen back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, it wasn’t seen at all. 

Do you have any advice for people considering entering Deadly Funny, or trying out comedy for the first time? 

Do it. Just do it, that’s all I can say. I’m 70 years old, and I’ve taken up comedy at the age of 70. Just do it! You could fall on your face, you get up again. You’ll have a few scratches on your face but you’ll get up again. I would say to everyone that if you have a burning desire to get up, or a passion to do anything in your life, comedy or anything, do it! Have a go, you mug!

I know it’s not easy for everyone, I’m an outgoing person and not everyone is, and I understand that. But think about it, think about it, talk to your friends, your family, your peers. You need encouragement, and the best person you can get encouragement from is yourself. Just listen to your heart and give it a go. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. But I will never die without a regret, that’s always been my motto. No regrets.

Do you have any other pearls of wisdom for us? 

I just want to see everyone just listen to each other. Everyone Just listen. You talk and you have your ideas. Everyone hears, but not everyone listens, they don’t listen to the backstories and see that each individual has a story. Listen to those stories and it’s gonna make the world a much easier place to live in. Especially these days. That’s all I’ve got to say, really. And have a go. 

The NAIDOC 2021 theme – Heal Country! – calls for all of us to continue to seek greater protections for our lands, our waters, our sacred sites and our cultural heritage from exploitation, desecration, and destruction. We're using this week to amplify the voices of the First Nations voices on the Australian comedy scene and in doing so, asking them how comedy facilitates healing. For more stories, head here.