Few people can do comedy well. Lesser people still can be seriously funny. And for some, the idea of taking a serious topic and finding the comedic element is completely absurd. But thankfully, Ruby Wax managed to achieve all this and more during her show at the 2013 Sydney Writers’ Festival.

It had been 12 years since Wax had last been in town but it was worth the wait. The comedian known for working with Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders certainly proved to be one flamboyant character. For starters, you get the sense that she thumbs her nose at any kind of authority. So there was never a chance that this was going to be your run of the mill festival piece. Instead it was more like a one-woman show that was one part cabaret, mostly comedy and with a twist of dancing thrown in for good measure. Her hour-long set was filled with anecdotes, facts and her trademark, witty one-liners.

The statistic goes that one in four people are or will be mentally ill. Wax knows exactly what this is like first-hand because she became the quote “Poster Girl for mental illness” a few years ago. She says that she had trouble switching from being the clown to getting back to normal life. It wasn’t like the audience member sitting there smiling for no apparent reason. This was serious stuff because Wax in effect shut down and it would take her some time and work to recover.

For the first part Wax was her typical, vibrant self, at times the brash raconteur filling the room with her larger than life personality plus plenty of laughs and fun just like our very own, Kathy Lette. At other moments she was rather thought provoking because she’d ask the audience questions like “Does anyone here know how to act like an adult? A married couple? A mummy?”

It’s difficult to imagine someone as ebullient as Wax getting depression. But one thing we did learn is that the disorder doesn’t discriminate when it comes to victims. Wax’s own mother had fought her own demons over the years but was often told she was just experiencing the “change of life” (never mind that her menopause lasted 87 years). And then there was Wax’s “helpful” friend who told her that all she needed to do was “Perk up!”

If nothing else this show helped to dispel two common myths in society. One- that women cannot be funny. And two- that all mentally ill people need is a back rub and a good lie down. Wax had been funny (irrespective of her gender) and did pose the interesting point- why is it that you illicit sympathy when you have illnesses in other parts/organs of the body but not when it’s the brain?

Wax ultimately struck a fabulous balance between sarcastic asides, her acerbic wit, personal anecdotes and physical comedy (lots of stuff you just can’t do justice with in print). Her salsa dancing re-enactment of when she was institutionalised was priceless. Imagine a class run by an ex-Marine and former Chippendale (I’m not making this up) wearing a canary yellow crop-top and matching pants. Sure, we got a half hour Q&A between this funny lady and Women Of The World Founder, Jude Kelly afterwards, but it was this scene that stayed with people as they left the venue. Because THAT was seriously funny!

Originally published on 24 May 2013 at the following website:

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