Not content with each scooping nominations for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s (MICF) prestigious Barry Award, doled out at the 19th Annual Comedy Awards on Saturday night, comedians Rhys Nicholson and Zoe Coombs Marr also got hitched on Friday.
Not to their same-sex partners, however, what with the small matter of marriage equality still being a pipe dream hinging on a plebiscite. Nope. Instead they tied the knot with each other at the Festival Club at Max Watt’s in a non-violent protest - to which everyone was invited.
“This is the best way we could figure out to show how pissed off we are and go, look at this wedding, this is dumb,” Nicholson says. “We’re pissed off that this is taking so long and we’re spending millions of dollars on having the majority vote for the minority.”
While Nicholson, nominated for his hit MICF show Bona Fide, is engaged to his partner, Coombs Marr, lauded for her turn as raging meninist alter ego Dave in the outrageous Trigger Warning (also up for the Golden Gibbo), has no interest in buying into the institution. “It’s a double-pronged thing for both of us really,” Nicholson says. “It’s about visibility and equality, but it’s also about the way that the institution of marriage is right now - very archaic. Yesterday we bought a ball and chain.”
A host of surprise wedding guests, both from the MICF crowd and a few unexpected types, took duties including readings, songs and a gaggle of flower girls. “[When we launched it] both of our Twitters exploded,” Nicholson said. “Suddenly Wil Anderson was re-tweeting it. Everyone’s getting really involved.”
Telstra executives and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull didn't respond to Nicholson’s tweet invite, but the pair have also endured their first online troll, who butted in to say the irony of them wanting to get married but making a satire out of marriage was not lost on him. “We’d been waiting,” Nicholson says, “It’s like, it clearly is lost on you. I love trolls who dig themselves into holes of stupidity.”
The idea first occurred to them backstage at last year’s Edinburgh Festival. “Zoe was dressed as Dave, covered in fake blood, fake vomit and her fake beard and I was in the suits that I wear,” Nicholson laughs. “I said that we looked like the fuckedest gay wedding anyone had ever seen.”
Though it’s Coombs Marr he’s getting hitched to, with a dress fitting already ticked off the to-do list and vows being written, Nicholson hadn’t ruled out Dave throwing a spanner in the works and running off with him, The Graduate-style. Most of all he’s stoked to be helping out youth charity Minus18 with proceeds from the event. “We wanted to put the money towards a pretty important organisation because both of us have histories of being young people feeling like we’re outside of things. We’re both very aware of not wanting to be whingey. We know there are queer people in the world in much worse situations.”
Blown away by the Barry nominations, which Nicholson insists wasn’t on his radar, he said he's proud to see Coombs Marr and Tom Ballard also up for the big prize, though he believes it’s much more about them being ridiculously funny than them being gay. “I’m excited that this is the first year I’ve not been asked, ‘there’s just so many queer comedians this year, what’s that about?’”
“It’s an inherently ridiculous act. We’ve clearly never been in love with each other and never will be, and yet we can actually get married.”
A frustrated Combs Marr points out the ridiculousness of the situation that has brought them to their wedding eve. “It’s an inherently ridiculous act. We’ve clearly never been in love with each other and never will be, and yet we can actually get married.”
As a feminist who has beef with the history of the institution, even if she gets the celebration aspect, while Coombs Marr won’t be rushing down the aisle when marriage equality eventually passes, she says that’s not the point. “People always ask, ‘oh well, would you want to get gay married?’ but that’s not actually how rights work. It’s not like having access to an ambulance and people asking, “well, do you wanna go in an ambulance?” It’s kinda circumstantial really.”
It all comes down to equality, she says, and the sooner we get marriage out of the way, the better. “The thing that gets me is when there are leaders of the country actively telling gay people that they are less than. It’s a silly thing that could be changed really easily. Most people support it except for some bananas out there and there are more important things we need to talk about. It’s actually about equality and that then moves into trans rights and issues around race and the intersection with feminism. We need to get past the marriage thing so that we can focus on that ongoing journey of inequality that exist in so many ways in our world.”
And what does Dave make of the nuptials? “I think Dave would probably be a little bit confused about the whole thing. I don’t think he’d go so far as the guy who’s been trolling us on Twitter, but I think he’d be like, ‘what, that doesn’t make any bloody sense.’ Dave and I agree on quite a lot really.”