I am relatively new to comedy. I’m still trying to figure out my voice and it’s a very confusing time - an awkward phase much like a creative puberty or, more alluringly, a creative renaissance. There is an overwhelming amount of rules, techniques, and histories to learn as well as trying to carve out my own space. What do I want to write and should I give it more “weight” by making it more political? Sometimes I wish I could just forget about the outside world but I know my work does not exist in a vacuum and I want people’s attention. Who am I and why should I matter to you?
For the first time ever, I’m performing an hour-length show of solely my own writing. Self-producing a show is a grind and it is what I’m currently doing for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Not only have I created a show from my soul but now I have to sell it as well and those two things demand completely different modes of thinking. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to sell my soul but I’ll be even happier if people buy it. What makes me happy and how do I sell it?
I feel like there is now a demand for the work of artists of colour to “interrogate”
I often worry that my work is not political enough, not Asian enough, not queer enough, not relatable enough - or worried that I’m not enough of those things. Of course those are thoughts exacerbated by my own personal anxieties and insecurities as well as The Industry but I always wonder if I should add more gay jokes, Asian jokes, or, god forbid, self-deprecating jokes (don’t worry, I will never add any of that last one). I want to talk about silly things like my genuine love for Instagram, my cravings for non-subversive romantic comedies, and how much I enjoy being in this world however messy it is. I can’t deny that I love hearing other queer/Asian comedians speak about their specific experiences because it makes me feel seen but should I be doing that too? Am I the Right Kind of Queer Asian Comedian or, inevitably, the Wrong Kind?
I feel like there is now a demand for the work of artists of colour to “interrogate”, especially coming from a theatre background where those conversations are at the forefront. Sometimes I prefer to do my interrogating literally any other time that’s not onstage. To be or not to be “meaningful” - that is the question. Because I have a platform, I definitely feel a responsibility to talk about issues and because of my relative privilege, I am able to spend time doing it with fewer consequences. Will my joy always have to share the spotlight with obligation?
The answer to that is yes, I think. I’ve posed many questions here but for now I can only answer that one. My show Vanity Fair Enough talks about capitalism and politics but in a way that admits its Deep Social Consciousness is begrudgingly present for the sole reason of justifying an extravagant shopping spree. At the same time, however, it’s still a socially conscious show that both deconstructs and performs its political obligation. And I rhyme while doing it!
I want big things and I know it’s not always going to be about putting my head down and working hard
Of course, there’s also always the prevailing idea of 'if it’s funny, it’s funny' but plenty of people are hilarious and they don’t all 'make it'. Comedy and success have one big thing in common - timing. I’m not ashamed of my ambition. I want big things and I know it’s not always going to be about putting my head down and working hard. Maybe for white people that sometimes works, but at this point in time, I know I will always have to market myself as something. You’re either chasing the zeitgeist or becoming the zeitgeist and I’ve got a lot of energy to attempt both - energy that I have thanks to the trailblazing presence of comics like Margaret Cho and Ali Wong who have shown me what Asian women are capable of. Now I have to do the same so that a new generation will have even less to fight.
The final song in my show is about my duty as an artist creating work at this particular time in history and its occasional clash with the kind of 'frothy' work I dream of making instead. Since my show is titled Vanity Fair Enough, I thought it apropos to end this piece by quoting my own song (read in your best unhinged Marilyn Monroe voice):
I just wanted to tap dance - now I always gotta think
I wished to skate on ice - instead I’m in a boxing rink
I write my words and stories in my blood - instead of ink
Cuz I have to think, I gotta think, a lotta think
Margot Tanjutco is a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter at @margotxmargot
Her show Vanity Fair Enough is an hour of original songs, sketch, and standup about sexy capitalism. It runs between 9-21 April at The Coopers Malthouse for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Book your tickets here.