Fiona O’Loughlin. Photo: Anneliese Nappa
Generally, comedians work extremely hard to seem more interesting than they really are.
It’s a fairly common letdown to discover that the electric ball of entertainment you saw on stage is just an ordinary person. There is no such letdown with Fiona O’Loughlin (pictured), subject of Monday’s Australian Story (ABC1, 8pm): you could never call her ordinary.
O’Loughlin was something of a late bloomer, by stand-up standards, but made up very quickly for lost time after bursting out of Alice Springs a fully formed star, a sweet-voiced comedic acid-thrower, mining her background, her life and her family with a bracing lack of sentimentality and a certain dark edge that was veiled by her disarming smile and twinkling eye. Her outback origins and five children were frequent fodder, and so was her drinking – but as this edition of Australian Story documents, there was a reality behind the jokes not nearly as much fun as she made it sound on stage.
As fellow comedian Paul McDermott remarks, using the trials of your life as material for comedy can be difficult – that’s magnified when your life is complicated by an issue such as alcoholism. Another colleague, Lawrence Mooney, notes the danger of being an alcoholic working in comedy, a profession in which the social lubricant is ever-present and constantly being offered to performers.
O’Loughlin outlines the inextricable link between her drinking and her performance. Her fight to break that link is at the heart of the epi–sode, which follows O’Loughlin’s return to Alice Springs three years after leaving to get sober.
It takes courage to be a stand-up comedian, to risk crushing rejection in search of elusive laughs. It takes courage to probe into your own life on stage. But the courage of the performer is nothing compared with the courage of letting a national audience into your most private and most embarrassing secrets, without the comforting smokescreen of comedy.
That is the courage O’Loughlin shows on Australian Story. It is an insight into addiction, as well as into the madness and loneliness of the comedy life. But mostly it is an insight into an immensely talented and determined woman who discovered the pitfalls her passion led to, and found the will to keep that passion alive as she resolved to draw back from the abyss.
A couple of impressive women can also be found on Q&A (ABC1, 9.35pm), in the shape of Chamber of Commerce head Kate Carnell and political journalist Laura Tingle, who are thankfully joined by three men so that Q&A’s sacred 60-40 gender ratio can be maintained and chaos averted. As two of the men are Christopher Pyne and Wayne Swan, in terms of charisma the women will probably be in the majority. At some point someone will say something dumb and everyone will clap.