On Being Involved in Bright Club at Sydney Festival

6 February 2012

Dr Juanita Feros Ruys, Associate Director of the Medieval and Early Modern Centre, recently took to the stage as part of the Sydney Festival Bright Club. Here is her account of turning scholarly ideas into audience laughs.

Being asked if I could do a stand-up routine on the topic of my research for Bright Club at the Sydney Festival made me think. Medieval demons are an interesting topic and, being often depicted as sexually active creatures, certainly lend themselves to comedy. So I said yes and started to think about not just what was funny about medieval demons themselves, but also what was funny about how I came to be studying them instead of pursuing a more traditional career in a less esoteric field.

With a first draft of my talk completed, it was off to the Seymour Centre in December for a rehearsal to present our ideas to ABC TV and radio personality and stand-up comedian, James O'Loghlin. James is an enormously funny guy who can find the humour in any subject, and he showed us how we could make the most of our material, looking for strong laughs rather than interested smiles from the audience.

More tinkering on the piece continued over the summer, then on Wednesday January 18 we arrived at the historic Spiegeltent in Hyde Park for a rehearsal at around midday. It was disconcerting to deliver a 'comedy' piece to an empty tent with a couple of guys working the sound-desk and not really paying any attention. Getting no feedback to any of my punchlines, I began to wonder if my piece was actually funny.

An afternoon nap followed, so that I could be awake for the start of the night at 11.30pm, and then I was back at the Spiegeltent. Now the place was pumping, brightly lit, and packed with Sydney folk with plenty to drink and looking for fun. James headed out to warm up the audience and soon had them in a laughing mood.

First an archaeologist spoke, then an entomologist, and then I was called out on stage. The thing that struck me most as I walked out was the bright lights hitting the stage: I really couldn't see the audience at all, other than the first two rows. I adjusted the microphone and began: 'I study medieval sex demons'. This wasn't actually meant to be a joke, just the opening line of my piece to introduce my topic, but the audience erupted in laughter. From there I knew it was going to be a good night!

Contact: Kate Mayor

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