The Comedy Duo Giving ‘Mansplaining’ A Punchline

Fresh from their sold out shows in Melbourne and Adelaide, where they won an Adelaide Fringe Weekly Award for Best Emerging Artist, Alice Tovey and Ned Dixon are bringing their unique blend of musical comedy back to their third Melbourne International Comedy Festival with Mansplaining.

Lachlan Baynes sat down with the duo for a chat about their method, their politics and the relationship between performers and their audience.

Can you explain the concept of ‘mansplaining’?

Alice: It’s an interesting term. We did a lot of interviews talking to women and men and people just thought ‘mansplaining’ meant men explaining things, which of course it isn’t. It’s when a man talks down to a woman because he assumes the woman doesn’t know certain things.

Ned: It’s sometimes used as a silencing technique too. Even if the man isn’t necessarily aware that he’s doing it, or even if he doesn’t assume he knows more than the woman, it can be used as a way of discrediting where the woman is coming from and makes it easier to dismiss her.

Coming off the back of a new US president with a questionable attitude towards women, the International Women’s March and just recently International Women’s Day, your show seems more relevant than ever. How has the constant global dialogue about women’s rights fed into your work?

Alice: It’s a really exciting time to be a woman, but it’s also a very terrifying time to be a woman. There’s a new wave of intersexuality and inclusivity that is very exciting. I think that’s what feminism should be, it should be non-judgemental and all encompassing.

Ned: I’ve been involved in circles of third wave feminism and it’s interesting to see them speaking out against more exclusive feminists – feminists who exclude those who identify as trans, or exclude sex workers. In a way, it’s good to see this kind of feminism get taken down and questioned. There are all these attitudes towards other minorities and groups who are being discriminated against, or have violence directed towards them, and it’s really good to see more traditional feminism become more loving and more inclusive of these minorities.

Alice: I think there’s always a danger within social movements that minor differences between opinions can get in the way of fighting the bigger enemy. For instance, at the Women’s March I saw a lot of bickering between the subsets of feminists that got in the way of the message. While we should be addressing those changes, I think we should be more patient and willing to explain our views to people who are willing to listen instead of just shutting people down.

How important is it to you both that your comedy has a message?

Alice: I think it very much just kind of happens. Advocacy is something that is just important to me in how I live my daily little life. Because writing, especially song writing is such an emotional and intellectual thing, topics that are important to you will just rise to the surface.

Ned: You write what you care about, so it’s not necessarily a conscious thing. But at the same time that’s not all we do, and I think there’s quite a good balance of the silly and politically minded.

What makes comedy such a strong channel to discuss the big issues?

Alice: It’s the ability to expose the absurdity of certain situations. Sometimes when you’re faced with such absurdity and you laugh, it’s telling and you have to question why you’re laughing at those certain things.

Some of your previous critics have spoken out about your age and the issues you deal with in your shows. They think you’re too young to have a voice. How has that feedback affected this show?

Alice: It gets me riled up when people don’t take us seriously because of a fact you can’t control, such as your age. But I can understand where those people come from. They assume you haven’t lived a life – you’re not experienced. But there’s a danger, in particular in Australia, of young voices being squashed because people assume that you don’t know what you want. I conquer that feedback by trying my very best to be as widely read as I possibly can.

Ned: It’s really hard not to react the way the critics want you to – which is to get angry so they can dismiss you for being angry. So it takes a lot of patience to sit back and deal with it. I think now that we’re getting a little bit more attention and people are noticing that, yes we’re young, but we’re fairly good at what we do.

You’ve dealt before with issues that can be quite confronting for audiences. Is that a difficult balance to strike between challenging and entertaining your audiences? Do you deliberately try and challenge your audiences?

Alice: Oh yeah. Watching people be uncomfortable is funny. If you’re going to have a hard, hard song it’s very much about contrasting that with gentler numbers before and after so people are ready to listen to the very big issues.

Ned: I think being uncomfortable is an important element of growing and challenging your own beliefs and learning to move on from them. There’s no comfortable way of doing that and I think people are so used to just letting their views stagnate and not updating with the times and where culture is moving towards morally. You can be funny without challenging audiences but ultimately we want them to be questioning their views a bit.

What were some of the difficulties you faced while coming up through the Melbourne performance scene?

Ned: People don’t really understand how much time is involved in writing shows and performing shows. You’re just taken out of the ‘friend and family’ game for months and months at a time. No matter how well you schedule and balance your time. It also feels like we’ve had to battle for respect, and I don’t know if that’s the age thing as well but there are some people in the community that we’ve really had to work hard to convert to supporting us.

This is your third Melbourne Comedy Festival together. What is so special about the MCF compared to other festivals?

Alice: Melbourne audiences are so intelligent and so good at hearing comedy. They blow my mind with how open they are to trying new, weird things and to try challenging things. I love that about Melbourne audiences. I think the festival is beautiful because you have amazing international acts coming over who are all competing with smaller, independent acts. It’s all on a nice level playing field. It’s a really lovely inclusive festival.

Ned: It’s an enormous festival but often, in some festivals like Adelaide Fringe where there’s so much going on, there’s a lot of competition for the audience’s time. In Melbourne it really doesn’t make a difference because people are going to see the big names but they’re also keen to see what else is going on. Having all these other acts isn’t necessarily going to take away from the smaller, more independent artists. There seems to be an audience for everyone.

Mansplaining premieres at The Butterfly Club on April 10 and runs through to April 16. Tickets are available here and through www.alicetovey.com

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Photographs by Sarah Walker.

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