Australian comedian Becky Lucas recently chatted to Rodney Hrvatin to promote her new book Acknowledgments. In the discussion, she talked about the differences between writing stand-up and writing a novel, the challenges of writing about other people,
Was there much difference for you writing this book as opposed to writing your longer stand-up shows?
It’s such a different process. I think with stand-up, you are just always trying to get to the funny punchline or you’re always extracting it for the jokes from whatever happened, whereas writing is so fun because you spend a bit of time fleshing things out. Not having a live audience in front of you as you’re making something allows you to be more creative because you’re not writing to please people, you’re just sort of doing what you like.
It’s similar in that you chip away at it and you can go back and read over it or tell someone and see if it’s interesting [and] you have a bunch of material which you then whittle away, but it’s also very different.
Also, some comedians write their books and it sounds like stand-up, which I don’t personally love reading. I wanted it to feel good to read. It still had to be funny as well and I didn’t want to lose that punchiness—that was kind of a goal. I know it’s very self-absorbed to write a memoir, but it has to be interesting or funny for people to give a toss about my life.
I also wonder, too, whether the humour works differently on the written page as opposed to on the stage? For example, a punchline that kills onstage doesn’t necessarily work in text.
Exactly. I used to write a lot of my stand-up as written and it just doesn’t land.
What brought this book about? Was it a response to the pandemic and the lack of gigs or had it been in the pipeline before that?
It was pretty pandemic-based. I had always wanted to write a book, but I didn’t think I would get that opportunity for a while, and I told my manager and she said, “Well, why don’t you put something down and we’ll shop it around.” So it all happened pretty quickly. I also think people were reading more so, everything just sort of aligned
Publishers might have also thought that as you are a well-known name, and people need laughs right about now, you might be the right person to deliver them.
Yeah, that seems to be the thing. I feel like every company was like, “We gotta make people laugh!” Everything was about promoting laughter or something so, cynically, I took that opportunity.
I don’t think that’s cynical at all; I think that’s pretty savvy! If you’re not getting money from gigs, where else are you going to get it from?
Exactly! We don’t get that many chances so it was our time to shine.
Did you have any particular memoirs from comedians who inspired the way in which you wrote your own?
It’s funny because you can like something but not necessarily feel that you can emulate it. I love [Saturday Night Live creator] Norm McDonald’s memoir Based on a True Story which is hilarious because it’s all lies. I love Tina Fey’s Bossypants. I’ve always just liked memoir-type books in general. [American comedian and writer] Jessi Klein had another good book that I really enjoyed (You’ll Grow Out of It). I do love reading about
I’d like to ask about a couple of people you mention in your book. I first of all wanted to know what ever happened to “Rachel”? You never tell us what happened to her after she framed you in school.
She was a stripper for a while and I actually lived with her for a while when I was in my 20s. I always worried about her because she was always running around with these bikies and stuff. I was always scared she was going to be murdered or something. She’s actually doing really well now. She’s actually living in a van and she just travels around surfing. She used to be a ski instructor. We continued to be friends but she was always in trouble!
On that topic, were you worried about the people you mentioned in the book getting upset—for example, “crazy horny64”?
Yes, I was worried, and I am worried, but I also think that no one in my book comes off with no humanity, like I try and be pretty fair about it. The woman who I babysat for, I was a bit worried about her, I had to change a lot of details and I think she would know [it was her] but not a lot of other people would know. I feel like these people haven’t reached out for so many years, I can’t imagine that they would read my book.
I imagine they might be the sort of people who would see you on TV and go, “I went to school with her”, or, “She used to babysit for me,” and wear it like a medal.
I never thought I’d be anyone’s feather in their cap!
Speaking of TV, I enjoyed your hosting of the Comedy Festival Gala. That must have been a long night!
Thank you. It was wonderful but I was so nervous!
Getting back to your book, I loved your discussion on Michael Jackson and the appropriateness of listening to his music now. That discussion can go towards comedians like Bill Cosby and Louis CK as well. Do you still listen to Michael Jackson now or have you moved on?
I do. Not all the time though—I don’t think I would even without all the stuff that has come out about him. But every now and then, I want to listen to it and I don’t think I should be in trouble for it. It’s unfair that we bear the burden, that we’re just these little lemmings that do what people tell us to. They put out all this stuff and we’re like, “Can we like it or are we going to suffer the consequences?” It’s like we can’t consume art lest we be punished for what they do. It’s fair enough to cancel the paedophile but we don’t cancel the people that didn’t know what was happening.
Music and memory is all so linked, you really can’t help being attached to those moments in your life and the music from it. You know how they play music to old people from the era from when they were in their 20s or something? Their brain lights up. It’s very healing and therapeutic. It’s all linked. It feels unfair to have to cut that out of your life. It’s unfair and also unrealistic. It’s another unrealistic thing they are expecting people to do and they’re getting furious about it and it’s like, “How is that good for the world?”
From broken, complicated people often comes incredible art. Do we really want to create a world where we are only consuming art from people who are super together—even though they may be broken themselves but hide it all? It just feels like that’s not the answer. Not that being a paedophile is either.
Going back to my first question, do you think that having written this book has changed the way you approach your own stand-up?
I think I got better at just painting a picture. I think it definitely helped me zero in on what’s funny. I don’t think the two hurt each other; they help each other. The more you write, the better you get. Stand-up is so good because you say something and you can see
When you come to Adelaide, do you have a place you liked to visit?
I went to a winery in McLaren Vale that was pretty great. I love Adelaide. Every time I fly in I’m always shocked at how beautiful the water is. Hopefully, I’ll get to spend some more time there soon.
See our review of Acknowledgments by Becky Lucas here.
Words by Rodney Hrvatin