In this extra-special edition of Nectar News, we have the privilege of collaborating with Sandy Joy Weston, an M.Ed. on a mission to “spread joy.” Sandy hosts a podcast titled “Let’s Keep it Real.” This week she has joined up with comedian Alice Fraser whose comedy special SAVAGE is available on Amazon Prime to discuss comedy in the time of Covid-19 and much more:
Sandy Weston: This week’s awesome inspiring guest is Alice Fraser from Australia. Alice is an award-winning podcaster, comedian, ex-lawyer, and ex-academic. Alice, thank you so much for being here.
Alice Fraser: Oh, it’s my absolute pleasure. Thank you for having me.
SW: So, I like to start out my show … by the way, I love the way you start out your podcast, with the question “what are you drinking?” I think it’s awesome and I’m not just saying it, but I always, always drink tea. It’s very soothing to my throat.
AF: Yeah, that’s my, “Tea with Alice” podcast. I always find it fascinating what kind of teas people drink.
SW: Well, what I find fascinating is that you take this little subject and use it to get really deep into someone’s story. It’s amazing how one little thing can take you down a whole new road. And, I do agree with you. As much as it’s awesome to do it like this, there’s nothing like sitting across the table sharing a cup of tea.
AF: When I was stared the podcast I had no goal in mind for it. I just wanted to see if I could do it as a project, and I was interested to see what it would turn out to be. I thought what is the most me thing? And, my favorite thing in the world is sitting down with someone. Tea lasts as long as you want it to. You can just keep refilling the pot and you start talking about something and in the end, you’re talking, you can talk for hours about any range of subjects and you can be really vulnerable.
Some of the favorite conversations I used to have over tea were the ones where people would say, “I’m not sure about this,” or, “I’m changing my mind about this,” or, “every one of my friends believes this thing, but I can’t get on board with it,” those really vulnerable conversations where you’re not sure if you’re thinking right or if you’ve got something together in your head. And, I think that is really missing in the public discourse at the moment. Everyone’s so certain of themselves and so unwilling to change their minds … when was the last time you saw anyone on television or radio go, “Actually, I’m not sure. Now that I say that out loud, I’m actually not sure.” You just never see it.
SW: No, and actually, Dan Schneider and I … Dan is the one who connected us, we were just talking about potential guests for my show and I asked him “Dan, is it possible for me to get somebody on who has a totally different view from me politically? I’m not a political person, Alice, at all, but I do care about the world I live in, and so I thought, “Is it possible for me to bring on people that have totally different views, that can be civil and I can actually listen to them and learn something.”
And, there was this huge discussion that started within my family of my father-in-law saying, “Yes, you have to listen to the other side to learn,” versus my son, who’s 17 and is like, “Why would you give them a platform?” And so, we’re going back and forth on it, so I would love to know your opinion.
AF: I think that’s incredibly important. And, this is, I think, one of the problems now, is that because we don’t know most of the people we’re talking to, and we’re not sitting across from them with a cup of tea in hand and that kind of implicit understanding that we’re all friends here and you can say things that aren’t going to be made public, that their views don’t reflect on you in some way, that there’s this odd feeling nowadays that exposing yourself to ideas that you disagree with in some way corrupts you.
And, you see this with censorship of books or texts on both sides of politics if politics can be said to have two sides. But there’s this idea that by reading a book, you’re bringing it into you. And, this is from an article that Jonathan Haidt wrote, he writes really interesting articles and he presented this idea that when you read a “bad” book, that’s on the opposite side from you, that you’re bringing it into yourself and that there is a corruption that occurs as a result rather than seeing, for example, a problematic historical text or whatever, as a place that you journey to, like a time traveler.
You go into the book and you learn from it and then you come back out and you’re not polluted or corrupted. And, you see that idea of pollution, I think is very dangerous. You should be able to engage with, even disgusting ideas and think about them and examine them and then take a step back and remain yourself, not damaged by them.
SW: No, and my point was, by the way, it’s my father-in-law who was debating the best with everyone. He’s 87 and he said, “Sandy I think you should try it because I know you. Even thru all the mix of everything, you might find one pearl of wisdom and say, oh, I understand that. I get their way of thinking.” And, how can I grow unless I do that?”
I don’t know. We’re still going back and forth on it, but there has to be a way, Alice. And, you do it through comedy.
First of all, let’s back up a second. Let’s back up. I can’t believe I just found you. I’m so pissed off because I love comedy. I joke around, but I’m not someone to get up on stage. I just laugh a lot and I’ve always dealt with the most difficult situations, like if someone was throwing a plate at me I would say, “Oh it’s going to improve my arm for baseball.” I always mouth a humor bit. And, I think it’s just the way I deal with life always. I have a tendency to think you’re the same way.
AF: It’s interesting. Day-to-day, I’m relatively serious, but I have always used comedy to ease situations. My mom was sick while I was growing up and obviously, some of the results of that were public embarrassment where everyone is uncomfortable. Something’s happened with mom and it’s embarrassing for her. It’s embarrassing for the people around you. And, you have to make it okay. I felt that very much, and that was an easy way to make it okay because comedy can be such a unifying thing. If you’re laughing with people for that one moment, you know that your minds are in the same place. And, as a comedian, that’s the thing that I see as my job in comedy. There are so many different kinds of comedy of course, but what I love to do or what I want to do, is to make people feel human and make them aware of the humanity of the people around them. And, it’s this incredible thing. One of my favorite feelings in the world is having an idea, where you get a light bulb moment and you suddenly realize something. That’s my favorite feeling. And, in comedy, if you can find the right words and the right rhythm, you can give other people that idea and you can watch them, feel them, get it. You can watch that idea happen and you know it’s worked because they laugh. It’s an incredible thing that you know you have 100 people in the room, and their minds are all on that beat, at that moment, with you and with that joke or with that idea. It’s a phenomenal feeling.
SW: Well, I felt like I came home sister, because that’s me and people always say, “Sandy, why do you do that?” I go, “I guess it makes me feel better. I want to lighten up the situation. I want to deliver strong information, but then laugh about it.” And, you had me on such a roll.
First of all, you talk about your mom on the show and the next minute you’re playing the banjo and then we’re all humming along. By the way, I was humming just so you know, sitting here, I was humming.
AF: Good. That is the right response
SW: And then, I’ve got chills and then I’m crying. First of all, people, if you haven’t seen Savage on Amazon Prime, please, I’m begging you. Go do it immediately. It’s going to skyrocket. It’s just going to keep getting bigger and bigger. And, I think it’s only been out two months or something, unless I missed the boat.
AF: No, it has. It’s been out for a relatively brief time. Weirdly enough, the sequel to Savage has been on Amazon Prime in some places for a couple of years now. I have the first show come out afterward. It’s all very complicated and time-space continuum. But yeah, Savage is the big one that Amazon produced themselves and put out and it’s really wonderful to have it out in the world. I was really nervous that it wouldn’t be … the filming of it wouldn’t communicate the intimacy of that show as a live show. I think it has.
SW: Oh my gosh it did. It so did. And I think it’s the timing. The universe has lined up for you. So, let’s talk about that a little because my number one question and my son, who said, “Mom, you’ve got to ask her how long did it take her to put that show together?” What was your process?
AF: Well, so my process, out of the gate, was to cancel the show.
SW: Okey dokey…
AF: So, my mom had been sick for a long time. I was working as a comedian. Things started to come to a head in terms of her prognosis and when they told us it was terminal, I had this preview show booked in at the Sydney Comedy Festival, and it was coming up to the time and I didn’t have a show. I couldn’t write anything. I was so miserable and so just full of this knowledge of impending death. I couldn’t write comedy. And, I called the Sydney Comedy Festival, and I will always be grateful to Shane Smith, who was an administrator there. I still remember his name. I called him, I said, “I have to cancel the show’s in two weeks. I haven’t got a show and my mom’s dying.” And he said, “You can cancel until five minutes to the show. We’ll just refund everyone’s ticket. Don’t cancel. Just relax, don’t think about it and you can let us know until five minutes before the show.” And, I didn’t have a show and I didn’t have a show, and then I had this encounter that I describe in the show with the well-meaning young man and it filled me with rage, which was not an accustomed emotion for me. And, since then, I’ve come to realize that sometimes if you’re very sad or you have too much of any emotion, it overflows into the other buckets. But, I was so astonished by that sensation. I went home and I wrote this story, the whole story of why him saying that had made me so angry and what it was and all these things. I wrote this very angry and sad story. And then, I printed out all of the jokes that I was working with at the time, all the stand-up jokes that I had in the bank and everything, and then I stood on stage with the story on my left hand and the jokes on my right hand and the calculus in my head was, how many jokes do I need to give you before I can punch you in the face with the other side? How much do I need to give you to make you listen to this? To make you understand this because people don’t want to hear it. They want to get over that hump as quickly as possible of talking about something really difficult and painful. People don’t want to talk about sadness. They don’t want to … it’s too … or maybe they fear they’ll be dragged down into the pit.
So, making them feel safe enough, making sure that you know that there’s a joke around the corner, for me, that was the process, just going between the right-hand side and the left-hand side. Because the other thing was, I couldn’t make fun of it. So, some people make light of terrible things. And, that’s a really wonderful form of comedy. You think about Mel Brooks making jokes about the Holocaust, an incredible thing. For me, it was too close. I didn’t want to make light of my mom’s suffering. I didn’t want to make light of the terrible things.
So, the way I did it was like an old film, where you put pictures so close to each other that they look like they’re all of a piece, happy bit, sad bit, happy bit, sad bit, putting them close enough together, that while I’m never diminishing something by making a joke out of it, you know there are enough jokes around it that it will lift the mood.
SW: Yeah. Well, that is a true gift. That to me, the kind of comedy you did, that’s why I said, I was impressed. I know it’s just going to skyrocket, to me was one of the most difficult things you could ever do, yet so needed especially now… I don’t care who you are… You have to have anxiety, stress, anger, whatever, frustration about your situation which leads me to the next question, which I think I know the answer, but what is your number one way to chill when you feel stressed, anxious, overwhelmed? What do you do?
AF: Well, it depends. I’ll have a cup of tea. I’ll go for a walk. I’ll sit and breathe for a bit. Yeah, a nice long walk, or I’ll bury myself in a book up a tree somewhere.
SW: The two things I do, number one, I bike. I take my mountain bike and sometimes if I’m in a bad mood, they’ll just say, “Here, just go for a bike and then come back and talk to us,” and I’ll bike and bike, but then I always find a tree. And the joke is, I talk to trees. Well, I do talk to trees, but I don’t think they talk back to me. I feel the energy from them, you know what I mean? You get that energy. I don’t know if you feel it but, I feel like they have my back.
AF: I think it’s an important thing to be able to talk to inanimate objects sometimes, go scream into the ocean or something.
SW: Yeah. I just love it. So, do you have … my thing, and did you ever hear of the words sticky wicket, what’s your sticky wicket?
SW: Well, instead of saying what’s your problem, what’s going on there pal, I’ll say, “What’s your sticky wicket? Is there anything right now, what’s been the most challenging thing for you to deal with during this quarantine, and how did you overcome it?” Or, maybe you didn’t.
AF: Maybe I didn’t. Well, I flew back to Australia from the UK. I have a flat in London and I flew back for the Australian Comedy Festivals which were all promptly canceled and then the country went into lockdown. I packed my suitcase for six weeks, and I’ve been here now coming up on three months and Australia is locked down. It is illegal to leave the country and on one hand, the UK is not doing particularly well in terms of these virus stakes and Australia is doing well, but I didn’t plan on this. I didn’t plan to be here for this odd thing.
I’m chewing through data on my phone because I have a prepaid plan. But, do I get a contract because getting a contract will be admitting to myself that I’m going to be here for three months, six months, a year? How long is it going to be before … Do I keep paying rent on my flat in London?
How do I make plans for a future when the future is so uncertain. I think that is my biggest struggle at the moment, and I don’t know that I have got over it, but my twin brother is back here. He flew out from London the day after I did for different reasons, him and his wife and his baby and my father is here, so I’m, if not solving the problem, at least trying to focus on the good things, which is being able to spend an enormous amount of time with my family.
Which as an adult, you don’t always get to do and being in Australia which is a beautiful place, being near the beach, trying to focus on the good things.
SW: Where did you get your sense of humor from? Were your parents an inspiration? I think your dad was a lawyer and I think you mentioned that your mom was a musician. So, where did the come in?
AF: I do not know. I don’t know. I love comedy. I love the ideas of it. I guess I grew up on Monty Python and the Goon Show on radio and very classic, British sketch comedy for the most part. And, I always liked things that were funny. I was always drawn to funny writing, PG Woodhouse, Georgette Heyer, Jane Austin to a certain extent.
I was drawn to that kind of thing. But, I never thought of being a comedian I never wanted to be a comedian, until I got to university and there was a thing at O Week. I don’t know if you have O Week, freshers’ week, the first week, where they have all the stalls and everything.
There’s this thing called the 24-hour play in a day that was happening at the Sydney University Dramatic Society and it was an improvised comedy show that went for 24 hours and people would get slips of paper and they would go on stage and play a character and it was very funny. And, I took a slip of paper and I went on stage and I was so bad.
I was so bad. I still remember the full-body shame prickles of just how bad I was, and I thought, I’ve always been good at stuff. When you have a sick parent, you don’t want to rock the boat and you want to make sure that you succeed at things and you’re talented.
But, being talented doesn’t mean anything in the real world. It actually doesn’t. The only thing that matters is if you can work and get better at something, even if you are talented.
You need to do the work and I was used to coasting. I was quick and I could learn things quickly and that’s all you really need to get through school. So, I was thinking, maybe I don’t know how to learn, and here’s something that is not part of my core identity, so if I fail at it, I don’t feel like I’m a failure.
And so, I started doing it and got addicted to that process of getting better through failure. I think it’s so important. I think it’s so important for women particularly because just as a very broad generalization, we tend to be quieter than boys growing up and we tend not to bounce off the walls as much and we tend not to learn that if you fail, you are still loved, that it’s okay if you fail, and that there’s another way to get what you want if you don’t get what you want the first time, that you don’t need someone above you telling you that you’re okay to take the next step in life, that you can just do it.
And, the only way to do it is to do it and then to fail and then to try again a different way and do it again, and do it better. We don’t learn that as people or particularly as women, and it became really important to me, as well as that idea of holding your identities loosely, not let a Paul Gramm essay that I read once which was that if you can, of course, you have some core identity, things that are just integral to who you think of yourself as.
But, I don’t think of myself as a comedian. I do comedy. So, if somebody says to me, “Comedians are garbage,” I can go, “Oh, that’s interesting,” rather than like, “How dare you.”
What is it to say, “I am a ‘this.’ I am a …” anything. I’m a feminist. Am I constantly being feminist? No. If I am being a feminist it’s in getting up on stage in a male-dominated industry and that’s about it.
SW: How hard was it to pivot from lawyer to comedian, which I didn’t even know that’s what you were going to school for.
AF: So yes, I did what they call an Arts law degree at Sydney University, which is where you do arts subjects, history, English, so on and so forth and law, and I got my Masters in English literature. Then, I went and did my Masters in Cambridge, and then I came back and finished my law degree and started at a top tier law firm in Sydney.
And, very quickly, I realized that I would not fit in with the large corporate legal environment. There were a few incidents that I could tell you about, one of which was that there’s a Frangipani tree outside my house, or there was where I used to live. Frangipanis have these beautiful white flowers with the yellow core and they smell very sweet. And, when I walked out to my first orientation at this massive law firm, I picked a flower off the tree and I tucked it behind my ear without even thinking about it. It was a nice thing to do. It was a nice summer’s day. I went into work. We got our orientation of where everything was. We took our staff photos. And then, we went about our business. And, about two months later, it dawned on me, when somebody said, “Oh, Alice Fraser. You’re the girl with the flower,” that this, me wearing a flower behind my ear had been seen as this immensely rebellious act.
SW: How dare you.
AF: There was this, whoa, this complete … they saw it as a statement and an aggression against the conformity of the law firm because everyone in the law firm is terrified. Everyone in a law firm is trying to make sure that they don’t do what’s called a career-limiting move. So, they’re looking at the people above them and trying to behave in the way that the people above them behave, because that’s the only way you can be sure it’s okay to behave because the people above you seem to be doing it.
But, because observation is imperfect because you’re never going to be able to see all the different ways that they’re allowed to behave, you necessarily limit down every rank, looking at the rank above it, do fewer and fewer things, so the people particularly at the bottom, have no idea what they’re allowed to do and are living in a state of constant fear, this weird, the career-limiting move that you’ll never know what it is until you’ve done it.
And, that was just one of many others of weird, psychological self repressions that were endemic to that kind of environment that people are, nobody seemed happy. And, even if you looked at the people at the top, they didn’t seem to be particularly happy either.
SW: Yeah. Most of them aren’t. But comedy… Do you know what I mean? That’s a tough profession. You picked a tough one. First of all, I’m a pretty brave soul, and I used to do a lot of speaking, but to get up on stage, and not know if they’re going to laugh and who your audience is, do you get the heebie-jeebies every time you go up?
AF: No, no. I don’t think I do. I will if my dad’s in the audience or if my brother’s in the audience. But otherwise, I’ll get adrenalized, but I won’t get nervous, because, by the time that I became a comedian, I’d already done that for so long, knowing that I was no good and knowing that it was just to see if I could be better next time and to notice the mistakes I was making or see why that didn’t work. It was an interesting intellectual project from the beginning of, does this work? No, this works. And, I learned. And the great thing about that is that I have no imposter syndrome in comedy. I know that I have worked for every single thing I have because I know how bad I was.
SW: So, when did you turn the corner and you thought, “I’m good. I’m damn good,” or, did you ever feel that way, like yeah, I got it going on now?
AF: I think I always … that’s an interesting one. I think it was when I started doing sketch comedy. So, I’ve been doing improvised comedy for a while, and then I started doing sketch comedy for the reviews, the university reviews. And, I went in for an audition and somebody said, “Oh, you’re Alice Fraser. You don’t need to audition.” And, I thought, oh, okay, I must have gotten good while I wasn’t noticing, because you don’t notice. You don’t notice your growth. You’re always focusing on … that’s maybe the downside of this ‘failure’ approach. You’re always thinking, “Oh well, what did I get wrong. What can I do better? That’s an interesting thing. Oh, why did that work this time and not last time.” So, I don’t think I really noticed, and I think I’m still nowhere near as funny as I would like to be. And, I know that I am not, in many ways, what I offer in comedy is not primarily the laughs.
SW: I love stories and when you tell your stories, I’m captivated. Okay, what’s going to happen next? What’s going to happen next? One of my favorites and I don’t want to spoil it, but it was how you joined the track team just to meet the dude. Your delivery, that story, I’m going, “Okay, what’s going to happen? What’s going to happen? Oh, God.” And then, I was sitting there, this was the weirdest thing, and I’m getting nervous for you on your date. Do you know what I mean? I know people tell you that. You can feel, she didn’t just say that. Oh no, no, Alice, please don’t just say that. Your storytelling is incredible. Forget the joke.
AF: Thank you. That’s the job, I think when you’re telling, essentially, when you write a show like that, a one hour show and you perform it again, and again. And particularly for me, that show meant a lot, and the stories in that show meant a lot. It was necessary every time to make sure that I was there.
So, the show is like a plaster cast you’ve made of your psychology at a particular moment in time, and there’s a way you can do comedy where you’re just putting the plaster cast on the stage and puppeting it from offstage. But the way that I like to do particularly that kind of show, is you have to press yourself back into that mold and step back into that shape and be there and really be there because it’s an important thing to say. It’s an important thing for you and it’s an important thing that you think you can tell to the audience, and to just let it go on its own without being there seems wrong.
I don’t know if that’s at all … I think that’s a very abstract way of thinking about it and I’m not sure if I’ve communicated my idea properly then.
SW: No, you did. I’m thinking of me in my field of being when I say be mindful and people are like, “What the freak, and that mindful, mindful, stop it.” It’s having, I say, all five senses and you have to be in that moment and when you do that, it’s magical. And, when you bring your audience into it, especially virtually, that is incredible, and that’s what I felt. So, Alice, Do you have a comedian that you admire and you go, “Wow, that was a great performance,” or that you study to learn from?
AF: Not hugely. I love a lot of comedians who are very different to me, in part, because I’m not analyzing what they’re doing, I can just enjoy them, but in terms of American comedians who you might recognize people like Maria Bamford, brilliant, Bo Burnham and Sarah Silverman, just anyone that does something that has an extra angle or makes you think.
SW: Yeah. I agree. okay. What’s one thing nobody knows about you that you can share with us?
AF: One thing that nobody knows about me that I can share with you. So, this is an interesting thing. I partition off my life very carefully. I’m extremely open about some things and extremely closed about others. I will never talk about my personal relationships on stage at all, or in public at all. I don’t usually talk about my brother on stage. He’s asked me not to. So, there are, for somebody who appears very open on stage, there are huge chunks of my life that are off-limits, and I think that’s important if you have any kind of public voice, and I think it’s something again, that gets eaten away at by things like social media.
SW: It’s a tough thing to do. That’s a tough thing to do. But, if I was dating you, I would be glad you weren’t talking about me on stage.
AF: Yeah. Because I’ve seen it go so badly. I’ve seen it go really well where two comedians have broken up and both done two different shows about the same break up at the same festival and it’s worked really well for them, although in the end, in this instance, one of them got the award, and the other one didn’t, which is a brutal indictment in many ways. What’s something that nobody knows about me that I can tell you.
SW: That you can tell me? Maybe it’s a guilty pleasure, like a show that nobody knows you watch or food.
AF: I refuse to have guilty pleasures. If it’s a pleasure, then why should it be guilty… okay, I just stayed up all night, so this is something that nobody knows, but I just stayed up all night listening to the most recent Jim Butcher book, which is the Harry Dresden wizard detective book.
SW: You stayed up all night!
AF: I stayed up all night. I had about 45 minutes of sleep.
SW: It must have been worth it.
AF: Yeah, it was. It was just ridiculous escapism. I started by not being able to sleep and then I started listening to this book and I got caught up in the book. Yeah. I get caught up in narratives. They carry me away and I lose track of time.
SW: Well, you definitely are a knowledge seeker that’s for sure. And, everything you do, you just want to learn and give, and figure out a different way. I was just on a two-day workshop and they were saying, “Okay, this is how you’re successful. You can’t just be an expert. You have to be a visionary.” But then, they didn’t explain what a visionary was and everyone’s like, “Okay, so now what are the steps to being a visionary.”
And, you know what the guy’s answer was? You have to come up with something that Google can’t answer. And, I was like, “Okay.” That’s a good way of looking at it. Come up with something that Google can’t answer. Alice, we have to wrap up here. I could go on forever with you. Thank you so much for being on. It’s been so fun. How can they reach you? How do you want them to reach you?
AF: I have patrion.com/alicefrazier and that has links to all five I think now of my specials in various formats, podcasts, or videos that are available in various places, and also to my podcast Tea with Alice and my podcasts, The Last Post, and all my various other things. My audible documentaries and everything’s there. If you go to patrion.com/alicefrazier or Alicefrazier.com, that’s a jumping-off point to the various branches of my wandering mind.
SW: So, I always ask everyone. I love words. I love the power of words, and I love moving. So, I’m going to ask you. If you could just say one word that you would like to embody in the next 30 days, what would that word be?
SW: Focused. I like that one. All right. Is there anything you want to say to the people here that you haven’t gotten in, Alice?
AF: No, it was an absolute pleasure to talk to you. Thank you for having me on. Look after yourselves and the people around you
SW: I like that. We’ll end on that note. All right my “let’s keep it real” people. I know you’re going to say that Alice Frazier definitely kept it real. It’s going to be one of your favorites. I know you had goosebumps while listening to her because I do. Check her out. Please watch Savage, and you know what I’m going to say, until next time, toodles.
More about Alice Fraser:
itunes: The Alice Fraser Trilogy
itunes: Tea With Alice
itunes: Troll Play
More About Sandy Weston: