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ALICE FRASER As good as the next man

Critically-acclaimed comedian Alice Fraser is no lightweight. JO CAMPBELL spoke with her about first-wave feminism, robots, and what it means to be human ahead of her new show, Ethos, set to play Regal Theatre from Thursday, May 10 to Saturday, May 12 as part of Perth Comedy Festival.

The Edinburgh Guide described your show as “a life changer…A show that made you laugh and shiver, smile and cry.” How does it feel to have your work described in this way?

It feels better than the other kind of review. I want to bring people into an interesting place and make them think about things they wouldn’t normally think about and make them laugh at things they wouldn’t otherwise find funny.  But I can’t take reviews too seriously, because if you take the good ones too seriously then you have to take the bad ones seriously.

Your comedy is quite thought-provoking. Other than making people laugh, what would you say are your main objectives?

I want to take people to interesting places both intellectually and emotionally. No one ever feels that comedy is too fancy for them, so you can take it to a really broad audience. It’s not like theatre or academia where you’re limiting your audience to a particular class or education level, so it’s this challenge of trying to bring people to the same place emotionally whether it’s a laugh or getting them to cry or to just have that thoughtful moment.

Your new show sounds fascinating. In it, you explore artificial intelligence by attempting to explain what it means to be human to a robot. How did your interest in sci-fi come about?

I’ve always been interested in sci-fi, and the legend I’m drawing on in the show has always been around in our culture – you have Frankenstein, you have Blade Runner and Metropolis. There’s also a family connection to that. My many-times-great-grandfather was the rabbi that built the Golem, which was the legend about the man who was built out of clay and brought to life. It’s a legend that we’re all obsessed with, and it’s important now for us to think about what the difference is between us and robots. There’s a lot of robots doing a lot of things for us and with us and there’s a lot of jobs that are only still around because they haven’t yet figured out how to make robots understand sarcasm yet. We need to figure out what makes us different, what makes us special – what makes us human.

As a women in comedy, do you feel that you have to make a special point of proving yourself? How does your gender come into what you do professionally, if at all?

In so much as my gender is part of who I am and comedy is about telling the truth about who you are – then yes. But I’ve never really thought of myself as a girl. I was a tomboy growing up with a twin brother and it wasn’t about gender, it was about “this is what Henry is into and this is what Alice is into”. When I was a kid, I watched Monty Python and said, “I want to be like them”. I think there are a lot of women who look at comedy and they don’t see themselves there – they don’t see people that look like them or sound like them, which is a barrier. So if I can play that first-wave feminism role – because I didn’t look at it that way, I didn’t see the absence of women, I just saw funny people – if I can play that role, then I’m happy.

The comedy scene is still very male-dominated. Christopher Hitchens’ notorious essay Why Women Aren’t Funny was written more than 10 years ago, and yet people are still writing about why women aren’t funny. What are your thoughts on that?

Comedy is partly about persuading people as to why you are funny. So if someone doesn’t think women are funny, women are less funny to them. Part of being able to laugh at someone is being open to what they have to say. So it’s true – if you think that women aren’t funny, then women aren’t funny. And you can’t argue with that. I think of myself as a first-wave feminist. I’m lucky enough that I get to prove something by doing the job as well as the next man who is definitely a man.

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