FRANNY PACK A funny named Fran

Ex-Perth comedian Fran Middleton is returning from Sydney this week for FRINGE WORLD 2018 presenting her own show Franny Pack at the Palace Society at Laneway Palace from February 1 to February 10. After a stint in Melbourne doing contemporary theatre, improv and immersive sketch she is evolving her own solo stand-up comedy act in Sydney and has been a popular guest on TV (The Checkout, ABC), ‘fancy’ theatres (The Chaser’s Giant Dwarf) and at grubby pubs for good measure. BRAYDEN EDWARDS caught up with Middleton to talk about why she turned to the ‘dark side’ of comedy, her unlikely favourite comedians and the subversive thrill of putting yourself in the audeince’s line-of-fire on stage.

So you’re coming back to Perth for FRINGE WORLD 2018 after moving to Sydney a few years ago. What in your opinion is the difference between Perth and Sydney people?

Location. They would be different people if they were in a different location. Influenced by the different context. I’m different now. Change is inevitable and wonderful if you embrace it. I hope someone says to me with disgust “You’ve changed!” So I can say “Thanks for noticing!” and then I get to enjoy seeing them look briefly enlightened, before I dack them and they laugh and say “You still got it!”.

You started your performance career in contemporary theatre. What was it that made you turn to the dark side and become a stand-up comedian?

I was over the ease of theatre, as far as accountability goes. Performing was like “it’s not me, it’s a character!” and “we’re not in a theatre, we’re somewhere else!”, whilst the audience was all “I have no responsibility, I just get to watch like some kind of voyeur at a zoo!”. I wanted to explore a new relationship with the audience. Theatre tends to be characters and make believe. Stand-up felt like a chance to be real, to be present with the audience, and snap them out of their automatic responses; switch on, pay attention. Delight in not knowing what might happen. I also just love subverting things. It’s the ‘dark side’ because comics allow themselves to feel the ‘bombs’. And then you rise from the ashes. New you each time. New audience. New gig. Always changing. The law of impermanence. Cue strobe lighting and a drum’n’bass track whilst the word “impermanence” echoes in unpredictable rhythms. Okay maybe I still like theatre.

I’ve heard you say you don’t think comedy needs to be relatable. Why do you think so? Are you sure it’s not just a cop-out because you’re just too plain bizarre for most people to understand?

Well I think it’s a cop-out to think that anything is “too plain bizarre for most people to understand”. I think it’s important to remind people that they are much more capable of understanding things than they think, and that you can understand something on other levels. I think art is one of the most effective ways to do that. Sure, some comedy nights are there to merely give audiences a chance to drink and switch off, but if the content is all ‘relatable’, then there’s no change. It’s just reminding them of all the things they see in their day to day life.

When something is abstract, I find it can connect on a deeper level, like you feel it and you feel liberated to get whatever message out of it you like. It’s more personal even. Because your connection is going to be different from another person’s, based on your experiences and conditioning. If someone’s just like “don’t you hate it when blah blah blah” and then everyone’s like “yeah it’s so true,” there’s nothing actually true as in fundamental or real about it. It’s all just how we think life is supposed to be.

In your opinion who are the greatest comedians and why?

Björk and Yoko Ono. Sure they’re not labelled as comedians, but they are artists who create profound and challenging work, whilst being so free from it. Not precious. Just creating and surrendering. I like to think comedy is creativity that frees yourself. Your creations, your woes, your successes. Elevates you from your ego. Laughing at yourself is all we can do. We can only ever view this world through our own eyes, so pop ’em out and laugh at them.

People seem to enjoy your shows because you’re not just going by a script but playing to the room, or the audience on any given night. Is that an important part of your routine and how do you prepare for that, if at all?

Haha! “People seem to enjoy your shows”. I like that because it’s mysterious. I ‘seem’ to enjoy my shows too. You’ll never know what I’m really thinking or feeling! We can never experience what someone else is experiencing in the same way, but we can all be present together at the same time in the same space experiencing a variety of things and that’s the most important thing for me. If the next step we all take is a shift in perspective then that’s huge!

Practice is all I do to prepare. I mean, I come up with concepts, verbal or visual set-ups, punches and tags, but the way they’re all executed and the way you play along is what keeps you and the audience present. It’s a bloody gift to give and receive if you ask me (which you did) I just try my best to give it as well as I can each night.

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