Fiona O’Loughlin is nothing if not honest. The former Alice Springs housewife was 36 – mature by comedy standards - when she made her stand-up debut in 2000. She’s since become one of the nation’s most sought-after performers for her trademark blend of brutal candour and relatable anecdotes where her list of honours runs long. In 2001 she took out the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s Best Newcomer Award and in 2013, she was awarded Adelaide Comedy’s Best Visiting Comedian. Fiona has also headlined LA’s world-renowned Improv Comedy Club, performed at the esteemed Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Montreal’s invitation-only Just For Laughs Comedy Festival. But beneath her success was a dark secret: she was a functioning alcoholic.
Last year, Fiona revealed her battle with booze and an attempted suicide attempt when she was the subject of respected ABC documentary series Australian Story. An episode watched by 1.4 million people, Fiona was widely praised for confronting her addiction head on and shining a light on an often-taboo subject. And surprisingly, Brisbane plays a central role in Fiona’s very public story. It was in the Queensland capital in 2009 when, during the depths of her alcoholism, she collapsed on stage at QPAC in front of a sell-out audience. MyCityLife sits down with Fiona and follows her way through her recovery, why she has such a soft spot for Brisbane, and her fearless return to the Brisbane Comedy Festival with her new show The Truth, The Whole Truth & Nothing But The Truth… So Help Me God.
It’s been some time between shows in Brisbane. What’s this show about?
It’s a sentimental look about living in Alice Springs for all those years and up to now, and living in Melbourne. The show’s based on characters and anecdotes from that time. I’m touching on racism and a few touchy subjects - but here we go. It’s a show I’ve worked harder on than any other. You look back at something, and you didn’t think it was particularly hard at the time but you go ‘holy crap, did I really do that?” I think its one of the funniest shows I’ve written - which is weird because it’s tackling some very serious stuff.
So what was it like to be in Alice Springs at that time?
Alice Springs as a housewife in the 80s was a little bit more like the rest of the country in the 60s. It took a while for a woman not to be defined by what her husband did for a living. And then there are the two cultures - white and Aboriginal - that live side by side and barely recognise each other.
It was warts and all in Australian Story revealing quite publicly your personal battles. How has your life changed since it was laid bare on national television?
The kindness of strangers has been amazing. The other thing I’ve noticed is how many more people are coming to my shows. It’s incredible. Its crazy how the tickets are selling in Brisbane. Brisbane is the first city that I had to ask forgiveness from, because that’s where the collapse was and they’ve been very forgiving. I’ve got such a soft spot for that city.
You had sold out shows throughout 2014. What does it look like in 2015 outside of stand up?
I’ve got a book that I’m going to start writing. I don’t love doing television but you’ve got to do it to get you’re mug out there so that people will buy tickets to your show and not forget who you are. I’m also working on a web series with directed by Bob Franklin. I’m playing a horrific mother, Lawrence Mooney is my ex and we’ve got a son played by Sam Peterson who isn’t all there. We both fight over who has to have him.
Do you enjoy that type of narrative acting?
That’s the beauty of this new modern world: you can get together and film whatever you want without network executives needing to give the big nod. I just love creating collaboratively. It’s a great contrast to what a stand-up normally does - which is write alone and perform alone. It’s just so much fun mucking around and writing with other comics.
You’re renowned for your brutal honesty, which makes for great comedy. But what’s the downside?
The downside to being so honest is it’s very hard to hide your characters as real life people. Even though you can change their name, you know that people will recognise themselves. Some of the anecdotes are just too delicious. It’s the only way I know how to play. Sometimes I wish I could just write normal jokes.
Do you touch on your alcoholism and attempted suicide?
I allude to them. It’s necessary. When you’re an autobiographical comic you can’t just go ‘oh well that doesn’t exist anymore’. Obviously I was there (in Alice Springs) and a lot of the anecdotes do involve me, but what’s nice is that the focus is not about me.
With the upcoming Brisbane Comedy Festiva, are there any particular shows you’re hoping to catch?
I’m very keen to see Damien Callinan. He’s such a prolific writer. And I’m very keen to see Joel Creasey. It’s always exciting to see which internationals are coming out. I’d love to see Sandra Bernard’s show but she’d scare the hell out of me in the Green Room.
You’ve performed at the most prestigious comedy events throughout the world. So how does our Brisbane Comedy Festival compare?
It’s a real little diamond; definitely one of my favourites and it’s much loved by comics. There’s just something about the Powerhouse that makes for easy access to other comedians’ shows. There’s a bit of a school sleepover feel to it. You just know you’ve got your buddies going through the same thing in the theatre down from you. I love it.
Fiona O’Loughlin performs at the Brisbane Comedy Festival
7.15pm, Wednesday March 4 – Friday March 6
5.45pm and 7.15pm, Saturday, March 7
5.15pm, Sunday, March 8
Visy Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse, 119 Lamington Street, New Farm