You’re one of the nation’s most beloved storytellers, did you tap into that talent from an early age?
When I was growing up, family conversations were strings of unrelated statements … For instance, as we sat eating dinner at the kitchen table, my mum (a nurse) might say, ‘Mr Sawyer died today.’ And then a minute or so later, my dad would say, ‘Beautiful dinner, Marg.’ And then after another pause, my sister would say, ‘A girl in my class fainted this morning.’ You get the drift. And so out of necessity I learnt the art of telling a whole story from beginning to end, even though no one appeared interested.
When did you first realise you had a knack for making people laugh, snort and pee themselves?
I was 13 and in the school play. It was a small, non-speaking role and all I had to do was walk onstage, scream and faint. It wasn’t meant to be funny but the audience laughed so much and I was so shocked by their reaction that as I lay onstage I got the giggles and wet my pants.
You’ll be performing in Brisbane from August 20–31, what are you looking forward to seeing or doing while in our city?
Frankly, if I get no further than Brisbane Powerhouse I’ll be happy! There’s the excellent view, and the food and wine options are superb. It’s paradise on earth for a chubby little overweight borderline alcoholic like myself.
What’s the first thing you like to do after a live performance?
First thing I like to do is handwash the shirt I wear for the show and hang it out to dry. I know, it’s just so rock and roll! I like to picture all the greats doing the same thing – Keith Richards, Madonna, Lady Gaga …
Your new show focuses on the theme of motherhood – what’s been one of your biggest fails while bearing the title of ‘Mum’?
Before his final year 12 English exam, I fed my son salmon and hollandaise sauce, having read it was excellent brain food. Halfway through the exam he had to run from the room and vomit.
And what was the harshest lesson you taught your own mother as a child?
That no matter what she said, I wasn’t going to become a nurse like her.
Can you share any advice for juggling a demanding career with motherhood?
No I can’t, because the way I juggled motherhood and career was totally void of rhyme or reason. There was no plan, no structure, no rules. My husband John and I just worked it out as we went along. I consider it fortunate that my early career didn’t go so well; it meant I got to stay home a lot with my kids, and in hindsight I’m really grateful for that.
You left your job as a teacher to pursue comedy; what was one of the most memorable responses you had to your decision?
As I walked out of the staff room for the last time, I recall one of the teachers saying, ‘You’ll be back!’ And I remember thinking, ‘Oh no I won’t.’
What can you remember about stepping onto the stage for your first stand-up gig at the age of 34?
My first stand-up spot was at a venue called The Last Laugh in Melbourne. I caught the tram there. I was so stricken with fear that on the way, I prayed, ‘Dear God if you could do me a favour and please, please make my appendix burst before I get to the gig, I’d be most appreciative.’ Luckily my prayers went unheeded, I did the gig and one joke worked! That was enough to get me hooked!
What are the benefits and drawbacks of being a female in the comedy industry?
A major drawback is that there is still a very strong – albeit often underlying – sexist attitude towards women in this country. People still actually say and, more to the point, believe that women aren’t funny. And so when a female comic walks out onstage, it can be a very lonely climb up a very steep mountain to win the audience over. However, the benefits I’ve found whilst doing Mother Bare is that women are so crazy hungry to hear their stories told onstage and to laugh about their experiences, it results in an atmosphere of sheer, uplifting joy. And what’s more, the blokes seem to love coming along for the ride.
What’s one of the most unusual gifts you’ve ever received from a fan?
Only recently, an audience member presented me with a bag she’d made ‘to put all your crochet bits and pieces in Denise!’ And yes I’m happy to report that the bag is now fat with wool!
We’ve heard your cracks on television, on the stage, in books and on radio – is there a particular path you wish to focus on in the future?
It’s crazy. It’s absurd. It’s a high falutin’ dream but I’m going to have a crack at writing a sitcom – a mainstream sitcom at that! It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and as my manager often says, ‘Better do it now ‘cos let’s face it, we don’t know how much time you’ve got!’
You’ve won awards, regularly sell out shows and have bagged yourself many devoted fans, but what do you consider to be your greatest achievement in work or life?
It’s corny, it’s cliché and in fact it’s not even my achievement as such, but to still be with John after 33 years and have two adult kids who are fearlessly pursuing their dreams in both work and love is what gives me the most satisfaction. Oh and winning the Barry Award for Most Outstanding Show at this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival. That was pretty darn cool!
What’s the most important thing you’ve learnt as you’ve become an adult?
You need a magnifying mirror to pluck your facial hairs.
What annoys you the most?
Facial hairs that appear to have grown in the 15 minutes it’s taken to get from home to the TV studio.
How do you personally define success?
Coming home from a gig and NOT feeling as though I have to hide under the doona, curled up in the foetal position, burning with shame and humiliation.
What are your words of wisdom?
At some point in life you have to get up off the couch, walk out the front door and just see where life takes you!
FAVOURITE WEEKEND SPOT TO:
Perk up … walking our dog Raffi in a nearby park.
Relax … in our king size bed surrounded by newspapers, crochet and laptop.
Catch up … going out to a restaurant for dinner with friends.
Be inspired … getting out in the garden – I never do it, but I think if I did I’d be inspired!
For your chance to win one of five double passes to Denise’s show at Brisbane Powerhouse this Sunday August 24 at 6:00 pm, enter here.