When Maxim Boon caught up with Australian comedy's elder stateswomen to discuss their latest show, it didn't quite go to plan...
When life gives you lemons, sometimes you just have to suck 'em. But that's not to say a life fraught with sour disappointments can't still yield some sweet, juicy comedy. And when it comes to the alchemy of turning gaffs into gags, few comics can boast a better pedigree than Judith Lucy and Denise Scott. Both stalwart stand-ups have spent their careers sharing their frankest personal calamities on stage, from their relationship foul-ups to the intimate details (and that's putting it mildly) of their ageing anatomies.
In fact, so adept at spinning virtually any yarn into the pithiest call-back, interviewing this pair of comedy virtuosos becomes a masterclass in cracking wise. So, as not to dilute their brilliance or rob you, dear reader, of the full Lucy-Scott experience, I offer for you an untampered transcript of my conversation with this dynamic duo, about, around, and sometimes utterly unrelated to their highly lauded, and bloody funny show, Disappointments.
Maxim Boon: Hello, thanks so much for giving me some time to speak to you about Disappointments. It's a great thrill, I'm a huge fan - just getting my fanboying out the way nice and early.
Judith Lucy: Oh, we appreciate that, Max. As I'm sure you can understand, we're absolutely desperate to be liked.
Denise Scott: You really have no idea how desperate, Max. You really don't.
MB: Well, before we talk about the show in more detail, I just wanted to pick your brains about something: Comedians are often the best people for making sense of the world, and we're living through this, well, politically ridiculous time. What do you both make of it?
JL: Well, I just remember thinking in the '80s, we were all just young enough and stupid enough to think that everything had a linear narrative, and that even if things were pretty terrible, surely they would just get better and better as we made more progress as a society. But let's be honest Max, that just hasn't happened. Everything's just gone to shit. So I really don't know what to tell you, Max...
DS: Well, when I was kid things were already shit. I was terrified of the communists coming. I was terrified about nuclear war happening. I hadn't heard about homosexuality, but if I had of, I'm sure I would have been terrified of that too. And you know, JFK was murdered, and Martin Luther King was murdered, and this was all happening when I was a kid. So I guess it goes in cycles. Sorry, I thought I'd find something funny in there for you Max, but I guess everything's been shit for a while is the takeaway from this.
MB: Oh no problem - I guess quite a few comedians have sidestepped comedy to be serious about the world over the past year - Hannah Gadsby, Magda Szubanski...
JL: I think we're bucking that trend Max, because we're so hopelessly desperate to be liked and desperate to have people laugh at our jokes that I don't think we'd ever risk even a sentence or two that could be construed as serious.
DS: And as for me Max, listen, I'll be honest with you. I'm in my 60s now, and my brain, it's just not what it was. It's really slowed to almost a total halt. I just don't think about things in great detail or depth, and to be honest, I'm not totally sure I could even if I wanted to. Mostly we just talk about our arthritis, which, obviously, is riveting, but sadly has no political meaning whatsoever.
JL: And I talk a lot about my arse, Max. I talk a lot about my irritable bowel syndrome, in fact, I can while away many an hour talking about myself from the waist down. Menopause gets a run, of course. We do occasionally talk about philosophical things, but it's mainly about death and rejection. And I think, some of the comedians you're talking about, they're looking at the macro, whereas we're really all about the micro, so while others are talking about the world going to shit, we're busy talking about how our bodies are going to shit.
MB: And a lot of your material from this show is pretty visceral. Literally. Prolapsed vaginas, dry vaginas, other miscellaneous mentions of vaginas; I remember as some of the favourite punchlines with the audience when I saw Disappointments earlier this year. But the show has been on tour now for several months. Does the material change at all?
JL: Oh no. No. Not at all. No. You know, Max, we simply can't be fucked to be honest with you.
DS: It's true. We just have no interest in making changes. The show can just roll along and we can spend more time laying in bed, watching TV, and drinking wine.
JL: But what I will say, Max, is that if I can get my shit together, there may be one or two changes to come. As Scotty well knows, my life has actually become more disappointing as the tour has gone along, because my relationship ended about four months ago, in quite a spectacular fashion, so I'd be surprised if some of that doesn't find its way into the show at some point.
MB: Well, I guess you've always been pretty candid with details of your personal lives in your comedy over the years...
DS: Max. Max... all I'll say is, brace yourself. Brace yourself, that's all I've got to say about it.
MB: Oh wow...
DS: Brace. Your. Self.
JL: I can't speak for Scotty on this, but from my perspective, the level of honesty in my comedy comes from a total and utter lack of imagination, Max. I don't have a creative bone in my body, and it's just so much easier to bang on about myself.
MB: And you've both been banging on for quite a few years now, and have well established separate careers in their own rights. What was the reason you wanted to work together?
JL: Well for this show in particular, it was unemployment. We were both staring down the barrel of a terrifyingly empty diary. But, to be serious for a moment, we'd been talking about working together since The Spiral . Because it is a lot more fun performing with another person, especially someone who you're legitimately a friend of. So a combo of desperation, financial ruin and friendship, I'd say.
DS: Yeah, I'd agree. Because usually, it's a positive experience. You know, there's this improvisation game called Yes Let's where you have to agree to everything. And that's pretty much how Judith and I work. She'll suggest something and I'll say, 'Yes, that's great. We'll do it.' And then we usually end up with a pretty shit show, I have to say. I'm dead serious - when we trialled this show, it really was overwhelmingly shit. Which disappoints us, because it means we have to put in a bit more effort.
MB: Is that why you chose to perform this show while both lying in bed on stage?
JL: For heaven's sake Max, you said you'd seen the show. You must have noticed the extraordinary artistry that goes into it, that involves a great deal of colour and movement. We may be on our backs but that doesn't mean we can't bring the audience to an extraordinary climax.
First published 4 January 2018, for The Music