For Anisa Nandaula, it was delusion that made her a comedian. The multi-award-winning spoken word poet and author Anisa Nandaula will join an all-female line up of comedians for Stand Up for Women at Sit-Down Comedy Club on 8 March.

She recently spoke with us about the enabling laugh of a friend, the versatility of comedy, Kevin Hart, and how social injustice can effectively be a punchline.

Did your poetry lead you to comedy? Or was it the other way around?
Poetry kind of led me to comedy. Poetry gave me the skills and the confidence of being on stage and being an artist. Yeah, it just taught me how to be an artist in terms of the craft, the writing every day, the business part of it. And then I got into comedy because of COVID. I had nothing else. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t do any poetry. So I thought: why not give a comedy go?

When did you realise you’re funny?
There’s actually no sign I was funny. I was just delusional for two years. But then after being delusional, I won a competition! And then whether I was good or not didn’t matter, but it just gave me the confidence. I feel like, you know, most people aren’t talented. Most people aren’t funny. You just work at it. And if you’re delusional enough, you get good eventually.

Do you remember the first joke you ever told? Did it land well? How did it feel?
Hahaha. No, no, it was horrible. It was absolutely terrible. And it was only well received because it was my friend who was in the audience. But other than that – and the other 50 times – it did not land whatsoever. I had never done comedy. I was like, ‘are they meant to laugh all the time?’ I didn’t know. I was like, maybe sometimes they don’t laugh. And then you realise: Oh, that’s not supposed to be a regular thing. And then you change it or you get rid of it.

You moved to Australia with your family when you were eight. What were your earliest memories of what was funny being so young and new to Australia?
I remember sneezing and then this boy saying, “Oh my god, I had no idea black people sneeze.” And then me and him both laughed, just because of how ridiculous it was. And we found that really funny together, which was really sweet.

Often your subject in your poetry is about social justice, racism, quite confronting story telling. You have used those as subjects for your stand-up material as well. How do you decide which one will work as material for stand up and what’s your thought process in making the same topics funny?
I think it’s really tricky because with poetry you can just say it. But with comedy, no one’s gonna laugh if you’re preaching to them. So, I really have to get deeper in myself and go personal. Because if I try to do what I do in poetry and just preach, they’re just going to switch off.

So, I need to go deep into myself and say, ‘How does this personally make me feel? How does it affect me my mom, my brother? Whatever the social justice issue is, if I’m speaking from a personal place, they can relate to me, then it’s no longer preachy. So that’s speaking from the personal, but then also find finding a punch line somewhere. It’s really hard. I’m still getting the hang of it, but that’s the strategy I’m using now.

There are quite a few talented comics who use music and song to deliver jokes. As poet, have you tested whether jokes are funnier when they rhyme?
Yes. Actually, I have. I have some jokes that are funny ‘cuz they rhyme . It’s really interesting. When that happens, it’s a lot of fun. Usually, the ones that are funny are jokes where you have a well-known idiom or phrase, and you change the ending. And then that’s funny. Like in Australia, we say ‘no hat, no play’ [strict sun protection policy at schools]. So, if I change it, I’m like, ‘No hat, no play. I’m black go away.’

What was the funniest thing you’ve heard recently?
It was actually a meme. And it was this boss telling their employee where the boss was saying, ‘We’re so happy to have you as a part of our family.’ And then the employee who he was saying that to was like, ‘I’m currently applying for other families.’ So just as a joke as to how bosses always say that you’re ‘family’ when in reality you’re not. I just find that really hilarious.

Was there a joke that you was pure comedy gold and thought: God I wish I had written that myself?
So Kevin Hart has this joke where he’s just talking about the fact that he’s been married so many times. And he was like, I really have to make this marriage work. Because once you get past two, you’re not looking for love. You’re just looking for a death buddy. I don’t know if it’s appropriate for this. But I thought that was hilarious. Your taste becomes a bit dark when you hear comedy all the time. For something to be funny, it really has to shock me. Yeah, and it’s usually dark comedy.

Speaking of darkness, there’s this famous line by Mark Twain: “The secret source of humour itself is not joy, but sorrow. There is no humour in heaven.” Do you agree with that?
I agree that there’s humour and sadness, but I don’t think that’s the only source. I think humour can come from anywhere. It can come from dumb things. But when you refer to sorrow, I don’t think it’s as deep as if something bad has to happen. It’s just as long as it’s your pain point. Like, I could feel pain, from the racism that I experience, but I can also feel pain when someone cuts me off in traffic. Like whatever the pain is, there can be laughter.

Stand Up for Women is a fundraising comedy show hosted by Multicultural Australia to celebrate of Australia’s diverse women and their communities through the stories and experiences from stellar lineup of all-female comedians. It’s happening at the Sit-Down Comedy Club in Paddington. All proceeds from the event will assist migrant and refugee women affected by domestic and family violence.

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By Celeste Macintosh