Queer Eye for Fiona O
SYDNEY: Terrified of descending into a boring menopausal malaise like so many of the people around her, revered comedian Fiona O’Loughlin turned to a young gay comic to lift her image. Now she’s wearing a Cher wig and singing Sondheim in her latest show, The Divine Miss O. O’Loughlin speaks to Garrett Bithell.
“I’m really tiring of my generation – I call them the Capri-panted, camel-toed freaks. I don’t want to hang out with them anymore, because they’re boring. You used to be fun but where have you gone? I’m being very candid about what it feels like to become invisible as a middle-age woman.”
So says 49-year-old Fiona O’Loughlin, who has become one of our most-loved comedians since her stand-up debut in 2000. The Alice Springs-based mother of five is tackling one of her pet peeves in her new one-woman show, The Divine Miss O: the tendency of women of a certain age to give up on a sensual, exciting life and dissolve into a hapless menopausal malaise.
“The moaning that goes on,” O’Loughlin opines. “Particularly when it comes to children – they all say it’s ‘the hardest job in the whole world’. Oprah and Dr Phil bang on about it as well. It’s like we’re giving ourselves this big congratulations. It’s not a job, fuck-knuckle, it’s a privilege, and you’re creating boring children. Have fun!”
To counteract her fear of being over-the-hill, O’Loughlin decided to make a hostile, determined play for the gay community in her next show, with up-and-coming queer comic Joel Creasey as her director and wing-man.
“I was touring with Joel, who is a young gay comedian, and we were sharing an apartment together in Sydney,” O’Loughlin tells. “And I suddenly realised that I’m actually a very young gay man trapped in a middle-aged women’s body. We just started mucking around and he was laughing saying, ‘you’re not supposed to force yourself on the gay community, you’ve got to wait to be invited’!
“So it’s kind of a show within a show, because it’s me going to a publicity firm with two very young gay men trying to lift my image into, as they call it, the next century. They’re ruthlessly cruel to me, but it does have an underlying truth to it, which is my fear of becoming irrelevant and old.”
The show opens with O’Loughlin, in a Cher wig, singing a rousing rendition of ‘Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves’. “It’s kind of like a modern-day My Fair Lady,” she laughs. “With them trying to make me understand what I have to do. So they make me sing, and I get it wrong – as in with my choice of songs!
“I’m wearing this sparkly black dress, and I look a bit like Patti Newton in it!”
The title, The Divine Miss O, is obviously inspired by Bette Midler, and O’Loughlin indeed sings ‘The Rose’ during the show. She also tackles some Sondheim with ‘The Ladies Who Lunch’. It all has a Queer Eye for the Straight Guy feel to it, and it plays with gay stereotypes: O’Loughlin is directed by a gay man for the first time and suddenly she’s looking like a drag queen in a Cher wig bashing out some Bette Midler.
But more to the point, with Creasey and other comics like Rhys Nicholson, Tom Ballard and Josh Thomas starting to dominate, it’s like there’s a gay mafia emerging on the comedy scene. Nothing if not cheerfully opportunistic, O’Loughlin spotted the trend early and was quick to make her move.
“I started buying them drinks two years ago because I saw the writing on the wall,” she says. “I’ve hitched myself to what I hope is the right one! I certainly don’t mind hitching myself to a bandwagon that is completely unrelated to me either. I’ll have a bit of that!”
O’Loughlin is currently performing The Divine Miss O as part of the Melbourne Comedy Festival. She’s packing out the Hi-Fi each night, even if The Age reviewer tried to take some of the shine off with a nasty review.
“It’s going great except for one fucking reviewer from The Age! He just tried to steal my festival! I think he wants to be a bit famous himself, because he’s taking pot-shots. So that was really annoying – while it didn’t affect numbers, it affected me for about 24 hours. I couldn’t stop crying – what do you mean you don’t love me?!”
Other topics O’Loughlin tackles in the show include her husband Chris, the vagaries of life in Alice Springs, and her much-publicised battle with the bottle, which culminated with her collapsing on stage in Brisbane in 2009 (she has been sober since then). She also discusses what she called her “free-range parenting style”.
“I’m very anti-censorship for kids,” she asserts. “I’ve got born-again-Christian friends who believe the reason young girls are getting breasts so early is because of all the sexual content they watch on television on shows like The Simpsons and Home and Away! And I’m just like ‘oh you morons – if that’s the case, my youngest should be sitting on Hugh Hefner’s lap with her big rack out. But my kids have all turned out great.
“If this show has any message, it’s lighten up.”
O’Loughlin also participated in the new season of Celebrity Apprentice alongside David Hasselhoff, which will premiere soon on the Nine network. “It was hilarious,” she says. “I reckon we’d been there for about 20 minutes before I snapped and told ‘The Hoff’ to go do something to himself!”
The Divine Miss O, Factory Theatre on Friday, April 27 and Saturday, April 28 at 7.30pm. Bookings at www.sydneycomedyfest.com.au .