Comedy shows aren't usually my thing. Like most people, I'd like to think that there is a very specific type of humour and stand-up that really appeals to me. So, I was a bit unsure about how I was going to find HarleQueen, mostly because I wasn't sure what to expect. I will admit, I was initially not feeling the vibe and felt like I was going to struggle getting the point of this show. However, as it progressed along, my interest only piqued and by the end, I wish it hadn't ended.
A one-woman show that digs deep into my new favourite stand-up comedian Abby Howells's dream of making it big in the worlds of musical theatre and stand-up comedy, the audience is taken on a whirlwind experience for 50 minutes, where we are treated to a mix of hilarious comedy, followed by a very raw and soul-crushing reality of what it's like for a female (or female-identifying) individual to break it into the scene. You wouldn't think a comedy show would move you to tears, but that's exactly what Howells' show sets out to do - and I don't just mean from laughing too hard.
With her humble beginnings in the little town of Dunedin (New Zealand), we are painted an eloquent picture of some female icons who helped Howells pursue and persevere a career in stand-up comedy and performing arts, despite all the curveballs and challenges that were thrown her way. The first half of the show is spent appreciating some most colourful and impressive array of female icons in the comedy/theatre scenes, where we are introduced to a short yet sweet history of Jane Foole, Mable Norman, Beatrice Lille, Terri Rogers, Joan Rivers, and Moms Mably. We are cross-referenced to some of the biggest male comedians in the industry (and how some aren't acquainted with the anthem "collaboration over competition"). We are also given an insight into Howells' first run with trying to break into the scene, where she'd accept any and every job just to "make some new friends" - I may not have a comedic bone in my body, but every single time she uttered that desperation at wanting to make new friends and meet new (and like-minded) people, I wanted her to telepathically connect with me, as I was overjoyed beyond belief and thought, "I'll be your friend!".
During the second half of the show, we venture towards a more serious topic of why Howells was forced to go on a seven-year hiatus from her career, citing unwarranted lewd 'digs' from a comedian who was far more famous than she was at the time (and from the sounds of it, far more misogynistic than one could comprehend). It is heart-wrenching content that you wish no one would have to experience just as they reach the zenith of their career and yet, we cannot help but feel proud and elated to see Howells make her triumphant return to an industry that has been historically ruthless to females for far too long.
Howell's routine is refreshing, energetic, bubbly, and oh so relatable. She wears her heart on her sleeve and demonstrates a realistic approach towards never giving up and facing fear with a feisty attitude. Her storytelling and ability to seamlessly engage her audience in her short segments (that led to an overall arch of well-deserved recognition) was admirable. Howells is quite soft-spoken (but will be loud and proud for maximum impact) and presents with a cute, innocent, and adorable stage persona, but don't be deceived, for she is an absolute gun in her profession and having endured the failures and rejections that she has had to face, she has only come back a lot stronger and a lot more confident in believing in her talent, her worth, and herself.
Don't be fooled by the name like I was - this has nothing to do with our favourite jester from the DC universe (although Howells does wear a ruffled collar accessorizing a twirl-worthy midi dress that has the symbolic diamonds printed on it). However, it does have a lot to do with her journey towards finding her path of becoming a stand-up comedian, a cheeky and mischievous little prankster, and a badass Queen of Foolery through being a full-time entertainer (and a damn good one at that)! I may not have known of Howells' work before tonight, nor was I aware of her taking a (not by choice) seven-year long break, but from what I just experienced at last night's show, I absolutely cannot wait to see the bright and shiny future that awaits this aspiring and courageous lady who, despite being beaten down multiple times, has only risen with an exuberating energy to succeed and silence anyone who doubts her potential in any way.
Howells' show that will make you laugh till your stomach hurts. It's also a show that will move you in the most unimaginable of ways. It will teach you the sheer dedication and formidability portrayed in the examples highlighted by Howells throughout the show that makes female individuals in the performing arts and comedy scene fierce for all the right reasons. Howells' infectious personality and absolutely gorgeous New Zealand accent will rope you into just under an hour of a show that tackles serious issues in the industry in a manner that will educate, enlighten, and entertain.
If you are a female (or female-identifying) aspiring to break into the comedy scene but are unsure of what to expect or how to handle rejection and still come out on top, I strongly urge you to acquaint yourself with the brilliant work by Howells - she is a force to be reckoned with and if anything is to go by the uproarious laughter demonstrated by last night's audience, she is pretty amazing at what she does. Her show also teaches you how unfair and male-dominated the stand-up comedy scene is and how there is still a ton of progress to be made, in terms of treating female comedians on par. It may be an uphill struggle, but by seeing the past females in the industry manage and survive the patriarchal society that saturates the comedy scene, there is hope for a greater female voice to stand up to it all.
Date attended: 03/03/2020 Overall rating: ★★★★1/2
HarleQueen will be performed at The Mill till March 8, 2020, as part of Adelaide Fringe. Book your tix here.