Mandy Nolan.
Mandy Nolan.

Small town girl's comedy empire

"I'm actually building the first home I've ever owned. I love it. I'm experiencing first builder bliss," Mandy said. "We're building right in the Mullum township. I'm a small town girl. I can't manage a pot plant let alone acreage. A quarter acre is enough. I've got five kids to run on it - and they don't go outside.

"I've been a comedian since I was 17. I'm 44 now. But I've operated on the fringes of mainstream comedy because I don't want to live in the city. I want to be a regional comedian. I don't want to be away from my family."

But stand-up comedy is certainly city-centric. That's where most Australian comedy clubs exist and where most comedians live. It's hard to make a buck from jokes outside those city circuits. So, what did Mandy do? She started up comedy rooms and stand-up classes.

"It's all part of my evil plan to take over the entire region," she cackled.

Mandy has created regular comedy shows in Byron, Currumbin, Ballina and Casino that feature national and international comedians.

"I created the kind of rooms I like working in. That's selfish, but it works out better for all other comics as well. Thay really appreciate working on the North Coast."

Mandy teaches her stand-up comedy through ACE.

"I figure they'll be the support acts for the visiting headliners. I also run three open mic rooms - Lismore, Byron and Mullumbimby," Mandy said. "Open mic nights are about giving new comics stage time. The next step for them is playing the comedy shows like the Big Gig at the Ballina RSL Club."

The Big Gig is Mandy's monthly comedy gig at the Ballina RSL Club. She also runs her regular comedy shows in clubs - the Byron Services Club and the Casino RSM Club.

"I find the clubs fantastic," she said. "They're not greedy. They're happy to get people into the venue - people who would not otherwise go to the club. The Big Gig in Ballina gets 300-400 people every month. Normally a comedy show like this would cost $20, but at the club it's free and because of the support from people it can keep going. I'm really hoping that happens in Casino too."

Mandy's comedic work extends beyond the comedy club stage. She has worked with children, introducing youngsters to the terrors and joys of doing stand-up comedy in her Funny Kids workshops.

"I've really enjoyed teaching kids. But it's hard. Sometimes it's like stepping onto a set of Lord of the Flies. Comedy is anarchic, asking questions about eveything, ridiculing social mores. It's very powerful for young people - it's an introduction to critical thinking. Schooling and institutions shut critical thinking down. Comedy turns these young people into critical thinkers - and then they get squashed later," Mandy laughs.

Mandy also works with people in the community with dementia.

Stand Up for Dementia uses humour therapy to create a better life for people with dementia.

"I just started bringing in costumes, setting up scenarios…" Mandy said. "They just started expressing stuff from their own life. Extraordinary stories. I

don't do a show for the dementia group. I support them to create and engage in role plays and improvisation. Some of these are so beautiful it brings a tear to my eye."

As well as a comedian, Mandy is an author. She recently launched her first book What I Would Do If I Were You - observations of her life as a comedian and mother of five.

"I love writing," Mandy said. "I've been offered to write two more books for the same publishers. I'm working on the second book now - it's a memoir of my love life up to when I started having kids. And there are many stories…

"The other book I'm working on is called The Night I Died. It's stories from comedians of their worst ever gigs."

As well as being a prolific writer Mandy is a prolific baby-maker. She has five children ranging in age from two-and-a-half to 16. With all her comedic, literary and family business she's a very busy woman. Luckily she gets support from her partner, John.

"It's not easy living with a comedian," Mandy said. "I'm out three or four times a week. He actually thinks I'm funny and wants to come out to my gigs but has to look after the kids. I'm very lucky to have him - I couldn't do what I do without him."

Mandy presents the Casino RSM comedy show this Saturday, February 18, featuring Steady Eddy; and the Big Gig at Ballina RSL Club next Thursday, February 23, featuring Greg Sullivan. See right and the facing page for more info on these gigs.

Mandy's open mic nights are at the Tatts Hotel in Lismore every first Wednesday of the month and at the Courthhouse Hotel in Mullum every first Thursday.

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