Women’s Humour Magazine is a print publication featuring a series of interviews with four women working as stand-up comedians in the UK. During the interview process, Morgan seeks to understand the symbiotic combination of hardships, pain and laughter in each of their stories.
Through discussion and discourse, this publication aims to highlight humour’s capacity to reveal the most unsettling truths about our society, while simultaneously acting as a powerful platform, where individuals are able to authentically, and unapologetically share their stories. This publication is the first iteration of several editions, each of which intend to promote discussion around the uniquely human relationship to humour, and how understanding this relationship could enhance its effectiveness as a communication tool.
Interview with Mia Zuanić
How did you start comedy? Why did you decide to start doing comedy?
I always wanted to write and I was always a huge fan of comedy ever since I was a kid. Growing up in Yugoslavia, we had a civil war, everybody was bummed out.
You know how wars are……
Hahaha so DEPRESSING. SO NOT FUN. All that shooting and bombing ugh totally ruins my style.
Literally totally like ‘not even feeling the vibe of this war’ Haha, yeah that was the general feeling. I remember I found a pair of oversized glasses, I was four and I was like ‘Mom!’ She looked at me and burst out laughing.
In my mind something connected in that moment. My brain exploded immediately. We can just do that? We can just make people laugh by doing and saying things? To be able to make my mom laugh on a day like that meant a lot. It was so easy to do, that’s when I thought, oh I always want to be funny, it’s so powerful.
How did you start?
I was in a relationship for a long time and we would watch a lot of comedy together because I loved it so much and Netflix was booming with specials and I would watch and think to myself, I could do so much better than this! My boyfriend would be like you’re ok, you’re pretty funny, whatever. He had to be better than me at jokes, but he wasn’t. It ripped me apart, it was bad, it tore into me.
I’ve been in a relationship like that.
Towards the end he made me feel like I was good for nothing at all. Then we broke up, it was an awful break up of course. Did I try and stab him with a glass? Maybe.
You may or may not have stabbed him with a glass.
I can’t prove or disprove that.
It was self-defense!
Were the police involved? Maybe.
Were you drunk at least?
Oh yeah, constantly.
It doesn’t count if you’re drunk obviously.
Haha, when we broke up, I went to Japan for a week, to get as far away as I could.
I was reading James Acaster’s book “Classic Scrapes”. He was talking about how he never had the guts to do stand-up until he did it. I was like fuck it, I’m going to do it. I crafted the best plan ever and it served me to this day. I was like okay I know you’re only supposed to have five minutes. So, I thought of like four jokes. Five jokes in case they ran short.
Five jokes. That’s all you need for five minutes?
Its better if you have four jokes, that way they will be better jokes. I remember I wore this blue dress, I was at home, I was drunk of course because at that time I was drunk all the time and I was like ok I’m going to do it.
I was going to go to a comedy club and sit in the first row and I knew someone is going to ask me what I do for a living and I was going to say I’m a comedian and then they will ask me to come on stage. Isn’t this the stupidest plan?
Did it work? Yes. First time I was on stage I did horribly, I don’t even think anyone laughed at a single joke. Nobody even moved. I walked off stage and was like this feels amazing. I didn’t care that nobody laughed, I didn’t care that I messed up. It felt so good that I finally did something that I always wanted to do.
What is your style of doing comedy?
I would say I am a bit of a clownish storyteller because I am just sort of a silly person anyway. I enjoy telling stories, I’m actually writing a show, it’s going to be a journey you’ve never been on before and you’ve never been on it because you probably have much better judgement. It is going to be relatable we are all in a position where we make similar mistakes, but I think seeing humour in a bad situation is something I like to do.
Do you think there is comedy that is too personal?
Michael Che wrote a great article about the Nanette special on Netflix. He mentioned this new trend in comedy - this kind of soul-baring mixed with a little bit of moral high roading. Comics using the attention you are giving them and taking advantage of it.
Is there something wrong with that?
There is nothing wrong with it because you can do whatever you want. But from the perspective of someone who paid thirty pounds to laugh, you kind of let them down a little bit.
You are not giving them their money’s worth.
Well, that sounds so whorish when you say it like that, but yeah like there is a reason why people choose comedy. They want to be entertained in a specific way. A laugh is something your body will do whether you want it to or not. Nowadays that is kind of priceless. These days everything is influenced by ads where you can’t enjoy one minute of something without someone trying to sell you something. Comedy is kind of a relief, an hour of refreshing entertainment where you are not going to be bombarded by someone who needs something from you. To take that magical thing we have as comedians and use it as therapy or really push an agenda, I don’t know, it’s not to say you shouldn’t do it, but I just don’t think it is fun. However, don’t get me wrong, it should be powerful. I’ve cried at comedy specials and been inspired to quit my job and do something new. Comedy can change your life in really positive ways.
I think for me it has to be a healthy combination, because I agree with you, comedy has the potential to be life changing. It definitely has been for me.
Well not any specific moment or instance but I think having a sense of humour has allowed me to be happy when I have felt the most sad and has influenced how I choose the people I surround myself by. I don’t think everyone is like that actually. I see friendships that are totally not like that. I’ve also had totally depressing times in my life and the one thing that has reminded me of my identity is my humour.
That’s so true, you would assume that’s what everyone looks for but it’s not. It is refreshing to hear you speak about it. I think a lot about what you said about depression. I think it’s important to talk openly about it. I know for a fact a lot of comedians struggle with depression. For us it is important to balance that low with a high in some way and we like to surround ourselves with people who understand us and this struggle as well.
What do you think about the relationship between comedy and tragedy? I think there is definitely a close relationship, from the caricature of a clown to even the people who perform on stage.
I am so glad you brought up clowns into this, haha… I love talking about clowns… I read somewhere that in the clown community there is a hierarchy. Historically, the white face clown was meant to represent the higher classes and the tramp clown was meant to be the working man. The identity of a clown itself is an emotional dichotomy – obviously it has been written about in all art forms, Like Puccini’s Pagliacci scene. It’s that scene you know, where a clown is crying in the mirror.
The scene I always I think I look like when I’m taking off my makeup in the mirror and sobbing dramatically like “ahhh you used to be beautifull” haha.
To answer your second question about the relationship between tragedy and comedy I’ll give you a good example. There is not a straight line that divides them – in Russian realist literature, a lot of writers like Pushin, Dostoevsky or Tolstoy write several short stories that walk the line between tragedy and comedy. There’s a short story where a woman was pregnant and it was a huge problem because her husband was going to find out and it wasn’t his, but then she fell and injured herself and almost died but the punchline is that at least she lost the baby and now her problem is gone!
This short story is written as a comedy, but here, in the west, we interpret and perform this story as a tragedy.
I saw this special about comedy that highlighted the fact that during the 90’s and early 2000’s every time they would introduce a female comic, they would introduce her by saying, ‘well she’s a girl but trust me, she’s funny, don’t worry she’s my friend.’ What do you think about the stigma towards women that they aren’t as funny as men?
I was sort of afraid you were going to ask me that, because it is so controversial, and I don’t want to seem like I’m not an ally of other women, but I think that there aren’t as many good female comedians because there aren’t as many female comedians. I think there is an effort to bring more diversity into the comedy world. Better diversity usually means a better night. But are there many non-white male comedians? No. You see I heard someone say this, I thought it first, and then I heard someone say this, and he said it and sounded like a dick. So, I don’t want to say it, but I do believe it.
I think the way society is, we don’t expect enough from women. I got so pissed off the other day when that female scientist revealed the first photograph of a black hole – potentially the biggest discovery of the century!
Every headline said, ‘female scientist discovers black hole.’ Can we not stop making it look like this one-off shocking situation where a female did something?
We should expect more of women. I love it when I go do a gig and the MC says you were shit you need to step it up and not treat me differently like ‘oh good for you you’re a girl and you’re making your jokes, good for you.’ No! Call me out, tell me I’m derivative, tell me I shouldn’t show my tits on stage because its cheap. That’s respect to me.
My mom had a big influence on me and my confidence as a woman. Growing up she actually was the mayor of the small town I grew up in called Porec in Croatia.
Yeah, go mom! When I hit puberty, my mom had to introduce me to the concept of misogyny and that people don’t think women can do everything. My mom told me, ‘You’re going to have to work a little harder and you’re going to have to have thick skin. You’re going to have to say no to a lot of advances and people will dismiss you, but fuck it, deal with it. Whenever you win at something act like that that’s what you deserve. Don’t ever be apologetic about being somewhere.’ She was like, ‘It’s normal that you’re amazing, you’re not amazing in spite of being a woman. If you’re not amazing, work harder, be better.’
How does your mom feel about your stand-up comedy?
My mom is the best, she’s the most supportive. She just wants me to be happy and have Wi-Fi.
Oh yeah! So we can Skype. We talk all the time and she always says: Just be happy and have Wi-Fi. That’s all. I’m very lucky.
In what ways can comedy liberate people that feel like outcasts to society? People that have been marginalized in some way by society?
I think comedians are people who use comedy to be really open about things we don’t want to be honest about. We are all so vulnerable. Its people who lack confidence and have been bullied and have gone through things. People who don’t like themselves. We don’t like ourselves very much, otherwise we wouldn’t be cracking jokes all the time. I think it is giving people a chance to be their human selves. In comedy, something magical happens on stage where no one is going to interrupt you for five whole minutes. In this world that is super rare. If you are a marginalized group and you only get to talk in certain situations, five minutes is a lot to show who you are. Maybe you are someone very surprising and very often you are. We give society a hard time because there’s bad people that make important decisions but a lot of the times if you give a room of fifty people a chance, they will be curious about what your life is like and if you are honest, they will love you. I can’t think of anything else that lets you do that.