Aussie stand-up Lana Schwarcz rocks up in Edinburgh having toured what seems like every Fringe in the English-speaking world with Lovely Lady Lump, her comedy take on her own breast cancer. Before she begins her Gilded Balloon run, we wanted to know…
Who are you and what are you doing in Edinburgh?
I am performing my comedically inclined show about early breast cancer – it recently won the “Fuck the Patriarchy” Jenny award at Winnipeg Fringe – I mean it also won “Most Outstanding Solo Show” and “Best Theatre” Awards in other festivals, but perhaps the “Fuck the Patriarchy” award is the most fun to be proud of.
First time at the Fringe?
First time performing. I was here supporting my ex-boyfriend’s show ten years ago. But I’ve performed in fringes all over the world for years – I just had to save my pennies until I could come to Edinburgh. It’s terribly expensive. So if you see me around, please buy me a sandwich, I’ll likely need some carbs.
Actor. Puppeteer. Circus performer. Seems like you’ve worked in all the performing arts. What brought you to comedy?
Haha! Yes, I think I can effectively cross out the words circus performer now – I retired from that many years ago. I am still a puppeteer/actor/comic though.
As for comedy? I got pushed into it. Although there were no witnesses around, so the man who pushed me keeps claiming I fell.
(I had a boyfriend who was a comic and he kept saying that I was funny and that there weren’t enough women doing comedy and that I should at least try it, but I kept telling him to stop being an idiot. Eventually he gave up pushing me, and the reverse psychology worked. Who knew? Also, who knew he was going to be right? He was wrong about sooo many other things…. )
And then you received a cancer diagnosis, which is frightening for anyone. What happened then?
Obviously it was a shock – but I had a good few days between the biopsy and diagnosis to emotionally process all the possible outcomes with my therapist, who I was already seeing for a depression (which had resulted from a show that went badly).
We discussed all possible outcomes: 1. It’s benign. 2. It’s cancer and it’s bad. 3. It’s cancer and it’s not bad. 4. It’s cancer and I’m gonna die. We discussed it all. Turns out I seem to be completely OK with my own mortality, which I was surprised about. Although I still never organised my will.
Anyway, I was diagnosed, which surprisingly pulled me RIGHT out of that depression, and I suddenly had a LOT to do. Fortunately, due to sheer luck and circumstance, it was found early, so I just had surgery: lumpectomy, axilla excision (lymph node), margin excision when they discovered they missed part of it, and then weeks and weeks of radiation where to hold onto my identity I started telling dumb playground jokes to the therapists.
At what point did you start turning that experience into this show?
I started writing cancer specific comedy as a way to stay in the game and stay sane. Comics write about what’s going on in their lives, and my reality at that time was surgery and radiation, so the jokes were coming. And the community supported it which was lovely. One comedy pal even picked me up, drove me to a gig, watched the show, and drove me back home (I was still only a couple of days after lymph surgery so I couldn’t drive my car). I never wanted to do a show about it, cos it seemed so cliche – comic gets cancer, comic does cancer show – but I WAS writing an entertaining blog to inform people of what was going on, and it was full of analogies and funny ways of looking at things, so when some friends asked me to do a spot at their breast cancer fundraiser, I said yes, and realised I should write a show.
What’s it like discussing it on stage? Do you get people who think it’s not something to be laughed at?
I was confident I could make people laugh about it as I had already been doing material on comedy stages, and when I gave audiences the opportunity to choose between my excellent ginger jokes or some new cancer gags, the audience always chose the cancer gags. Unanimously. And they laughed. Look honestly, some people might come to the show, be offended that I’m joking about a serious topic, and flat out refuse to laugh at it, but they are rare – most people understand that laughter is a necessary release and mechanism for healing. Getting people to attend? – well come on guys – buck up. If the cancer survivor is telling jokes about her experience, then come along – cos who knows how long she’ll be around for!
Be aware too, that I WILL take you on the rollercoaster ride – it is not ALL comedy – I find that the show works well because it is juxtaposed with the serious bits, and the comedy breaks that tension.
What would you like to audiences to take from your show?
I would like them to 1. Get screened. The only reason I am still around at all was due to a completely random screening. 2. Learn to laugh at the darkness, especially if you are going through it. Laughter is the nightlight that shows you the way to the toilet instead of wetting the bed because you are too scared. 3. A better understanding of the medical side of breast cancer – I use a lot of metaphor to describe treatments/pathology, and I know they are a quick and easy way to describe things, so they may not be entirely accurate, but they are entertaining and digestible, and they give people a better idea of what it’s like to even be a survivor. Also, I’m pretty certain no audience member will ever use the word “journey” to describe cancer again. If I stop people from using the word “journey”, or telling people “it’s a gift”, then I’ve done my job. 😉
Has it helped you?
Absolutely. Although I am pretty sure that actual therapy sessions would have cost me less than producing the show.
But if you have an artist’s brain, make art from your adversity. Because it’s brilliantly empowering. I like to think I have made theatrical lemonade from this diagnosis.
What are you looking forward to most about August?
Being in Edinburgh and walking up all those hills. It’s a gorgeous city and I love it.