“You are a factory with one machine – and it’s you.”
Financial advisers aren’t renowned for their health advice but it turns out Magda Szubanski has a wise accountant. Without her health, her factory will close down, the comedian, author & actress told a group of 500 women and a smattering of men in Sydney on Monday morning for a Business Chicks breakfast.
“Near enough IS good enough” and “Just keep bumbling on” are two other lines she refers to often.
“Perfection can be crippling” she explained, and it’s a trap many women fall into: striving for unattainable standards in all realms of life. But as author Elizabeth Gilbert preaches: done is better than good.
“Your achievements are important – but those achievements with and alongside people is what gives you satisfaction,” Szubanski said. Speaking of her mother for whom she’s caring, she was overcome. “Holding my mum’s hand is one of the most important things I will ever do.”
With her famous wit, genuine emotion and raw honesty, Szubanski spoke about her career, her personal life, her family and politics.
She has forged a career in comedy which is male-dominated and incredibly tough. The idea that women aren’t funny wasn’t abstract for females in the domain: one well known male comedian was adamant that women weren’t capable of being funny.
“For me, a man saying women aren’t funny isn’t just a misrepresentation – it’s a lie. Even in a post truth world,” Szubanski said. Her mum is hilarious as are most of the women in her family. And yet that seed, the narrative that women aren’t funny, remained.
Doing the media promotion for Kath & Kim with her co-stars and co-creators Gina Riley and Jane Turner was a novelty that wasn’t without resistance. “Judith Lucy has a great quote about the fact if there is more than one woman on a stage it’s the feminist revolution. We felt that doing media for Kath & Kim,” she said. It made the show’s success even sweeter. “It was written by women, it starred women and it is the most successful television comedy in Australian history.”
But humour isn’t the only feather in Magda’s cap: she is an extraordinary writer and a champion for pushing the envelope.
Her memoir, Reckoning, confirms both. The predictable option might have been for Magda to write something funny and light-hearted, but she didn’t.
“I thought, if at age 55 you can’t be who you are, when will you?”
She took out a loan, put other work on hold and immersed herself in her family’s history – decidedly unfunny material – to create a literary feat. Her father was an assassin in Poland in World War II and her grandparents risked their lives to hide Jewish people in their Polish home during the war: the exercise was emotionally and intellectually taxing. It was a book, she said, she could never have written if she hadn’t come out to the pubic in 2012.
And because of that it was cathartic: “The greatest lesson I learnt through my book was to have faith in myself. I can be my true self and be accepted.”
Her grandparents’ choice to protect innocent people at the risk of their own children is one Szubanski has contemplated at length. “They wanted to create a world for their children that they wanted them to live in. To them, doing the right thing, mattered even at the risk to their own family.”
She says it illustrates how important it is to resist the tide: a lesson that is prescient right now.
“Stories of courage and resistance and tolerance are more important than ever at the moment and being a woman doesn’t let you off the hook,” she said. “If we let injustice pass we know where that can end.”
As Edmund Burke famously said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and good women) to do nothing.”
“That is where we are,” Magda said. “We need to do something.”