A lot of people follow non-linear career trajectories but Kirsty Webeck takes the cake.
For Kirsty, a communications degree led to a six year stint in Taiwan teaching English, which resulted in a job back home with the federal government which ultimately culminated in a love for comedy and recognition as one of Australia’s best emerging comedic talents.
“It all sounds very illogical when I put it like that” she laughingly admits.
Now based in Melbourne, and preparing for the Fringe Comedy Festival which runs late this month, it’s easy to see that Webeck has officially found her sweet spot.
“I love the constant challenge of writing new material and working out what’s going to be funny onstage”, she tells me. ”
I also love the strong friendships I’ve developed. Finding the shining lights anywhere is always a challenge but I’ve found my crew of genuinely supportive and lovely people, who are focused on building each other up rather than tearing everyone else down and it’s made everything much easier.”
Kirsty concedes that comedy is a challenging business, made even more so by the rise of social media and internet trolls.
“It can be a toxic environment and bullying is rife (thank you Internet), so I found it very important to seek out the good souls,” she says.
As a gay woman, Webeck has never shied away from being vocal about her sexuality on social platforms and throughout her sets. I ask her whether there’s a tightrope to walk between humility and humiliation as suggested recently by Hannah Gadsby (Nanette), and whether she’s ever felt the same level of discomfort.
“I’ve never written a joke or spoken out about anything that I haven’t believed in or haven’t felt confident discussing,” she says. “I speak about my sexuality on social media platforms and occasionally onstage because I believe visibility is important and I’m lucky enough to be able to discuss it with ease.”
“I do agree that there’s a tightrope to walk between humility and humiliation. I also believe that we all use comedy differently and for different reasons. There’s a common trope that all comedians are ‘sad clowns’ who are using stand up as catharsis or as a way to seek validation or acceptance that was lacking in our younger years.
While some comedians freely admit that stand up is ‘free therapy’ there are many other comedians who simply enjoy making people laugh. I don’t think there’s an incorrect motivation for performing,” she says.
However, Webeck is conscious of self deprecation and tries to steer away from the default position so many gay comedians have been unfairly motivated to follow.
“I’ve never felt like I put myself down to make others laugh. I don’t think my personality would allow me to throw myself under the bus too much,” she says.
When I ask Kirsty about the common social perception that women “just aren’t that funny” she’s quick to prove just how incorrect that is.
“Currently, some of the funniest hardworking comedians in Australia and also the world are women,” she says emphatically. “Check out Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Cameron Esposito, Ilana Glazer, Abbi Jacobson, Laura Davis, Cal Wilson, Claire Hooper, Nelly Thomas, Alice Fraser, Jude Perl, Alice Tovey, Denise Scott, Geraldine Hickey, Rose Matafeo, Celia Pacquola or a million others. This list could actually go on forever. Women are kicking huge goals globally and that’s evidence enough that women are funny.”
Clearly however, this isn’t always reflected by broadcasting and radio networks. (*Cough, Channel Ten pilot week).
“I think that they [networks] may perceive men to still be a safer option than women in terms of widespread appeal,” says Webeck. “Most networks are run by men, which speaks volumes when considering programming. I think the times are changing slowly but surely, so I’m optimistic that we’ll see more women in hosting roles in the future.”
Given her easy charm, humour and honesty it’s not inconceivable to imagine Webeck herself being approached for this kind of role in the future.
But for now? Well, there’s a fair bit to manage on her rapidly expanding plate.
“I’m working on some writing projects and I’ve got gigs booked all over the country,” she says. “I’m also starting to work on my new show for 2019. I’m still taking a lot of the opportunities that come my way and I’m just focusing on being funnier every time I get onstage.”
“I’m also trying to remember to work smarter and to take more time out. I just spent a week in The NT with my girlfriend which was my first holiday in over four years. I feel so refreshed after just one week that I’ve remembered the virtues of having a rest. I’m hoping to do more of that in the coming year, too.”
There’s no denying that a career in comedy takes a serious level of grit, talent and tenacity; but for emerging women in the field, Webeck offers some additional advice:
“Surround yourself with good people, have fun, stay out of the toxicity, be kind to everyone, work hard, be reliable, ignore the bullies, boost others up where you can, treat comedy as your career from the get go, be undeniably good at what you do (this means writing jokes and getting plenty of stage time), take the opportunities that will enhance your trajectory, don’t be afraid to turn down offers that may be detrimental, don’t view your peers as competitors (there is an audience for everyone, you just have to find it), know your worth (women are awful at charging what they’re worth for their work), look after your mental and physical health; you can’t perform without either.
Finally, always remember that Taylor was the best Hanson brother.”
We can’t disagree with that.