Women aren’t as funny as men… and other LOLs from the Melbourne International Comedy Festival- by Lorelei Mathias for Jokepit.com

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(L to R: Josh Glanc, Isabel Angus, Natalie Harris, Rose Callaghan)

American Comedian Eve Ellenbogun is on a first date with a guy. It’s going well, until she tells him what she does for a living. ‘Oh that’s too bad’ he says. ‘I don’t find women funny.’

Luckily, that douche-canoe is laughing on the other side of his face by the time Eve has finished with him. But sadly, he’s not the only one still labouring the bogun opinion that women aren’t as funny as men. Ask anyone working in comedy today – they’ll tell you it’s this misconception that prevents women being better represented in the comedy industry. In the UK’s TV scene, script-editor Andrew Ellard puts it down to a complex and ‘inherent sexism in commissioning.’ UK Script writer and comedian Ariane Sherine says ‘it is something we are all socially conditioned to think from childhood’ – while Indian comedian Neeti Palta still has to put up with bookers back home saying things like ‘you charge how much? I thought female comedians were cheaper’. Like it or not, this ludicrous belief has long been the glue that holds the comedy glass ceiling in place.

And yet, of course, it’s complete tosh. But as with most deep-rooted stains on the cultural carpet of humanity, these things take a little while to come out in the wash. You can either spray it with industrial grade Cillit Bang, or douse it in a bit of our old chum – positive discrimination. With that in mind, as I’ve been lucky enough to be out here in Melbourne reviewing some of the best up-and-coming talent (and the already up-and-comed), I thought I’d compile a handy list of some of the ones I’ve enjoyed the most. Sure, there’s something a bit patronizing about only focusing on female comedians – though not as patronizing as introducing them to the stage as a ‘female comedienne’, as was Sara Pascoe’s lot at Latitude festival 2015, much to her fury.

Some might say that lumping women together does more harm than good as it segregates them further. However, it’s also true that confidence is one of the things that holds some female comics back from getting involved. At this year’s Jeez Louise address at Melbourne Town Hall, hosts Cal Wilson and Nelly Thomas discussed why this belief has been allowed to proliferate for so long. And so much of it comes down to being ballsy (pun not-intended). A survey commissioned by the festival found that men are more pushy at asking for gigs, while women are socially conditioned to be less forth-coming. Around the local club circuit, things can be ‘pretty bro-y’ as Sam Taunton puts it. When you’re gigging every night in small testosterone laden green rooms, it can be a little intimidating – so much so that Canadian comic Ievy Stamatov calls Melbourne ‘a Boys Club with A Capital B’. That’s partly why initiatives like Gaggle, a comedy school for women in Melbourne, have been set up, both to give women training in comedy, and help bolster confidence, too. Currently, the MICF programme comprises 25% women performers, but as Nelly Thomas puts it ‘I do think the festival want it to change. They are doing their best.’

Ariane Sherine argues that we need to do all we can to encourage more women to get into comedy. It really does start at the ground level – even if it’s just shouting about the best comics we’ve seen – who just happen to also happen to be women. Because unfortunately the world is still rife with people spreading the women-aren’t-funny-myth.  Just last week at town hall, the hub of the comedy festival, I met flyer-er Tess Nossal who was reeling after she tried to hand a man some flyers and he refused to take them, saying ‘No, I don’t want those ones. Women aren’t funny.’

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A Blurry but beautiful Town Hall – the main hub of Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Clearly, it’s time we threw some rotten tomatoes at this bogus belief… or at least gave it a jolly good heckle. So, permission-to-positively-discriminate-tenuously-established, here’s a list of my favourite shows I’ve seen so far at the Melbourne Comedy Festival. If you like them too, please share this/spread the word so they can sell out on the final weekend. Some of them you’ll have to wait ’til their Edinburgh shows for, others you can still catch if you’re quick…

Dope, Mae Martin – A brilliant and thought-provoking hour, brimming with hilarious observations about dopamine rushes, addiction, and the fine line between passion and obsession. Mae uses exaggeration with aplomb to make her points, and throws out some jaw-droopingly funny imagery – from the vision as a worm at the window who is always late, to her ’not being properly cooked’ and waiting for the right moment to ask her mum if she can ‘get back in for a bit’.  I was laughing and crying in recognition at least twice, which is my favourite thing to do at a comedy gig. ‘It’s nice not to be alone for once,’ Mae quipped early on, referring to the sign language interpreter she was sharing the stage with. ‘Plus he looks like he’s in the Kings of Leon’. Actually, this was one of the only shows I saw that had an interpreter on stage and it really added to the experience of the comedy. Especially the moment where she was describing a fantasy scene with Bette Midler um, going down on her. Seeing the Kings of Leon guy trying to act this out was truly hilarious.

Do you accept this Rose? Rose Callaghan. You’d be crazy not to accept the bawdy, hilarious and witty Rose Callaghan. Her set is all about reality show The Bachelor but my favourite things about it were her candid tales of sex, dating, and the case of the mistaken snapped banjo string, which comes with one of the best punchlines of the festival. Go see! A rose by any other name would just not be as funny. Rose has killed it this year, so much so they added another date for this Saturday.

Nannette, Hannah Gadsby – in what is possibly her swan-song to stand-up, Gadsby explores mental illness and gender oppression with a brutal honesty, and finds comedy in pain like no-one else. Everyone I know that has seen this has needed to take a moment afterwards – me, I cried for 90% of it, such was its powerfully confronting polemic. There is no one quite like her and the standing ovation was a given.

Mucho Relaxo, Cait Johnson – New to the scene and sharing the stage with Gearard McGeown, Johnson is wonderfully deadpan, dry, and just adorably nerdy. Brilliant observations about taking a Myki to the Moon, and looking like she cares about your rental agreement. Love her, one to watch.

Post-Joke Era, DeAnne Smith. Smith was the stand-out of stand-out at the Oxfam Gala for me (see my Chortle review, here if you wish) – but I happened to catch her again at the Comedy Up Late at the Festival Club, and she blew us all away with even more ridiculously funny material. This time about how she identifies not as a man or woman but as  Gentleman Elf/Hot Harry Potter/TransMasculine House Mouse. She also killed it in The Great Debate at the Town Hall. At this point I can’t not briefly don my Comedy Promoter hat and mention that DeAnne is headlining at our LEMON comedy night on 9 May. So if you don’t catch her festival show, fear not! You can see her in Fitzroy’s Hares & Hyenas for just 15 bucks before she leaves on a jet plane back to Canada the next morn. Bargain!

Don’t Get Mad at Me, Eve Ellenbogen – Brilliant material about dating, women’s issues, and waxing – ‘I don’t take it all off – I’m a feminist – they check’. Her set is full of killer lines. One of which – about the survival of the human race – is so unexpected, and so witty, it knocks you for six. Her joke about her reproductive area being a walking museum from the pre-trump era – is nothing short of inspired. Her run has finished but she’s also appearing at the inaugural Lemon.

Lisa Treyger was my favourite out of all the USA Headliners panels. She had a great bit about what guys say after they’ve had sex. I can’t possibly try and describe it here, but basically she did an incredible diatribe about how men have been coming so much over the years that they have to find new places to put the stuff. Women, not so much. Brilliantly biting stuff, loved it.

Twins, Naomi Higgins –  One of the youngest performers in the festival, but no less accomplished, I caught a bit of her set at the Festival Club, enough to make me want to see her two-hander with fellow RAW Comedy finalist Jess Perkins. She has excellent material about the over-proliferation of the term ‘I’m so OCD’, with excellent come-backs. Also, a brilliant bit about curing her mum’s alcoholism through the medium of a drinking game according to how many black people there are on Channel 7.

Dragon, Natalie Harris  Loved her, especially the bit about the hipster lampshades! See my review on Chortle here.

#BLISS! by Isabel Angus  – a ‘razor-sharp’ satire of the fitness industry. This excellent character comedian ‘Perfect Penny’s Body Bliss’ is a taut and toned piss-take of the Instagram Fitspo selfie obsessed culture. She has her own lexicon of wanky terms and sarky aphorisms – from ‘coregasm’, ’Summer bodies are made in Winter’ and ’Tandasanasanasanasnasasana’. She brings boundless energy, excellent sound design and brilliantly low-fi visual aids to the mix. From the buckets full of crisps (sorry, chips), to the printed screenshots of her instagram feed, blown up to A3 and spiral bound, which all adds to the madness. Mad it certainly is, especially when we begin to hear Penny’s own dark inner monologue of self-loathing, which is what makes it such a powerful show. Despite the dark, serious take-out, by the end of the hour, my cheeks had quite a punishing work-out from laughing so hard. Angus also has one of the best viral campaigns in the festival, with her satirical Insta-Feed, and some great online videos which remind me a little of Ben’s Health from UK comedy channel Mr Box. I’d love to see them do a double act. Together they’d be the absolute dream team of Sporty Fitspo wanker parodies. If you can’t catch her in the next three days, Penny is also coming to do a work-out at LEMON.

Double Denim, Michelle Brasier & Laura Frew – I caught a glimpse of this kooky kickass vocal duo at the Tuxedo Cat’s Midnight Madness showcase. It was certainly that – an irreverent and bonkers display of musical comedy and dancing. The highlight of their set being the bit about being able to literally orgasm in the style of ‘Castles in the Cloud’ – um, you had to be there.

Burn the Witch – In her many different characters and voices, Bec Petraitis owned the stage at the Butterfly Club, along with Martin Dunlop, in this kooky play about witchcraft, set in ‘1650ish’, in the small village of Kankle Green. I really enjoyed this as a dramatic interlude to all the stand-up I’d been bingeing on… My favourite parts were the recurring funny meandering pieces of scrolling text; the post modern commentary on their costumes, and the funny cameo each night of different comedians as plants in the audience, answering a question about the Bechdel test before walking out. The court scene at the end was one of the strongest – especially the ‘meta’ part where the true polemic of the play is revealed – that this is all a metaphor about the pressure man puts on ‘people who are different’.

Shaken, Sarah Kendall. Oh Em Gee Sarah Kendall. The master and inventor of the ‘quadruple take,’ one hour with Kendall is like watching a one woman mini-play, told in a plethora of different voices, interlaced with brilliantly observed real-life observations. I was in stitches before she even started when she told the room they needed to strip off if they wanted to stay alive. ‘seriously, its so hot in here’ – ‘this is the world’s worst strip show’. Once we were all suitably less clad, Kendall then presented us with a perfectly formed 60 minute confessional. Less about jokes and anecdotes, more an extended story time, the highlight being the conception of the ‘octuple take’ – which you have to see to fully understand. This show has lines that stay with you long after the lights have come back on – from the memoir of her growing up as an overweight redhead in a small town, pressed up against the window pane of her youth, ‘Mother, why can’t I play under the fiery orb’, to the description of the policeman ‘typing sarcastically’ as he took down her ludicrous crime statement. On a personal note, I am so glad Kendall has moved on from flogging potatoes and found her true calling in life. I once cast her in a set of TV commercials for McCain/Film 4 in which she stole the show… but I’m thrilled to see she’s doing what she was really put on this Earth to do: leave a room full of strangers wide-eyed and gasping, having told them a hilarious story about growing up as a compulsive liar in small-town Australia, before flooring them with a shockingly stirring ending. Her perfectly paced dismount was both an homage to Ferris Bueller, and a testament to the milkshake of human kindness.

Cake in the Rain, Laura Davis – Describes herself as a bisexual, ‘or maybe just a lesbian with a strong stomach’. She is plain hilarious, an incandescent, witty joy to be around. I literally kept looking at my watch to see how much time we had left. 50 minutes of mad-arsed jokes on the ‘little glitches’ and ironies of the world – the way you need scissors to unwrap a new pack of scissors; the tins of spam in her corner shop, the little green men/women, and oh, the apocalypse. She also apologises for doing her first period joke – ‘that’s my first offence in ten years of comedy!” (that’s right boys – girls don’t just do period jokes!) then the last five minutes she suddenly hits you by opening the door ajar on her long-running mental illness, and you feel the room take a breath as she tackles compulsive suicide ideation from an offbeat angle and somehow manages to make us all feel uplifted and moved at the same time. Not surprisingly nominated for a Golden Gibbo, this was one of my favourite shows at the whole festival.

Sinkful of Forks, Jaqueline Mifsud – a regular on the Melbourne open mic circuit and star of The Loop sketch show, Mifsud has been diligently polishing her craft for the last year – at least more than her cutlery. Here’s one I wrote earlier for Chortle.

Upfront – This week was the 30th annual UpFront gala – an exuberant, sparkly celebration of the best comedians at the festival who just happen to be women. Showcasing a wide range of incredible comedians, from Penny Greenhalgh’s character comedy – starring an awkward, mal-co-ordinated ice-skater, which has the room in bits. I’ve also seen her do a mad French chef character, concocting an ice cream cone out of staples, foam, fairy liquid and a tiny piece of mattress which reminded me of Amy Schumer’s Sauced in all the good ways. My other favourites of the night were Nikki Britton’s brilliant bittersweet observations about life in your 30s, and shoulder-dancing in your 50’s. She also dropped the best last line in the show about how even cancer can’t find ‘it’. I also loved the candid and witty Cal Wilson who had some great, confronting material on having an only child – or ‘limited edition’ as she called it. The night was bookended by musical performances shocking and hilarious in equal measure  – from Glittery Clittery to Shirley Gnome. The former opened the night with a sparkly, ludicrous number ‘Change it Up’ that had you laughing your head off then grabbed you by the neck with a harrowing message about domestic abuse. Powerful, sassy and brilliant. The night ended with an upliftingly unhinged rendition of ‘I will always love you’ by Gnome who has the voice of an Angel one minute, and the voice of a devil with acute bronchitis the next. She had the audience howling in laughter and shock as both her sanity and clothing unravelled before our eyes. A perfectly mad ending to a wonderful night.

Forgive me but I’m going go crazy now by mentioning a non-woman. It’s not just that I thought it would be fair to throw a token white male in the mix, in the spirit of political correctness gone mad but, Yianni Agisilaou talks a lot in his show about the problem of women not being considered funny, whilst also tackling the hypocrisies of gender stereotypes in a fresh and funny way. Yes, its contradictory to the cause, but they say comedy is all about reversal so with that I’m recommending Yianni Agisilaou’s The Unpinchable Pink Pen which packs a funny, feminist sixty minute punch. Although if you’re going to catch him at Edinburgh you’ll find it filed under ‘Pockets of Equality’.

I’ll end by mentioning another sassy female comic who I’ve caught a couple of times but am looking forward to her appearance in the Bengalaru showcase tonight – Neeti Palta. She has some sharp, surprising, occasionally crude material about racism, arranged marriages and soap. On the morning of the MICF opening she told me her advice to any female comedians starting out: Women have to ‘get better at faking it’ – faking their confidence, that is, until it’s real. ‘If you’re funny and you have something important to say – work on a sense of humour, and the thickness of your skin. Not the colour of your skin, but the thickness.’

Melbourne International Comedy Festival is on for another three nights, and there are 556 brilliant acts to check out – 103 of them by people who happen to be women. Start here.

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All the medicine you need this festival – from pills to puns… to Peach Nicholson

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Lorelei Mathias is a comedy writer, producer and sometime reviewer for Chortle.co.uk. She is also co-founder of LEMON Comedy: A new stand-up showcase that aims to amplify diverse voices in comedy.  Follow @lemoncomedy on Twitter & FB @LemonComedy and see the full line up here.

Follow Lorelei’s Chortling here, her Twitter here, Facebook here, or read her funny novel Break Up Club here.

CRAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY? FEAR NOT LOVELIES, I HAVE JUST THE THING 

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Inspiration! Wallpaper from the Victor and Rolf exhibition at Melbourne’s National Gallery

What’s that you say? You couldn’t reach your front door yesterday for all the cards and presents clogging up the hallway? And you couldn’t get any work done because you kept pricking yourself on all the red red roses on your desk? I know, it was tough day for us all, wasn’t it.

If however, like most of the population that wasn’t your yesterday, then don’t worry, I have just the antidote! If you’re single and you’d rather not be…or if you’ve just finished reading Break-Up Club (ta very much!) and don’t know what to do with yourself, then I present to you the perfect follow-up: sign up to this brilliant new course called Project Love. The only possible hazard I can think of is that you may find yourself with a Wet Wet Wet song stuck in your head for about twelve weeks. I kept singing ‘Love is All Around you’ as it was written on a good few of the lesson notes. But if you can handle a bit of vintage Marti Pellow humming to you then read on…

You can’t hurry love. But you can do a 30 day course in it.

In the words of its lovely founders, Selina & Vicki, “Get Ready for Love is an online course that contains the 30 essential lessons that we’ve found to be the most effective and powerful to get you ready for love and on your way to a happy and healthy relationship.” How it works is, you get emailed 30 interactive lessons to do at your own pace, with homework to do when it suits you. I was lucky enough to try out the course, and I heartily recommend it to anyone – even if you’re already in a relationship! One of the reasons I was drawn to it is that the aims of the course are a little like those of Break-Up Club: to become happy single, because only then can you become part of a happy union with someone else. Cripes, if only Holly or any of my other characters had been on the course, the book wouldn’t have been half as long. Sorry! Anyway – once you’re done processing your break-up via the 12 essential rules, I cannot recommend Project Love enough. It makes for the perfect epilogue. Here’s a bit more about why I liked it…

You’ve got the love. Yeah, You do!

Saying ‘you need to love yourself before you can love anyone else’ has become something of a cliché these days. But the difference is, Project Love really gets you doing it, through easy, practical methods that slowly seep into your daily rituals ’til they’re habitual. The world can be a cold and lonely place sometimes if you’re not a smug married. And that loneliness goes out the window when you realise you’ve got someone there standing by you the whole time. You! 

Any fool can fall in love. But Project Love gets you falling in love the right way… into a relationship that’s built to last. And if you don’t know what the frig any of that means – do the course!

Some highlights:

  • Lucy Sheridan on ‘Comparison Coaching’ – There’s a really interesting section on how we all sometimes sabotage our own happiness by comparing ourselves to others. No thanks to Mr Zuckerberg!
  • The Dating is shit, or is it? podcast has an interesting discussion on how more often than not, heartbreak is just grief for the stories we’ve told ourselves. Without knowing it, we sometimes invent narratives about the person we’re falling for. When we break-up, we have to disconnect with that reality, and let go of ‘that individual who didn’t play to the rules of the game they didn’t even know they were playing’ – the poor little mites. 
  • Visualisations – The course explores lots of ways to get you ready for the relationship you want. Imagining what it looks like is one part of that. One exercise I found particularly powerful was when they get you to imagine it playing on a screen. It reminded me of what Holly does in ‘Break Up Club’, only she does it in a really destructive way. She plays constant re-runs of The Holly & Lawrence Show before they broke up. Numpty that she is, she’s unable to let go of the past and ‘delete the tapes’. Of course, the thing to do to help yourself after a break-up instead is this: press play on the positive images of what you’d like to see in your future, and the things that make you happy – rather than poking at the burning embers of your broken dreams. And that’s where Project Love is so helpful.
  • The Tips on dating are brilliant. I loved happiness coach Gail Schock’s guided meditation for your pre-date-jitters. That said, I must confess I still haven’t ever joined a proper dating site before because a) I just seem to always meet people IRL (what can I say, I’m chatty!) and b) every time I’ve ever briefly tried an app in the past it always seems to end up with me watching jpegs buffering of men holding dogs, and me feeling like it’s all too much ‘ladmin’ – but that’s probably just mostly down to me having a shit data package.
  • Lessons in ‘Self-Care’ – This might sound slightly wanky. But all it means is, it’s good to talk to yourself everyday in the kind of tone you would to a good friend – as opposed to a naggy-Mrs-Mangle-on-crack, which I sometimes do. Self-care also means taking yourself for a date once in a while, and nurturing yourself with daily-acts of love. Just the other day I read a really good article in Red Magazine about why we should date ourselves more. To celebrate this, for Valentine’s Day, Project Love are asking people to write themselves a Love Letter:
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Image: Project Love

Instead of making this day of love all about romantic love and focusing your attention on others that you love or lust after, we want you to turn all that love right around and in on yourself, starting with the way that you speak to yourself.  It is a life changer and key to your happiness and success.’ Check out how to write the letter, here. Of course, once again these ladies are bang on. Only last week I was listening to a Guilty Feminist podcast where Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge did an exercise in counting how many times she judged herself in a day. And this is a writer/actor at the top of her game. See, we all do it! We all need to exercise a little more self-care. The more you do that, the more you actually get a sense that there is someone there, catching you. And that’s the breakthrough moment – suddenly you realise you’re  become the controller of your thoughts and your feelings – no one else is. That’s well worth remembering, whether you’re in a relationship or not.

All the Single Ladies

Lastly, another incentive to joining Project Love is that you get free membership to the warm, friendly community that is the Secret Facebook group ‘The Love Zone’. Take it from me – if you’re going dating (on or offline), then you need these girls in your corner.

And rosecallaghan910x380170x170bbwhile we’re at it, you also REALLY need this girl! A frigging hilarious stand-up comedian I’ve met recently in Melbourne, she’s co-host of a sassy-as-shit podcast about sex and online dating – SwipeNight. I bring you the hysterical and lovely Rose Callaghan. If you happen to be in Melbs for the comedy festival, go see!

So there you have it. Between SwipeNight and Project Love, and your old chums the BUC, you’ve got the best possible support group you could ask for as you ride roughshod through The Jungle Of Single on this, the week of Valentine’s. And who knows, with all that going on, maybe it won’t be long before you’re the proud recipient of one of these puppies:

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More Inspiration! An excellent card from an achingly cool shop in Melbourne called ‘Quirk of Fate.’ I bought one as soon as I saw it, to give to my next friend that graduates…

If you’re interested in joining Project Love just head here to sign up (and to get a  very good price discount of £20 – Just type in the code Loreleilove) – Good luck! 

Fall In Love With The Museum of Broken Relationships

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From a singular smelly sneaker, to a half-completed Sodoku puzzle book, my fictional characters would have gladly donated their break-up debris to the Museum of Broken Relationships. But when I first wrote the first draft of ‘Break Up Club’, there was no such thing. So the Club had to make do with building a bonfire that led to the fire brigade being called out, and almost being thrown in jail.

Luckily, now there’s a real place you can send your break-up detritus (date-tritus, anyone?). I was lucky enough to go to the sneak preview ahead of its opening today, June 4th, at 6751 Hollywood Boulevard.*

#BrokenshipsLA is a cathedral of catharsis, where only the brave have shed their most intimate, sentimental memories, and laid their broken dreams to rest. Reading the plaques, the relief is palpable. You get a real sense of these people having finally attained peace in themselves, having finally let go.

Being a geek about break-ups (an occupational hazard), I’ve been to the museum twice before over the years. But this time, I was struck dumb by the quality of the writing in all the stories. I feel disloyal saying this, but I don’t remember the plaques in London all being as impeccably written. Perhaps there has been a more shrewd editing process this time, but they are all brilliantly balanced – both as pieces in themselves, and in relation to each other. Sensitively curated, some stories are brutally short; a real power in their brevity. Others are as long and meandering as the lifetimes they span.

The artefacts range from the funny (a mirror weighed down with the memory of a break-up), the freaky (curled up contacts collected in a baggy), the frightening (belly button fluff)… to the heartbreaking (the teddy who no longer has music in his fingertips)… and the adorably mundane:

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At this point I can’t not mention another similarity to ‘Break Up Club’ – which has its own fluoride motif, first mentioned here:

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But back to the museum. Below are some of my all time favourites.

Yard 2
Heavy baggage
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Free in every sense of the word
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Nobody’s hero
The butterfly effect
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When a butterfly flaps its wings… all the way to the rubbish dump
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Bear of little heart
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No picnic
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Uncomfortable silence

After an hour in the Museum, you are bowled over by the universality of break-ups. A sense that Love is the best feeling in the world, whereas break-ups are worse than death. But most of all you come away realising that it’s only by sharing our hoarding with others that we can declutter our emotional attics and finally move on. A break-up shared really is a break-up halved.

In the spirit of sharing, then – if I was ever going to donate an object, it would be one red high-heeled shoe. A symbol of one particularly significant love story I lived through. I won’t bore you with the details, but it began with a romantic Cinderella-esque meet-cute, and ended when the relationship turned into a pumpkin 10 months later. Sadly, I can’t donate the original shoe because the ‘real life Break Up Club’ and I burned it in a bonfire. This was back in 2009, before Zagreb’s first Brokenships had opened. So like my characters, we had to improvise.

I had to laugh when the invite came into my inbox with one red high-heeled shoe on it. 

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*Incidentally, ‘Break-Up Club’ itself has also finally just opened its doors, thanks to Harper Collins. You can join here, or find out more at breakupclub.co.uk