Stand-up comedian and TV personality Ruby Wax was huge in the 90s, but after succumbing to clinical depression she set about learning as much as she could about her condition and how the mind works, undertaking a Masters in psychology at Oxford, no less.
Last year MICF audiences saw her perform Losing It, her show about depression. This year’s show is Sane New World, a performance about how the brain works and the practice of mindfulness. If you don’t know about this stuff, it’s interesting enough but if you are fairly conversant with recent findings on brain function, meditation and mindfulness then Sane New World won’t teach you anything new.
Wax is still funny (although I miss the old Ruby who was so rude and disrespectful) but a touch of wholesomeness has crept in to her comedy – she’s a bit like Fiona O’Laughlin was in her show about giving up the booze. Like last year’s show, Sane New World touts itself as part stand-up and part group therapy, but it’s more like a comic lecture. There lies the rub, because in a big theatre like the Playhouse at the Arts Centre, the feeling of intimacy and safe space Wax obviously intends to create doesn’t quite happen.
Wax is a slick performer, having been at it for years and having done these shows over and over again, obviously. But this is too apparent. She’s engaging and fun but something’s missing and that’s to do with the tension between the personal nature of what she talks about and her professional style of performance. We know she doesn’t seriously get so lonely that she answers spam emails, for example – many of her jokes are in the exaggerated style of gag-making where they seem labored and tacked on rather than coming from a place of real disclosure. I much preferred last year’s show’ it was more truly personal.
I could feel the audience disengaging in the second part of Sane New World, where she talks about synapses and electrical impulses and neurons firing and stuff we already know. Still, it’s a good thing Wax is helping to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness, and the more we’re informed about ways to guide ourselves and loved ones through depression, then the better things are for us all.
Melbourne International Comedy Festival proudly presents
Sane New World
Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, Playhouse | 100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne
Dates: 27 Mar – 5 Apr, 2015
Tickets: $42 – $35
Bookings: 1300 660 013