As a 46-year-old woman, a Mum and a comedian in Canberra, I have a lot in common with Tanya Losanno – a lack of comedy reviews from Canberra media being just one of them. After our informal workshop over salt and vinegar chips today, ahead of our new festival shows, I interviewed this unassuming two-time winner of the prestigious national Moosehead Grant for comedy.
They say if you want something done give it to a busy person, so it was inevitable that Canberra-based comedian Tanya Losanno would win for the second time a hotly contested national comedy grant to put on a solo show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year.
With two kids aged 8 and 9, a husband and a calendar full of weddings to officiate in her other role as a professional marriage celebrant, Tanya also lives 700m away from her elderly Italian parents, who have inspired her new hour of stand-up, called The Good, The Bad and The Elderly.
“I love to tell stories; all my shows are stories about my life. I really like tapping in to something that relates to everyone – which is why I like talking about family – we’ve all got something in common,” Tan says, but far from being sentimental, she tells it like it is.
“Family means getting no time to myself, hard work and yelling a lot.”
The show is not just a personal story, but the story of a generation, according to the panel of comedy industry judges that decide the annual recipients of the prestigious Moosehead Grant.
“It’s a show about the chaos and absurdity of being part of the sandwich generation,” Tanya says.
“I guess I’m caught in the crossfire of caring for children and elderly parents, but to me it’s the lasagne generation: There are so many layers of responsibility, frustration and anxiety, when you eat it all together you think ‘this isn’t too bad’ but then you just feel really, really tired.
“I always think the best part of the lasagne is the burnt bit – it’s like life is saying to you that even at its shittest, it’s not that bad.”
By winning the Moosehead for the second time in her comedy career, Tanya has cemented herself in the company of some of Australia’s most highly respected comedians, including Judith Lucy, Lano & Woodley, Anthony Morgan, Dave O’Neil, Alan Brough and Corinne Grant – even though she cannot stand blowing her own trumpet.
“I hate having to do social media about my show – I’m still developing it and, in many ways, I would rather just fly under the radar and impress people with how good it is than tell everyone it’s great and have them be disappointed,” she says, in typical self-deprecating style.
Tanya has national headliner Judith Lucy as a script editor for her show – a secret weapon that not many comedians have up their sleeves and one that is sure to give the show a finesse that sets it apart from the field. Tanya has in fact assembled a powerful all-woman team behind the show, with good friend and Melbourne-based comedian/author Nelly Thomas as director and Laura Milke as producer.
Tanya’s first Moosehead in 2005 was for a show called Trophy Wife, which was less about being one (she wasn’t married at the time) and more about her obsession with collecting other people’s trophies from thrift stores.
“I’d buy these old trophies and they made me feel like a champion without having to do anything!
“At the end of the show I had an engraver and I’d get a trophy engraved and give it to someone in the audience to make them feel special.”
When the Moosehead panel called to say she had won for the second time, she was shocked.
“They called while I was hanging washing on the line and I couldn’t believe it! I think I said bullshit 50 times! But when it’s a story you’re emotionally invested in it’s easy to put that through in an interview and that’s what they wanted.
“Comedy is about getting the audience to listen to you – if you can engage people in your story that’s what it’s all about for me. If you watch Nanette, it’s not that Hannah [Gadsby] is getting a standing ovation laugh out loud response the whole time, but her story compelling you’re emotionally invested in it.”
It’s clear that Tanya felt a calling to write this show because hers is just one story of the 750,000 carers across the country, most of whom who are women, many of whom are migrant women, caring for people from non-English speaking backgrounds.
“I’m jealous of people who spend good times with their parents – but the reality of life is that it isn’t always good and if you want your parents to live independently it takes a lot of effort.
“My Mum’s had a health scare, Dad’s had a hip operation – that’s the reality. It’s not Instagram-able and they’re not the stories you see on Facebook because they’re too real. No-one wants to see that shit but it’s so absurd that it’s funny.
“The world isn’t made for getting older; old people are overwhelmed by technology and scammers trying to take advantage of them – even big organisations!”
Although she hasn’t got around to telling her parents what the show is about yet, Tanya said it won’t be mean or poke fun because she’s never been that kind of comedian.
“I can talk about stuff that comes from adversity – but I don’t make fun of people. This is a funny look at the way life is going for me but at the same time I am honouring it. My parents are really funny – I laugh a lot more with them than I thought I would.
“In the end, I’m saying there’s actually nowhere else I’d rather be. I enjoy spending time with my parents, I like helping them and it’s important for my kids to see that we look after family.
“I’m not saying things won’t change but I am up for the challenge.”
The Good, The Bad and The Elderly is on for one night only at the Canberra Comedy Festival, 6pm on 23 March at the Novotel.
The show then goes to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival for a full run from 28 March to 21 April at The Comedy Festival at The Coopers Malthouse.