Sunday 1 March 2020

On the Origin of Faeces - Melbourne International Comedy Festival preview

She's previously regaled us with shows on parasites and bees but for this year's Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Alanta Colley is going to entertain us with ... shit. Yes, that's right, shit. On the Origin of Faeces will have Colley celebrating all that we excrete as she deep dives into our guts and bowels and open us up to how we see and think about our poo. The scientist/comedian has been working on this shit show for months and Colley is eagerly waiting to share her wealth of knowledge on the matter with Melbourne.

The question that most people will immediately have for Colley is why? What makes someone decide to research all things poo for a comedy show? "Purely for the challenge. I mean, has anyone written a joke about poo before? Is it even possible? " She asks. "Poo is a source of secrecy and shame for all of us, but in science we are having a poo Renaissance. After the 20th century being mainly about identifying bad bacteria and killing it, we're now realising how much bacteria is beneficial for us, that it plays a key role in our digestion, hormone production and moods, and we're just at the dawn of understanding how the gut talks to the brain. It's really fascinating, so this was a chance to sink my teeth into the latest research on faecal transplants, studies of the gut microbiome, and confront some of my own biases and fears on poo."

Colley concedes that while she is more than happy to talk about it, many are uncomfortable discussing a topic that is still considered taboo despite the fact that everybody does on a regular basis. "I've ruined multiple dinner parties with this because it's not something that people would want to chat about over food but I will not shut up about it. My friends are getting a little bit sick of me recommending they get a faecal transplant for this, that and the other. There's studies showing faecal transplants have been effective in the treatment of depression, severe autism behaviours, and metabolic dysfunction, possibly diabetes and beyond. Poor gut biodiversity is being linked to the higher rates of allergies across the western world," she tells me.

Even though the show is grounded in science, Colley is quick to point out that it can still be entertaining to those who have zero scientific comprehension. "Science and comedy are equal methods to analyse our existence; they're both tools with which to make sense of the world," she says. "The outcomes of the research are often surreal. For example; researchers have confirmed that dogs almost always defecate on a North/South axis. No one has any idea why this is and coming up with reasons can be very funny. Imagining the researchers having to actually do this research is quite hilarious. I don't know how someone even writes the grant asking for funding for that sort of study. Science is a very useful conduit to write comedy on unusual topics that might not make it into the festival in other ways. It's also a way to invite different sorts of audiences into the comedy space. I tend to attract a lot of science experts (I once had twenty six parasitologists in one show, and fifty beekeepers in another).

Colley's science/comedy hybrid shows don't end with poo, with many ideas on the horizon but there is one that instantly grabs her. "The brain. Ben McKenzie and I looked at the psychology of decision making last comedy festival with You Chose Poorly. I am really interested in the new research into neurological plasticity, and the amazing methods people are using to reroute neural pathways in chronic pain management," she tells me. "We know so little about how the brain works and how it interacts with our gut, our physical environment, and tries to keep us safe, and sometimes gets it wrong. It's an exciting time to be alive for this research!"


1) When did you realise you were funny? 
Look, I wouldn't go that far. Though I used to whisper jokes and commentary to friends in the classroom in Primary school and they'd loudly repeat my jokes and take the credit. This gave me an inkling. Also an education in joke theft.
2) What is your favourite word? 
I like dissonance, because I think about cognitive dissonance also all the time, also the word looks like dance that some letters rudely shoved their way in to and disrupted something intentional and elegant, making it emblematic of its meaning.
3) If you were arrested with no explanation, what would your friends assume you had done? 
I've been threatened with defamation on a couple of occasions. My friends would assume I insulted someone in a position of authority in an unstrategic setting due to an inflamed sense of social justice.
4) If animals could talk, which would be the rudest? 
Humans are pretty rude. But I suspect it would be wasps; their main form of defence is attack; much like men's rights activists.
5) Which character from a TV show most reminds you of yourself? 
I worry a lot that I am Howard Moon from The Mighty Boosh; with delusions of grandeur, a hopeless case of sentimentality, and will inevitably end up attending jazzercise dressed in three different shades of brown.


Venue: The Curtin, 29 Lygon St, Carlton
Season: 24 March - 4 April, 7:15pm
Length: 50 minutes
Tickets: $25 Full | $22 Conc | $20 Tightarse Tuesday
Bookings: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

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