Music and Comedy with Gillian Cosgriff

INJ 09 | Gillian Cosgriff Comedy

They often say laughter is the best medicine, but so is music. Gillian Cosgriff is a singer, songwriter, musician, and comedian. She graduated from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) in 2010 with a Bachelor of Music Theatre and went on to write her first solo show, Waitressing…and Other Things I Do Well, which debuted at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Television credits include Offspring, House Husbands, Fat Tony & Co., Ricketts Lane, and Get Krackin’. She was a backing vocalist for Kate Miller-Heidke’s 2012 album Nightflight and her theatre credits include The Pirates of Penzance (The Production Company), A 3-Handed Mikado with Colin Lane (Lano and Woodley) and David Collins (The Umbilical Brothers), Loving Repeating (Vic Theatre Company), Company (Watch This), and Vivid White (Melbourne Theatre Company). Her solo shows have garnered rave reviews and toured nationally, winning Best Cabaret Melbourne Fringe and a Green Room Award for Original Songs.

 

Listen to Episode #9 here:

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Music and Comedy with Gillian Cosgriff

Our guest is singer, songwriter, musician and comedian, Gillian Cosgriff. Her university of training is in music. Her first solo show debuted at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. If you watch Australian television, you might have seen her in a bit part on Offspring; House Husbands, Fat Tony & Company, Ricketts Lane or Get Krackin’. Her solo shows have won Best Cabaret Melbourne Fringe and a Green Room Award for Original Songs and she has too many theater credits for me to name here. Welcome, Gillian. Thanks for coming.

Thanks for having me.

If you weren’t a singer, a songwriter and musician or a comedian, what would you be?

Maybe a teacher. I’ll waste a lot of my time full stop but you can’t do that as a job. In my wasting time, I’m obsessed with hair and makeup tutorials, so maybe I’ll do something like that.

You do these tutorials on YouTube?

Yes, and Instagram. I test all these hours, it’s terrible.

What’s the state of the art in makeup these days?

Contouring. At the moment, it seems like the real trap is to get you to use as much makeup as possible, which is smart because you use it and you buy more. That’s capitalism. They put on so much like a basic conceal then a contour, and then they powder that and then they buff it out. It’s a mess.

You buff it out with like a machine?

You buff it out with this stuff called baking, which is you put your makeup on and then you cover certain areas in a thick powder and you leave it and then at the end you brush it off, which I don’t think works because if you have wrinkles you’re basically highlighting it anyway. It’s an exciting time.

I hear about this contouring thing. Is it a way to mimic the effects of good lighting?

Yeah, but it’s also a thing which it made its way into the popular conscious.

I know about it.

Makeup artists will come out and be like “Don’t contour for the day.” The only reason we use contouring is for places where there is going to be lighting where it works. Basically, the idea is that you use dark colors to make things recede and light colors to bring things forward. This way you always contour with a sharp line under the cheek bone because it sucks it in. It comes from drag. I’m watching a lot of drag race also. It’s fascinating because people that are good at it, you create a whole illusion. You can change the whole shape of your face. It’s incredible.

What shape face do you want as a woman?

I don’t think there’s a generic face shape you want.

We don’t want a super round face, right?

I don’t think you want to go in any extreme, so if you feel like you have a round face then maybe you want to create angles and definition. I never contour my jaw because my mom always told me that I had a pointy chin, so I stay away from there.

[Tweet “A lot of the times, it’s only what you create for yourself.”]

Does your mom do other things to build up your self-esteem?

She was great and they were very supportive. Except for the chin thing, otherwise top notch.

I saw a tweet recently that was talking about Dane Cook. I wish I could remember who tweeted. It was pointing out how women comedians are often obsessive about how they dress and how they look on stage and trying to balance looking good with their comedy and so on. Then this tweeter pointed out the Dane Cook did a special in a tank top and cargo pants or something. He clearly did not care at all what he looked like on stage, like what he wore was an afterthought clearly. Do you find yourself feeling that tension as a performer?

It’s a hard thing to avoid. I don’t know because then you also have the opposite end of the scale with a male could be people like Russell Brand or Tim Minchin or Noel Fielding who have created this very specific aesthetic that’s their look. Much like men, all women are different. It’s a tricky thing. I also come from the cabaret world, so cabaret a lot of the time is about sequins, feathers and it’s ridiculous. I loved that element of it. For me dressing up is fun for the show but then sometimes I’ll do touring. I did a regional tour and I was the only woman on the lineup in this very small outback town. The minute we drove in, I was like, “The women here are either someone’s mom or they’re strippers. There are pubs on every corner that signify that.” I got stressed out about what I was wearing for the show in a way that I never have before.

What were you wearing?

For the rest of the tour, I’ve been wearing something like sequins top and I freaked myself out for some reason. I bought cheap top and I was like “This is good.” I got in my own head and I know that’s what it was where I was like “If I come out this, they will be like she thinks she’s better than us and if I come out like this,” and I completely worked myself up. I bought this top for $6, which is very bad. Then I got to the venue and I was standing in the dressing room and I was like, “I think this top is see-through” and I don’t know who I can ask because this tour group is great guys. I ended up going onto our stage manager and I was “I think this top is maybe see-through. When I do my sound check, can you just have a look?” and he’s like, “Yeah.” I thought he was going to be discreet about it. Anyway, “Guys, can we get the spotlight on Jill because she’s a bit worried that our top is see through.” All these men in this venue turned and suddenly I was there and they’re all looking at my breasts and then eventually one of them went, “No, that’s fine.” I was like “What? Why did I do this to myself?” Fortunately, I have a good network of excellent lady comedians that I immediately was, “This just happened,” and they were like, “I’m so sorry that happened to you. That’s awful.” A lot of the time it’s only what you create for yourself. I like the fun of it. I like having a job where I get to dress up, but also sometimes it’s nice to do a gig in jeans and a t-shirt and is also very liberating. I do think sometimes I think about it more than I need to and I know.

I don’t know either. I haven’t come full circle. I have I think evolved. As a younger man, I was an athlete and dressed the part all the time and it was poor too, and I didn’t have any role model when it came to dressing, and so I dressed badly and I thought it didn’t matter. Then slowly as a psychologist, I figured out it does matter a lot. I think it matters to you, the dresser, because when you feel good, that increases confidence and so on. I think you can perform better when that becomes not even irrelevant, but actually something that fuels the strength. Then it clearly has an effect on an audience, and so clothing can signify certain things. I dress up when I teach now and I do so in part for myself. I feel good, look good. I’m going to perform well, but then also I think it says to the students, “I care. I’m taking this seriously.” Then when you have a face like this, you might as well do something to make the best of the aesthetic experience.

What do you mean a face like this? You have a perfectly excellent face.

That’s very nice of you. Those students have to look at you. My students have to look at me for three hours and so you might as well put your best foot forward. It can overcome a poor performance on my part of shoddy lecturer or something? No, not at all, but I think it can add value and so I’ve become much more focused on it.

I’d like to be less focused on it. I did a solo show a couple of years ago that had costume. It’s a prop costume. It’s the first time I’ve ever done something like that that wasn’t “I will wear this dress” or “I’ll wear this outfit” and I loved it so much, just the freedom.

Can you describe the costume?

I can describe. It also has an incredible reveal. It’s a space suit.

I think I saw some pictures of this online that you donned head and foot?

It’s a space suit. Yeah, but then halfway through the show, the space suit unfolds into a wedding dress. Later at the end of the show, the wedding dress lights up and it’s my favorite thing I’ve ever done. The hilariousness of the big fat space suit is so funny that it’s laughs for free, which I’m all about. It gives you character and feeling and so that’s why I like dressing up. What other job can I wear the things that I like to wear? It’s ludicrous.

I can see that. It reminds me of the David Byrne big suit. Are you familiar with David Byrne? He’s the lead singer of the Talking Heads. He did a concert and he wore this big suit, so he’s a tall, skinny, very lean man and he wears this oversized suit and he has to wear suspenders to keep the pants up. It’s that large a suit. It’s incredible thing. He had some reason for that. I can’t remember what it was.

Some serious political statement?

INJ 09 | Gillian Cosgriff Comedy
Gillian Cosgriff Comedy: You are only as good as your last gig.

I think so. It’s probably about how stupid suits are, I would say. I’ve come to like them. Aside from watching YouTube videos about makeup, how are you spending your days? What are you doing in general or right now?

Right now, I’m doing a bunch of things. I’m getting ready. I’m writing a new show for the Fringe Festival, so I will do that soon. A lot of my days is split between avoiding writing and avoiding admin and switching between them. It’s good at the moment because the show that I’m writing is the best because I’m a musical comedian. The luxury of being like, “You love these songs, hear them again,” which I think is not a thing you can do as a straight standup necessarily, so that’s fun, and reworking them.

What’s your big hit song?

I don’t have a big hit song. My favorite song in the show is a song called Regular Lady [Goes to a Nightclub]. It’s like a Bruno Mars and Nicki Minaj-esque, very fast rap song about the real-world experience of going to a nightclub and how it’s cracked up to me. It’s nice revisiting that old stuff and throwing it altogether and then doing all the admin of producing and promoting a show and then a bunch of other projects that I’m working on at the same time. I’m writing an opera at the moment and a play that I wrote the music for us going up, so all that freelance life.

Do you have a piano in your house?

Yeah. Not a real piano. I have a digital piano, which is very good quality. It’s not the same but I’m living in an apartment building, so what are you going to do?

Is it Casio?

It’s Technics. Technics do not even exist anymore. When I bought it, everyone was like “Don’t get Roland. Roland is shit,” and now I wish I got a Roland.

Because there’s no support for the Technics?

Yeah, which I’m not even sure it is a form that exists anymore. It’s a bass.

That’s different from a synthesizer? What’s the difference between a synthesizer and a digital piano?

A digital piano is a fixed unit. It’s 88 keys, so it’s full length. I have that and then I have my keyboard that I tour with, which is a Roland, which is 88 keys, but it’s movable. It goes in a huge case when I travel on the road with it. Everyone hates me. Then synthesizers can be all kinds of different sizes and brands and stuff that.

I know nothing about these things. What does that cost?

My keyboard costs me I think Australian $2,000.

That is like $1,600 US dollars or something like that. You’re around the house and you’re bouncing back and forth between basically planning stuff, promoting, I assume you do some promotion, and then creating, producing. When you’re doing one, you wish you were doing the other?

I never wish I was doing the other. I just get sick of one and I’m like “I guess I’ll do the other.”

What else do you do? Both of those are hard work in their own way. What else?

I don’t have a day job, so this is my full-time job.

You’re eating. What are you eating?

I had a Mie goreng, your two-minute noodles.

Is it like ramen?

It’s like ramen. It’s cheap. January is a hard month for performers in general because, for me, the festival year starts with Perth Fringe, which is in February. Because you don’t get paid until a month after the festival, I finished Christmas and I’m like, “Okay. No payday till March.”

To the American audience, it’s basically Top Ramen.

That’s what I’m eating, drinking a lot of cups of tea all the time, watching a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I do a weird thing where I’m avoiding work where I do a lot of online trivia. In the last couple of years, I’ve learned all the countries, I learned all the capitals, then I learned all the US state capitals.

What’s New Jersey?

Trenton?

Yes.

I’m doing US presidents and Australian prime ministers. Because it’s on a timer, so I’m typing. I’m like “If I can start typing and I typed for these six minutes, maybe I’ll keep typing after that but it’ll be my actual work that I’m meant to be doing.” Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not work, but I’m very solid in the trivia thing, which is something. What else am I doing? I’m writing a web series next week.

What’s that about?

It’s about a woman who has been with her first boyfriend since she was sixteen. They’d been together for twelve years. He proposes to her and she says no and they break up. It’s about a fish out of water. In terms of the last twelve-year period or even in the last five years, the space of dating and relationships has changed so much with the advent of dating apps and things like that. Then it’s also the feeling of being single in your late 20s, early 30s. It’s very different because at this point people are starting to pair off and people are starting to get engaged and married and have kids and the landscape shifts dramatically. It’s about having grown up and defined yourself by one person for most of your adult life and then suddenly going, “I don’t know what I like. I know what we like. We like nachos, but I don’t know what I’m into.” That’s what it’s about and it’s got songs in it, so it’s Flight of the Conchords meets Girls maybe a crazy ex-girlfriend vibe.

Do you feel that musicals are making a comeback?

I would like to think so. To me it never went away, but I’m theater-acquainted.

[Tweet “I haven’t called it a, “Best of.” I’ve called it, “So far so good.””]

Somebody may argue that it never was around. It’s always been niche. In the United States, obviously The Hamilton has made Broadway musicals more accessible to a different group of people. It cut through the clutter. It feels relevant and fresh again. La La land, that was very well-reviewed movie. It made a bit of a splash for a little while. I know one of the people at Lion’s Gate and he basically is “We don’t know how to promote this movie.” They knew it was good, but they didn’t know how to. They couldn’t see how it would fit, how do you make a movie like that work? All this time I just feel like there’s this more musical, like Flight of the Conchords and that’s so old now. It’s just a thought.

I want to get back to this thing that you talked about that you can do a greatest hits tour as a musical comedian. I think comedians have one of the toughest jobs in the world.

Small children worked in coal mines.

I was going to say not coal mining. Coal mining is tougher, but in terms of creating cultural goods, like a fashion designer, you can’t create the same thing over again, so you have maybe similar. You can’t less rest on your laurels very much like as a fashion designer.

You are only as good as your last gig.

Similar in that way. The issue is there aren’t greatest hits tours. The Rolling Stones can go out and they can do street fighting man and people are disappointed if they don’t do it and if you do your best joke again and Australia is small place so people have heard your jokes.

It’s tricky but it’s big enough because I don’t do a lot of spots, so I don’t gigs during the week because of the logistics of traveling with a keyboard is a real pain in the ass. Also, I don’t love it. What I love is creating a one-hour show that is my jam. I’ll do Perth Fringe Comedy Festival and Melbourne Comedy Festival. The last couple of years I’ve done Edinburgh, but I’m doing a one-hour show where people come and see that once. In Perth, there are people that will come a few times, which is very nice of them. Even if they’ve heard these songs, they’ve heard them once in the context of that show, so it’s something I was nervous about doing, because it does feel a little cheeky, which is also why I haven’t called it a “best of.” I’ve called it “so far, so good.” I set a low bar for things.

Also, it means you’re optimistic that you will have a best of some day.

Fingers crossed. It’s nice because a lot of the songs I don’t get to revisit them once I’m done with a year, maybe two years of touring a show, so looking at them in a new context, and as soon as soon as, for me, when you put them in a different order even, you suddenly change how the audience views a certain lyric or a certain style. That’s what’s been fun to play with in this. It’s nice to revisit your old friends. I’m playing a song that I wrote when I was 22, I haven’t played in years and it’s so sad.

Did you have to relearn it?

Kind of. Muscle memory is an incredible thing. Some of them I had to look up lyrics to check myself, but mostly it’s in there. If I ever get a brain injury, I’m stuffed. I got no job.

I started wearing a bike helmet because I came to the conclusion that my most important asset is my brain.

You don’t have to wear a helmet?

You know how the United States are? Crazy things are okay.

Other small things are forbidden.

You have to be smart about that. I want to ask you about this reordering. I’m starting some work on this notion of editing. Editing is revising content but also there’s this element of ordering content. Tell me a little bit about how you’re thinking about ordering these songs? What goes into those decisions?

Some things are obvious decisions of having done this job long enough to know that you need to punchy opener and a punchy closer. If you’re going to do something that’s lower energy or that’s real sad, then you have to put that on your left on the clock and then finding shape through that knowing where an audience tends to dip anyway and making sure you have something that gives them variety. For me, I always feel very nervous about play a song, do a stand up, play a song, do a stand up. Finding things that are almost games or conversational, in this show I’m doing something I did in my last show, which is where I write a song during the show for a member of the audience. That’s nice because it’s different every night. It taps into my improv stuff, which I like doing. It means I have someone to talk to you during the show to bounce off of and it changes each night, which if you’re going to do this every night, you got to find something to keep yourself and your tech entertaining.

If I had known this, I would have you make a song during this podcast.

I got no instrument. Otherwise, I would happily do it.

That would be amazing.

It might not be though. Sometimes it isn’t.

It doesn’t always go well.

That’s the gamble. You don’t know. You don’t always know.

Do you end with that or you don’t end with that?

I do it a second to last. It is great. It’s fun. Finding stuff like that to me, it’s all light and shade.

Light and shade. What do you mean? You say shade is the low points or quieter times?

Even the difference between doing a bit that’s short and punchy and easily accessible and then doing a longer thing. In the show with a space suit in the wedding dress which is called To The Moon and Back was largely about my fear of space and my fear of marriage.

INJ 09 | Gillian Cosgriff Comedy
Gillian Cosgriff Comedy: Sometimes for me the shade is sitting in something that’s a bit uncomfortable.

Both reasonable fears.

Both very legitimate fears, thank you. Also, moths are terrifying. What do they make? Is it dust? Particularly in the space section, having these longer bits that take a while to get the audience to go with you and talking about these big concepts, but the payoff is sometimes bigger. Sometimes for me the shade is sitting in something that’s a bit uncomfortable as well, whereas light is easy throwaway stuff. It’s cheeky. It’s not frivolous, but it’s like you say it, it’s gone and onto the next.

This question is not going to sound right, but I’m going to still ask it. Are you a good musician?

I’d like to say yes and I stopped myself. Your psychologist in you is like “She’s fucked up.” I’m a good musician. I’m not incredible, but I’m good. I do that as my side job, so I work as an accompanist. I play for auditions and stuff like that.

You have chops?

I’ve got chops. Compared to Dimension or even Ben Folds who’s a big musical inspiration of mine, I don’t have that level of technical skill. I probably could if I decided that’s what I was going to work on, but I’m a good musician.

I only say that because I’ve been kicking around this idea. I think, Scott Adams, the guy who created Dilbert, has this idea about having two good skills rather than one great skill and so that’s why I was asking you about that. You’re good at comedy, you’re good at music, you can bring those two together and neither of them holds you back and they can multiply. If you’re building a song during a set, you clearly have musical ability because I can make the argument for you. I did see that Pharrell song, Happy. It has had lots of views. People like that. Is that a hard song to perform?

No, four chords. Most pop songs are four chords.

What are you better at? You’re better at music? You’re better at comedy?

I would say I’m better at music. What I always wanted was to have a career that is varied.

You mean like doing a web series, creating a one-hour show, doing a “best of.”

I was just in a play at Melbourne Theater Company, which is a big deal for me anyway. I’ve worked in musical theater and I’ve worked at a little bit in TV, little bit parts. One thing that I noticed that I do is that I love being able to do all those different things, but as soon as I’m in one of those worlds, I will peg myself as being mostly from the other world. When I’m in a play, people are like “What else do you do?” I’m primarily a comedian and then when I’m on tour with full-time serious comedians, I’m mostly in music. I’m mostly an actor.

Why do you do that?

For safety, so I’m painfully self-deprecating. It feels safer. Sometimes I think I really like to have a very high status onstage character, but I don’t know if it’s in me.

Who do you look for, for inspiration? You mentioned Tim Minchin.

Tim Minchin, Ben Folds, Eddie Perfect, I love his career. I was just in his play musical, which is great. He’s incredible and he’s writing a bunch of stuff for Broadway. Australian singer, Kate Miller-Heidke. She writes play and stuff, but she’s also just written Muriel’s Wedding the musical with a partner Kier. My inspiration is always people that have these varied careers. I like the weirdo hybrid jobs. Lin Manuel Miranda, of course, this guy who does amazing stuff with The Hamilton but also has this huge improv background with hip hop and all this stuff. That’s what I like, it is people that do a bunch of different stuff well.

That’s interesting. I think it’s hard to do all these things. My example of this is Steve Martin. I think Steve, Steve Martin has become a renaissance person linearly. He became the world’s best stand up at one point, then he became a television and film actor, then a producer and writer and then and now he’s a Grammy award-winning banjo player.

What’s his Broadway musical with Edie Brickell? I can see it in my head. It’s country. They got a Tony award.

Here’s someone who didn’t do all those things at once. There was some overlap, but you’re doing all these things at once.

I’m just trying to see what takes.

Is that true? Is that true? That if something took off, you would set aside this stuff?

Absolutely.

[Tweet “Variety is the spice of life. It’s dumb but a saying is a saying because they’re true.”]

You don’t have to eat Top Ramen? What’s this stuff called?

I enjoy Mie goreng. It’s only for now. Soon, I will be getting hot pot noodles, the fancy one, whatever it is. That’s an interesting point. I think a lot of these other people always have all these different interests. For me, it’s wanting to do a lot of different things and taking them off as they happen, which is nice. It does also mean that the number of times I go “Have I spread myself too thin? Should I have started ten years ago focusing on this one thing?” I’m not sure I will be happy with that because I could have done it and I didn’t do it.

I feel the same way. I’ve had to force myself to take things off my plate because when I look back at my life starting around age twenty, I’ve always been overscheduled and I’ve always been dabbling a lot, picking something up and finding a way to fit it into my world. As an assistant professor, it seems absurd now looking back at it, but I started coaching. I was coaching Lacrosse at the University of Colorado. Maybe the most critical time in someone’s career, where your career is hanging in the balance, where if you get tenure, it’s like being made in the mafia. If you don’t get tenure, you’ve got to move, you’ve got to go somewhere else and you lose all this choice and security in your life and I decide I’m going to coach on the side for free. It was fulfilling and it was challenging, I enjoyed the camaraderie, I liked being outside, and I liked how distracting it was, so I get it. I did get tenure.

Do you keep coaching?

The other thing that I do is I’m very purposeful in closing chapters in my life, whether it be areas of research that I do, I’m like “This is my last paper. I’m not going to do any more work on this. I’m going to stop doing it.” When it comes to athletics, “I’m no longer going to play Lacrosse.” The injuries were too much and I was going to start working on the humor research very seriously and I knew that I couldn’t do it.

That’s such a funny research. You must get that all the time.

It would have been too much physically, mentally, and emotionally, and so I wanted to be committed to this new thing which I was layering on top as I normally do, and so I retired.

That’s a full-time thing. I don’t think that any of the things that I’m doing are a full-time thing yet. I don’t think I could live on just one of them, even in terms of theater and musical theater in Australia. Even if I wanted to audition for every show that happens here, that would be maybe ten auditions in a year, maybe fifteen. It’s interesting that I studied musical theater and so people come out wanting to only do that. You have maybe six big musical tour auditions and if you get one, you might have a job for two years. If you’re in something like Cats where you tour the Asia Pacific region, and you might be in it for five or six years. I know a lot of people that have bought a house from being in Cats. If you don’t get any of those jobs, you don’t have anything. The freedom to create my own work and in the last year and into this year, I’m starting to do a lot more collaborative stuff, which is what the opera is about, which is what the play’s about. I like being able to make it when I want to make it. This isn’t specifically comedy-related, but I don’t know that I would ever want to be. I was like “That’s the light. The light is done.” For me variety is the spice of life, it’s dumb, but a saying is a saying because they’re true.

I’m puzzling over it. If people ask me their advice, I would say specialized in, but then they would say, “You seem like you’re pretty bad at specializing,” and I would say “Because I get bored easily.” I also find that it’s often hard to know how somebody is going to pay off, so I created a comedy game show that I can host and cast and produce and help write and so on. Every time I do it, I regret it in the terms of the time and effort, but every time it goes off, it’s one of the most incredible things that I do and it’s important to research. It is hard to know exactly how to do it. The issue is what is your goals? That’s a good way to think about it. I want to ask you about what is it that you’re reading, watching or listening to that stands out to you? Not just, “It’s good,” but like, “Whoa?”

I am listening to a ton of podcasts. I always enjoyed podcasts.

What are you liking the most?

I’m listening to The Guilty Feminist every week. I love it. This is British-Australian comedian, Deborah Frances-White. Excellent guests, excellent topics, always funny, always insightful, just topnotch. I’m watching a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I’ve watched nearly all of it because it’s so compelling. It’s fascinating to me. I assume that everyone knows about it. RuPaul is supermodel of the world. It’s a reality TV show where drag queens compete to be named the drag superstar. It’s incredible because the level of theatricality of drag is above and beyond any other art form I think. Then you see the queens in the room and they talk about stuff that’s happened in their lives and you’re like, “That’s a full-on thing,” and one of them will brings up something in their number that will go, “Yeah, me too.” I think it’s fascinating. I can’t stop watching it. I don’t care that it’s reality TV and it’s very watchable, but it’s great. It’s great characters, great high stakes and also it doesn’t take itself too seriously and it always comes from a very positive place, so it’s such a good reinforcement when you’re on the road, you’re in some shitty hotel, and you’re just like “Hello friends. Let us spend some time together.”

It sounds like it has that light and shade element to it.

It does, and literally, that’s where I learned most of my contouring.

If you ever find yourself in LA, you should go to Hamburger Mary’s in Hollywood.

In All Stars Season One, they have a challenge there.

They do, so Hamburger Mary’s, for the audience, has drag queen bingo a couple nights a week, Tuesdays and Sundays or something like that. I know about this. I’ve been there a couple times. It’s incredibly fun.

I’m rewatching Fleabag by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. It’s a British series.

I’ve heard about this.

Her other show is Crashing, which is great. She is just great. The writing is good and smart and very funny and a lot of light and shade. There’s a very heavy subject matter in Fleabag that I won’t spoil. I’m watching that for the third time now. I love it. I watch lots of television.

Do you do that for inspiration? Do you do that to cope?

A little of both because you’re on planes or in hotels a lot of the time touring. It’s nice to have something to fang on. That’s what I do. This is so nerdy. I just read The Hamilton book. I got given it for Christmas. It blew my mind. It’s incredible. Lin-Manuel Miranda firstly is so smart. He 100% deserves MacArthur Genius Grant. What you said about feeling like musicals are having a moment, because if you think about the early days of music theater and even into the mega musicals of the ‘80s, these songs would get into the Top 40 whatever your top of the pops thing and then something happened, like sounds from Hair would be on the charts, Lloyd Webber would always release albums.

INJ 09 | Gillian Cosgriff Comedy
Gillian Cosgriff Comedy: Musical theater and popular music are so far apart right now. They don’t have anything to do with each other. They don’t even know each other.

In 70’s and 80’s, things that came from rock concerts, looking at Tommy and the Who and that stuff, and it was tied to the cultural lexicon and then something happened in music theater. He says this thing in this interview, “Musical theater and popular music are so far apart right now. They don’t have anything to do with each other. They don’t even know each other.” To take the music of zeitgeist and make a musical around that, but it’s not about that, there’s this incredible chapter in the book where he’s talking to Quest Love from the roots about producing the album of Hamilton and the cost recording. Quest Love talks about how he’s like, “I had been pitched a hip-hop musical so many times and as it was always said in the Bronx they were always like, ‘We’re going to have graffiti on and the list is some awful white girls.’”

It’s Breakin’ 2 Electric Boogaloo for Broadway.

He says this one thing that Hamilton was the first time where hip hop was pitched to me as the form but not the content. I’m obsessed with that. It’s a great book. It’s so good.

That sounds interesting. I don’t know a lot about this stuff, but this idea of the rock opera sticks. Queen, you can see the influence in their work. I guess nowadays, I don’t have children, but even I couldn’t escape Frozen. Even the music in movies has picked up.

Also Frozen is written by Avenue Q, which is a huge Broadway, which is very funny, so it’s interesting to me to see people bringing comedy and bringing the modern vernacular into that world. That sounds interesting to me, it is making it relevant.

What makes music funny? How do you use music to create comedy?

It’s two different things. Sometimes I’m writing a song and the subject matter is funny. It doesn’t matter about the music if it’s very wordy.

What’s an example of that? It’s okay to sing in here.

I’m recording a song a next weekend for the web series, which is basically all set-up punch lines. It’s this woman, she’s about to break up with this guy and it’s a dream sequence. She is basically saying “This has been going on for too long, so I’ve written you choose-your-own-breakup songs. You could pick any of these lines, they all have the same outcome.” All the things are setup punch lines, so they’re all stuff, “I still love you but more like a brother. I still want to be friends with your mother.” Musically, you’re leaving enough space at the end of the line for a laugh so you don’t cover any important information for the next line. It is something that you have to do.

Do you build a bridge after your big laughs?

Sometimes, yeah. One summer there’s literally a spot where it’s a song about inspirational quotes on Facebook, and it says, “Inspirational quotes, I don’t always know where it’s at. Even if they’re printed on a picture of a cute kitty cat and just because that cat says fairy tales come true, remember Catholic, their own assholes and they don’t give a shit about you” and then there is space there depending on the audience to do a tuba or a football field, maybe it’s a rage or maybe I’ll do six.

Maybe they are clapping and standing.

I don’t mind. I’m going to cover the next. I’m going to wrap this up and there’s also the glorious mess that is misjudging that and then sitting there being like “I’m still raining. No, I’m just laughing.” There’s a lot of push and pull of how into this are you and then there’s songs were the style of the song, like Regular Lady, which is the party anthem that I talked about, is written to sound a nightclub party anthem sorts, old laptop samples. I do it with a track instead of playing it live and so the style of it is very funny as well as the words in the song.

Repetition is a very funny thing. I have a whole song that’s literally about how catchy the song is and how it will be stuck in your head later. It’s cheap, it’s light, it’s candy, so there’s all that stuff to play with. It’s very easy to be earnest musically. One of my favorite things is to open a song and to feel the audience going on, “She’s singing about this. I hate it,” and then to give it the twist and then they go, “It’s funny. We don’t hate her. It’s okay.” That stuff, there’s so much you can play with where it creates a mood in and of itself because music is so emotive. There’s times where I’m literally doing a bit over music. There’s a whole section where I do a yoga class and so that’s got some peaceful, reflective music and want to talk over. It gives you a little something extra though.

Is it more fun to do comedy with music than it is to just do comedy?

Sometimes I really love just banging out some solid standup because this is based on my own personal hang-ups.

[Tweet “I really love just banging out some solid standup because this is based on my own personal hang-ups.”]

Bagging out some solid standup.

Just fanging it out there. Fang is not a swear word. It just sounds dirty. There’s something very satisfying to me as someone who comes from a musical background, it took me a long time to be brave enough to even call myself a comedian. I felt in my last show in the moon show, the space show, I wrote some standup up in it that I was “This is going to work almost all the time.”

You mean regardless of audience?

Then I went to Edinburgh and I was wrong. I fixed it, we got there, but the comfort of a good bit of standup is like conducting. It’s like standing there and going and I’m saying this and there’s a little ground slow and then I’m going to build you to hear in this silence and then here’s the kicker and he is a solid laugh for this long and then I’m going to give you a little throwaway tag on the end of it and maybe that will get an applause, but to me the music of the standup can be so intoxicating when it’s good. You just sit in it and you go, “Great.” In my brain I’m like, “You do these full bass to hear, you do this paragraph and then this happens.” When it’s right, it’s the best thing in the world. I like them both.

What is the secret to success, but they can’t do it? What’s the obvious secret to success? Clearly not everybody is successful.

I think maybe just care less about success.

You did talk about lowering expectations a number of times. Is that a problem for you?

Are you psychoanalyzing me? It is.

You talked about lowering the bar when you’re doing theater, you say you’re a comedian. Why? What’s going on there?

It’s safer. I would rather come in and be like “I’m going to do a thing. I don’t know what’s going to work,” and then do it and smash it. It is such a satisfying feeling. I like not the pressure of coming out and going, “I’m amazing. You’re welcome,” and then being like “I have to pack.” For me, it removes a level of pressure that I already have put on myself, but it goes I’m not going to let any other people put this on me. If you could care less about success, you’d get it much easier.

I think there is something to that idea. What you said is starting to come up, this idea that creative people in some ways have to stop caring what other people think in order to create something that other people think is magnificent.

One of the greatest things I ever read is this quote from Agnes de Mille. She had just choreographed Oklahoma. Martha Graham was talking to her about how there is no satisfaction artistically. There just isn’t any, so stop chasing. I’m paraphrasing terribly, but basically Agnes de Mille had choreographed something that she loved that she thought was artistically brilliant and worthy and not that many people were into it. Then she choreographed Oklahoma, which is this huge commercial success. She was like “Eeehh.” It’s this bizarre thing of you set your own standards but then other people get to decide how they feel about your standards and your work. For me, songs, when I decided to do the “best of,” I was like, “Internet friends, what would you like to be in this show?” There was one song that people kept coming up with and I was like “I don’t love it.”

INJ 09 | Gillian Cosgriff Comedy
Gillian Cosgriff Comedy: It’s this bizarre thing if you set your own standards, but then other people get to decide how they feel about your standards and your work.

The audience wants it.

There’s no satisfaction. What’s very helpful to me is remember when the thing that you wanted was the thing that you currently have is very helpful. For a long time, my goal was all I want is for this to be my full-time job and to not have another job. Nowadays it is my full-time job.

One of my very good friends and co-authors has done work on wanting what you have versus having what you want.

Yes, and also not letting that feel like settling. It is very difficult. Remember the time when you wanted what you have now.

The time you wanted what you have now. Adaptation is this amazing thing. It’s good for us when bad things happen. We’re not still upset about being fourteen years old, a very difficult time. Does Australia have after school specials? It’s like this old US thing that was about the challenges of being a kid.

We did not have that. I would have loved that.

They’re real pretty awful typically but you get over these things, you adapt to them. Your life changes, your hair turns gray and it’s no longer as upsetting as it was when it first happened. The problem though is that it happens on the reverse end too. We get that new fancy car and then we adapt to it and then you start but then you start thinking about the newer fancier car, so it’s called the hedonic treadmill in my world. What you’re suggesting is a way to remind yourself that the path you’re walking right now, which might seem not so great, at one point in time, you saw it as great and that’s to be celebrated.

It is, but also there’s something in the fact that success in this industry is so fleeting and so poorly definable and frequently quite short term where you maybe make a show that’s great and everyone loves it and it wins awards and you get reviews, but eventually you’re going to have to make the next show.

There’s no greatest tours for comedians.

Even this show I’m making now, I’m like “How am I going to make this interesting?” What’s interesting to me too is how you navigate the highs and lows of all of that. I remember listening to an episode of a podcast with Luisa Omielan, who’s a British comedian. She talks about the phenomenon of doing a sold-out show at Soho Theatre, smashing it, and then at the end of your show, you get on the bus by yourself and you go home. You still go home. Even Beyoncé has to get toilet paper.

She still has to go to the bathroom.

It’s that thing. Whatever someone else deems as your success, you might be going, “I hate this. I’ve done a terrible job.” Knowing that there is, there is no success and nothing matters. Nihilism, that’s my philosophy.

[Tweet “It’s a valuable thing to find joy in the process if you can.”]

The way I’ve tried to think about this is to try to be focused on the process of creating. If you can come to appreciate the creation element to it. Now you have somebody to do day in and day out this rewarding and so when you do, in my world, get a paper published or something like that, it’s usually relief that it’s finally done and out rather than joy, so the value of that was finding a way to make that process compelling. I understand what you’re saying about that idea of you’re like, “Okay, and here we go again.”

You spent so long making the thing, and for me even that process is split into multiple binaries. You’re generally making the work and I’m trying to promote the work at the same time. Then within the work, I’m writing and editing, you can’t do both at the same time. They’re different functions, but you are alternating between those. Once you make the show and you’re touring it, you’re doing it and you’re shifting little things each night and you’re going, “You liked that? Maybe a little more of this.” “You are right. That was never funny. I’ll cut that. Thank you for letting me know.” Then also in your days you’re planning the next thing or even the next year in advance a lot of the time. Maybe there’s a magic day where somebody swoops in and they’re like “I’m your manager now. You’re on Easy Street,” but until that time exists, even then there’s still work and challenges within any of those.

I don’t think it ever gets easy. It just gets rewarded.

It’s a valuable thing to find joy in the process if you can. For me, the joy is in the doing the show because comedy is so immediate. You get your review straight away in that I’m like “I said it. No one laughed. It’s no good. I got to fix it.” It’s all that little shifting and engineering of going, “What if it’s here? What is this? Does this make it clearer? If I set this up early, does it pay off here?” It is precision of it that I like once you get in front of a crowd is such a treat.

That’s exciting. This has been a lot of fun. Thanks fo

r doing it.

Resources mentioned:

About Gillian Cosgriff

INJ 09 | Gillian Cosgriff ComedyGillian Cosgriff is a singer, songwriter, musician, and comedian. She graduated from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) in 2010 with a Bachelor of Music Theatre and went on to write her first solo show, Waitressing…and Other Things I Do Well, which debuted at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Television credits include Offspring, House Husbands, Fat Tony & Co., Ricketts Lane, and Get Krackin’. She was a backing vocalist for Kate Miller-Heidke’s 2012 album Nightflight and her theatre credits include The Pirates of Penzance (The Production Company), A 3-Handed Mikado with Colin Lane (Lano and Woodley) and David Collins (The Umbilical Brothers), Loving Repeating (Vic Theatre Company), Company (Watch This), and Vivid White (Melbourne Theatre Company). Her solo shows have garnered rave reviews and toured nationally, winning Best Cabaret Melbourne Fringe and a Green Room Award for Original Songs

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