[Shits and Giggles]
It’s no small challenge basing your show around the premise of irritable bowel syndrome without devolving completely into the realm of toilet humour. But in Australian comedian Felicity Ward’s What If There Is No Toilet?, she avoids the cheap and obvious jokes of the topic on hand. And while she’s never afraid to be a little crass, it’s never just a relentless flood of scatological comedy. Though the toilet is a central fixture both in her life, her comedy and even the stage, this is as much about her struggles with mental illness and therapy as much as her poop-related anxieties.
Armed with an unbeatable sense of self-deprecation, she makes the topic palatable without watering it down or sentimentalising it. There’s a willingness to poke fun at herself in a manner that earns laughs of recognition rather than humiliation. Even if you’ve never had toilet anxiety or suffered from crippling depression, the content is painfully relatable. Every anecdote told with a bracing honesty that makes the show as real as it is funny.
As much as there is a clear narrative arc to Ward’s personal struggles, from denial to acceptance of her mental illness, there’s no shortage of high-quality jokes of your usual stand-up variety. She covers a multitude of tangentially-related topics such as furless cats, racist parents and creepy children. Her rapport with the audience is so effortlessly confident that you’d never assume there was anything else on her mind except making us laugh, let alone where the nearest bathroom is.
There’s a moment of audience participation at the very end of the show that doesn’t sit too comfortably with the rest of her set, but it’s a very minor distraction that the audience is happy to go along with because of the openness that Ward brings to the stage. This is a hilarious and resonant hour of comedy served up by a world-class potty mouth. Take the plunge.
What If There Is No Toilet? is performed by Felicity Ward and plays at The Herald as part of the NZ International Comedy Festival 2016 until April 30. For details see Comedy Festival.