Becky Lucas loves dark comedy. Painfully honest, unglamorous and taboo subject matter has been central to the acclaimed stand-up shows that have taken the Brisbane-born comedian around the world over the last half-dozen years.
“There’s darkness around every corner,” Lucas says. “I like talking about it. I feel safe.”
Lucas will perform a set entirely composed of her darkest material as part of The Kraken Black Spiced Rum Presents: The Darkest Show at The Vanguard, Sydney, on Wednesday September 13. The lineup also includes Nazeem Hussain and Luke Heggie, with the three comedians uniting to transport guests to the darkest realms of comedy.
The Darkest show concept stems from The Kraken Black Spiced Rum which gets its name from the beast of myth and legend, born in the darkest depths of the ocean. The one-night-only event will give the comedians and audience members a rare opportunity to push the boundaries of civility without fear of judgement.
Lucas is a firm believer in the liberating qualities of dark comedy. “When you see comedy that is treading on intense topics, when it’s working, there’s something really cool about it. It’s just a bit of a release,” she says.
Off stage, however, life has been going extremely well for Lucas. She’s performed to sold-out audiences in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and North America, landed a slot on Conan O’Brien’s late-night talk show Conan, and released the memoir, Acknowledgements. Lucas has appeared regularly on the TV shows Hughesy, We Have a Problem and The Hundred with Andy Lee and recently co-hosted the Channel 7 competition show Blow Up with Stephen Curry.
But even when things are going well, there’s always something dark to talk about for Lucas – be it physical injury, malign characters, mental health struggles or the perversions of the rich and famous.
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Lucas’ preference for not-so-family-friendly material is partly a reaction to the contrived decorum she observes in the lifestyles of millennial professionals, as well as the softballing that comes from mass culture.
“I just feel like for millennials, we just want to be in bed and eat a pizza and binge Netflix and, like, self-care. It’s this kind of childish, arrested development,” she says.
In contrast to this sort of lifestyle cushioning, Lucas just wants to speak like an adult, even if that means broaching taboo subject matter. “I want someone to talk about a topic that is dark and speak to me like I’m not a child and not use flowery language. I’m excited by it.”
Dark comedy is not only more honest and grown-up in Lucas’ view, but it opens the door to more meaningful connections with her audiences. Darker jokes are particularly appealing to anyone whose life hasn’t exactly been a breeze.
“I trust people who make dark jokes because it’s like, ‘You were around bad things and you had to make jokes to make it okay,’ and I identify with that,” Lucas says. “That makes me feel like we’re the same.”
The ability to laugh at yourself can be uniquely healing, especially when you’re going through something difficult but perhaps not life shattering – say, an awkward date or a moment of public embarrassment.
“It removes the power from it, when you can laugh at something,” Lucas says. “It really is just a coping mechanism. You’re just looking at it with detachment.”
This impulse, to cope by making jokes, is at the root of a lot of dark comedy. “I think if you’ve always been funny, I think it does come from a place that’s a bit dark,” Lucas says. “Like, yeah, life’s hard and you developed this way of dealing with it and then maybe got good at it.”
Of course, not all dark comedy is masterfully constructed and edifying. If the jokes are mean-spirited, cynical or designed purely to shock, they’re unlikely to possess transformational qualities. But “when it’s done well and skilfully,” says Lucas, “it can really mean something.”
In her own work, Lucas approaches potentially triggering subject matter from an intimate perspective, placing herself at the centre. “I don’t feel like I’m ever up there trying to do a joke about something for no reason other than this is a topic that’s controversial. It’s because it comes from my life or it comes from something that I’m pondering and thinking about,” Lucas says.
She adds, “I’ve never really liked shock comics or dark comics who don’t give me anything of themselves. My favourite artists always give me something – they tell me who they are, they tell me what they’ve been through and that helps create a bond within the joke.”
Given her partiality to dark comedy, Lucas will be in her comfort zone when she performs at The Kraken Black Spiced Rum Presents: The Darkest Show. “I’ve got stuff about pit bull attacks, celebrities and their mental health,” she says, offering an overview of her set.
Any comedian who prefers to inhabit the dark side risks alienating certain members of the audiences, especially in an era of performed outrage. But Lucas insists that by placing trust in the comedians, a night of dark comedy can be not just madly funny but also deeply moving.
“You go to work and you have to act so normal the whole day and it’s just fun sometimes to have someone voice these really naughty things,” she says. “Because we all think stuff and those thoughts don’t disappear. It’s good to just have an outlet.”
Lucas, Nazeem Hussain and Luke Heggie will be performing their darkest material, without fear of censure, at The Kraken Black Spiced Rum Presents: The Darkest Show at The Vanguard, Newtown, on Wednesday September 13. The venue is being redecorated to represent the dark depths of Kraken Rum, while Kraken drinks will be flowing from the bar.
It’s a one-night-only event and tickets are strictly limited – get yours now.