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Louisa Fitzhardinge: Comma Sutra

By | Published on Friday 31 May 2019

When I heard about the show that Australian Louisa Fitzhardinge is set to unleash on edfringe audiences this summer, I did wonder if the festival gods were looking out for me, given that I am a comedy lover who really loves European languages, correct spellings and grammar.

For yes, her show is all about language, something I suppose you might well have guessed, given the title. Anyway, I was intrigued and determined to find out more about this made-for-me show. So I put some questions to Louisa as soon as the opportunity arose.

CM: Right, let’s start at the beginning: can you tell us what the show is all about?
LF: ‘Comma Sutra’ is a love letter to language. It’s partly the story of me, an awkward, grammar-obsessed nerd, attempting to navigate a world in which signs spruiking “potato’s” are rife, and partly a very silly exploration of the joys of learning English, German, French and sign language.

CM: What made you decide to create a show about this? What inspired you?
LF: It all started with a love song. I wrote ‘Grammar Makes Me Hot’ because I was sick of love songs talking about outward beauty; where were the love songs that mentioned how attractive it is when someone speaks to you in beautiful, eloquent prose? Or the joys of being at a café and seeing someone reading the same book as you? It turns out I thoroughly enjoy writing pun-heavy, nerdy songs, so I started writing more and ‘Comma Sutra’ was born.

CM: How did you go about creating it? Did you just sit down and write it?
LF: I wrote a ten-minute version of the show, which won an award at a cabaret festival in Australia. The festival directors then invited me to develop the show into a full-length grammar spectacular, which I performed at the following year’s festival. That was in 2014, and I’ve been touring it around Australia ever since!

CM: I have to say, as a comedy loving language pedant, that I am really freakin’ excited. Other than me, who is this show aimed at?
LF: I’m excited that you’re excited! Doing this show is incredible because I get to meet so many people who love language, many of whom come up to me after the show to share their favourite word or a particularly amusing pun. It makes for a really hyggelig atmosphere – there’s one for the Scandiphiles! The show is very popular with teachers – especially English and language teachers – editors, writers, book-lovers and garden variety nerds, but you definitely don’t need to be grammatically savvy to attend – it is, first and foremost, a fun show about words.

CM: My longest relationship (the current one, est. 2006) is with someone I bonded with over grammar, spelling, and foreign languages, so I think it might be the secret to successful partnership. Would you agree?
LF: I’m afraid I’m currently single, so I don’t have the answer to that! Perhaps I’ll meet a witty, loquacious partner in Edinburgh – gentlemen, please form a line outside my venue.

CM: What made you decide to take the show to Edinburgh?
LF: I’ve been touring around Australia for years now, and two years ago had my first ‘overseas’ tour… to Tasmania. It’s time to actually go abroad, and where better than the biggest fringe festival in the world?

CM: Have you been to the Fringe before? What do you expect from it?
LF: I performed in Edinburgh two years ago with a musical improvisation company called Impromptunes, and we had an incredible time. I’m hoping to meet an array of lovely nerds at my show, do a bit of impro, dance a lot, and consume my body weight in raclette at the George Square food stands.

CM: It sounds like the show’s already done really well in Australia. Has the show developed or changed as time has gone on?
LF: Absolutely. One of my favourite parts of the show – a rousing anthem for grammar nerds – was only added in three seasons ago. We’d had great reviews so I was happy to sit on my laurels, but my amazing pianist, Greg Lavell, encouraged me to keep writing songs and refining the show as the years went on, and I’m so glad he did as it’s only gotten tighter and funnier with each season.

CM: Can we talk about the past now…? What’s your background? How did you end up here? Did you always want to be a performer?
LF: I always sang in choirs as a kid, but the idea that I could actually eke out a living as a performer didn’t occur to me until I was in my early twenties, immersing myself in Western Australia’s comedy scene, making friends with talented, creative people who were writing and performing their own shows. I ended up ditching my law degree – sorry, Mum and Dad! – and studying music theatre, which led me to create a mini version of ‘Comma Sutra’ as part of a final year project. I had always been somewhat obsessed with improvised comedy, and eventually joined Impromptunes, The Big Hoo-Haa! Melbourne and Spontaneous Broadway, three fantastic Melbourne impro troupes that I am lucky enough to tour around Australia with.

CM: Apparently you do loads of voice overs, too. Do you enjoy doing those?
LF: I do! It’s my main job, other than doing comedy, and I love it. I do a lot of ‘explainer’ videos, so I’ve actually gleaned quite a lot of knowledge, from how to lead a primary school to how to teat-seal a heifer.

CM: What dreams or ambitions do you have for the future?
LF: I’d like to write a kids’ comedy show about language. In Australia, we’re very geographically isolated and a lot of kids miss out on learning a language as it’s not a huge priority for many schools. My dream is to tour Australia, making language fun for kids during the day, performing ‘Comma Sutra’ at night, and enjoying the many delights that Australia’s regional bakeries have to offer.

CM: What’s next for this show after Edinburgh? Is it headed anywhere else?
LF: I’m really keen to visit New Zealand, so I’ve been looking into possible festivals and venues there. I generally base my touring decisions on countries and cities I’m keen to visit and then tack on a holiday! I wonder if the Maldives have any good comedy festivals…

CM: Finally, where do you stand with regard to the issue of split infinitives?
LF: I’m no linguistic prescriptivist. I overuse hyphens, I regularly begin sentences with conjunctions, and I love an Oxford comma. I don’t mind a split infinitive if it makes a sentence easier to parse. But I must draw the line at the use of ‘literally’ to mean ‘figuratively’. If a show at Edinburgh Fringe literally blew you away, I’d be asking for a refund.

Louisa performed ‘Comma Sutra’ at Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose at Edinburgh Festival 2019.