By Mario Pinto
It’s said that revenge is a dish best served cold.
For comedian Lizzy Hoo, when it comes to her family, revenge is a dish best served on a warm bed of laughs with a large side serve of affection for those she calls her own. Growing up the youngest child, Lizzy had to jostle for air time with the ‘outsized personalities’ of her larger-than-life brothers and the hilarious stories told by her ‘amazing’ father.
Now, a child’s struggle to assert themselves is a common enough tale told in families across this land, but is that all there is to avenge? Of course you’ll need to see Lizzy’s live shows and videos to get the full serving, but The Westsider can share with readers that her family gave her the name Moose when just a child. Which stuck. Enough said.
“I draw on my family members and experiences quite a lot. It’s my way of getting back at all the bullying I had to go through,” she chuckles.
When talking to Hoo and watching her perform you get the sense that she has deep wells of confidence. Not quite so.
“I think these days I am a reasonably confident person, a bit more than most,” she says, “But when I was younger, studying and then working as an account manager I didn’t feel confident at all. I wanted to be more confident and assertive when speaking in meetings.”
Her solution, living in Sydney at the time, was daring: “I enrolled in a stand-up comedy course. I felt that if I could get up and tell jokes in front of an audience then I could do anything that involved being in front of people.”
The decision was also consequential. There was no thought at the time that by developing her public speaking skills she would be opening the door to full time comedy. But that is how it’s turned out.
“The course gave me a good foundation,” she recalls. “I learnt how to write humour, how to deliver a joke. Learning about audiences. Looking at how successful comedians do their work.”
Stand-up comedy still has a personal development value for Hoo: “Doing a gig is good for me. When it works I can understand why, it feels good. When they fail or a joke doesn’t make it you have to self-reflect.”
Just as a comedian needs good timing to deliver a joke, Hoo’s venture into comedy was, in the arc of comedic history, perfect. The mid 2010s, she says, was a time of change with the emergence of different voices, ethnicities and sexual identities taking to the stage to make people laugh, and think.
“The industry then was opening to new voices taking the mic, not just the same old names, mostly men, who dominated before,” she says.
“We’ve come to see that there are different audiences out there. People want to see their stories and their experiences up there on the stage. Today you can choose a show for you. This means comedians can go out and attract the audiences they want.”
A case of putting on a show and the punters will come.
“My audiences are mixed. Some of my best responses come from audience members with an ethnic background, (Hoo is of Malaysian- Chinese and Irish heritage) because they can identify with a particular situation, but I also want others, like Anglo Australians for example, to find bits of their story there too.”
As a child, Hoo was a fan of such comedies as Full Frontal and The Comedy Company. She remembers warmly such characters as Con the Fruiterer, though doubts that such stereotyping would get a run today. This led us to discussing the minefield that is cancel culture, whether everything is fair game for comedians or whether there are limits to where comedy can go. For Hoo, whose comedic mode is more observational than polemical, there are filters she applies when assessing the appropriateness of material for her shows: “I was once told that if it makes you cringe then don’t say it.”
And she doesn’t.
Another has to do with the authenticity of the comedian themselves: “Some subjects are not for certain people,” she says, explaining that if a comedian is not a person of colour, say, or of a particular ethnicity then it rarely works when they venture into that space.
Adding: “It’s a very difficult thing to do, it takes enormous skill and care. I’ve seen it fail.”
And it needs, says Hoo, honest intentions. “There is always someone who will find a joke offensive – you probably can’t get on stage and not offend someone. But are you seeking to deliberately insult a person’s ethnicity, say? I think that is wrong.”
Hoo concludes our discussion of this fraught topic this way: “I say to myself, am I writing a really good joke or am I relying on a stereotype?”
Relying on a stereotype does not lead to a well written joke. Best, she thinks, to keep that one to yourself.
After seven years in the game, lauded for her comedic talent, annual appearances at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, four solo shows, comedy collaborations and TV presenting under her belt, does Hoo feel she has arrived as a comedian and performer?
“No, I don’t,” she says bluntly. “There is still so much to learn. I want to keep getting better at what I do.”
But at the very least is she now able to match her father and siblings around the dinner table? “No! My brothers and dad, they’re off the scale!”
I’d say Lizzy Hoo still has a few more dishes to serve.