A staunch feminist with a sharp wit and eloquent expression, Nakkiah Lui is back with the fourth and final season of Black Comedy, showcasing the politically edged humour that makes the show uniquely funny and relatable.
With an acute awareness of the importance of diversity, Lui is switched on.
For Lui, what makes Black Comedy so successful is that the creators make a conscious effort to have an open call out for new people to write, act and produce the show.
“It’s blackfella humour for everyone. And so we have the one rule which is just make it funny,” Lui said.
“From the get go we’ve always had a very diverse group of Aboriginal people from around the country.”
A proud Gamilaroi and Torres Strait Islander woman, Lui said they offer opportunities to experienced writers, people who’ve never written before, men, women, people from the queer community, and people from all over Australia.
“We have such a diverse mix of Aboriginal people … We have an all-Aboriginal writing team, all-Aboriginal directors, all-Aboriginal performers, and a lot of Aboriginal key creators.
“In terms of the humour of the show and the themes and the topics that we engage with, that’s really different because we have a diverse mix of people.”
The show is a depiction of the black experience in contemporary Australia, and explores a range of topics, themes and issues.
“Being an Aboriginal person in contemporary Australia can be a multitude of experiences because we’re such a diverse group of people,” Lui said.
“[We wanted to] create a show which enables other people to have a platform to bring laughter and joy to a community and to showcase different peoples’ perspectives.
“The thing about Aboriginal people is that we’re all different, we’re all individual, even though we have a similar cultural identity.”
Lui said a key success factor of Black Comedy is that comedy and humour is a huge part of Indigenous peoples’ lives.
“We use comedy as a survival mechanism for oppression.”
“I think being Aboriginal in contemporary Australia today is very different for each Aboriginal person depending on the community you come from, within a backdrop that still there’s a lot of oppression and a lot of disadvantage.”
Despite this disadvantage, Lui believes Aboriginal people have a really unique, strong sense of humour.
“My nanna always used to say to me: what can you do if you can’t laugh?
“Aboriginal people use humour as a survival mechanism, as a way to create hope and joy in community.”
The joy of laughter is universal, and Lui believes humour is an effective tool in disarming people who are different from each other.
“We’re existing more and more in a divisive cultural and political conversation. In Australia [and] around the world, it’s really hard to say that you like tomato sauce without someone going, well you must hate mustard.
“It can be really hard for people to have empathy for each other because that divide’s getting bigger.”
At the heart of Black Comedy is Lui’s desire for people to ask questions of themselves and each other.
“I think what comedy does is its really subversive … it allows you to ask a question and bring up issues.”
“Comedy is really great at being able to connect people and to be able to see each other’s humanity.”
“It can be completely disarming … when people laugh they let their guard down.
“[Humour is] one of the things where it goes across the lines that are drawn within our communities.”
A sharply comedic writer with the nuance of political conversation at her side, Lui and her fellow writers have brought a new character to life in this season of Black Comedy.
From their sketch about the ‘Aboriginal Percentage Investigative Agency’, comes Nancy, an Aboriginal woman who becomes a detective to get to the bottom of the exact percentage of people’s Aboriginality.
Although created some months ago, this notion of fair-skinned and percentages of Aboriginality is painfully relevant in the current political climate for some Indigenous Australians.
Just weeks ago, Aboriginal businesswoman Josephine Cashman launched an attack on Dark Emu author, Bruce Pascoe, claiming his Aboriginality was fake and that he was committing fraud by profiting from it as a writer.
Late last year, artist Bobby Wergaia and his wife were attacked by their neighbours out the front of their own home asking what percentage of Aboriginal they were and making claims they weren’t ‘true’ Aboriginals.
“It’s really disrespectful [to ask someone that] … It’s just rude, first and foremost, along with being racist.”
Lui said creating a character like this allows people to laugh about it in the absence of other options.
“I think that’s a group experience, that kind of cultural experience … being able to laugh about that as a community is really cathartic,” Lui said.
“We kind of come in with the same ethos … let’s try turn things on its head … and make sure it’s funny.
“As the conversations we have with each other [in Australia] grow … it comes out in the sketches.”
That’s what makes Black Comedy cuttingly funny, its ability to bluntly take down harmful ideas in the political conversation.
Fierce for all
Standing up unapologetically for herself and others, Lui is also ferociously vocal on social media.
Her Twitter is often full of screenshots, videos and takedowns of racist commentary and other experiences.
Lui said she finds the current state of contemporary Australia quite interesting in this way.
“There is a real dichotomy between, on one hand having these opportunities, having a show like Black Comedy, but on the other hand … things politically have gotten so much more polarising.”
On her wedding day, Lui’s parents experienced racism at a supermarket in Bondi Junction, an upper middle class suburb of Sydney.
“They were waiting at the self-serve and this old whitefella started some argument with them … he said to my dad, ‘Why don’t you go back to where you came from?’
“On my wedding day, my family still couldn’t escape racism.”
A few months later, Lui had come out of surgery and was at a local Sydney supermarket with her mother.
“We were standing at [a bakery] and there was an Indian woman serving us … and this woman walks past and she says, ‘Spot the Aussie’.”
Lui said her mother went up to the woman and called out her racism, and after some back and forth the woman told Lui to go back to where she comes from.
Within six months, both Lui and her father had been told to go back to where they came from in a supermarket, in different socioeconomic areas.
“What is that saying about us as a country?
“I do feel a sense of responsibility to … talk about this stuff in a public space.”
With Black Comedy season four out now, Nakkiah Lui uses her profoundly funny yet thought-provoking writing skills in a show designed to share laughter across the nation.
By Hannah Cross