Justin: Justin, what were you hoping to achieve with Funemployed?
Justin: I felt backed into a corner, like an injured possum, during 2012. The whole Northcote hipster thing kind of backfired, and I felt pigeonholed. There really is power in obscurity for a control-freak artist, believe it or not. You can dictate how you are perceived a little more. Anyway, I basically wanted to be a social suicide bomber, strapping a truth-bomb to myself and detonating it – essentially destroying the professional ‘façade’ of my Bedroom Philosopher name. I felt I was being misunderstood on two fronts. A) people thought I was some judgmental coolsie, when in fact I’m also a semi-sweet-natured, oversensitive mental from Tasmania and b) people thought I’d ‘made it’ when in fact I was $20, 000 in debt and in a terrible rut from over-performing.
Funemployed acted as an emotional audit to both give my own side of the story (a memoir is essentially a self-interview) and hopefully create a document that could empower artists and educate society at large about the maelstromic labyrinth of volatile, fragile ingredients that goes into an art practice in Australia. Or thereabouts.
Justin: Ha ha (laughs.)
Justin: Quiet, minion.
Justin: Did you just call me an onion?
Justin: So, did Funemployed feel dangerous to write?
Justin: Oh, most definitely. I felt like I was breaking several taboos. This included things like ‘you’re not allowed to complain as an artist.’ I guess this is part of why I was feeling disempowered. It’s like, okay, now you’ve made it, you’re on Triple J, your head is everywhere, so like, shut up now! You’ve had your time. Fame felt like a taboo subject – and when I was interviewing other artists, I could tell they were uncomfortable talking about fame and even said “you sound like a wanker talking about it” – which is the ultimate catch twenty-two. (You’re arrogant if you acknowledge it, ungrateful if you don’t). Writing about bitterness was especially exciting. We often hear about artists being depressed, but rarely explore the violently competitive parts of our nature. The Australian arts scene is negative and bitchy – well, I’ve often perceived it that way. I thought if I volunteered myself at ‘Snarkaholics anonymous’ it might liberate others to do the same.
I think the general public aren’t ready for the concept that being an artist is actually a lot of quite dull, hard work and often not particularly “fun”. Reality TV really slams that Hollywood idea of ‘overnight success’ and other fairytales we know and grew up with. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth, so I really felt like I was writing a kind of anarchists manifesto on the arts. You know how Lars Von Trier started the Dogme 95 collective, which had their own set of rules of how movies should be made? I was applying my own ‘ultimate truth’ doctrine. I feel like in Australia we’re often so damn worried about what people think of us that it discourages people from saying what they really think. We also have an aversion to being ‘too serious’ – so as someone who is mostly seen as a comedian, it felt satisfyingly edgy to be as earnest as I saw fit.
Justin: Do you think irony has come so full circle that earnestness is the only natural conclusion?
Justin: (Laughs) Yeah, I do in a way. I think irony has kind of lost its meaning – or we’ve gone so far past the feedback loop that we’ve lost our moral compass or something. Funemployed is a kind of artistic ‘reset’ button. Reminding us that we’re just blood and guts and water and sadness and happiness. You can have all the gifs and hashtags and apps and distractions you like – but at the end of the day we have terrifying dreams and we cry with the fleeting beauty of our own improvised, imprisoned lives.
Justin: It seems like Funemployed is about celebrating failure, in a way.
Justin: Certainly. It’s protesting against the tyranny of glam and positivity on the internet. As theatre-maker Tim Spencer says in the book, “Failure is something we have to live with. As artists, I think we exist outside the dominant paradigm of our society.” Being an artist is a philosophy, or almost a religion as much as it’s a job. It comes with its own set of ideals. Art has crawled into bed with advertising. We are being called brands. Neoliberalism is trying to strip-mine us of our context and our identity. We’re under threat of being snubbed out or made irrelevant! It’s time to fire up and fight back. Funemployed is my little warcry, with jokes.
Justin: I love you.
Justin: I love you too.