Given her wide following, the theme of Em Rusciano’s latest sell-out show might seem a little odd.
“The show I am bringing to Adelaide Fringe, is about wanting to be famous. While I did have all the ingredients, perhaps, to win an Olympic Gold, and an Emmy and a Grammy and Oscar and a Tony, I got to 36 and thought it was time to accept that I may not be Beyoncé. But that's okay. I'm okay with that because I don't have the discipline. I have the skills set, but not the commitment. It's turned out okay, and the show is really about all the things that led me to believe I could perhaps be a diva, and the ultimate realisation that I never will be, and that's okay.”
Thought she might not be a diva, Em has amassed a wide and devoted audience with her laugh-riot, outrageously confessional musical stories. She specialises in honest, heartfelt musically-accompanied stories of taboo, often not talked about issues. Such as in her acclaimed, self-explanatorily-titled earlier works ‘Rhythm & Puberty Blues’ and ‘Divorce: The Musical’. This trend doesn’t look to be reversing itself in ‘Not A Diva’.
“In the show when I talk about how I lost my virginity, my father will be playing 'Like A Virgin' as I tell that story. It could be worse. There's also a bit where I talk about crying and masturbating to Adele when I broke up with my husband. He's fine with it, it's all good fun.” Spare a thought for Em’s brave, brave dad.
In the cold, harsh light of adulthood, Em is glad that she never became a diva. “I think we often put divas up on a pedestal. We want them to look perfect all the time, I'm kind of the anti-diva. I'm very rarely perfect, and I often talk about my failures. I think that works to my advantage, it makes people more forgiving of me when I do stuff up, which is often, cause I am human.”
Em’s musical influences are many. “Obviously Whitney, Madonna, John Farnham. I actually did spend five years thinking Madonna was my biological mother. There are a lot of similarities. She was the first short-haired, muscular, Italian woman I'd ever seen. When I saw her I instantly thought, 'oh my gosh, we must be related, she is me, I am her'. It was just amazing. I really love her, I'm going to her show this year.”
Em has been, at various times in her life, a singer, comedian, writer, and television and radio presenter. Does she ever think about slowing down? “I'm perpetually exhausted. I run on adrenaline too, so it's a double-edged sword. To be successful in the Australian entertainment industry you have to be a jack of many trades. You have to be good at everything, or at least try to be. I really love it. And they all tie together so well. When I do my live shows, I sing, I'm the MC of the evening, I do stand-up, I've written the show myself. It all kind of combines into one glorious hot mess. It all works for me. I've kind of created myself.
“I'm grateful for it all, it means I had to hire less people.”Em Rusciano performs Royalty Theatre 19-21 February as part of Adelaide Fringe Festival which runs 12 February – 14 March.