Steph Tisdell is jealous of her cousin for dropping out of school to become an Instagram fitness model.
“It blows my mind,” she laughs. “She’s really lovely, but I can’t imagine a kid aspiring to that.”
It’s a similar reaction to what the Brisbane-based performer received from her own parents when she announced her ambitions to pursue stand-up comedy. But Steph has proven a natural talent, especially in her award-nominated debut show ‘Identity Steft’.
It was while overseas when Steph’s comedy career began, after being dared by a friend. “I did it in Dublin in a bar that didn’t do stand-up and didn’t have a microphone. I just stood up and improvised it. I had drinks ready for me afterwards,” she says. “I talked about the image that people have of what an Australian looks like, and I wasn’t it.”
Steph is a proud Yidinji woman. Upon returning to Australia she began writing material that explored her identity. Her cousin convinced her to enter Deadly Funny in 2014, which she won. It wasn’t long after her win she moved to Scotland to further develop her comedy. “I got too ashamed to gig in front of my family and friends,” she says. “I was always really nervous to do jokes about my heritage in Australia because I didn’t want to cop flak for it.”
In Scotland, Steph realised how unique and underrepresented her perspective was. “I was like, ‘Actually, this stuff is funny to people. This is interesting because it’s something new’. So, I learnt how to find the funny in the stuff that I really cared about.”
Steph put her experiences as an Indigenous woman into her debut solo show ‘Identity Steft’. She describes the show as “about that process of getting to a point where you allow yourself to be proud of who you are. It’s also about finding the funny in that and white guilt, ignorance, and realising how much the government screws us over. I think white guilt is really funny because people do weird sh.t when they’re white and guilty,” she laughs.
In ‘Identity Steft’, Steph highlights how Indigenous people are forced to be political, as demonstrated with the call to change Australia Day. “You become political by nature just from being Indigenous, that’s the bit that sucks,” she says. “There’s a constant ask from the public at large to justify what it means to be Aboriginal and justify what that pride should look like. My show is kind of a call-to-action to the audience to choose empathy over apathy.”
‘Identity Steft’ proved a massive success when it debuted at last year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, garnering Steph a nomination for Best Newcomer. “I’m really proud of that show because I think the key to good comedy is being totally vulnerable and telling the truth, and that’s exactly what the show was,” she says. “I think that’s the amazing gift of what you can do with comedy; you can tell people a truth and make them laugh, and if you’re doing it right you’re making them think.”
Steph Tisdell Tour Dates
12-17 March – Brisbane Powerhouse (Brisbane Comedy Festival) (Identity Steft) 28 March-21 April – Victoria Hotel (Melbourne International Comedy Festival) (The Pyramid) 15 April – Melbourne Town Hall (Melbourne International Comedy Festival) (The Pyramid) 16-19 May – Enmore Theatre (Sydney Comedy Festival) (Identity Steft)