Comedian Cassie Workman has a varied resume, but has great stories and learned lessons from it.
“I had a job playing piano in a restaurant and they used to pay me in Japanese food,” she says. “A woman came up to me and said to me, ‘Your playing sounds like Philip Glass, and I hate Philip Glass, so please stop’. I didn’t know who Philip Glass was, but I went and researched and thought he was amazing. So, sometimes people put a label on you and it fits.”
The Sydney-based comedian is a celebrated storyteller, gaining awards and critical-acclaim along the way. But in 2017, Cassie took time away from the stage after announcing her gender dysphoria and focus on her transition into Cassie. Now, she returns to Brisbane for the first time since transitioning for MELT Festival.
MELT is the Brisbane Powerhouse Theatre’s festival of queer arts and culture. Cassie’s first performance will be as part of MELT’s Comedy Gala. Hosted by Rhys Nicholson, the line-up includes Tom Ballard, Demi Lardner, Alex Ward, and more. “That is good company,” she exclaims. “It’s going to be a great show.”
Cassie’s gala spot will showcase her stand-up comedy, but she will also present her latest storytelling show ‘Giantess’, which was nominated for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s Most Prestigious Show Award.
“It’s a show about a girl who is kidnapped from a K-Mart by a troll,” she says. “He keeps her hostage for 30 years in a kingdom made out of oatmeal and toothpaste. She has to turn into a giant to escape.”
The surreal story was inspired by Cassie’s transition. “But it’s not about my transition,” she says. “It’s about the concept of transition, why people do it, and what it’s like. I like to work in fables – I find that it’s a good way to approach difficult subjects. Somebody said once: ‘You can’t reason people out of an opinion they didn’t reason their way into’. If you identify something you want to change about society and culture – in this instance, people’s attitude towards transgender people and trans issues – there’s no point berating them with statistics and facts because it doesn’t work. You have to meet people at their emotional core and give them a new way to feel.”
Much like Cassie’s past shows, ‘Giantess’ is a theatrical experience, featuring cartoons, music, and other multimedia to enhance the story. It’s different to Cassie’s stand-up, and she understands that. “When you say to people who don’t know you, ‘Hey, I’ve got this show. It’s about a girl who gets abducted’, people don’t generally believe that could be funny. I’m like, ‘Yeah, I know. Just give it a chance. I know what I’m doing,’” she laughs.
While Cassie’s stand-up and storytelling are different mediums, both offer MELT attendees the chance to hear wildly surreal and funny stories from one of the best comedians Australia has to offer.
“Before I started comedy I was in theatre and bands. I wanted to find a way to put all of those things together that was uniquely me, and I feel like I’m getting closer to that every year. But, I always want to keep a hold on that core of storytelling. Storytelling is the most important thing, and the way you present that is peripheral.”
Cassie Workman performs at MELT’s Comedy Gala on 30 June. ‘Giantess’ plays 4-6 July.