Animal ethics becomes a laughing matter

April 18, 2007

Last Thursday night saw the second show in a two-night run of ‘Dolly Goes Down on the Farm’ at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.   

Dolly Putin is the on-stage persona of Tasmanian comedian with a conscience, Naomi Edwards.  Dolly describes herself as a right-wing shock jockette (“an Andrew-Bolt kinda gal”).  Dressed in a cow-hide bodice and a slapper-from-the-suburbs combination of knee-high uggs and micro-skirt, she entered the stage devouring a Big Mac and lamenting the downsides of veganism (“youse can’t eat meat”).   

Last year, the nasally-inclined Dolly took on Greens senator Bob Brown in a ‘debate’ about the environment.  This year, she takes ethicist Peter Singer to task over issues discussed in his recently published book, The Ethics of What We Eat.

The problem is, there’s not whole lot of humour to be wrung out of the inhumane treatment of animals.  Topics of conversation weaved a wobbly path through turkey insemination to the treatment of dairy cattle; beak clipping of caged chickens; imprisonment of breeding sows in factory farmed pig production; and even the mercy killing of human infants.  Not exactly rolling-in-the-aisles stuff. 

The show consisted mostly of deliberately cheesy jokes and sexual innuendo on Dolly’s part, interspersed with several up-tempo musical numbers by the on-stage band and a cabaret-style guest appearance by a ‘pig’.  It was disjointed and not particularly well-scripted, eliciting more good-natured groans from the audience than real belly laughs.  But it did act as a light-hearted foil to Singer’s convincing and fairly sobering arguments. 

Hosted at the University of Melbourne and supported by Animals Australia, the show was largely a case of preaching to the choir: I doubt many of the middle-aged lefties and hippy students in the audience would have been popping down to Maccas for a post-theatre bite. 

However, Edwards must be applauded for tackling topics that just don’t get raised in public forums in Australia.  Until recently, the popular discourse around food has been dominated almost solely by nutrition and health issues.  This show comes as a welcome sign that food ethics is entering the public conscience, pushed along by populist books like Singer’s.  

Singer’s final message to the audience on the night was a simple one: if you aren’t inclined towards a vegan diet, then avoid factory-farmed produce and opt for free-range or organic meat, eggs and dairy products. 

As for Dolly, well I’ll be interested to see what she comes up with next year.  Gags about peak oil?  Wisecracks on sweatshops? 

Naomi Edwards may not be the funniest comedian at the festival but she has boldly gone where none have gone before, stretching the boundaries of comedy into unlikely and brave territory.

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