Beth McMullen’s show ‘Girl, Schminterschmupted’ delves into her own Borderline Personality Disorder. The result is equal parts serious, urgent and very very funny.
I really did not know what to expect when I entered the Globe Alley for Beth McMullen’s show. It was a Sunday night, and the Melbourne Comedy Festival had the city pulsating with excitement, like a child on a sugar rush. I wanted some of that.
I went to the Globe Alley because I was familiar with the venue, I had been there before—though I didn’t know they had a back room, so it took me a while to realise where I should go. Meaning, I was late. I entered the room when the show had started. And what I saw was not what I expected to see. A woman in a straitjacket, sitting on a stool, singing Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy. My first thought: “Why didn’t I stop at the bar and get a drink?”
The show’s title should have tipped me off: “Girl, Schminterschmupted”—a clear and direct reference to that award-winning movie, Girl, Interrupted, in its turn based on the book of the same name, talking about author Susanna Kaysen’s experience in a mental hospital.
Beth McMullen milked that reference, early on in her show, along with other pop-culture representations of mental illness. Because that is the theme of her show—and it comes from her own experience. Right after the end of her—soulful and pitch-perfect—rendition of Crazy, she presented her credentials to the audience, a medical document certifying that she had undergone treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder.
There are two kinds of comedy; one where the comedians point their fingers to others, to the people around them, to society, to modern culture, to politics, to aspects of day-to-day life, ranting and pontificating, more often than not; and the other, where they target themselves and filter their commentary through their own experience. In Girl, Schminterschmupted, Beth McMullen does everything—going for all directions, at once. Her show (the word “routine” does not do any kind of justice to it) goes from the monologue format to a one-woman sketch comedy, to pantomime, to a song-and-dance variety show—all blended together into one tight package. And it’s a package that contains so much: brilliantly structured in chapters, around the BPD diagnostic criteria, the show tackles a whole range of issues, from politics to sexuality, to yoga to group therapy to the effectiveness (and self-congratulatory nature) of the “R U OK?” campaign. It’s a fast-paced show that leaves you very little room to breath, as Beth McMullen takes you by the hand—or by the throat—and gives you a frantic tour around BPD-land, showing you what it means to be living with a crippling medical condition. She does not hold back. She cannot afford to. She sings, she dances, she shouts, she argues with (a recorded version of) her brain, she changes clothes, she uses props, she bares herself on stage—both figuratively and literally: one of the show’s best parts is her stripping down and singing an instant classic parody of a well-known song (I won’t go into detail, I really shouldn’t spoil it for you), lyrics altered to address the theme of bodily hair.
Because, for all the seriousness—and urgency—of the show’s theme, Girl, Schminterschmupted is deliriously funny. Beth McMullen does not leave a stone unturned—and we’re talking about stones that have been building up inside her, mostly—highlighting and demonstrating their funny aspect. She has a remarkable ability to shift the tone and mood in an instant, going from mellow to brutal, and from bitter irony to plain, dumb fun.
It’s very easy to call her “brave” and “bold” and “daring” for going so deep into her psyche, taking what’s inside and offering it to the audience, wrapped around in ribbons of laughter. But this exactly the attitude she targets, our tendency to fall prey to stories of inspiration porn. Why on earth does it take bravery to just be honest in establishing pathways of communication between us? Why can’t we just deal with the darkness that lurks inside us, be open about it and keep on living? After the show is all done, after the spotlight is off, after you’ve wiped the tears (of laughter, but also of emotion) off your cheeks, you may start to question yourself. And you’ll certainly think twice before asking somebody “R U OK?”