Philip Nitschke is deadly serious about comedy

This article was published by Mercatornet on August 4, 2015

By Paul Russell, the director of Hope Australia.

Paul Russell

Paul Russell

Many a comedian fears “death on the stage”. Not loss of life, exactly, but that split second when a joke misfires and he loses the audience.

Jenny Kleeman, a journalist with The Guardian, has been following Australian euthanasia activist Philip Nitschke as he enters a new career as a stand-up comedian at the upcoming Edinburgh Comedy Fringe Festival in Scotland.

Much of her video report (above) comes from a workshop in London where Nitschke has been road-testing his show in front of members of Exit, his assisted suicide information group. Kleeman’s comments are telling: “Is Philip about to change the way we view the ‘right-to-die’ or is he about to ‘die on his feet’?”

As I watched the Exit crowd I found myself thinking of “the four Ws”, as many in the disability community would say. Indeed, the audience was “White, Well, Well off and Worried”. One participant interviewed parroted the Exit sales pitch: “I get some satisfaction that I’m in control of a situation that might otherwise be out of control.” It sounds convincing but, in reality, it is not about control; it’s about avoidance.

From what I saw of Nitschke’s performance, it seemed flat and forced. This surprised me. I have debated him several times and he has been incredibly funny. Maybe it’s not a good look for the No side of the debate to be laughing along with the opposition, but more than once I found myself holding my sides in laughter. Perhaps there’s a difference between incidental humour and pitching a gag.

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