A local comedian addresses the big – and not so big – topics affecting us all as the Bendigo stand-up scene begins to boom.

By Lauren Mitchell – Photography by Leon Schoots

It’s an otherwise ordinary mid-week morning until we drop by Simone Amohanga’s colourful Bendigo home.
There by the red armchairs, vivid paintings and magical fairy garden terrariums we laugh of life. Of bright coloured chicks and deconstructed fruit cake. The topic inspired by Simone’s radio slot that week, a nostalgic talk about rural shows. “I’m asked to discuss a wide range of topics, and I often don’t do comical stuff,” she says. “I aim to inform, educate, or entertain. If I get a trifecta I’m happy! And I can present unconventional views, that’s the nature of comedy.”
The Bendigo comedian has a spot as social commentator and raconteur each Monday at 6.45am on local ABC radio. Her rich voice and unique laugh make her a delight to listen to, and it’s just one of the wonderful opportunities to come her way since moving to Bendigo 18 months ago.

With a Masters degree and media background, for 15 years Simone lived her dream in London before returning to regional Victoria. “I worked for the magazine section of Time Warner and they were downsizing. My father was unwell so I thought I’d take a voluntary redundancy, come back and work out what to do next.
“I immediately got a job so I stayed. If I’m going to live in a city it’s London and if not, it’s Bendigo. It’s a good place and it suits me.”
Simone says the conversations she had with her dad before he passed away were precious, and she has him to thank for her comedy epiphany. “He was talking about the things he wished he’d done in life. I thought, if you want to give things a go, don’t wait until you get to the tail-end and think, I should have tried that.  He died, unexpectedly, a week after that poignant conversation and I signed myself up to do a comedy course.
“I took a week off and went to Adelaide. I didn’t tell anyone, just in case I didn’t go through with it. I was anticipating a room full of 20-year-old guys, but was pleasantly surprised at the mix.”
Simone spent her first five minutes on stage at the Adelaide Fringe Festival. She describes the experience as nerve wracking. “And I still find it interesting that immediately before a performance comedians don’t really talk to each other. We’re each in our private zone of nerves, anxiety and preparation.”
Simone had long harboured a passion for comedy. In London she was immersed in the world’s best. She was walking distance from the Apollo, dated a professional comedy critic, and thrived in the laid-back, liberal culture. “It’s a much more relaxed culture than in Australia with fewer rules and laws. There’s a lot of laughter in London. A lot of public laughter. You can lock eyes with someone on the Tube and if something’s going on that’s funny they just get it. There’s an energy to it all the time. It’s vibrant and intelligent. They use words well. And they laugh at misery, a lot. I love that.
“Friends in London said ‘you should give it a go’,” she says on trying her hand at stand-up. “But the thought was overwhelming. It’s easier in Australia because you’re not competing with as many people.”
Since her initial gig Simone has further performed in Adelaide, as well as Canberra and Bendigo, and has become instrumental in fostering the local scene. “The timing for me was quite unbelievable,” she says. “I moved to Bendigo and it was on the brink of the comedy scene booming. I went to a Bendigo Comedy talk at the library during the writers festival and they were asking for people to get involved.”
Simone has since helped organise two popular Women of Wit events – which feature female comedians. Plus she’s involved with open mic nights and supporting the growing number of fellow comedians. Bendigo Comedy has just wrapped up its first, highly successful comedy festival, local Cath Styles has recently performed at The Capital, the summer season at Handle Bar Comedy is underway, and open mic nights have become a regular thing at The Cambrian.
“It’s fantastic because there’s so much emphasis on sport in Bendigo and significant emphasis on history and art, but storytelling taps into a different part of the brain and opens up ideas for people,” Simone says. “I’m always contemplating what I’m going to write about. It constantly makes me look at things differently, which is great for creativity and wellbeing.”
Simone combines her comedy with a full-time day job. “Comedy is a hobby that keeps me mentally and creatively stimulated. And I hope to be a role model for women and older people to give it a go. Sometimes I’m the only female up there and people of both sexes and all ages can see it and know that women don’t have to be young or dolled up. It’s about what you’ve got to say, not what you look like.
“I’d love to see someone really unusual give it a go, especially older women. Once you’ve got nothing to prove – and younger people always have something to prove – you can tell a story that’s less ego driven.  Plus the best comedians irrefutably have life experience, empathy, and knowledge of the world. I’d equally love to see some younger Bendigo women come forward.”
Simone says comedy’s good for wellbeing because it helps people feel understood. “That’s why we need diverse performers. Audience members who aren’t disproportionately represented in the public eye are the ones who’ll most benefit from feeling understood. A ‘different’ performer also offers a more interesting show. We’ve surpassed the demand for ocker comedy and can elevate Australian comedy to match international standards.”
Simone says stand-up comedy can be about honesty and connection, which is sorely needed in our culture of highly-edited social media. “Though it’s rehearsed, stand-up comedy is raw and real. It’s not glossy or filtered. It’s about showing the ugly and tedious reality of life and laughing at it.” Sometimes that’s through tackling deep and dark subjects, and sometimes not. Often it’s just about the tiny and trivial embarrassments, observations, frustrations, and failures.
Like when Simone’s friend was one of only three entrants into the country show’s baked yo-yo competition … and didn’t even get third place. Funny.
Cambrian Comedy Lab open mic night is on December 18 and January 22, while Handle Bar Comedy gigs are happening December 20 and January 24.