Finding a way out of the spiral of shame Reply

by Matt Dawson

Justine Rogers faces her audience and faces her shame. Photograph: Jeremy Belinfante

Justine Rogers faces her audience and faces her shame.
Photograph: Jeremy Belinfante

Set among used car yards, smash repairers and non-descript warehouses of Marrickville, the Factory Theatre captures the essence of what the ‘fringe’ means in a city. Posters and signs show attention to detail, setting an underground vibe. Red neon lights guide people through the labyrinth of makeshift theatres to the show.

Once there, in this appropriate environment, Justine Rogers took her audience on a journey into the ‘shame spiral’ during her Sydney Fringe Festival show, Shame, You’re the Worst, documenting her emotional experience after a man dumped her via email.

“He didn’t even start a new thread, so the subject line of the email was RE: Hey. Outlook had indented all our previous email correspondence into an archaeological dig of romantic disaster,” she told the audience.

Shame and guilt are different, she said. As explained using PowerPoint slides and a Venn diagram, she says guilt occurs when we “think what we did was shit” while shame happens when we “think we are shit”. Shame is not a primal extinct but a social construct, according to Justine.

A law lecturer by day, comedian and science buff by night, Justine Rogers’ tale of rejection happened while she was working on her PhD thesis at Oxford University. It resulted in this, her first big solo show.

Fellow comedian Mikey Robins, a regular guest on the ABC’s Good News Week, sees a bright future for Justine.

“Most people would describe Justine’s material as edgy but I actually find it quite charming. There’s a wit and intelligence behind those gags that are very refreshing,” he said.

Mr Robins believes that today’s stand-up comedy scene is more inclusive and less male-dominated than in the past.

“It really used to be a boys’ club, with the occasional woman in the line-up. These days it’s much better, not only with more women but also a much greater degree of cultural diversity than ever before,” he said.

Justine spoke about her show’s themes and her motivation for exploring the social world.

“Part of the motivation to look at other people’s behaviour is to understand your own. People looking at the social world are naturally analytical, and for good or ill probably turn that analysis inwards,” Ms Rogers said.

Being a twin and a middle child in a family of eight, she believes the roles we adopt in our youth shape the ways we interpret the social world.

“The eldest from big families are comfortable saying what they mean and sticking to it. The youngest enjoy being adored and are more confident. For the middle lot, all the roles are taken, so they learn to observe and develop a better understanding of what is going on around them,” she said.

Her material is thoroughly researched and draws on theories of sociology to cut to the essence of social interaction. Her one-hour show is lighthearted but challenges audience members to assess their own sense of self-worth and the emotion of shame. Using charts, pictures and diagrams, Ms Rogers’ explained why people feel shame.

Earlier in the year, Justine challenged orthodoxy at TEDx Sydney by delivering a parody speech detailing the key ingredients of how to make an inspiring TED talk.

“I am disappointed. None of the other talks today followed the six-point formula that I have devised. First of all, the introduction; your introduction needs a childhood anecdote. And make sure that the anecdote barely connects to your topic,” she said.

TED talks have attracted many high profile speakers, including Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Jane Goodall. According to its website, TED “is a US based not-for-profit enterprise devoted to the propagation of ideas worth spreading”.

“It’s not about TED,” Justine said. “I learn from and share TED talks. The speakers and artists at TEDx Sydney were brilliant. I just like to poke fun at things that have gotten stuck, where people are holding onto an attitude a bit too tightly, she said, “But it is always punching up. TED’s stronger than me, they are okay with or without my jabs.”

Justine Rogers also performed at this year’s Adelaide Fringe in show called Aggressively Helpful along with colleagues Alice Fraser and Alex Wasiel.

Alex Wasiel believes her exploration of the social world works, “because, ultimately, comedy is about truth, surprising truths. Justine’s comedy is filled with honest recounts of her own bizarre, heartbreaking and raw experiences.

“It’s those ‘oh shit, yeah, I have been doing that’ truths that really bring on the laughs,” she said.

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