“We’ve had to learn to see the funny side of things”
Stephen Oliver lends his comedic skills to take on social media stereotypes in NITV's History Bites Back.
Stephen Oliver is well-known for finding the lighter side to serious matters.
Through Black Comedy, Looky Looky, Here Comes Cooky and Faboriginal he has quickly won a following, and in the ultimate compliment of knowing you’ve made it, even found himself mimicked by members of the public.
But Oliver, (pictured centre) a descendant of the Kuku Yalanji, Waanyi, Gangalidda, Woppaburra, Bundjalung and Biripi peoples, always brings a point to his humour, whether as social justice or a lesson in First Nations history.
“People are often surprised when they come to see my live show. What they got from Black Comedy, is just me being silly all the time. So whenever my theatre or cabaret show they kind of expect to laugh all the time. But there’s been a few times where people have cried as well. In the reviews, people say they’re amazed at the ability to balance the the laughter and the sadness,” he tells TV Tonight.
“But we’ve had to learn to see the funny side of things”
“But we’ve had to learn to see the funny side of things, because we go to funerals so often.
“When we get together we have that sadness, but afterwards, we’ve always laughed. After the sadness we get together and have a big laugh.”
His latest role draws upon his range of characters in sketches for History Bites Back, a passion project by its writer, director and presenter Trisha Morton-Smith (pictured, top left).
Morton-Smith (Occupation Native, The Song Keepers, Total Control)presents a modern take on history that dares to poke fun at the establishment and challenge the status quo of the prevailing historical narrative of the nation.
Joined by Elaine Crombie (pictured, top right) the special bites back at negative, real life social media comments and steer the conversation towards the historical context of the fortunes and misfortunes of Indigenous Australians – from social security, citizenship and equal wages to nuclear bombs and civil actions.
“Trisha has a great way of showing history”
“Trisha has a great way of showing history that gets ignored a lot,” says Oliver.
“But it opens up the conversation. To understand where we’re going, we do need to understand where we’ve come from. We can’t deal with things until we know what those things are.”
“My grandfather started working when he was 14 years old”
Social media cliches are addressed with humour, insight and stark ‘fun facts’. Such criticisms cruelly categorising all Indigenous Australians from ‘freeloaders’ to ‘bludgers’ are all too familiar to Oliver.
“My grandfather started working when he was 14 years old. He met my grandmother because he went to Cloncurry looking for work,” he explains.
The pair met after his grandfather had been trampled under a horse and broke his legs.
“He was actually living under a bridge at the time. My grandmother nursed him back to health and that was their love story.”
History Bites Back, which theatrically brings to life moments in history, even personifies ‘keyboard warriors’ by attributing their social media handle.
“If they see themselves maybe they might reflect on themselves”
“I’m glad they used the names of the people, even if it’s just a username. If they see themselves maybe they might reflect on themselves,” he continues.
“Watching it was a little bit hard because whenever I read an article about Aboriginal people, or watch a video on YouTube, I don’t go to the comments. I know what I’m going to see. Racism teaches you how to behave. It’s a repeated experience. That’s the power structure of racism. People might experience discrimination, bigotry. But racism is all that, wrapped up into one …over and over and over again.”
Co-written and directed with Craig Anderson, the special screens as part of NITV’s NAIDOC Week of programming.
History Bites Back airs 8:30pm Sunday July 11 on NITV / SBS VICELAND.
Stephen Oliver’s Bigger & Blacker is touring in early 2022.