Julia Morris has just turned 50 and is a woman in demand.
The comedian, actor, television host, writer and mother of two is one of the hardest working entertainers in Australian show business. She is certainly one of the most talented.
Morris, who grew up in Gosford where her parents still live, is also an absolute delight to talk to. Down to earth, self-deprecating and astute, she is a remarkably funny and warm woman. She has just returned from school drop-off or, as she likes to call it, the “quadrangle of judgment”, when Weekender calls.
And, for once, she was dressed for the occasion.
“I’m known for dropping the girls off in my jarmies. My girls don’t mind. I just throw on a pair of Uggs and a great big coat to hide my shame and I’m off,” she says.
”I don’t really give much thought to an emergency, like a car breakdown. Maybe I should. But right now I couldn’t care if I broke down and was nude – I’ve just been through my full menopause.”
Did I mention that she is also an open book? Anything goes.
Life is good for Morris, who five weeks ago returned from a three-month stint in South Africa where she filmed I’m A Celebrity Get Me Outta Here. She and co-host Dr Chris Brown have spent a year in the Limpopo region, she says: three months every year for the past four years.
“I know the area, I know what to expect, I know the hours are going to be brutal. But it makes a huge difference that my husband and family come over and let the steam out of my tyres for a little bit,” she explains.
Other people’s opinions of me are really none of my business.- Julia Morris
“When you’re working on a big show like that the term that we coin is ‘the bubble’. You get lost in the bubble and everything seems really important, like, ‘I’m starting at five past the hour tomorrow and not 10 past, what’s happening? How will I cope?’
“You need to be really organised, really particular. We’re quite institutionalised by it but we don’t mind.”
I mention US actor and author Rose McGowan who, in her book Brave, talks about losing herself and her identity in the brutal day-to-day reality of working in television. Morris can relate.
“Oh you do, your definitely do. Even in House Husbands you sacrifice what little time you have off because there’s always more work to do, whether it’s preparing for the next day or learning your lines.
“In the jungle we are on set by 4am most days and don’t get home until 5.30pm. We are on the move the whole time. It takes me weeks to get over. Weeks.”
Mention of McGowan leads to a conversation about the “Me Too” movement, where women are speaking out against sexual harassment and assault.
“I saw Tina Fey being interviewed by David Letterman yesterday, on Netflix I think, and she said these days comedy is ‘landmine hopscotch’. It struck a chord with me,” Morris says.
“My style of comedy hasn’t changed that much over the past 30-plus years. Full, brutal honesty has always been my real stock and trade. But as a female in your 20s, no one is really interested in hearing your opinion. Now that I’m 50 I feel like an elder stateswoman and my opinion is loud and proud.”
Morris watched US comedian Kathy Griffin, who she describes as “an absolute goddess”, perform her Laugh Your Head Off show last year and the experience left her feeling bitter.
“It’s like no one is hearing her. All she did was a bad joke about Donald Trump. She has said recently she will continue to push the boundaries because people need to be called out. And she’s like ‘I won’t always get it right’.
“There were some jokes I made while filming in South Africa this year that people got furious about. And I’m like ‘I can only keep trying’. If that’s not funny any more then that’s not funny any more. I’ve learnt my lesson and let’s move on. A problem arises if I learn that lesson but do the same joke again anyway.”
Her 2015 stand-up tour was titled I Don’t Want Your Honest Feedback. Morris says the words have become a “mantra” for her to live by. A means of self-preservation.
“Other people’s opinions of me are really none of my business. I can’t control it. I listen to my husband Dan, and my agent, but within reason. Anything else people have to say is just opinion,” she says.
“I turned all the comments off on my social network. There were lots of people that got really angry about it, about not being able to comment when they felt like it, but I was like too bad.
“As soon as I adjusted my mind to the fact that there are going to be some people who hate me and some people who love me, and some who just don’t care, then I was OK. As long as I can feed my family – which is all I’m actually doing while having a great time doing my job – then nothing else matters.
“Dan had breast cancer five years ago. Do you think I give a flying f – – k about some person who thinks that I’m a fat bitch? It’s like, who cares?”
Morris wears many professional hats these days but will never give up her first love – stand-up comedy.
“I have to keep doing it. It’s part of keeping yourself afloat. You want to show all of your talents throughout the course of the year because this industry is so brutal and it eats people for a snack,” she says.
“Before every single show I have nerves. If those nerves go it’s time to retire. I’ve just finished the first leg of the tour which was all through country Victoria and I could have thrown up in my own mouth before going on stage each night. I still get sick to the stomach. It’s nuts. It’s only about an hour and 45 minutes after the show that I can start to feel the adrenaline fade.”
Her last tour was a sell-out and earned Morris her second Helpmann Award nomination for Best Comedy Performer. The title of her latest venture, Lift and Separate Golden Jubilee Tour, is open to interpretation. Whatever it is about, though, it will be delivered in typical Morris style: straight from the hip and with that cackling laugh.
Nerves or not, this woman owns the stage and her audience the moment she steps out to a roar of applause.
“Life is good. During the menopausal stages I went to see a psychologist and that helped me to clean the muck in my head,” she says.
“I’ve actually had some access to happiness, which has been great. I think happiness is momentary, rather than this great thing we search for that I don’t think exists. I think there are just moments of happiness in every day. Like, for example, an empty dishwasher.”
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