“I feel like I’m just yelling into the abyss” – Rose Callaghan on women in comedy, ADHD and community television

5 years ago
Til Knowles

A few weeks ago, comedian Rose Callaghan took some time out of her busy day to chat to Til Knowles about her upcoming solo show, Rose Before Hoes, her ADHD diagnosis, and feminism. Since then, Callaghan has (rightfully) gained a whole bunch of attention for her particular brand of witty, insightful and personal stand up, as well as her excellent show title. She’s been selling out shows, so you should really buy tickets while you still can…


You host a dating and comedy podcast called Swipe Night with Kirsten Law.. How’s it going?

It’s going good, except we just release it so sporadically it’s hard to gain momentum. Paul Culliver puts it out on his podcast network and if we put it out every week more people would get into it – because subscribers drop off. But I really, really like doing the podcast. I just feel like it’s unique and it’s exactly what I want to talk about. Dee Fidge suggested it, because so much of our time is just spent sitting on Tinder just like reading out shit, like: ‘oh my god look at this dickhead’. I guess we’re quite philosophical about it. With the guests that we try and get on, we don’t just have comedians, we have people with specific and interesting things to say, like my friend Nev who works for the Sex Party and is poly (polyamorous) and another friend who’s a sex worker. Someone suggested the other day we should get someone to talk about fetishes, which would be interesting because I feel like our whole thing is that we’re non-judgemental. With the comedians that we do get on, we want to have people who are clearly sex positive.

What drew you to the topic of dating and sex?

Probably because I’ve been single for like five years. The thing was ‘cause I’ve got so many jokes about dating, and when you are dating and doing online dating, they just keep coming. And I’ve just got this paranoia, and I know am I like ‘the chick that does a lot of dating material’. But I have found that since I’ve been doing the podcast, a lot of those stories can go into the podcast and then it’s like, ‘that’s off my chest now’. Then I am naturally just doing other material onstage. Because the shit that happens on dates is funny.

I went on a date with this guy the other day and the warning signs should’ve been there because he said something on Tinder like: ‘oh, you’re a comedian, hey. I feel intimidated, I usually like to be the funniest person,’ and that’s such a dude thing to say! We met up and I started talking about something I think to do with the lack of women in comedy and he’s like ‘aw… yeah… the thing about THE FEMINISTS’ and I was like ‘I did not mention feminism once. I did not say feminism, I did not say that trigger word’ and then he’s like, ‘oh I care about equality but some people I know have just made me so against it.’

So I asked ‘well do you care about equality or do you care more about people explaining things to you in a way that you find palatable?’ And he’s like ‘yeah I do’, and I’m like ‘no, but what’s more important to you?’ And he’s like, ‘you know what, fuck it I don’t care anymore,’ and I said, ‘okay well you’re a crappy person then, because you need everything served to you on a plate’. Well of course people get angry when they have to explain things about feminism to you. Imagine somebody was Sri Lankan and they were like ‘oh it’s bad at my work’ and then this guy’s like ‘but devil’s advocate though, don’t you think like maybe it is fair that that person’s treating you that way?’ People don’t talk race like that.

You can walk people into corners with it so easily too. If they’re being reductive, you can just be even more reductive and they kind of realise how dumb they are.

Oh no, they never realise how dumb they are. Even with comedy lineups… I feel like everyone was behaving themselves for a while but in the last few months I’ve seen at least five comedy line ups with no women on them. People are always like ‘oh well it’s just gotta be the best people involved’. Do you really think that people, audiences who are mixed gender, race, sexual orientation, want to hear from ten white heterosexual males? That’s not interesting, it’s not diverse, a lot of people are going to be talking about the same shit. And the thing is they don’t hear the complaints because girls talk to each other privately, in Facebook chat messages, they talk in corners quietly, they’re like ‘oh, I was going to go to that gig but then I saw that it was all men and I was just like ‘fuck that noise’. I feel like I’m just yelling into the abyss.

Do you ever feel like you’re there just because you’re a woman?

No. I don’t.

Obviously you’re good at comedy, so that helps.

Thank you. No, I don’t, and then when people say shit like that it’s like, well do you think I’m a token female? It’s similar to when guys say ‘oh it’s just the best people’ and then I look at a line up and it’s all dudes and it’s not good, I’m like, alright, if you’re going to take that approach, what’s your excuse for putting that guy on, that guy on, putting that guy on, putting that guy on? If you look at Saturday Night Live, there’s Leslie Jones who does the Weekend Update with Colin Jost. She’s so funny, she’s fucking hilarious, and the reason she’s on that show is because everyone complained, there was this whole thing about there being no black people on SNL. So they just cast for an African-American person and she came out of that. If you’ve got a panel show of just six dudes, do you think there’s no one else as good in all of America? That’s so arrogant. Any woman, anyone who’s different, a different race, like there’s literally no one else good enough to be on that panel? That’s fucking stupid.

It’s really good, and really important that you don’t feel like a token member of a line up too.

Yeah. But then there are some, usually bigger gigs, where I think ‘aw, I’ll have a punt and maybe they need a girl.’ So for higher profile things I do think, ‘they need a girl, that’s probably why I got it.’

That’s probably just self-doubt.

I’m aware that could just be part of the imposter syndrome.

Which is definitely something you have as a woman in a male dominated industry.

Yeah, well I think every comedian does have it. But yeah, if I’m just on some whatever line up in Melbourne I’m not like ‘oh my god I’m only here because I’m a girl’. Like, I can make people laugh.

I’ve only been doing comedy for three years. I’ve come out of, over the past year or so, feeling like the newbie for a while. There’s this clear point where it just shifts, and I noticed like a year and a half ago these newer open mic-ers came through. You see people that kind of weirdly look up to you or something and that’s really bizarre and then you’re really conscious of how long you’ve been doing this. I’m not the special shiny new thing anymore. And then if new girls come up and they’re good, you’re like ‘yes’.

Do you think there’s anyone you’ve inspired to do comedy?

I always try and bully them into it, ‘cause a lot of girls that hang out at comedy rooms – and guys mightn’t realise this because they’re too busy trying to have sex with them – but if there’s a girl hanging out at a comedy room, she probably, 90% of the time wants to do it. So I’ll ask them, and be like, ‘hey, you wanna do comedy?’ and you know, some of them start gigging more but it’s really hard to get girls to stay in there. Often they start and then they just drop off. A friend of mine recently, I met her a few months ago and I was like ‘you wanna do comedy don’t you’ and she said, ‘yeah I really do’ and I was like, ‘you gotta do it!’ But this is the best way I’ve ever done it – I was on Facebook chat and I was like, alright. Because we do this stuff and we hesitate and we’re like I’m not ready. So I was like, I’m going to send you something and you’re going to do it and you’re not going to think about it. Don’t put any emotion into it, don’t put much thought into it at all. She said okay. I’d sent her the RAW comedy form. She signed up, she did it, she got through the first heat. She didn’t get through the second one, but the judges were encouraging and said, ‘we really liked her, she’s really clever’. So I just need to try and get her to meet other girls and then she’ll hang around. Lauren Bok and I joke about catching women in the net, and like ‘I got in touch with this girl the other night, she said she wants to do stand-up’ and we’re like ‘alright! I’ll get the net out!’

Do you think there’s a trick to getting through that first bit? Or is it just hard work?

I think you have to be really driven. I think the problem is some of the groups can get cliquey and you feel like you’re not in the group. It’s easier for a boy to step into those groups because they’re all boys. It’s not something people are trying to make like that it, just is like that. So sometimes I’ll be sitting around and everyone’s talking about sports, not that that’s an inherently male thing but you know what I mean and it’s just like, ugh. We want to start a Facebook group for girls who wanna start, and I’ve been meaning to do like a meet up thing for a while of girls who just started doing comedy, girls who are interested in doing comedy, and then like women who have been doing it for a while, from just our few years to more established comics. I keep talking about this but it keeps not happening. What I’d love to do is get an email list of all the girls who signed up to do RAW in Melbourne and then be like ‘hey, we’re having this thing it’s going to be really cute and fun’ we’re all going to make friends, come and meet some gals. Danielle Walker and I were going to start our own room but we haven’t done that either. If I was going to do a comedy night I’d do like something once a month. I work full time anyway.

I think meeting Ange (Thompson) was the moment I was like ‘oh, I’m allowed to be friends with these people, I’m allowed to be really super into comedy around these people, this is fine!’

Ange was really supportive of me at the start, she made me do Three Little Gigs at the Comedy Festival like three years ago when I’d just started. I’d wanted to do it for ages and so I finally bit the bullet and then once I started I was just like bam bam bam. But it’s easier for me because I’m really really extroverted and I just meet people really easily. And I started doing comedy three weeks after I turned thirty so I was old enough to have confidence in some areas of my personality, and also like I’d worked in radio doing presenting, writing and producing. Just bits and pieces like that. I started doing improv before I did stand up, but I wanted to do stand-up always but that helped me with confidence onstage.

It’s interesting because you jumped straight into gigs, and five minute sets, but you’ve taken three years to do a solo show.

Most people take ages to do a solo show. But because I did the show the last two years that was Rose Callaghan and Mates which was me and two different comics every night I was doing twenty-five to thirty minutes of material and over the last two years it’s been pretty much different jokes aside from a few lines here and there. Some people wait for years, like Corey White, he’d been doing it for seven years or eight years, so he’s like ‘I want it to be the best most perfect show every’. I probably won’t win best newcomer but who gives a shit? I’d rather have fun, and I feel like I’m going to develop more quickly this way. So yeah for me it seems like a long time but some people are like ‘you gotta wait!’

I was gonna do a show that was much more personal this year, more about my family background. I met my half sister for the first time last year and stuff like that. I was gonna talk about it, but it was just a bit much to tackle for my first solo show, and I feel like it’s pretty dark in some ways, and I wasn’t ready to do it. I don’t know how to make some of that stuff funny and I don’t even know my sister that well yet. I’ve only hung out with her a few times. I don’t think it’s fair to talk about her in a show when I really don’t know her that much as a person. I mean, I think she’s great, but it’s like, don’t use that as a source for your show when it’s like so new.

I think even the ADHD stuff you talk about is pretty personal and pretty intense. It’s a whole new part of yourself that you seem to have embraced, like with the Perth group.

Yeah, yeah, it was so cool. I was like, okay, here’s what the show’s going to be, it’s going to be about how I’ve got ADHD. I only found that out like a year ago. All my material anyway is like ‘oh, I’m a bit of a fuck up’ and then I found that out and it just makes sense now. Then I was trying to put the show together and I was like oh god it might not be that much about ADHD, but I didn’t really want it to just be a show of just my best jokes with a vague premise. Then my first trial didn’t feel like it had any soul to it, it just wasn’t quite a thing. I talk a bunch in it about my childhood and stuff in it, and about this teacher who was a bitch and even my mum is like ‘yeah she was a bitch.’ Because I’m a woman, and a lot of women get diagnosed with ADHD at this age, it’s weird. I guess because we’re not the ones jumping out of trees and being distracting, we’re just not paying attention, not performing well in school without attention, we fall by the wayside a little bit. So I do feel lucky that I’ve gotten to this point, doing all this comedy and all this stuff. I’ve achieved a lot in my professional life and it does seem a bit lucky.

I think that’s one of the great things about social media, you can work in that field no matter what your personality’s like.

Yeah, apparently social media is a really good career for people with ADHD, because we don’t thrive on long projects that don’t have any feedback. We are really good at stuff that gets immediate results. I’ve been doing that kind of digital, social media, content writing for ten years and it’s good. Like, I got really into Twitter before I started doing comedy, and that’s the thing, I realised that the writing stuff I did, the best stuff I did, was when I was being funny.

Is there a particular piece of advice you could give people for social media?

Hmm. Just like, I don’t know. Well my thing is just throw it all out there. My funniest tweets I feel are from when I’m hungover on a Saturday afternoon and I just don’t give a fuck and I’m like, I don’t wanna move, this is what I want to do with my afternoon; just talk shit on Twitter, and just say really stupid stuff. I find that enjoyable. I know some people who just deliver on point tweets all the time, and they’ll put them out there and if they don’t get enough they’ll delete them. I don’t care.

I think that’s an extrovert thing though, throwing it all out there and being like ‘this is me, deal with it’.

Totally, yeah. I think doing comedy when you turn thirty, you’re a bit more confident in certain ways. I think people get weirded out by my general vibe of confidence, and they think I’m arrogant.

That’s unfortunate. That’s their fault.

A lot of comedians get paranoid about certain things. My paranoia is, and this time of year is the worst because everyone just gets real weird, I worry they all think I’m arrogant, they all think I think I’m too good. I’m like, no I think I’m a piece of shit like everybody else does.

You are neither too arrogant nor too self-hating.

I feel like I’m reasonably well adjusted in some ways.

So I changed the name of the show, because I do have ADHD and I decided to.

Rose Before Hoes is an awesome title too.

Yeah, I really like it. We were doing the photoshoot for comedy festival, and I wanted like ‘cool’ photos, because all my other photos are really twee like ‘I’m Zooey Deschanel, I’m wearing a floral dress and little glasses’ and so I was like ‘I wanna have cool photos, I wanna be a cool comic.’ Then I realised they didn’t match what the show title was, and then, well, I thought I came up with it but my friend had actually said it to me like three years ago in a pub. So I said to him ‘I came up with a funny name!’ and he was like ‘no, I told you that three years ago’. So I changed the name.

But in Perth, there’s like this ADHD support group in Perth and they all came, and the boss of it, this lady who’s an expert in adult ADHD, she’s a trainer, she’s done two theses on it, and now she’s my ADHD coach.

Oh wow! That’s so good. That kind of community is just awesome, it’s so nice, and you just stumbled upon it…

It’s so nice. And it’s so rewarding to have people come to my show, and then afterwards… I didn’t realise that this was happening, and I was doing the second show and these two girls came in ten minutes late and had their own bottle of white wine. So I was like ‘yeah sisters, you guys are my people!’ And I didn’t realise how much they were my people, because afterwards they were like ‘oh when did you get diagnosed?’ and I was like ‘oh, I did I not say that in the show? That’s a pivotal piece of information I forgot. Why, do you think you have it?’ and she said ‘no, no, I have it, and so does she. We’re the ones that came ten minutes late.’ So then I was like, oh, this is a thing, and every show I asked, ‘who’s got ADHD?’ and one or two people put their hands up. The last show, all these people from this support group came, and three of them came fifty-five minutes late. That’s amazing, I thought I was bad. I’m late to everything, I was late to this interview. Time management is hard. One of the guys was on crutches, bless his heart, but they were really lovely, and I hung out with them for a few hours after the show and we were talking about all our experiences. It was really moving. This other girl came up and she’s on the same medication as me, and she said ‘I’ve been taking it for three days, loved your show’ and the other girls said ‘it was like you were telling our story’. It was just so, it was really, I didn’t expect to feel that. I was just hugging them and stuff, it was just so cute. Getting a photo with the ADHD support group after the show was like the funniest thing in the world. Tim Clark, the comedian, took the photo and he was just standing there for ages, and everyone was like ‘maybe stand there, move there, blah blah blah’ and I was just standing in the middle pissing myself laughing saying ‘what is going on’. It was the hardest to orchestrate group shot ever.

That’s awesome though. I think it’s pretty empowering when you find yourself telling your story and then to have someone else come up and say ‘that’s my story too’.

It’s incredible, because the more I do the show, the more I learn about everything, I do feel sorry for myself as a kid, you know. I didn’t have it hard, but I got bullied heaps, and sometimes I’m like ‘is it just in my head, how much I got bullied’. One of my friends from high school recently was like ‘no no no, you got bullied a lot’, and always by boys. Because I was really good at reacting. If you have ADHD you react really impulsively and emotionally, instantly. So I would get annoyed, and I would be like ‘fuck you!’ I was real fun to pick on. I wasn’t like that neurotic little shy girl, just scurrying off, I was like ‘fuck off leave me alone!’ and I just remember teachers telling me I shouldn’t react so much. I’d just be like, they stole my ball and this and that, and they would say ‘don’t react Rose’, and they would blame me. Which is such a fucked thing to do. I feel like teachers have a big responsibility, but it’s hard, they don’t get paid enough, and it’s not that hard to become a teacher. I’ve got bachelor’s degree, I could do a one year dip ed and become a teacher.

Dip eds are two years now.

Well that’s something!

They literally changed it last year, and all my friends are real pissed, because we just graduated from undergrad and they’re complaining ‘I was gonna do a one year dip ed and now it’s two years!’

That’s good! Where was that for me? I had good teachers and stuff but…

It’s changing now a lot. Certainly when I was in primary school there was a bit more awareness, and I’m sure there’s a bit more awareness about it now.

It seems to be coming out a bit more about women, or maybe it’s just because I’m reading about it a bit more. You realise it’s all different, in the same way as like different personality types. I’m really into the Myers-Briggs personality test.

Oh really? What type are you?

I’m an ENFP.

What does that mean?

Extroverted – Surprise! Intuitive, Feeling and Perceiving. And whenever I’m online dating I’ll always ask ‘what’s your Myers-Briggs type?’ and then Google it and be like ‘no, you’re an INSJ, absolutely not’. There’s some types that you’re like, get the fuck away from me. But I like that personality test because it looks at you not in terms of flaws, but like, you’re more into this stuff and less into this. You’re more into ideas and you’re less into detail, or you’re a person who motivates other people, or you’re extroverted and you can carry a conversation, rather than being like, oh you’re late to everything and you don’t submit things on time. I was reading an interesting thing; the Melbourne Law Review did this study which is based on part of a thesis by my ADHD coach. It’s talking about the positives of having someone with ADHD in your work place. I have a lot of energy, I’m a real ideas person, and I’m really flexible with change. If somebody was like ‘yeah, the office is moving tomorrow’ I’d be like ‘yeah whatever, I was bored of this place anyway’. It’s interesting thinking of personality like that.

But at the same time when you work on social media all day and you’re like ‘oh, what’s going on here, what’s going on here, what’s going on here’ it’s hard to focus. That’s why it’s good having a coach. I need to get some systems, and we have apps in smart phones, and that kind of stuff is so helpful for reminding you of things. I just write everything down, and then sometimes you have too many different things. I’ve got my diary, I’ve got my work diary, I don’t wanna ask for a work phone because then I’ve got two phones! But diversity in the workplace in general in cognitive thinking or in any way is good. They say that ADHD is like a lack of attention, but one of these support group guys is like, ‘well, it’s not. We just have attention we want to give to so many different things’. We know that we only have a certain amount of attention for certain periods of time, so you’re gonna focus it on the stuff that’s important.

You divide your time wisely.


Once you’re aware you have ADHD. I imagine it’s a lot harder to do when you’re not aware of it.

I just felt like I was falling a little bit behind my friends. It’s fine when you’re like twenty five or something, but I’m thirty three now and I’ve got friends who are settling down, and I’m just like ‘why is my room so messy all the time’. I feel like a lot of other people have gotten past that stage. But I’ve combatted that. I’ve got a cleaner now.

That definitely makes it easier.

Probably my last question… tell me about the bar review thing you did for Channel 31. I watched that here just before the interview and I was laughing so hard and getting so many weird looks. It is so funny. What was it like filming that?

I had to fly somewhere for work the next day and I’d had such a busy day and I was like, and I got there late, and I had to go to all these places and get cocktails and every place. By the last one I was like ‘yep, we’re here at the place’. It was really fun. I love Channel 31. They’re so good, they just let you do really experimental stuff. Shane Dunlop is one of the producers there. There’s really cool dramadey called Under the Milky Way, and it’s coming out soon. We probably started writing for it like a year and a half ago or more. Me and Nick Capper wrote one of the episodes. It’s really cool seeing set photos from it, and comedian friends of mine say ‘oh I did the table reading and it was real funny’. Me and Nick Capper have the most opposite styles, like so different but we’re really good friends. And he’s quite open, he’s like ‘you’ve taught me about feminism’. In some situations we’d put a new character in and I’d say ‘can we just make that one a girl?’ and he’d say really, and I’d be like, yeah, typically that character might be a dude but let’s just change it and he’d agree. He’s not rigid.

I feel like you would bring him down to earth and he would take you out to space comedically.

He’d just come up with real whacky things. It was really hard to write it, because not last year but the year before we both had fringe shows, and we were really busy and he was going away and everything we submitted was late. It’s going to be a really fun show. That bar thing was fun too, it took me like a month to watch it, because I’d had all these cocktails when we were filming it and I thought ‘it’s going to be a trainwreck’.

It’s like the perfect self parody, where you’re like ‘welcome to Getaway’, that’s exactly what it was making fun of. And it’s five minutes, and it shows some cool places, and it’s not really a review.

It’s just fun because those guys have awesome volunteer producers and camera people and we’ll just go to the place, and we’ll give you a cocktail and some food. I just had to say where we were. Usually I’m better on camera if I’m talking to someone, but it was okay. And I wouldn’t have known that I was not totally shit at that if they hadn’t given me a go to do it. They’re just so good, Channel 31, for all that stuff.

Even if it doesn’t quite work out. So I wrote for Dilruk, and I don’t think anything I suggested made it onto television. Maybe some narrative stuff that we decided on, maybe that was mine, but most of the actual jokes they were like ‘woah that’s a bit far’.

It’s a great opportunity just to be able to throw that stuff out there.

Just because it doesn’t necessarily look good at the end. With the Best 5 in 5, I think they always look great.

Well you cut it down so much, it’s only 5 minutes.

But with something like Live On Bowen, it’s all over the place.

I have this sketch. Well it’s not really a sketch. I don’t know. Basically Rob Caurana got me to come in and break a piece of furniture over his head, but it did not break. It seemed like a bad idea but I came to the party, and it was fun. I’m going to do an About Tonight as well, which is awesome. That is the most amazing format. You just get a random comedian, and they just do whatever their thing is, they do that the way they like to do it. Tonight shows are so stagnant. It gets tied down in this thing of what a tonight show ‘should be’, it’s a very old school formula.

A still from Rose’s stint hosting About Tonight, featuring Jen Kirkman (left)

Especially in Australia where it feels like we’re just trying to rip off American tonight shows.

Exactly, and most American tonight shows are shit anyway, they’re not good. That is the thing in comedy that annoys me the most, it’s like ‘it’s so good’ and I’m like, name me more than two or three female tonight show hosts ever. That really annoys me. If you look at all the About Tonight’s, it would be fifty percent women. Everyone does an amazing job, and everyone does their own thing. I’m really excited. I’m going to have DJ!  I’ll figure out the rest later.  


Rose’s show is on until April 17th at 6pm as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets range between $15 – $22, and should be purchased online to guarantee you get one (they’re also available at the box office).

Her episode of About Tonight aired on March 30th, and is available to watch on youtube here.

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