Getting decidedly shitty about rules

Rhonda Dredge

Fans had been waiting 18 months to use their tickets for the launch of a book about etiquette and the suspense was building at the Malthouse in early December.

They came all the way from Kensington and arrived keener than ever to see comedian Kitty Flanagan talk about her second-latest book.

Many had already read 488 Rules for Life and begun experimenting with them at home to mixed results.

The Malthouse Theatre has been creative in dealing with the pandemic this year by staging just one immersive in-house production and everyone was … well… ready for a change.

Kitty arrived in casual day wear and sat in a comfy chair. Glenn Robbins sat in another beside her and appeared to be acting as himself.

“I get shitty about everything,” Kitty admitted to Glenn, as they began their In Conversation and there was a rumble of agreement in the audience, particularly when Glenn began going through her list of rules one at a time.

There’s a Melbourne tradition of female comics releasing books on modern manners, witness Kylie Mole’s diary, Kaz Cooke’s Real Gorgeous and now Kitty Flanagan’s 488 Rules for Life.

For some it couldn’t have come at a better time, just when COVID rules are loosening and they’re casting around for some other source of direction but for the more critical?

Flanagan is well-known as the writer and star of the ABC series Fisk, in which she plays a down-on-her-luck lawyer in a dowdy brown suit and that certainly gives her cred as a commentator. And she has exceptionally good cause. The book is a response to the outrageously assertive Twelve Rules for Life by the evolutionary psychologist Jordan Pederson, beloved by the alt right.

“I said I was releasing a book 488 Rules for Life,” she admitted to the audience, as a bit of a boast to topple the guru. “It was a joke,” she said, “but people started going into bookshops asking for it.”

Rather than disappoint her fans, Kitty got to work and began criticising many of the things we take for granted such as the freedom to use toilet rolls in our own particular way. Toilet humour features heavily in the rules and could be seen as a refreshing departure to the deadly serious conversations that often accompany book tours.

It’s true that an interviewer rarely gets up and does a reverse moon walk to show how his fictional character Kel achieved such a strange lope. For most of the time, however, neither of this pair of comic actors was in character nor were they trying to be themselves. At one stage Glenn complained that he didn’t have any gags.

The material was decidedly hackneyed with Kitty making droll comments about topics as inane as behaviour in theatres (support the lone shusher) and birthday parties (Rule 233: one prize only in Pass the Parcel).

“It [the game] was a source of tension and suspense,” she explained. “The parcel goes around and around. Could it be me? Now there’s a prize in every layer. It’s not a game anymore. It’s just a group unwrapping.”

Kitty said it was okay to have an occasional fantail in the parcel but if you moved onto musical chairs you had to actually take a chair away.

The publishers have already released another book post-lockdown. More Rules for Life. How many more can we stand before getting decidedly shitty?

Kitty Flanagan and Glenn Robbins in Conversation, Malthouse Theatre, until December 20 •

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