There is an image of me, peaking out from a red gum tree in a forest in Warburton.

The image was taken Suzzanne Phoenix in 2016, the year I began to take writing seriously and by that I mean I started working with a writing mentor, I won a prize in a short story competition and Deb Rechter (co-founder and editor) invited me to write a piece for JWOW.

The piece I wrote was called J is for Jigsaw and there on the JWOW page is me peaking round that red gum tree;  a fitting image, I look out warily, unsure as to whether I have the confidence to reveal my whole self.

When I posted the JWOW piece on my facebook page, the response was startling; what I’d written made people think and cry.

In 2016 I’d been writing comedy for about eight years; tailored material for clients, a few one-woman comedy shows and many segues, but it didn’t feel like serious writing. How could it be? It was just jokes after all.

I was highly anxious about ‘coming out as a writer.’ I’d been missing in action during all of those seminal high school English classes. I was undoubtably dishing out lashings of levity during the dissertation on the difference between a colon and a semi colon and most probably serving up something side splittingly hilarious in the class where the advice about I before E except after C was taught.

At high school I was always happier to play the clown, rather than learn.

But and this is a big but, I can spin a story. I can zoom in on a detail, store it away usually in one of my many notebooks and I can make people laugh and apparently make people reflect and feel something too, as evidenced by that short piece I wrote back in 2016 for JWOW.

So, let’s fast forward, shall we?

Let’s fast forward to March 2022.

Let’s imagine that I get a publishing deal with a reworked thesis from a Masters by Research in creative writing from La Trobe University.

Let’s imagine that the publishing deal is a book about comedy, but more than that, it is a book about humour as a power construct within the wider gender-based violence lens.

Let’s imagine the book blends research, short stories, comedy fun facts and guides the reader through the quagmire of invective that has been directed at funny women for a millennium.

Let’s imagine that I get to do author talks, appear in writers’ festivals and that I am interviewed on podcasts about my writing.

Back in 2016 this all seemed unimaginable, because I was certain back then that I couldn’t write and I was deeply ashamed of having paid so little attention during most of my high school English classes.

Writing I was to discover, is not like doing comedy.  Doing stand-up comedy, it’s just you ,the mic and the desire to make people laugh, keeping your wits about you, as it were and learning by failing a lot. Writing, I was to learn, is another beast all together.

Testimony to how different I have found writing compared to comedy is at the back of the book I’ve written. In the acknowledgments page, there is a list of over forty names, gathered through tears of anxiety and frustration in my supervisor’s office at university when I was absolutely sure that I would never actually be able do the thesis. Within the list of names there are editors who I have worked with over the years, who have applied skills that I don’t possess to polish my up my work and make it shine. There are numerous friends who have read works in various stages and cheered me on. There are other writers whose work I admire greatly and who have given me their time, insight, and encouragement. There is Deb Rechter’s name there too, as a thank you to JWOW  for giving me the platform to write a little something as I peered cautiously from behind the red gum.

And of course, there is the publishers name Nick Walker from Australian Scholarly Publishing. Nick smiled kindly at me as I cried slow tears of pride when I first held the book in my hands.

We like our authors to get emotional about their books, he’d said.

And I am.

Very emotional, a mixture of awe and pride and wonder that something I have written will travel out in the world.

There is no immediate laughter ringing out from the audience, instead something else, something a little more profound.

A book called The Mistress of Mirth’s COMEDY Tour, my words adding to the canon of knowledge on humour.

The story was perhaps always there.

The ability to write just shrouded in doubt.

And that list of acknowledgments reflects that I don’t have all the skills to get a book to publication standards and that is totally and utterly fine.

WOW JWOW look at me NOW and all of those people who encouraged me to stop peering and get writing!


Mistress of Mirth’s Comedy Tour is Published by Australian Scholarly Publishing.

Article by Author/s
Justine Sless
Justine Sless is a comedian, author and Kvetcher in the Wry. She has toured her comedy nationally and internationally, written numerous one woman shows and tailored material for a vast range of clients. Justine has a Masters by research in creative writing from La Trobe University - her thesis has been adapted into a book by Australian Scholarly Publishing and is called : Mistress of Mirth's COMEDY Tour.(Published in March 2022) Justine was the former creative director of Melbourne Jewish Comedy Festival, is on the board of Writers Victoria and is the Australian Producer of Funny Women a global platform that supports women in comedy. Justine lives in Melbourne with her two daughters and a very annoying cat.

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