Laughing at adversity

Diana Nguyen during her TED talk. Picture: NALISHAKU

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

2020 was set to be a big year for Springvale-born actor and comedian Diana Nguyen.

She’d invested heavily in two shows at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, but also a host venue.

Then came the coronavirus pandemic. The world-renowned festival was scrapped, and indeed all live performance.

“That was when I realised this wasn’t just a virus or the flu.

“For an event like the comedy festival to be cancelled – the home of so many artists for a month and which attracts so much tourism. They wouldn’t do it without good reason.”

Ms Nguyen lost time and money but also the chance to market her “portfolio” to new live audiences.

It was a moment of “what do we do now?”

The lockdown has flattened artists, with many excluded from the Federal Government’s $1500-a-fortnight JobKeeper program.

“Speaking to other artists, it’s been a shock to the system.

“When you don’t get to show your work you feel an immense stab to the gut. We’ve all had to process it in our own way.”

But a trailblazing Ms Nguyen went into “high creative mode”.

She turned to her online fans from all over the world for help – including more than 30,000 followers on LinkedIn, the “weirdest platform for an artist”.

She sang a four-hour ‘Karaokethon’, raising more than $4500 to support her in coming weeks.

She also promoted her recent TED talk about how the arts saved her life, her comedy web series Phi and Me, her viral dancing on TikTok that gained 600,000 views and a Patreon donation site.

Then followed a trough of mourning in which she “shut myself from the world” and “didn’t want to get out of bed”.

Since mid-April – when the comedy festival would have ended – Ms Nguyen has emerged rejuvenated.

A recent god-send has been the State Government’s $16.8 million Covid-19 rescue package for artists and creative organisations, including grants of up to $5000 for individuals.

“Victorians know how the arts drive the economy,” Ms Nguyen said.

“When people go out to a show, they go out for dinner. They leave their houses to be entertained.”

In the meantime, artists are performing online or exploring new crafts – finding different ways to stay creative.

Ms Nguyen laughs heartily as she tells of whiling away hours filling a colouring-in book. It’s meditative, she says.

“It’s good not to think about anything else.”

She looked back on her TED talk in February. More than ever, her premise of finding different kinds of joy in everyday living rings true now.

“That’s one of the ‘joys’ of Covid-19 – you don’t need much to have a fulfilled life.

“I remind myself that being a comedian and an actor is a job but as a human being, I live for joy.

“I don’t know what else I’ll do to make me happy.”

The next project is a podcast of fun – The SnortCast in which Ms Nguyen interviews people from around the world who “make me snort”.

And how best can we help artists at the moment?

“Share our work – that’s how we’re seen.”

For more on Ms Nguyen’s work, go to www.diananguyen.com.au/patreon

 

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