Nicole Henriksen: ‘My show is some people’s first knowing encounter with a sex worker’
Nicole Henriksen is an Australian performer and writer of alternative solo comedy. She is debuting her first theatre work Makin’ It Rain, which is inspired by her ‘day job’ as a stripper, at the Brighton Fringe this year, alongside her new comedy piece Techno Glitter Penguins. She tells Giverny Masso how her perspective as a queer performer and sex worker has influenced her work…
What inspires your work?
I was initially inspired by the Mighty Boosh, and then by the idea that there was a gap in comedy. There were not enough people talking about gender, sexuality and race in a way that is reclaiming the narrative. I want to talk about what it’s like to pick up another woman, about people asking me where I’m from. When I was looking to discuss my job as a stripper, I knew I couldn’t do a comedy, so I decided to create a theatre piece.
Why was it important to create a show about being a sex worker?
I started stripping because, as a performer, you don’t have many options to make a living. I thought: “I can do sex work or I can become a drug dealer.” I’m still doing sex work now, but I’m in the privileged position of being able to choose to do it. For some, my show will be their first knowing encounter with a sex worker, and this makes me feel a duty of care to give them the most comprehensive perspective I can without saying it’s the be-all and end-all. I ask questions like: “What is it like to identify as a feminist but do sex work?”, “Are you fucked up because of it?”
How do you create your work?
I just write my shows, I never do previews and I rehearse alone. With Makin’ It Rain, I scrambled together as much as I could and then invited friends, artists and strippers to watch and stumbled through what I had, before discussing the themes with everyone there. There is a lot to be said for working solo. I only have myself to answer to, but on the other hand there is no one to get food with after a show.
In what way does your comedy differ from mainstream comedy?
People in mainstream comedy are worried about being different because of the formula they rely on, which is this idea of setting up a punchline. My comedy has a punk-rock anger element to it. Queerness has often been seen as a punchline, and there has been a lot of transphobic humour, but now queer performers are saying: “We don’t have to pander to these mainstream audiences, we are going to make stuff for us that is true.” I don’t pick on people in my shows, I don’t create comedy by punching down. I think there is a lack of diversity in comedy, we need to talk about queer women and people of colour. Techno Glitter Penguins is an unapologetic antidote to the monotony of the white, straight and male comedy mainstream.
What is next for you?
I would love to perform Makin’ It Rain in the West End, or in a proper theatre. It was nominated for a Sexual Freedom award, which recognises writers creating important, unique work about sex workers, and being nominated gave me a confidence boost. I’ve actually written another theatre show called Robot in a Human Skin, which looks at anxiety and mental health.
CV: Nicole Henriksen
First professional role: Technicolour Sarcasm (With Nazis), Sydney Fringe (2012)
Techno Glitter Penguins is at the Brighton Fringe on May 6 and 12. Makin’ It Rain is at the Brighton Fringe on May 7 and 13. Details: nicolehenriksen.com