DEAD DADS CLUB
Sarah Harpur jokes about suicide to disrupt the self-pitying mindset that we are encouraged to wallow in after the death of a loved one.
Capital Times (COVER STORY) – 21 April 2010- Dawn Tratt
SARAH Harpur’s dad committed suicide when she was 15.
She’s been fascinated with death ever since.
“[At school] I did my English project on the Bain murders,” she laughs, recalling how she re-enacted the murders with Barbie dolls with Bain family members’ faces stuck to their heads.
While studying at Film School, Harpur made a documentary on the Natural Burial Movement (an environmentally sustainable alternative to existing funeral practices).
“Death is the most inevitable and normal thing but people get uptight about it,” says Harpur, who features in First Laughs, which marks the launch of the NZ International Comedy Festival, this week.
The sneak preview will give the audience a taste of what to expect from her show Life. Death. Pets., which delves into the macabre topics of cat abortion, dog suicide, dead dads, and cannibalism.
“I’m not out to shock people but they are things that make me laugh, and that is what comes with being surrounded with all this death. It’s a coping mechanism.”
As well as dad, Harpur’s uncle and her mum’s uncle committed suicide, as did a number of men who lived close to their family farm in Dannevirke, where she grew up.
“Generally speaking I am more likely to die from suicide than cancer or heart disease but I like that because I can take control of that. You don’t have a choice with heart disease or cancer.”
Harpur’s new Facebook page “I Heart Dead Dads”, takes the Mickey out of people who feel uncomfortable talking about death, and aims to “provide therapy in the form of inappropriate comments – and relish in the stunned silence and awkward foot shuffling of those with fathers”.
The club encourages members to draw a picture of their dad in the state of decomposition they speculate he is in now.
“For example, my dad died 12 years ago, so I have depicted him as a mere skeleton with a few tufts of hair.”
An ironic theme song is also suggested, to honour the dead dad.
“My cousin’s dad died of a heart attack, so she chose My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion. My dad died of a suicide attempt that was very successful. His theme song is I Wanna Live by Good Charlotte.”
The Facebook idea stemmed from awkward conversations about her dad with strangers. She started feeling like a “buzz-kill” when people asked: “What do your parents do for a living?”
She says, often when she tried to steer the conversation away from her dad’s death, it would come up regardless.
“So after years of apologising and feeling bad, I found the best way to tackle these situations is with the spirit of the Dead Dads Club. The new scenario goes as follows: “What do your parents do?”
Answer: “Mum’s a cop, Dad committed suicide 12 years ago, but its OK, one of those things that was shit at the time, but funny in hindsight.”
“The beauty of the philosophy [is] simple, brutal, non-victimised honesty,” she says. “The goal of the Dead Dads Club is to disrupt the self-indulgent, self-pitying mindset that we are encouraged to wallow in after the death of a loved one.”
Harpur’s black sense of humour doesn’t stop with the subject of her father. Reading her blog (harpursbizarre.com) you’ll see she takes the piss out of just about anything, even her sister.
Sister Victoria, aka “The Shit Kid”, was a great support for Harpur when their father died. Harpur mocks Victoria for her “face-aids”, being painfully white, being lactose intolerant, and writing cliché-filled poetry about their dead father.
“Her poems sounded erotic. Like ‘I long to feel your touch’. It sounds like they were having a relationship. It was awful and hilarious,” laughs Harpur, who insists that mocking one another is a very Kiwi thing to do.
“That’s how we show each other we love one another. She gives me shit for being a pregnant teen.”
Harpur sat bursary six months pregnant, and passed. She also went to the school ball with “a gut full of arms and legs”.
Fortunately Seth, her nine year old son, doesn’t need to join the Dead Dads Club because he sees his dad often.
He is also very involved in Harpur’s comedy. He knows all of her show songs, which she will be performing next week, and enjoys singing along to the Dead Dads Club tunes.
First Laughs: 2010 NZ International Comedy Festival, Opera House, 7.30pm, April 25.
Life. Death. Pets. Fringe Bar, 7pm, April 27-May 1.
Capital Times (Cover Story) 17/02/2010
SARAH Harpur and Jim Stanton recommend wrapping your child’s head in gladwrap.
“I find it locks in essential moisture and keeps those nasty flies at bay. It is frowned upon in today’s society to have flyblown children with crow’s feet and liver spots,” says Harpur.
Don’t send in the lynch squad yet, however. Harpur and Stanton are The Comediettes, a female comedy duo with a sometimes ‘bizarre’ sense of humour.
Their latest act that features at the Fringe Festival, Better Living! provides a humorous stab at the tragic phenomena of home help infomercials.
“Traditional home-hints and good housekeeping are a great genre to subvert, as dangerous levels of cleanliness and forced smiles are tragi-comedy to begin with,” says Stanton.
Better Living! includes live ballads, hot tea, and handy hints including, “for the ultimate gingerbread man, try cooking a ginger man”.
It may also include inspiration from the things the ladies say they do to make their living better.
“I like to compete with my son. He’s only eight, so I can beat him at most things, and it makes me feel good about myself,” admits Harpur.
Stanton, on the other hand, constantly carries a tea bag in her wallet.
“I don’t want to meet a nice young man and take him home and then not have a decent cuppa on hand – how embarrassing,” she laughs. “If the kettle’s not on – it’s not on. Better Living!”
The duo agrees there has been a “boys club” attitude to comedy in the past, but say the scene is fast-changing.
“Female comics are regarded as being at the top of their game at the moment – UK’s Janey Godley, US’s Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, Australia’s Hannah Gadsby…Oh, and I heard something about the Comediettes,” laughs Stanton.
Harpur says the pair fit right in anyway.
“I think it’s because I love eating steak and other forms of animal. Although, Jim is a vegetarian, but she has a boy’s name and does karate.”
Stanton says while smart and funny women are abound in the world, it takes a smart, funny and brave woman to become a comedienne. Neither of The Comediettes has a problem with dignity.
“I always had something to say, but as a quiet teenager I was a great observer rather than unleashing my thoughts. [That] resulted in some pretty overwrought folk songs,” laughs Stanton. “It turns out learning four chords came in handy for my Comediette uke playing – perhaps one day Paddocks Can’t Soak Up My Tears will be released on EP.”
The Comediettes’ Better Living! Fringe Bar, 17-20 February.