If you have watched TV, listened to the radio or picked up a magazine in Australia in the past 12 years, chances are you have stumbled over Em Rusciano.
We chat to her about motherhood, her new book Try Hard and what got her to the beautiful place she’s at now.
Describe what you do? I am a stand up comic, a writer, a singer, a radio broadcaster and a tv presenter…But really I just like to call myself a creative. I do always try to make stuff that I think makes the world a better place for my girls. I was asked the other day who I write for and I realised, subconsciously, it’s for my two daughters.
My work is important to me because it puts a roof over my children’s head, it also kind of defines me and who I am. I’m lucky enough that I’m the product of my creativity, the downside is there’s no off switch.
Looking back I realise I lived quite a bohemian lifestyle growing up but it seemed normal to me.
I’m from an Italian background so it’s infused in my juices to be a little bit over the top. I’m really influenced by people like Judy Garland, Carol Burnett, Joan Rivers, Tina Fey, Madonna; anyone big and passionate and unashamedly themselves! All the really kick ass strong women that I guess changed my idea of things growing up.
I was called a try hard in high school, the worst thing you could ever be called in Australia and I’m trying to reclaim that, there’s nothing wrong with making an effort. My book Try Hard is just stories from my childhood up until now. I have had a pretty ridiculous time.
I’m like a jack russell in a leotard, nothing stops me.
I grew up in a place called Diamond Creek in the north east of Melbourne and we had a dead cow as my school emblem. It’s a special place. There was only three Italian families and we were one of them.
What does a typical day look like for you? I would love a typical day, I always say that I would love a routine. When I’m on holidays, like if I’m having a week off, I get up, I do breakfast, I get the girls ready for school. I’m usually either writing or rehearsing, dedicating a lot of time to finishing my book. I recorded a single or just stoking the fire of whatever project I have up in the air. A good day depends on keeping all those things alight and the family rolling as well – of course.
I make sure to tell my girls every day to back themselves, it’s the last thing I say as they get out of the car. Back yourselves!
What’s been your biggest career obstacle? Myself, by far. That and the general misogynistic undertones of the Australian music industry…obviously. Up until really recently I would often get in my own way, being stubborn, reacting emotionally to situations, being way too hard on myself and never stopping to enjoy success. I just brushed it aside and powered through so in the end I felt exhausted with nothing to show for it.
I’m much better now, finally at 37 I have figured it out. Writing the book weirdly enough made that happen. I was a world junior athlete, I got to go to the Olympics qualifiers (100m hurdles FYI) I have done all these cool things and I had to sit down and collate them. Then I realised it was fairly good.
After I finished writing I had to step away from my computer for a month and go into counselling. I talked to Judith Lucy and Jimmy Barnes and they both said the same thing. To write you have to go back and relive experiences and not all of them were pleasant.
I saw all of these missed opportunities that I could have been happy with myself rather than comparing myself with other people.
The book seems to be really resonating – I wasn’t sure how it would go but I have made something that being perceived exactly how I wanted it to be and that’s a real privilege as a creative. I’m launching it like I would an album – taking it on the road and singing the songs I wish I could have inserted in the pages.
What aspirations do you have for the future and what would be your dream project? A really camp variety show; a band, me on the couch and there’s a bar. Adjacent to that I would really like to start my own charity to benefit women’s health. I just want to empower women. What’s the point of it all if we can’t leave the place better than we found it?
The Try Hard Tour
Thursday 8 December at QPAC Concert Hall, Brisbane
Friday 9 December at Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Saturday 10 December at The Barton Theatre, Adelaide
Tuesday 13 & Wednesday 14 December at Theatre Royal, Hobart
Thursday 15 December at Palais Theatre, Melbourne
Friday 16 December at Wests City, Newcastle
Friday 10 & Saturday 11 February at Astor Theatre, Perth
Saturday 18 February at Townsville Entertainment Centre, Townsville
Tickets and details at frontiercomedy.com/emrusciano
Words Barbara O’Reilly / Images of Em & her daughter Odette at home by Kelly Jordan