With an ever-growing list of gay comedians around the country, Mel Buttle is not one who immediately springs to mind. She’s kept her six year relationship with partner Sophie separate from her public life, allowing her to build the solid foundations of a career based on her own professional merits. Michael James sat down with comedian, ABC contributor and co-host of The Great Australian Bake Off, Mel Buttle, to understand a little bit more about why she came out and what her new show “Dog Bitch” is all about.
“I was on tour opening for Josh Thomas in Perth. I wasn’t fully out yet but we would always go to an after party at a gay club. I remember we were in this club in Perth and I met this girl Shakira and I was like ‘I really wanna kiss girls’ and she goes ‘yeah me too, I don’t know what I am, if I’m gay or bi. You wanna kiss?’
“Once I’d kissed her the whole world opened up, with fireworks in my head and then everything made sense and I thought ‘Right, I gotta kiss some girls.’” Following that experience, she met Sophie.
It’s a story many us are familiar with. Girl meets girl, girls fall in love. But what happens when you earn your living in public life?
“I wanted to be known first for what I do. I didn’t want to be pigeon holed as just a gay comedian. I saw that a lot of people who came out got put on ‘the list’ of gay comedians and they were just stuck on that list. I wanted to be sure that I could do that, but still be able to do other things,” she says.
It was fitting for Mel, given that her coming out journey was very slow. Sophie remains the only woman she’s ever been with, and one of only three women she’s ever kissed.
Fast forward several years later and Mel was ready to make her sexuality, something she still struggles to put a label on, part of the public record. So how did she tackle coming out? Like all of her work. Publicly.
“I got booked to do a TEDX talk in Brisbane and I didn’t tell the people at TEDX what I was going to talk about. I think they just thought I was going to come and do some comedy for them. But I had written this basic coming out speech and I did it and it was terrifying.
“I was very nervous. It was the most nervous I’ve ever been about anything. I was just shaking. My hands were shaking. My voice was quivering. I just knew I had to say these words out loud and then like a valve would be released or something and this feeling of ‘Yes, that’s better.’”
“Now in my stand up, I talk about Sophie, I’ve got jokes about her and I talk about our dogs and our life together. I had this huge fear that something would happen or I would mention Sophie on stage and people would just walk out of the room.
“But that’s not what happened at all, people have been really lovely, it’s been great.”
But the recent marriage equality postal survey left the pair in a state of limbo about how to plan a wedding when they didn’t even know if it would become legal. The public debate took its toll.
“We were both really kind of depressed and angry. Every day when the debate was going on you’d open up Facebook and see something horrendous or horrible. There was a lot of bad anger and I was so upset by it.
“You don’t know who they [no voters] are. They could be someone in the audience. I took the weak approach and didn’t talk about marriage equality very much at all during my shows.”
But with the vote passing, things are looking up for the pair as they begin to make plans for their upcoming wedding. In the spirit of both parties needing a ring each, they ended up taking turns proposing.
“She proposed first. We were just at home and her brother was coming over for dinner and I was sick but I was still trying to prepare dinner. I asked if this would be enough Garlic Bread for us all and she looked at me with this look on her face like she was going to cry and she just turned around and proposed.
“While that was happening there was a song playing in the background by a band called Future Islands. About six months later Future Islands came to Brisbane and were playing at the Triffid, while that song was playing live I pulled a ring out of my handbag and said, will you marry me?”
With wedding plans underway normal life continues as Mel juggles her media commitments. While she spends chunks of time away for filming or touring her shows, she often finds herself back home for extended periods. Prying herself away from Dr Phil marathons on the couch, Mel has embraced her love of dogs by becoming a professional dog walker, the inspiration for her latest show.
Having previously paid other people to walk her dog it’s become a hobby and side business that provides plenty of comedy fodder. Her latest show “Dog Bitch” is designed for anyone.
“You don’t have to have a dog to get the comedy. But it’s more about the politics of the dog park,” she said.
With a quiet XXXX Gold in hand she loves to watch the Lorna Jane mums in action as they parade themselves through the dog park. Her clients remain blissfully unaware of her dog walking double life.
“Most people don’t know it’s me. They just think it’s that woman from Gumtree who said she’d walk my dogs for $20.”
You can catch Mel and the tales of her life as a dog walker in “Dog Bitch” at the Brisbane Powerhouse, part of the Brisbane Comedy Festival. For tickets visit the festival’s website.