A Quick Chat with Hannah Gissane


“My best moments in life – the times where I feel like I’ve succeeded – are when I’ve been able to communicate a message or made a connection with someone,” says Hannah Gissane.

She offers an example: recently she had to struggle through a class in Civil Procedure, before submitting to an interview for a job.

“I totally bombed the job interview, and don’t know a thing about civil procedure, but I said one funny thing in class that had everyone laughing at the same time and so it felt like a good day. I felt like I’d made a connection with people.”

If you aren’t familiar with Hannah, let me tell you: she’s not one to sit around and do nothing. Having finished the communications part of of her Communications/Law degree, she's currently completing the Law subjects. While she serves on the Lake Macquarie City Council as a Green Councillor. Despite being quite young.

How young?

When I marvel at the role of Councillor, she acknowledges it with the words, “Yeah, I know – pretty random, eh!”

That young.

Having always received the impression that Hannah’s a bit of a leftie – “Big time!” she confirms – I’m impressed she’s put her money where her mouth is – only in a figurative sense, of course (see below about for a Hannah/money/mouth story) and is serving the cause actively.

“If ever you need help getting to sleep at night, I’ve got a blog called From the Chamber. It’s a daggy local government blog,” she assures me. That’s how serious she is about it. Thankfully, she’s not totally serious in every aspect of her life. Hannah still has the time to do the odd comedy gig.

Hannah had attended a performing arts high school, enjoying drama in particular. When she got to university, she missed the stage – which is why she turned to stand-up. “One of my favourite things is telling stories to friends,” she says. “That’s why I had that thirst to continue to perform after school, to tell those stories that I thought were humorous.”

Of couse, serving on a city council eats into your performing career, so apart from the Newcastle Raw Comedy heats, Hannah’s not gotten up as much in the last couple of years as she used to. “I’ve mostly been doing fundraising gigs for lefty groups, women’s groups, queer organisations and that sort of thing,” she says. It was after a “really bad” relationship break-up late last year that Hannah realised she “needed a hobby” and started getting back up more regularly.

That doesn’t mean that Hannah’s material is ‘political’, or ‘has a message’. Not that she doesn’t appreciate that sort of comedy – just that, if she was doing it, she’d have nothing new to add; she’d be repeating what other people are doing. Besides, she says, “I like to think the personal is the political; a lot of it is about being a young, queer woman who is a leftie, and that just finds its way into the comedy naturally. But there’s no real edge.”

That doesn’t mean she’s turned her back on the lefty fundraisers. In fact, Hannah’s set up one called Homophobia is a Scream. It’s a night of stand-up comedy and drag.

“This is my way of keeping in touch with stand-up comedy. I’ve always liked doing community-based gigs. We’ve organised it three times before: it’s to raise money for Newcastle’s LGBTQI community group Rainbow Visions.”

Like most community groups, Rainbow Visions is strapped for cash. So Hannah put her head together with  buddy Luke (he happens to be the drag queen Donna Kebab while Hannah is drag king Hannibal Licter, in case you didn’t know) to put together a night that features their talented and funny mates.

“It wasn’t just about picking people who have indentified themselves as funny,” Hannah says. The word ‘funny’ takes me by surprise; I was expecting at least some, if not all, of the words represented by ‘LGBTQI’ to follow ‘identified themselves as’.

What it was about, Hannah continues, was she and Luke encouraging friends who belong to the community, “either queer or queer-friendly”, who they know are funny but who perhaps don’t believe themselves to be funny – to have a go. For example, Hannah has one mate who would have a lifetime of material if she just printed out all of her Facebook status updates of the last three years or so, and read them out on stage.

“She doesn’t see herself as a comedian,” Hannah says. “Not enough people have told her how funny she is.” Part of the deal is, this woman is “totally straight, but some of the stories she tells of sex with men, I think the gay men will love and identify with.”

So it’s ‘queer’ in that it’s a totally open forum to be funny about that most fundamental human activity, sex[ual ineptitude].

“It’s not opprssive, it’s not just straight, male comedians talk about how successful they are with women; it’s really dynamic and different views of sex and sexuality and gender. Everything’s open an ready to be laughed at and with.”

It’s nice that there can be such a comedy night where nothing is off-limits, where no taboos are forbidden.

I’m hoping Hannah can be as open, and that no taboos are off-limits – because I know Hannah’s got a phobia that I’ve had a bit of fun with before.

A couple of Melbourne Comedy Festivals ago, Hannah was crashing in my apartment and during the course of conversation, managed to divulge that she has a phobia of 5-cent coins. So I made the most of it. Does she still have the phobia? You betcha!

“My wallet is just chockas with small change at the moment,” Hannah admits, “but I hate having to grab handfuls of it and count so much of it and go through it all and use it for tender. So that phobia is alive and well.”

Small coins themselves, however, are not the key fear. The true fear, says Hannah, is “that they may somehow end up near my mouth and I remember very, very distinctly that you put one in your mouth…”

The memory’s not that distinct – Hannah’s suppressed some of it.

See, during festival time, I tend to build up  a hoard of pocket shrapnel that’s too inconvenient to spend on coffees. So I end up with a top drawer full of coinage. When Hannah divulged her phobia,  I ducked into my room and grabbed a not inconsiderable handful of 5-cent coins and stuck them in my mouth. Then I turned to Hannah and demaned, “Give yer Uncle Dom a kiss!” before sticking my tongue out and allowing an unfeasibly large amount of coins to fall to the ground.

“These are what nightmares are made of!” Hannah says. “This is exactly what I was dreading. I thought these were the things I just create in my mind to scare myself, but you made them all come true.”

Hannah’s got a more precise fear, however. A mouthful of coins is scary, but not so scary as “a jarful of coins in the corner of a dusty shower in a beach changing room.” That’s so precise as to suggest some professional exploration of forogotten childhood events may be in order…

Nothing so sinister. Rather, Hannah has a school memory of Ryan and Shannon, a couple who were going out. Ryan, as a romantic gesture, bought Shannon a packet of Burger Men – or rather, financed it, giving Shannon the dollar-coin. When Shannon returned with the Burger Men, she handed Ryan the 20-cent-coin change. Ryan said, ‘don’t be silly’ but didn’t give the coin back; rather, he slipped it in the bag.

“I always remember that – and remember thinking, ‘Yuck! How many people have touched that coin, and now it’s mixed in with her food. And she might eat that instead of a Burger Man…’ I think that’s where it started.”

The 5-cent coin is worse: “it’s more unassuming”, according to Hannah. And it’s the coin – or its pre-decimal equivalent – grandparents will reminisce was secreted in Christmas puddings back in the good ol’ days. “It scares me that someone could put a small, unassuming coin in a pudding and it might end up in your digestive system! And it was meant to be a good thing…”

I do recall a story of an old person sneezing out a florin that had been lodged somewhere in ’em since their youth. “Oh! God! Damn it!” Hannah says when I tell her. “This is exactly what I fear, and I knew it wasn’t an irrational fear…”

Well, considering nobody considers 5 cents a worthy treasure to secret within a Christmas pudding anymore, and there have been no other stories of people sneezing up long-forgotten currency, if it gets in the way of counting, banking and spending money, it’s a bit irrational.

So I guess, buy your tickets for Homophobia It’s  A Scream online. And if you must hand over any currency to Hannah, use the bigger denomination: avoid small coins at all costs!