Behind the Scenes: The Fence-Painting Fortnight of Destiny

If you watch a bit of TV, you’ll know that each station has its own stable… old faithful journalists, presenters and comedians who get wheeled out whenever the execs have a new idea. For Channel Ten, for many years it was Rove McManus. His old mate Peter Helliar still gets an airing here and there. Andy G aka Andrew Gunsberg aka Osher Gunsberg is a favourite and James Mathison is about to get another stint, this time on morning TV.

One familiar face that’s been a little more sporadic in her appearances is the very witty Meshel Laurie. She’s popped up in spots for years now – on Rove Live, The Circle, Can of Worms – but it’s not been until this year that she’s been given her own regular seat at the desk. Funny, sometimes cutting but always clever, Meshel has sat on the panel of Ten’s new This Week Live. Although it’s finished up for this season, I hope they’ll consider another run, it was pretty good, thanks in no small part of Meshel.

meshel laurie

Now, you might be wondering why on earth I’m going on about TV shows. Well, it’s because I’ve recently read Meshel’s memoir The Fence-Painting Fortnight of Destiny and in short, a lot of Meshel’s recollections focus on, and in some ways go to explain the fickle nature of Australia entertainment – TV, radio and the comedy scene…

‘As I look back over my life, I see great lessons learnt from revered spiritual teachers, but also from friends, strangers and even the odd junkie prostitute. I remember moments of enlightenment that arrived with a bang, and moments born of the self-reflection only true boredom can provide. I made a few decisions while painting a fence once. Those decisions turned out to be very noisy indeed.’

Comedian and radio and TV personality Meshel Laurie was once Michelle Laurie, whose story begins in Queensland. Michelle survived her Catholic schooldays but by Year Nine had morphed into Meshel, who daydreamed of moving to Melbourne – home of Dogs in Space and the back room of the Espy.

Meshel’s insider’s perspective on the 1990s comedy scene is intimate and more than a little surprising. She paints a picture of a close-knit environment and tells before-they-were-famous stories about up-and-comers who are today’s household names, and about the kindness of comic superstars she encountered along the way: Dave Hughes, Julia Morris, Rove, Wil Anderson, Wendy Harmer and others. We find out about the workings of an inner-city brothel, what it’s like to be ‘the girl on Rove’ and how fence-painting can help save a life.

We love our comedy, stand-up is admired and supported, you just have to watch how the city comes alive around the country’s Comedy Festivals. Still, audiences are transient, our attention fleeting. Popularity can fade, as can an entertainer’s favour with agents and promoters if they don’t play their cards just right…

I must have been an arsehole during that season of ‘Diary Belles’. I don’t remember being one, and I just couldn’t bear to ask anyone directly, but I must’ve been to have been passed over like that. It was an incredibly painful lesson in what happens when I count my chickens before they’ve hatched. I wish I could say I learnt my lesson, but I’ve had to learn it so many painful times since then that it’s just embarrassing. 

Like any good memoir, The Fence-Painting Fortnight of Destiny drops plenty of names (it’s a veritable who’s who of Australian comedy) and shares plenty of behind-the-scenes insights into the Australian entertainment industry. Meshel is brutally honest, mostly about herself and sometimes about others. As we know, those who laugh loudest on our TVs tend to struggle the most with demons off-screen and true to form, Meshel is absolutely no exception…

I was in that kind of depression that makes you feel like you’re in the bottom of a very dark hole. It’s so dark down there that you can’t see anything to cling onto, or any foothold to pull yourself out, and every thing you grab for crumbles in your hands. Eventually your energy flags from the struggle and you start to consider just sitting down, closing your eyes and waiting to die. I tried everything that had worked for me in the past. I exercised and ate well, I listened to relaxation tapes and got plenty of rest. I tried to find some hobbies, learn a language. I wrote and performed a comedy festival show, and I even started taking drugs again, although this time around they were antidepressants prescribed by my doctor. Nothing made a difference. I was really sinking this time, and I didn’t know what else to try and pull myself back up.

I googled ‘Buddhism Brisbane’.

The prose in most memoirs can be a little clunky, it’s difficult to get the pacing of  remembered story exactly right, but overall Meshel has done a pretty good job. It’s nicely readable, inherently hopeful and easily relatable (largely due to the familiar names and places). It was really interesting to find out a little bit more about what makes this funny lady tick.

If you’re a fan, you’ll love this book. If not, it’ll still hold your attention as a cracking tale of a rise, a fall, and a rise again, against the backdrop of Australian TV and radio.

If you’d like to find out more about The Fence-Painting Fortnight of Destiny visit here, and you might also like to visit Meshel’s blog here.