“All I know for sure is that there will be an octopus.” | Siân Docksey talks stripping, mental health and climate change in Meatshapes With Feelings

Tell us about the show you’re bringing to the Vault Festival, Meatshapes With Feelings.

It’s about what working as a stripper taught me about men’s mental health. Specifically, it’s about a period where I was working for a suicide prevention charity during the day and in a strip club on weekends, i.e. doing extracurricular practical training in men’s mental health.

And then it’s also about eco-dread and how anyone’s coping with anything while we’re in climate breakdown. And a little bit about being a (recovering) pisshead, which has helped me be nicer to men. It’s a new show so at this point all I know for sure is that there will be an octopus. 

Which feelings do you think it’s particularly important to discuss in your show?

No one’s ever asked me this question! I don’t know for sure yet. It will definitely touch on my complicated feelings about stripping, the confusion and shame around it, further complicated and muddied by alcohol chaos, and the sheer unrelenting boredom and despair, and then the eroticism and body confidence and the deliciousness of extracting money from terrible men. And how it made me super gay. But that might not even go in.

What I would like to reply is: it’s about hope, or what to do when you don’t have it, because hope is an action, not a mood. Empathy is not a feeling but maybe it’s about that too – alcoholism made me realise I’m no better than some bloke in a strip club medicating hopelessness with short bursts of clumsy, easily consumable hits of sexual stimulation.

The truth is that because it’s a new show, right now I’m writing jokes, figuring out bits and working out if/how they all hang together. There will definitely be bits about suicidal depression but also maybe bits about being turned on by giraffes. And hopefully some kind of narrative conclusion but also maybe not. 

Your show addresses humanity’s apathy towards its own destruction. Where do you think our species’ general disdain for its own welfare comes from?

Denial. If you fully contemplate the level of climate crisis we’re in, and the lack of large-scale political action to address it, you’d just crawl into a corner of a Recyclabag and post yourself to the bottom of the sea. But let’s be honest, I’m talking about the disdain that rich white Westerners have, because we’re not exposed to the worst of it.

And then there’s just a lack of interest – mostly people are just preoccupied with our little ant lives and fucking and shopping and paying rent and bills and making more of ourselves. We’ve all got plenty to worry about so, if it’s not top of your daily To Do list to reverse decades of cumulative ecocide that would require international cooperation in a world increasingly steered by narcissistic white supremacists, I don’t blame you.

What is your trick to balancing light-hearted humour with dark existentialism?

They’re the same thing.

What inspired your weird and surreal comedic style?

I watched a lot of sketch comedy in my teens and got hooked on all the predictable ones – Smack the Pony, The Mighty Boosh, and I love, love, loved Vic and Bob. I wish I’d discovered people like Julia Davis, Maria Bamford and Amy Sedaris earlier.

Sorry to be a wanker but I also really love surrealist art and DADA – my hometown is Brussels in Belgium and originally I wanted to do a Foundation art course and be a cartoonist. I’d go to galleries all the time and then sit outside in a café smoking and writing Deepe Thawtes because I thought I’d grow up to be a 1920’s French existentialist (I warned you: wanker). I’ve also spent years writing sketches with funny genius Zoë Tomalin, whose comedy is weird and surreal par éxcellence, and is also the most lovable nihilist cunt. 

What do you hope people take away from your show?

Last November me and my sister went to see Dylan Moran’s show Dr Cosmos – he’s one of my all-time comedy heroes, and I’d never seen him before. I was very depressed at the time and I can’t remember a single thing about the show, but it cheered me right up. That’s the first thing, that’s why comedy shows exist.

The second thing is I have a zine that comes with the show so if people would like to buy and keep a copy from my online store, that would be great.

Are there any other shows you’re looking forward to at the Vault Festival?

I can’t wait for Maddie Campion’s show Mad Money. Maddie’s such a talented all-rounder, she does stand-up that’s bonkers and high-concept in a way that’s always relatable and warm, I’m so excited to see her let rip with this one. I’m also stoked for the newest version of Chloe Petts’ work-in-progress show Alpha which gets funnier and more poignant every time. And Isa Bonachera should be on everyone’s Ones to Watch list, she is terrifyingly good.  

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to break into comedy?

Start! If you’re a woman or you’re non-binary then whatever you’re doing, remember that you don’t need permission. Your point of view and lived experience are valid and important, if that’s what you talk about, and the nonsense you make up and brilliant things you create are also necessary and important.

Find gigs, write, perform, whatever – just do it, find your medium, develop your craft through constantly working at it, and keep going. In comedy you need the combination of absolute confidence of knowing that if you think something’s funny, it’s funny, and the absolute humility of accepting that ultimately, it’s the audience that will determine what’s good or not, regardless of your intentions.

Okay, I didn’t think I had advice but now I’ve started, another thing that took me a long time to learn was: Don’t neg yourself. Self-deprecation is rich material and a lot of people do it automatically, but it’s important to distinguish what’s a healthy level of self-awareness, and what’s turning yourself into an existential punching-bag for peoples’ amusement. Have a pop at yourself by all means but write outwards and give yourself space to play and work with things that are pure fun and silly, too. It’s more fun for the audience and will incur less expensive therapy for you.

Siân is performing Meatshapes With Feelings on 18th March.

Book your ticket here.

Find out more about Vault Festival here.

You can keep up with Siân’s other work by checking out her website and by following her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.