Review: Stephanie Tisdell – Identity Steft

Davey Thompson

Unafraid to jump from confronting to funny, Tisdell delivers a show that everyone can take something away from.
Review: Stephanie Tisdell – Identity Steft

Christine Anu’s ‘Sunshine on A Rainy Day’ echoes through the Shell Room of the Malthouse Theatre, greeting the audience with a heart-warming, well-known song by one of the most famous Torres Strait Islander singers of our time –
foreshadowing that Stephanie Tisdell knows her audience well.

Identity Steft is a hilarious, truthful show bubbling with black-femme-audacity, with strong Murri flavour stirred throughout. In 50 short minutes, Tisdell takes us on a journey between growing up Aboriginal in Australia and living Aboriginal overseas, delivering a unifying message on how we can all move forward together as Australians.


The show opens with Tisdell immediately breaking down the fourth wall to bring herself closer to the mostly-White audience (I was the only Aboriginal person in attendance). This approach might make those patrons who usually attend comedy shows purely to listen or to witness a little uncomfortable, but she assures you that it’s all about bringing everyone closer together, and it truly works.

Quickly free-firing her thoughts and experiences on mental health, Tisdell is keen to break down the stigma associated with mental illness that we’re all too quick to perpetuate. Her warm welcome and open dialogue allows for conversation from the intimate audience, quickly shifting us from random patrons at a festival into a community laughing at ourselves together.

This reviewer has a lot in common with Tisdell. We both have one First Nations parent and one who is non-Indigenous. For those of you wondering, she's a proud Yidinji woman. It’s important to note, because growing up between cultures I’ve often observed that comedians struggle to bridge the gap and cater to First Nations audiences as well as the mainstream.

We have very different lenses through which we see the world, and our definitions of humour are affected by this. Of course there’s a middle ground of universally funny topics accessible to all humans, but that’s often reserved for comedians who like to play it safe. Tisdell isn’t that kind of comedian. Aware of her platform, she uses it in a way that both educates and entertains her audience on the nuances of Aboriginal life – something that many Australians would benefit from.

Unafraid to jump from confronting to funny, she addresses the huge gap in life expectancy between communities before gleefully sharing the real meanings of certain Aboriginal-named Australian cultural identities. Also brushing up against the very tricky topics of White guilt and how to navigate it, Tisdell delivers a show that everyone can take something away from.

Riotous, audacious and incredibly smart, Identity Steft is a fantastic opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander audiences to laugh loudly at the way we're often treated, and an even better opportunity for non-Indigenous audiences to step into the First Nations experience and learn a little more about us. Tisdell's message of empathy over apathy is one that we all need to hear in 2018, so make sure you buy a ticket and support her now so you can brag down the track when she's famous.


Steph Tisdell – Identity Steft
The Cooper Malthouse, Southbank
Until 8 April 2018

Melbourne International Comedy Festival
28 March – 22 April 2018

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Davey Thompson is a Bidjara, Inningai, Wakka Wakka and Gubbi Gubbi man from Central West Queensland, currently living and working in Naarm (Melbourne), Victoria. He’s a Blak Critic for Yirramboi First Nations Arts Festival, and Associate Producer for ILBIJERRI Theatre Company. You can read Davey’s Blak Critic work here: