Nina Oyama: In a Haze of Bong Smoke
Hi. I’m Maeve Marsden and welcome to Queerstories – the podcast for the LGBTQI+ storytelling night I host and programme. Queerstories events happen regularly in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, and I’m also now hosting them in regional towns. If you enjoy these stories, please rate, review and subscribe to the podcast, and consider buying a copy of the Queerstories book: A collection of 26 of the stories edited by me and published by Hachette. I’m really proud of this collection and I hope you enjoy it too.
This week – Nina Oyama is a 24-year-old stand up comedian and writer. She has performed at various festivals across Australia, as well as on TV on SBS2’s Stand Up @ Bella Union, Channel 31’s About Tonight, In The Zone 2015, and Tonightly with Tom Ballard. When I was 24, I had achieved nothing. Nina also has writing credits for You’re Skitting, The Chaser’s Election Desk, and Squinters. And in 2017, she was a recurring cast member of multi-award-winning show Utopia, playing Courtney the receptionist. She was also a finalist in ABC’s Freshblood comedy web series competition, and she currently writes for Tonightly, and is developing a comedy pilot for the ABC called The Angus Project. What a fuckin’ over-achiever.
I recently came out to my parents as bisexuals.
Oh, thank you. Yeah, I just wasn’t planning on doing it. I was like, “I was just pretending to be straight my whole life.” But then I started wearing button-ups, and clipping on carabiners on shit. And just going to heaps of slam poetry, and keeping my nails real clean. Yeah, and I was like, “Fuck it, I’ll jus tell them,” and they were fine, which is cool. Well, my mum was like, “At least you’re not a lesbian,” and I was like, “Ah, you know, Google it,” you know?
And my dad’s Japanese so he didn’t know what it meant. All right, I just had to qualify that because I talk about dating a cis gender dude, and breaking up with him, and it’s not a big part of the story but I just wanted to validate that. Also, I sound really basic in this story. I read it back and I was like, “Oh, this is one basic bitch.” I was like, “Oh, just change it. Before the show I’ll change it so I seem more smart,” but then I spent two hours looking at a YouTube tutorial on how to do eyeshadow.
Yeah, so if I seem really dumb in my story, like, look at that shading. This wing, it took me like five goes. All right. Okay. Let’s do this.
*Audience whoops and applauds*
You guys are so nice. All right. About a year ago, it was February 2016. I was 23-years-old and I was making a series… of poor life decisions. Sorry. It sounds like I was successful, I was not. I was kind of stumbling through life in a haze of bong smoke. Yeah. Same as Maeve, basically. Yeah, we just had a few billies after the show. We’re cool. I don’t know why I said that. Umm.
Anyway. I’d just moved to Sydney from the country and I was really, really poor. I was working at Supré.
Yeah, well, you laugh but it’s actually a long-time dream of mine since primary school, so I was totally killing it. Other kids, you asked them. They’re like, “I want to be an astronaut and a policeman,” and I’m like, “Nah, I want to work in retail.” Yeah, you say, “Sad.” I say, “Achievable.”
*Group of audience members whoop*
A lot of people in the retail game here tonight. Love it. Success.
All right. I actually liked working at Supré though, because it was a tween girls store, so not a lot of cis men came in, so it was this really great absence of toxic masculine, so it was really cool and safe, but on the downside, I sold like a black lace pentagram cleavage bondage bra to a 10-year-old.
She picked it! I wasn’t like, “Here, buy this bra.” Not that I’m slut shaming a 10 year old… but I also am ‘cause you’re 10. Don’t wear that stuff.” You should have the right to choose your bedtime. That’ sit.
Anyway. I was in a really bad mental space. I’d just left a really toxic relationship with 19-year-old coke addict who had cheated on me with a bunch of gorgeous Brazilian backpackers at the Coogee Bay Hotel where he worked. Don’t go there. They put shit in your ice-cream and they cheat on you.
He also cheated on me with his ex-girlfriend, and also his female best friend, and also his other female best friend who was a model.
*Audience “Aww” in sympathy*
I know. But, also, I kind of suspected it, so I cheated on him with two girls at my university, which was a bad idea because cheating is bad, but also it didn’t give me the upper-hand or the moral high ground when we broke up. Yeah. Don’t cheat.
I was also really angry. I just felt really betrayed, so I’d just go on really long walks powered by anger. Also, I was too poor to get public transport, so it kind of worked out. And I also was so angry, I couldn’t eat food. I could only eat bong smoke and I only drank Dare Iced Coffee, double-espresso flavour. How good are they? So good!
Okay, like, you could have 10 bongs and you have a Dare Iced Coffee, and you’re sober. So good. You know why tradies have that shit in the morning.
Yeah, it’s a magical elixir. And also because Dare Iced Coffee was my only sustenance, i never slept. Yeah, but I was also hustling on the comedy scene. I’ve been doing stand-up since I was 17-years-old, and I was doing more of that, applying for grants, and I also got into a Grain Waves ad.
Yeah, but I was also really depressed. I was what you call a high-functioning depressive, which sounds like a brag, but it’s not, because you still have depression. Having depression sucks.
Okay. Anyway, I was really depressed and sad. According to the Maslow’s pyramid of needs I didn’t satisfy a single basic human need; in other words. Anyway, somehow during me being a mess of a person, I got cast in the third season of Utopia, which is an ensemble comedy show on the ABC. I didn’t really know what happened but I did send in that Grain Waves ad, so I can just assume that I ate a Grain Wave really convincingly.
The casting agent called me, and she was like, “Hey, can you move to Melbourne?” And I was like, “Oh, my God, yes. This is the biggest break I’ve ever had.” And she’s like, “What?” And I’m like, “Nothing. Please don’t change your mind.” Then I called my housemate, and I was like, “Hey, just popping down to Melbourne for four months.” And she was like, “Cool, I hate you,” and before I knew it, I was on a plane.
The day I relocated, I was still hooked on bongs but it was okay, I bought pot from my Uber driver on the way from the airport.
The Universe, man. It gives and it takes. Sometimes it gives.
I went to my new house but it was not a house, it was just a shed. It was an unfurnished shed in someone’s backyard in Brunswick West. But it was okay, it wasn’t filled with tools. It was a nice shed. I don’t know. It had like two spiders. That’s a good amount. Sheds, they have way more than two spiders, they have heaps, and they’re always breeding, and you’re like, “Stop!”
Anyway. This shed cost $100 a week, and I didn’t have much money, so that was good, and it was okay because I didn’t eat food, and the food that I did eat, it came from the fruit trees in the area. I’m was just like a human possum. I would just go out at night and grab fig branches, and tear the fruit off and shove them in my mouth. And then the next day, those fig branches would be cut so I couldn’t reach them. It’s really sad. There was a lot of fruit trees in the area; I was actually quite well sustained.
I also stopped drinking Dare double-espresso flavour because the convenience store nearby, only sold Barista Brothers, which is a crock of shit, and it delivers on neither taste nor caffeine high.
Brunswick West is kind of like the Marrickville of Melbourne. There’s lots of warehouses and good cafes. It’s really bohemian. As soon as I moved there I got into the culture. I just started drinking soy lattes, and guerrilla knitting. Loved it. If I saw a bare pole, I was like, “Nah. Needs a sock.”
Living in Melbourne’s like living in an Instagram filter, but it’s just smog. It gives it a nice sepia tone. So, I had a day to spare until I became an official actress, and I decided to go furniture shopping, and my furniture shopping I mean picking up other people’s unwanted shit from the footpath.
In Brunswick West, I don’t know if you’ve been there, but it’s council pick-up every goddamn day. It’s like the aftermath of a war in one of those places beginning with “I” … like IKEA. There’s just desks and shit everywhere, and they’re all broken. Everything is super damaged, but then so was I. I like my furniture like I like myself: Broken and covered in cum stains.
Is this being recorded? Okay.
After hunting a few blocks from my house, I found a mattress, I came upon a mattress, and it was the least ripped, most okay-smelling, least stained mattress with no immediately detectable bugs that I could find. I looked at it and I really thought about taking it home. Anyway, I’m dragging this mattress back to my shed. It’s a double bed and it’s really heavy. After two blocks, I realised the mattress ripped at the bottom and little bits of foam were training out the bottom, like a breadcrumb Hansel and Gretel trail so the previous owners could follow it back to my shed and find me cooking the mattress. That’s not a good joke. I’m so sorry.
However, I had overestimated my distance from the house and I had four more blocks to go, and they were massive blocks. I came this far, and so I was like, “I’m going to be like Hillary Clinton – Nevertheless, she persisted, so will I.”
When I was one block from my house, a TOLL delivery van pulls up. You know, TOLL delivery vans are not exactly known for their good people. You know, they’re known for their White Nationalists, but this guy gets out and he’s not! He’s an Asian dude, and he just started helping me with my mattress. I was like, “This is fucking sick.” Afterwards, it was in my shed, and he goes, “Where’s your boyfriend?” And I was like, off cis men, and I was just like, “Umm, I don’t have a boyfriend.” Then I thought he was going to ask me on a date, or propose or whatever, but then he said, “Well, if you did have a boyfriend, he could have helped you move this shit,” and then he left.
The next day, I go into Utopia, and it’s my first day so I dress up really nice, like, I wear my best pair of weed socks. I was really terrified because the whole cast are my comedy idols. I was also sober, which I hadn’t been in a long time, so I was really anxious. You know when you don’t smoke weed after smoking a lot of weed for years and years, and then… Yeah, don’t do that at a… Anyway. Just life advice.
Yeah, I was sober and I was really anxious. I met Rob Sitch and Kitty Flanagan, and just clang, clang, clang, like, name-dropping all these names. I’m so sorry. I’ll pick that up off the floor. But I met all these famous, basically, who were my idols, and on the inside I was having a nervous breakdown. But on the outside, I was really cool. I was like…
*Puts on relaxed tone* “Yo, wassup, Rob Sitch?”
It wasn’t like that, but somehow I hadn’t fucked it up yet. Then they asked me how I find Melbourne, and I just straight-up blurt out, “Yeah, I got a free mattress from the street!” Everyone just kind of stops and just looks at me like I just did a shit on the ground, and then just used it as a face scrub… and then ate it.
Anyway. It’s all really dead-quiet. I just immediately begin backtracking. I’m like, “Oh, you know, I checked it for bugs, so it’s cool. It’s like… Doesn’t have that many stains. It… It’s smells like… Okay. Like, it smells like a human but it smells like… Not a… Not a B.O human. I don’t know. It’s a pretty good mattress. It’s pretty comfy.”
And it really just makes it worse. These are people… All get paid and they’re not used to seeing weird Supré workers rock up at their workplace.
Kitty Flanagan especially – she just looks at me and she goes, “Did you really get this mattress from the street?” And I was like, “Ah, yeah.” And she’s like, “Nope.” And she gets out her phone out and she just starts furiously typing on it. I’m like, “I’m going to get fired.”
Then she looks up for a second and goes, “Did you know that the Salvation Army doesn’t even take second hand mattresses because they are so unhygienic?”
And I’m like, “Oh, didn’t know that.” She just goes back to typing, and it’s so intense. I just thought she was going to convince Working Dog to fire the dirty mattress-stealing vermin, effective immediately. Like, I was just one of those Japanese Hara-Kiri people. I’m just bowing, waiting for the relief of the blade.
Anyway, Kitty stops typing after an eternity. Then she turns around, she shows me her phone, and it’s a website with all these different mattresses. She’s like, “Hey, which mattress do you want?” Just completely different person. I picked the cheapest mattress because I’m not a dickhead, and the next day it showed up at my shed. It was really cool.
Yeah. I’m not really sure what the moral of the story… I had this great moral ending where it was like a turning point for me because I got a new mattress and I stopped smoking weed… But that’s technically a lie. I kept smoking weed. Yeah, instead, I switched from bongs to joints. That’s fine. That’s enough, you know.
It was a really nice moment. She said that I didn’t have to pay her back, which was really nice, but she said that I did have to pay it forward, so if there’s ever a young comedian that I meet, I need to help them out somehow and give them a mattress.
*Audience whoops and applauds*
So, if there are any young comedians in the house tonight… Call me. All right. See ya.