SOMETIMES a subject is so disturbing that injecting a healthy dose of comedy into the mix is the best way to tell a story.
Just ask US comedians Merrill Markoe and Megan Koester, whose just-released audiobook The Indignities Of Being A Woman tracks the treatment of women from the beginning of modern civilisation to the present day.
The pair started researching and writing the book well before the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK and Jeffrey Tambor were outed for their alleged abuse of women in Hollywood.
The 8.5-hour recording, spanning 12 chapters and many centuries, doesn’t make light of the injustices women have suffered — it’s by no means a stand-up performance — but it uses humour to lighten the burden of what turned out to be a pretty heavy topic.
“I think injecting humour in any subject is a way to keep it engaging to the reader instead of just being a dour, dry resuscitation of painful facts,” Koester says.
“Nobody wants to sit around in their car on their commute and just listen to the most miserable facts with no humour attached to them.”
Markoe, who was David Letterman’s first head writer in the 1980s and has four Prime Time Emmys to her name, is no stranger to adding light relief in an otherwise stark read.
Earlier this year she worked with Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg to write funny anecdotes in her book on grief — an infinitely sombre subject Markoe had trouble approaching at first.
“It was a really really unfunny subject and she really researched it and it was full of sad — in fact gut-wrenching — anecdotes and I was asked to write jokes to try and lighten it,” she says.
“I would sit there with the pages and go ‘I can’t write jokes for this! There are no jokes, this is just sad.’ But then I’d think that I was being paid to write jokes and I’d write them anyway.
“So I found out I can write jokes about anything.”
The pair first pitched a podcast to talk about the subject, but were soon sold on the idea of an audiobook.
The sector has exploded in recent years, with the percentage of consumer spending doubling in the past five years in the UK, according to Nielsen.
While there are no figures for the Australian market as yet, Nielsen Books Pacific associate director Julie Winters points to the UK as an indication of their popularity.
“In the UK, according to Nielsen UK Books and Consumers survey, audiobooks are now worth five per cent of consumer book spending and seven of fiction sales,” Winters says. “This has doubled in the last five years. Genres such as sci-fi and fantasy, classic fiction, self-help, history and science outperform (other genres) in audiobook sales in the UK.”
According to Forbes, more than $2 billion has been spent on audiobooks since 2016.
When Markoe and Koester started their deep dive into the history of women and their treatment for their offering, they were shocked to find what they suffered over time.
While they knew they would come across details of mistreatment and inequality, they didn’t understand the gravity of it until they got into the details.
“It was really shocking to me, I had just never really looked into it and you’re not seeing it commonly referenced anywhere,” Markoe says. “I knew things had not been great but I thought it boiled down more to a life of drudgery.
“I didn’t realise the amount of punishment and slavery and repression and lack of citizenship, denial of rights — it’s a really, really crazy dark history from the beginning of sophisticated civilisation on.”
One of the things Markoe was stunned to learn was just how many women had been killed for being “witches”.
“I wasn’t aware of the number of women who were burnt as witches. I know about the Salem witch trials and I thought that was pretty much what had happened,” she says. “I didn’t realise that there were, by some counts, 200,000 women burned as witches.”
With such important content and wanting to ensure they gave audiences the story in the exact way they wanted it told, it was important to both women that they voiced the audiobook themselves.
“We both come from a performative background. Not only the jokes but being able to read it in an informative way would help to draw the reader in,” Koester says.
“Having us read it ourselves opened up the opportunity for us to have those bits unofficial bits between the pieces in which we discuss what we had written and read out loud and Merrill and I can interact and add a little bit more levity.”
The Indignities Of Being A Woman is now available for download on Audible
BROOKE’S BOOKS: KIDS, CASH AND CREEPY THINGS
THIS week’s Three Favourite Reads come from Brooke Corte, who has just started a fresh career chapter as anchor of new show Your Money LIVE. Here she shares the books that have had the biggest impact on her life.
The Big Short by Michael Lewis
This book is incredibly entertaining. It’s also the clearest explanation of the Global Financial Crisis I’ve come across. With a colourful bunch of misfit characters and brilliant storytelling, you barely notice you’re learning about collateralised debt obligations.
The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
This was my favourite book in high school. I laugh as I write that as I definitely don’t go for the post-apocalyptic genre. These days, the book symbolises to me the power of an effective teacher. I was lucky to have many teachers over the years who instilled in me a love of learning.
Raising your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka
When my son was 18 months I was feeling completely overwhelmed by the responsibility of raising a small human, with such big emotions. A girlfriend recommended this book to me at exactly the right moment and I (try to!) use a lot of the strategies from it now.
*Your Money LIVE: weeknights at 6pm Foxtel channel 601 and channel 95.
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REMEMBER there’s a special discount for Sunday Book Club readers on our book of the month — and a special place to discuss it.
And you can discuss Tricia’s warm-hearted novel, or any book you like, at The Sunday Book Club group on Facebook.