“I’m a comedy-cabaret artist,” Jamie Mykaela smirks wryly at the denizens of the Tap Social. “If you laugh, it’s comedy; if you don’t, it’s cabaret. Fuck you, I can’t lose.”
It’s said in jest, of course, but it speaks to something at the core of I Just Need to Smile More, the bawdy, brassy, vulnerable and intense concoction of a solo show with which Mykaela saw out the Oxford Comedy Festival. Mykaela lives a multitude of double lives on this stage - Oxford resident and Perth native, comedian and put-upon retail worker, bombshell femme fatale and anxiety-ridden nervous wreck - and the heart of this show lies in the messy process of trying to find the balance in those dualities (often to the chagrin of your parents/friends/line manager). If Perth is a toxic ex, Oxford is a public schoolboy with an as-yet-undiscovered humiliation kink Mykaela is happy to oblige - though she recognises neither are especially healthy.
Sporting a Streisand beehive, vintage dress and ‘sex-worker red’ nails - trad-wife cosplay, as she calls it - Mykaela commands the room with a seemingly untouchable, purring loucheness. This was helped on the night, we are told, by a heady pairing of cinnamon whiskey and prescription painkillers, lending the night an extra playful, unhinged feel. It’s also testament to Mykaela’s showmanship that she’s able to deliver such a cohesive set while metabolising two substances that should very much not go together - there’s another messy duality for you!
This is paired with a voice that will knock you flat. “12 years of opera training and this is what I use it for,” she jokes, and how lucky are we for that - the songs that punctuate Mykaela’s set, some covers, some self-penned, see her move from guttural sandpaper rasps through trilling songbird warbles to high notes that will curl your hair, all with the ease of a consummate pro.
But a thread of vulnerability runs throughout, building to something larger like a tributary before it meets a lake. This is, of course, played for laughs, as in her encounter with an unnamed musical idol that “caused the feminism to leave her body” (the physical comedy that accompanies this is one of the night’s highlights). But with time, the sincerity becomes more pronounced, in no small part thanks to the musical interludes. In particular, the self-effacing yet hopeful ‘I Hit Water’ and ‘Lovely Little Setback’, a sweetly understated hymn to living with anxiety, allow Mykaela to artfully remove some of the polish while keeping the crowd onside.
As we near the show’s end, things get more raw. Mykaela’s wisecracking bottle-rocket persona is stripped back as she addresses the personal tragedy, grief and alienation with which she has had to grapple in transplanting herself to foreign territory in the midst of the pandemic’s global upheaval. This is matched by a genuine joy and gratitude to be part of the space she occupies that you can’t help but root for; more than anything, I Need to Smile More feels like the culmination of several journeys for Mykaela, across industries, friends and continents, and it’s deeply satisfying to feel like she’s finally got her flowers. My only complaint would be that we didn’t see more of it (a combination of time constraints and the effects of sweet, delicious codeine), but what we got was more than enough to cement Mykaela as a true comedy rockstar.