By -

Olivia Irvine, a lawyer at Hazelbrook Legal, took out the title of winner of the NSW Golden Gavel on 21 May 2021 with her topic “We were on a break. Returning to the office in 2021”. With only 24 hours to prepare her speech, Irvine competed against seven other lawyers in front of a 400-strong crowd at the Fullerton Hotel in Sydney. We sit down with Irvine to discuss comedy and the law.

After being made redundant last year, Olivia Irvine turns her struggle into a winning comedy speech, skillfully mapping the trauma of unemployment onto being single. “I had been hoping they’d pop the question – ‘Hey Olivia, would you like to go full time?’” Irvine tells the crowd. 

“Sure, there were some red flags. They couldn’t pay for anything. No, really, it was a volunteer role, they couldn’t pay for anything,” says Irvine, which has the audience in stitches.  

Irvine finishes her speech on a heart-warming note, revealing she’s finally found her perfect job and they are now “LinkedIn official!”

Simon Bruck, President of NSW Young Lawyers, announces Irvine as the winner of the NSW Golden Gavel competition and Oliver Moore, from Legal Aid NSW, as runner-up and winner of the People’s Choice award. 

Irvine is swiftly met with a flurry of people wanting pictures with her and the comically fluorescent trophy. As is fitting for a winner, she is wearing an impressive red pant suit with shoulder pads big enough to carry the full weight of the law. I wait patiently for the adoring fans to dissipate before securing an interview.

Irvine and her boyfriend Vincent make their way over to me and I make a great first impression, asking, “So, are you Olivia’s brother?” He is not. Irvine laughs it off like a hero, stating, “We are progressive, but not that progressive, Floyd”.

We chat in the lobby of the Fullerton Hotel in Sydney’s Martin Place. It’s a full circle moment for me, as I reflect on being interviewed in the exact same place four years earlier after winning the Gavel competition (humble brag). 

There’s a notable absence of lunch in this interview, as we’ve both just stuffed our faces with bacon, eggs and continental pastries at the breakfast event. Irvine clears her throat. Fine, only one of us stuffed our face (me).

“I got home and stress ate frozen lasagna. It wasn’t quite thawed; that’s how stressed I was. Then I began typing.”

When I enquire about Irvine’s creative process, she refreshingly admits to experiencing self-doubt like the rest of us. 

“When I got my topic, I immediately thought, ‘Oh, I’m not actually funny and I have nothing funny to say ever,’” Irvine confesses.

“I got home and stress ate frozen lasagna. It wasn’t quite thawed; that’s how stressed I was. Then I began typing.”

Teeth frozen and chattering from half-defrosted lasagna, Irvine typed ideas out before bursting into her boyfriend’s office to ask, “Is this funny? Tell me the truth!” 

Her process also included several hours over-anlaysing her speech. After all, Irvine is an English major. At the eleventh hour, her limits were tested when the printer decided to jam. 

“My printer jammed, and I didn’t have any black ink, so I had to print my speech in blue,” she says.

“That was a bit of an emotional moment, but I survived.”

Despite having limited comedy experience, Irvine is naturally funny and draws inspiration from her unique upbringing. 

“My mum is a very funny person, and we spend a lot of time trying to make each other laugh,” gushes Irvine.

“My mum is a forensic pathologist, so she deals with dead people all day. Humour helps to balance that out.”

Irvine grew up in Albuquerque in the middle of New Mexico. She asks if I’ve seen Breaking Bad, to which I exclaim, “Ah, who hasn’t!?” (I haven’t.)

“Growing up in Albuquerque was weird,” admits Irvine. “Think meth, murder, that sort of thing.” 

This isn’t her first win, as Irvine also won the virtual Golden Gavel in 2020, however didn’t get the opportunity to compete at nationals due to COVID-19.  

“I am really looking forward to the opportunity to represent NSW and do us all proud later this year,” she says.

“If I can find another power suit that is suitably powerful, then I’ll be wearing it.”

image description
(Competitors from left to right) Jasmine Zamprogno, Benjamin Keyworth, Charlotte Dubois, Chloe Aus, Oliver Moore, Melinda Upton (Minds Count), Olivia Irvine, Jerome Doraisamy (Minds Count), Lucia Mai (Student rep), Nicholas Burton, Rhys Dutton.

Irvine’s advice for anyone considering entering the competition it is to “just do it”. Sure, she’s quoting Nike, but with the pithy charm of a young, accomplished woman as opposed to my aggressive personal trainer.

Despite winning the competition two years in a row, success hasn’t gone to Irvine’s head – in large part, it seems, due to her overly critical cat.

“My cat Sheba will be suitably unimpressed by my trophy, but that keeps you humble.”

I finish the interview by asking Irvine if I’ll see her at some open mics around Sydney, to which she responds: “I’m not sure I’m funny outside the context of lawyers.”

I assure her it’s actually much easier to be funny outside the context of lawyers. She laughs and agrees, “True, maybe at a non-breakfast event where alcohol is permitted.”

Wait, alcohol wasn’t permitted?