Magda Szubanski is funny.
She just has to roll her eyes, strike a pose or – of course – open her mouth and everyone is laughing.
Indeed, from the moment she walked into the studio for our exclusive cover shoot, Magda had The Weekly team in stitches.
It’s a gift the instinctive comedienne has recently used to brilliant effect in an inspired run of Uber Eats adverts.
But Magda is also hilarious in print as I have just discovered from her new project – the first of a series of laugh-out-loud children’s books called Timmy the Ticked-Off Pony.
At the heart of the Timmy stories is a study of fame and what it can do to you – which is something Magda knows all about.
“They say, write what you know, and really I’ve spent most of my life being various degrees of famous,” she explains.
“Timmy is about the perils of shallow fame and being addicted to ‘likes’. I don’t want to sound preachy, but I worry for young people and the intense scrutiny and judgement they are exposed to – including from themselves.
“I’ve been around fame long enough to know that it cannot fix what’s broken – it can often make it worse. But when fame is built on a solid bedrock of sound values you can use it to do some great stuff.”
The star of the books, who turns into a bit of an anti-star, is self-obsessed, cranky, over-confident, diminutive pony Timmy.
And the inspiration for the character is a joke on Magda herself.
“A friend of mine who knows me very well – she’s actually the one who came up with that Kath and Kim classic ‘foxymoron’ – said to me: ‘You know you’re very cute but you’re like a little ticked-off Shetland pony in certain moods’. And it’s just stuck.
“I’m usually pretty good natured, but I’ve got a bit of the Irish temper in me [from her grandfather on her mother’s side]. Then another friend had a pony called Timmy and so it became Timmy the ticked off Shetland pony as my nickname. When I’m in a ‘certain’ mood, they say, ‘oh, Timmy’s here!'”
The publisher has tested the book on children and received an immediate thumbs up.
For her part, Magda has also tried it on two of her great-nephews 13-year-old Jacob and nine-year-old Max, who loved it.
Her third great-nephew Nathan, three, is too young.
Magda is also godmother to Betty, one of TV host David Campbell’s twins, and has sent them a book to read, although she thinks they may also be a bit on the young side for Timmy’s capers.
Unsurprisingly Magda is a hit with kids and loves having them around and I wonder if she ever considered having her own.
“On and off but I was never really in the right situation,” she confides.
“I wouldn’t have been a single mother and there was a point where I thought I might have children but it just didn’t pan out that way. Sometimes I think I’d love to have a parcel of kids around but I’m really lucky to have gorgeous great-nephews, and they are gorgeous kids as well as other kids in my life, but sometimes I think, oh, I would have loved that – what can you do? It goes the way it goes.”
The last time I interviewed Magda, her mother Margaret was still around albeit in a weak state.
Soon after that, Margaret started suffering from dementia and moved into a nursing home.
She was having regular mini-strokes and Magda saw the mum she adored disappear mentally and physically.
“She was ready to go. She was tired of life,” says Magda.
Margaret was frail and tiny, consigned to a wheelchair and although she knew little of what was going on around her and at times thought Magda was her mother or her sister Mary, she never lost her sense of humour.
“She was hilarious. A few months before she died, on Mothers’ Day, we were all gathered and my brother had brought a box of Cadbury Favourites. She grabbed a Crunchie – her favourite – shoved it in and was chewing and of course her dentures couldn’t cope with the honeycomb. I looked across and she was dribbling on herself. She was always so neat, and I went, ‘Oh Mum’, took her teeth out and washed them.
“Then I popped her dentures back in and – this is a woman who hardly spoke by this point and drifted in and out of reality – she turned to me and winked and said: ‘Fancy chocolate turning on me like that after all the devotion I’ve shown it.’ Brilliant! That sense of losing her was very painful, but it was so great that it was that one beautiful element of her, her humour, that remained.”
WATCH BELOW: Neighbours makes history with its first same-sex wedding. Story continues after video.
The last days of Margaret’s life were extremely tough.
Magda was up to her elbows fighting the marriage equality battle – something her mother wholly endorsed – when she got the call.
“It’s really confronting watching your mum die. Old age is full on, and that last bit can be quite brutal. With Mum, it took seven days and we were there 24 hours a day.”
Margaret died on September 4 2017, age 92.
“It’s a very weird feeling when you lose your final parent, especially your mum. Suddenly you’re not anyone’s daughter any more. Of course, that also means you’re your own person and something else starts to grow in you. That’s the cycle of life.”
Timmy the Ticked-Off Pony and the Poo of Excitement by Magda Szubanski, published by Scholastic, is on sale from April 1.
Read the full interview with Magda Szubanski in the April issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly, on sale now.