She’s well known for her bubbly and confident appearances on Studio 10 following a hugely successful stand-up comedy career, but the last few years haven’t all been smooth sailing for Denise Scott – and she actually spent the better part of a year feeling lost and reclusive.
The 63-year-old TV star has opened up in an exclusive chat with Starts at 60 about a series of heartbreaks that left her feeling so down and unable to envisage a future career for herself that she ended up spending the large part of 2016 in bed.
From the deaths of both her and her long-term partner John’s parents, to losing her beloved dog, her kids no longer living at home and a devastating job rejection, a chain of events led to Denise shutting herself off from the world.
“Well 2016 was a year where I had no kids at home – there hadn’t been for years – but we also had no parents. John and I, our parents had died, and my dog died. I had no one or no animal to look after, and that’s the first time that had happened in my adult life,” she explained.
“Then I had a sitcom that I’d been working on for over a year, full-on, that was going to be my next couple of years working and it got rejected. That really hurt. It can happen a lot [in this industry], but with that one I just thought ‘I don’t know what to do now’. Plus arthritis had really kicked in and I just sort of went to bed.”
Denise said she wasn’t exactly depressed at the time, but just felt like she “couldn’t be bothered getting up” — almost enjoying the time out.
— Studio 10 (@Studio10au) September 18, 2018
“I’d spend days on end in bed,” she added. “I’d do what I had to do, if I had odd work I’d do that and minimum house work, cook some food, but if I didn’t have to be there I’d just lie on my bed.”
While it was an emotionally confusing time, it ended up inspiring her hit theatre performance Disappointments with co-star and close friend Judith Lucy, focusing on the difficulties associated with ageing, from arthritis to menopause, right through to rejection and the fake lives people portray on social media.
Starting to meet up with Judith to discuss creating and writing the show brought Denise out of bed and back into the world, and she credits the whole writing process with her finding joy on stage again.
“In many ways it’s the anti-positive motivational thing. We really went with how we felt, how we’d fallen in a bit of a heap, and the irony being that it then became this really joyful show,” she said.
Asked if she now thinks it’s important to speak about mental health at any age, Denise said: “I guess it’s each to their own, things can be spoken about too much… [With] Judith and I discussing stuff on stage, in my case because I did go to bed, I was talking about depression.
“We made it funny, I think that’s our way of talking about it, and to some degree normalising it. I don’t claim to be able to talk about serious mental health issues, but I can talk about the stuff that everyone goes through.”
Denise, who is set to star in the new series of Dancing With The Stars from Monday, February 18, has enjoyed a major shift in her career in more recent years — from more stand-up comedy to TV appearances, including her current stint on Studio 10.
“To a degree I’m more confident now, but it’s mainly that I’m less concerned what people think. I’m actually less concerned about success too – truly,” she insisted. “When you’re younger you’ve got all that hope and dreams, my expectations these days are really low. I think, ‘Oh, I’ve got a job that’s fantastic!’ It’s quite liberating.”
The career change itself has been enjoyable as well, as Denise said she prefers spending time with other people, while stand-up comedy can often feel quite “lonely”. However, she concedes, comedy will always be a job she’d like to continue doing in later life.
Her latest challenge has been training for Dancing With The Stars, and while Denise has no past dance experience at all, she said she’s loved practicing and learning the craft — and it’s even eased her pain from her crippling arthritis.
— Denise Scott (@_denisescott) February 4, 2019
“It [the arthritis] is pretty good at the moment – the dancing is helping. There’s one ankle that there’s no help for, there’s nothing, and as I’m always yelling at people – ‘yes I have heard of turmeric! Yes I have had cherry juice!’ but the movement has been really good for it,” she said.
“I really sympathise with people who are reading this and thinking, ‘I’m in so much pain. Good for you but I can’t move’, but it has really helped.”
Luckily there haven’t been any nasty falls in training, but Denise admitted: “The worst that’s happened was when Jeremy did a spin with me, I farted. In a classic old lady kind of way, I snorted out laughing and then farted!
“It was a great bonding moment for that young man. We did both laugh until we cried! There’s only us two there, so it’s very intimate.”
Asked if she hopes to inspire others to start dancing over 60, she said: “I’d like it to be [inspiring], I don’t know – I won’t know until I get there. But it has been really good for me to do, it’s got me moving and laughing and enjoying moving. I’m thinking I should have done this a long time ago.”
Dancing With The Stars airs on Monday February 18 at 7.30pm on Channel Ten.