Magda Szubanski

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Magda Szubanski
Magda Szubanski 2013.jpg
Szubanski at Tropfest 2013
Born Magdalene Mary Szubanski
(1961-04-12) 12 April 1961 (age 55)
Liverpool, Merseyside, England, UK
Nationality Australian
Education Siena College
Alma mater University of Melbourne
Years active 1986-present
Notable work Esme Cordelia Hoggett in Dick-King Smith's Babe (1995) and its 1998 sequel
Voice of Miss Viola in Happy Feet (2006)
Television Fast Forward (1989-1992)
Kath and Kim (2002-2007)
Parent(s) Zbigniew Szubanski (father)
Margaret Szubanski (mother)
Relatives 2 siblings

Magdalene Mary[1] "Magda" Szubanski (born 12 April 1961) is an English-born Australian television and film actress, comedian and writer.[2]

Szubanski's career began while she was studying at university and she progressed to television sketch comedy, as both a writer and performer. She has performed in the television comedy programs The D-Generation, Fast Forward, and the very popular Kath & Kim where she played Sharon Strzelecki.

In 2015 she released her best-selling memoir Reckoning. It “is not a celebrity memoir, it’s not a tell-all, it’s about family, history and love,” Szubanski told the Inner West Courier[3]

While the book is nominally an autobiography, the book is in large part about her father Zbigniew Szubanski, who was an assassin working for the Polish Resistance during World War 2. Reckoning deals with the themes of intergenerational trauma, the possible genetic inheritance of traumatic memory and Szubanski’s struggles with her own sexuality in the shadow of this legacy. It has so far won six awards including "Book of the Year" and “Biography of the Year” at the Australian Book Industry Awards.[3]

She is best known internationally for her starring role in the 1995 hit film Babe as Esme Hoggett. She reprised her role in the 1998 sequel, Babe: Pig in the City.

In Australia she is best known for her iconic character Sharon Strzelecki in the hugely popular Kath & Kim, the most successful sit-com in Australian television comedy.

In 2012, Szubanski ‘came out’ as a Lesbian live on the Ten Network’s program The Project in support of same-sex marriage equality and since then has been a vocal and prominent advocate for LGBTQI issues as well as becoming Patron for the highly respected LGBTQI Youth Support organization Twenty/10

She has twice been polled as the Australia’s most recognized and trusted personality[4] and is a “household name.[3]

Her 2009 Jenny Craig weight-loss cover story for the Australian Women’s Weekly was the second largest selling edition after Princess Diana.

Szubanski was a key figure in the 1980s and 1990s “Golden Age” of Australian television comedy, having performed in and written some of the country’s most successful and iconic television comedy programs including The D-Generation, Fast Forward and Full Frontal. In 1995 she and friends Gina Riley and Jane Turner wrote, performed and produced the first all-female Australian sketch comedy television program, the groundbreaking Big Girl's Blouse.

When Riley and Turner developed the sketch-characters they had created into the sit-com Kath & Kim, Szubanski joined them to play the beloved, put-upon, sports-mad unlucky-in-love Sharon Strzelecki, a character she created herself in Big Girl's Blouse.

Her character Sharon famously ‘pashed’ and ‘married’ Australian cricketing legend Shane Warne. She also ‘pashed’ – Australian slang for vigorous kissing – the late Aussie actor Heath Ledger on the red carpet at the AFI awards in 2006 while in the role of Sharon, acting as an assistant stage manager. The video has since gone viral with many non-Australians not being in on the gag and thinking that ‘Sharon’ was a real person.

Many of her comedy catch phrases have entered into the Australian vernacular.

She also played the recurring, gender non-specific character of Furlow on the television series Farscape.

Early life[edit]

Szubanski in character at the Kath & Kimderella film premiere, August 2012

Szubanski was born 12 April 1961 in Liverpool, Merseyside, England.[5] Her mother Margaret is Scottish-Irish and came from a poor family. Her father, Zbigniew Szubanski, came from a well-off Polish family and, as recorded in the Official Archives of the Warsaw Uprising Museum,was an assassin in a counter-intelligence branch of the Polish resistance movement in World War II.[6][7][8][9] She attended high school at Siena College, Melbourne,[6] and later studied fine arts and philosophy at the University of Melbourne.[10]

In 1976, as a year 10 student, she captained a team on the television quiz It's Academic.[11]


Comedy writer and performer

In 1985, while performing in a University of Melbourne Law Revue of Too Cool for Sandals, with Michael Veitch and Tom Gleisner, Szubanski was talent-spotted by producers from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation network, who convinced her to join up with some other university friends in creating a television sketch comedy show, The D-Generation.[12]

Szubanski was part of the team that created the television sketch comedy Fast Forward for the Seven Network, in which she played various characters, including Pixie-Anne Wheatley, Chenille, Sharon Strzelecki (Kath & Kim), Chenille from the Institute de Beauté, Wee Mary MacGregor, Joan Kirner, Michelle Grogan and other characters. The character of Lynne Postlethwaite was first performed on the ABC’s The D-Generation. It was originally written by John Allsop and Andrew Knight, but from Fast Forward on Szubanski co-wrote the sketches.

Sharon Strzelecki is one of Szubanski's most developed characters

Big Girls’ Blouse

In 1995, along with Riley and Turner, Szubanski wrote, produced and starred in the sketch-comedy series Big Girl's Blouse. She has said that she hoped this would open the door for other women to follow and is very sad that this has not happened.


She also starred in the Academy Award winning film Babe and its sequel Babe: Pig in the City, in which she portrayed Esme Hoggett. She then teamed up again with director/producer George Miller to voice the role of Miss Viola in the animated films Happy Feet and Happy Feet Two

In 1999 Szubanski created, wrote, co-produced and starred as Margaret O'Halloran in the Dogwoman series of TV films, a detective style show based on the idea an expert ‘dog-whisperer’ who, by treating problem dogs, inadvertently stumbles upon and solves human crimes.

In 2007, she had a minor role as the house maid in The Golden Compass to Lyra Belacqua. Goddess, alongside Mcfadden

Kath & Kim

Szubanski began her role on Kath & Kim as Sharon in 2002 and she continued in the subsequent seasons, including the special Da Kath & Kim Code.

The final series was watched by 2.7 million viewers, more than 1-in10 Australians, The series became a cult hit in the U.K and was remade for the U.S. market starring Molly Shannon and Selma Blair.


In 2016, Szubanski penned her memoir Reckoning to universal acclaim. Many reviewers were taken-aback by the books seriousness and the quality of the writing. Reviewer Peter craven in The Australian said it would “dazzle every kind of reader” and described it as “a riveting, overwhelmingly poignant autobiography by a woman of genius. It is a book about how someone might live with the idea of killing the thing they love. It is a story of love and death and redemption and a daughter’s love for her father. It is an extraordinary hymn to the tragic heroism at the heart of ordinary life and the soaring moral scrutiny of womankind. Every library should have it, every school should teach it.”[13]

Szubanski also snagged a swag of awards. Reckoning “beat literary heavyweights Kate Grenville and Tim Winton to take out the $40,000 nonfiction prize in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. She won the 2016 Douglas Stewart Prize for Nonfiction with her first book, Reckoning”[14]

Reckoning was awarded the Judges’ Special prize at the Royal Historical Society of Victoria’s Community History Award, “Nielsen BookData Booksellers Choice Award, and the Indie Award for Non-Fiction. It was also short-listed for numerous other awards including National Biography Award (Szubanski's family memoir "could be located in the inspirational memoir category but it rises way above that and transcends the category of celebrity memoir," Cochrane says. "She has a way with a sentence and there are lines that make you smile and then chill you." [15] and the Dobbie Literary Award 2016.

Ben Neutze wrote in The Daily Review, “In the book she reveals herself to be an extraordinarily rare talent — somebody with first-rate emotional and comedic instincts as well as a fierce intellect which would allow her to succeed in any academic task she’d set herself. As a child, Szubanski wanted to be a doctor and you get the impression that the medical world lost a great mind when she discovered her love of performance. But the work she chose to devote her life to has brought infinite joy and been good for the souls of Australians everywhere. She continues that work with Reckoning, in a very different and more exposed way. This is a book which will be good for the soul of anybody who reads it.”[16]

Richard Ferguson in The Sydney Morning Herald wrote, “This is documentary writing of the highest order and Szubanski has given life to an incredible war story…Reckoning, this tale of war and suburbia, sexuality and comedy, is likely to be the most popular Australian book of the year. Anyone who doesn't adore Magda Szubanski the clown will be awed by Szubanski the A-grade non-fiction writer. Let's hope the books keep on coming.”[17]

Academy Award Winner and friend Geoffrey Rush launched her book and wrote in The Guardian: “I was absorbed in preparing for King Lear when I read the book. The classical stature of that particular father-daughter relationship didn’t go unnoticed. Magda grew up in the shadow of a difficult reckoning — the summation, the questioning, the Elizabethan sense of settling the bill with one’s parents. As she phrases it: her father needed to forget— she needed to remember. The only way forward was back. Her book riffs a major life in a reflective minor key. I’ve got lost in Joyce’s Dublin, Woolf’s Bloomsbury, the Bronte Sisters’ Yorkshire moors. Now I’m enthralled with Magda Szubanski’s Croydon, Australia’s own collective sub-conscious suburb, the architecture of which she deftly anoints as Bauhaus’s “bastard child”…Reckoning is really a non-fiction novel – and its invitation into Magda’s story is infectious.”[18]

“The Premier's Award judges described Reckoning as ‘warm, clear, wise, funny and deeply intelligent. The amplitude of Szubanski's writing is particularly impressive. Her voice has a light surety, while constantly giving narrative and moral weight to the larger themes of grief, family, migration and finding one's place in the world’.”[19]

Musical Theatre

In 2007, Szubanski ventured into musical comedy, taking on the role of William Barfee in the Melbourne Theatre Company production of the hit Broadway musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. She received rave reviews.

Variety said, “In the Melbourne Theater Company production, Barfee is played by popular Aussie TV comedienne Magda Szubanski (featured star of phenomenal small-screen hit “Kath and Kim” as well as the “Babe” movies), and she’s sensationally good. Hilariously entering the action rear-end first and then proceeding to cut everyone else with a self-satisfied “Yes, of course” or snitty “I know,” versatile Szubanski brings subtle depths and nuance to a potentially grotesque character. Barfee’s tentative, gradual humanization, especially during some flirtatious overtures to fellow competitor Olive Ostrovsky (a beamingly assured Natalie O’Donnell) is one of the show’s genuine triumphs.” [20]

Australian Stage said,“There has been a fair degree of talk that the incomparable Magda Szubanski as the Eric Cartman-esque William Barfee steals the show, and although not wanting to take anything away from her brilliant performance, I think that the accolade does actually take something away from the other equally-talented actors, as it is very much an ensemble cast. One couldn’t help but feel that Szubanski’s contribution has been somewhat over-anticipated by her legion of Kath and Kim fans, as the spontaneous applause over her entrance may attest. Quite aside from all this, however, Szubanski herself deserves nothing but praise, making her grotesque schoolboy role actually quite textured and sympathetic, without resorting to mugging or buffoonery that would seem an easy temptation. To her considerable credit she does not hog the limelight or attempt to dominate the stage with her quirky character.”[21]

SMH said, “The mere sight of Magda Szubanski as a bespectacled schoolboy in short baggy pants is almost enough to make this feelgood musical by William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin a winner. Director Simon Phillips's immensely likeable production rarely puts a foot wrong, notably the inspired casting of Szubanski as the know-all William Barfee, who has a mucous-membrane disorder. The comic actor deftly makes the pugnacious brat hilarious and endearing.”

In 2008, she again participated in some gender blind casting, taking on the role of pint-sized gangster Big Jule in a major stage production of Guys and Dolls.

In 2010, she appeared in the first Indigenous Musical film Bran Nue Dae as Roadhouse Betty alongside Geoffrey Rush, Ernie Dingo, Missy Higgins and Deborah Mailman. The film was directed by Rachel Perkins, daughter of the Aboriginal activist Charlie Perkins.

In 2012 she again teamed with Rush to appear in the Steven Sondheim musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

T.V. Presenter and guest

In 2006, she hosted a five-part series on the Nine Network, called Magda's Funny Bits, which showed "never-before-seen" footage of some of her most famous characters from the comedy show Fast Forward. Branded as "no frills", it attracted insufficient ratings and did not continue. She had a similar short-lived result as host of the Network Ten clip show The Spearman Experiment in 2009.

She has several times been a presenter at the Australian Film Institute Awards and the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts and the Logie awards.

For the past two years she has co-hosted the SBS broadcast of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras

Documentaries and other factual programmes

In 2009, she appeared in Who Do You Think You Are? where she explored her father’s Polish Resistance activities as well as the story of her shell-shocked Irish grandfather and her sculptor ancestor Luigi Isepponi who assisted in making the Death mask for William Burke, half of the duo Burke and Hare, notorious grave robbers and serial killers.

She has appeared three times on the ABCs QandA, most recently alongside rock ‘n’ roll legend - and grandfather of her goddaughter - Jimmy Barnes. Szubanski and Barnes vigourously challenged the Coaltion Government’s proposed same-sex marriage plebiscite.

“Politicians beware: take on the Jimmy and Magda tag-team at your peril.

On Monday night, Q&A's knockout episode for 2016 - and one of its all-time most compelling and emotional outings - came complete with a delightful booby-trap on the dull and winding road on which national debate struggles to find direction. Who knew that Australia had a fearless, fearsome, two-pronged political powerhouse hiding in plain sight for decades?” [22]

Other projects[edit]

Szubanski became a spokesperson for the dieting company Jenny Craig in November 2008.[23] Szubanski joined Jenny Craig weighing 110 kg, and had been diagnosed with sleep apnoea.[23] By July 2009, she had lost 36 kg to weigh 85 kg.[24] She later regained weight, then was dropped as a spokesperson for Jenny Craig. However, subsequent weight loss led to her being re-signed as their spokesperson. She was later again dropped from Jenny Craig. She was also featured in commercials for Telstra in 2014.

Charity and Activism[edit]

In her late teens Szubanski volunteered as a worker in a Women’s Refuge in Melbourne’s North West region. She eventually became a paid worker.

She has frequently helped raised funds for several charities including Oxfam, Comic Relief, The Starlight Foundation, Very Special Kids, Marriage Equality, and the Orlando Victims.

She is Patron of Twenty/10.,

Personal life[edit]

On 14 February 2012, Szubanski came out, hinting that she was gay in a statement supporting same-sex marriage timed to coincide with Valentine's Day. Later that day, she stated that she "absolutely identifies as gay" in an interview on Australian TV current affairs program The Project.[25][26][27] Szubanski also spoke at the 2012 Sydney Mardi Gras after party, wearing a shirt featuring her newly coined slogan "If there was a tablet that cured gayness… I wouldn’t take it."[28]

She is single and during the last Australian Federal election she tweeted light-heartedly about the lack of policy catering for single people.[29]



  • The D-Generation (1986–1987) – various characters
  • The D-Generation Goes Commercial (1988) – various characters
  • Fast Forward (1989–1992) – Pixie-Anne Wheatley, Chenille, Joan Kirner, Mary McGregor, Maggie T + Satan's Brides
  • Bligh (1992) – Betsy Bligh
  • Full Frontal (1993) – various characters
  • The Making of Nothing (1993) – Judith Gates/Kim Borrodale
  • A Royal Commission into the Australian Economy (1993) – Mr Cardigan, Mr Trouser, Bill Kelty
  • Big Girl's Blouse (1994) – herself, Sharon Karen Strzelecki, Lynne Postlethwaite
  • The Search for Christmas (1995) – herself
  • The Genie from Down Under (1996) – Doris
  • Good Guys, Bad Guys (1997) – Bella Bouvier
  • Something Stupid (1998) – various characters
  • Farscape (1999–2001) – Furlow
  • Dogwoman (2000–2001) – Margaret O'Halloran
  • Kath & Kim (2002–2007) – Sharon Karen Strzelecki, Lorraine Craig
  • Magda's Funny Bits (2006) – Mary McGregor, Chenille, Sharon Karen Strzelecki, Lynne Postlethwaite
  • The Spearman Experiment (2009) – Host
  • Who Do You Think You Are? (2010) – herself
  • Rake (2014) – Helen
  • Legit (2014) – Anne Jefferies
  • It's a Date (2014) – Mary-Angela
  • Open Slather (2015) – various characters
  • Stop Laughing... This Is Serious (2015) – herself
  • Anh's Brush With Fame Series 1 Episode 1 (2016)[30] – herself
  • Q&A (19 September 2016)[22] - herself





  • Won the 'Most Popular Comedy Personality' award at the 1991, 1992 and 1996 Logie awards
  • Won the Australian Film Institute's award 'Best Actress in a Supporting or Guest Role in a Television Drama' award in 2002[31]
  • Nominated ‘Best Family Actress’ OFTA Film Awards 1999
  • Nominated for the 'Most Popular Actress' award at the 2005 Logie Awards, for her role in Kath & Kim
  • Nominated for 'Best Actress in a Supporting or Guest Role in a Television Drama or Comedy' award in 2003 at the AFI Awards
  • Nominated for 'Best Actress in a Supporting or Guest Role in a Television Drama or Comedy' award in 2004 at the AFI Awards
  • Nominated for the Silver Logie for 'Most Popular Actress' award at the 2005 Logie Awards, for her role in Kath & Kim
  • Nominated for ‘Best Female actor in a Musical’ at the 2006 Helpmann Awards for her role in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
  • Nominated for ‘Female Actor in a Featured Role’ at the 2006 Green Room Awards for her role in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
  • Nominated Silver Logie ‘Most Popular Actress’ in Kath & Kim 2008
  • Nominated for ‘Best Actress Supporting Role’ Film Critics Circle of Australia Awards 2014 for ‘Goddess’


  • Winner – Awgie Award for sketch comedy BIG GIRL'S BLOUSE
  • Winner – Awgie Award FAST FORWARD Writing team best Comedy/Revue/Sketch, 1990, 1991
  • Winner, Nielsen BookData Booksellers Choice Award, 2016 award
  • Winner, Book of the Year, Australian Book Industry Awards, 2016 award
  • Winner, Biography of the Year, Australian Book Industry Awards, 2016 award
  • Winner, Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction, NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, 2016 award
  • Winner, Indie Award for Non-Fiction, 2016 award
  • Winner, Victorian Community History Award Judges’ Special Prize, 2016 award
  • Shortlisted, Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year, Australian Book Industry Awards, 2016 award
  • Shortlisted, Dobbie Literary Award, 2016 award
  • Shortlisted, National Biography Award, 2016

Further reading[edit]

Quinn, Karl: The Magda carta, The Age, 14 September 2003.

Quinn, Karl: Brand Magda Unlikely to Suffer for Coming Out, The Sydney Morning Herald, February 16, 2012

Cadzow, Jane: Good Weekend, 19 september 2015

Rieden, Juliette: Finally I’m Who I’m Meant to Be, 6 July 2016


  1. ^ Szubanski, Magda. "Magda Szubanski on Twitter: "I love Wikipedia but gosh there are some inaccuracies! My middle name is Mary - NOT Mariana!! #whowritesthisstuff"". Twitter. Retrieved 9 July 2015. 
  2. ^ Knox, David (26 November 2010). "Comedy masks Magda's pain". Retrieved 6 May 2013. 
  3. ^ a b "'Not a celebrity memoir, it's not a tell-all'". Retrieved 2017-01-17. 
  4. ^ "Magda has 'it' - People -". Retrieved 2017-01-17. 
  5. ^ England & Wales, Birth Index: 1916–2005 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2008. Original data: General Register Office. England and Wales Civil Registration Indexes. London, England: General Register Office.
  6. ^ a b Craven, Peter (10 November 2007). "There's something about Magda". The Age. Retrieved 11 March 2014. 
  7. ^ McMahon, Kate (15 February 2012). "Magda Szubanski had suicidal thoughts over sexuality". Retrieved 11 March 2014. 
  8. ^ "New Australian Who Do You Think You Are?®: Magda Szubanski - Blog". Blog. 2010-11-26. Retrieved 2016-11-24. 
  9. ^ Szubanski, Magda (18 March 2014). "Reclaiming Fear". The Moth. Retrieved 23 March 2014. 
  10. ^ "Alumni". University of Melbourne. Retrieved 11 March 2014. 
  11. ^ Burnstock, Tammy. "It's Academic – Episode 40: Curator's notes". Australian Screen. National Film and Sound Archive, Australia. Retrieved 11 March 2014. 
  12. ^ "Magda Szubanski (Mondo Things: Cheat Notes, episode 30)". Mondo Things. ABC. Retrieved 11 March 2014. 
  13. ^ "A woman of substance". 2015-10-02. Retrieved 2017-01-17. 
  14. ^ "Subscribe | theaustralian". Retrieved 2017-01-17. 
  15. ^ Wyndham, Susan (2016-07-04). "National Biography Prize shortlist shows a healthy and sceptical society". Moree Champion. Retrieved 2017-01-17. 
  16. ^ "Magda Szubanski reveals the intellect behind the clown in 'Reckoning' | Daily Review: Film, stage and music reviews, interviews and more.". Retrieved 2017-01-17. 
  17. ^ Ferguson, Richard (2015-10-16). "Book review: In Reckoning, Magda Szubanski pays homage to her assassin dad". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2017-01-17. 
  18. ^ Rush, Geoffrey (2015-10-14). "The chameleon comedian who charmed a country: Geoffrey Rush on Magda Szubanski". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-01-17. 
  19. ^ Wyndham, Susan (2016-05-20). "Magda Szubanski's memoir Reckoning finds its place in the world of winners". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2017-01-17. 
  20. ^ Kemp, Peter H. (2006-02-05). "Review: 'The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee'". Variety. Retrieved 2017-01-17. 
  21. ^ "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee". Retrieved 2017-01-17. 
  22. ^ a b McMahon, Neil (2016-09-21). "Magda Szubanski and Jimmy Barnes take on politicians". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2017-01-17. 
  23. ^ a b Park, Nicky (24 December 2008). "Weight no longer a joke for Magda Szubanski". Brisbane Times. AAP. Retrieved 11 March 2014. 
  24. ^ Browne, Rachel (1 November 2009). "The risks and rewards of celebrity slimmers". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 11 March 2014. 
  25. ^ "Szubanski comes out, calls for gay marriage". Ninemsn. 14 February 2012. 
  26. ^ "Magda Szubanski in Valentine's Day plea for gay marriage". The Daily Telegraph. 14 February 2012. 
  27. ^ "Magda Szubanski 'absolutely' identifies as gay". The Daily Telegraph. 15 February 2012. 
  28. ^ "Magda's Moment at Mardigrasland". Retrieved 12 March 2012. 
  29. ^ "Magda Szubanski on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 2017-01-17. 
  30. ^
  31. ^ Australian Film Institute, Past Winners, Television 1986–2006

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]