real life

An awkward confession from Em Rusciano.

I’m awkward.





Lets get straight into this, no faffing about: I am socially awkward.

Actually, awkward doesn’t do it justice. Inept, incompetent and negligent are better words to use.

At parties, I require a high-vis vest/flashing light with a recorded voice screeching  “Warning, do not approach this nunce. She will have you wallowing in a pit of uncomfortable soon after”.

Mia knows all about it, she once told me she thought I had “situational dysmorphia”. She was bang on.

This may surprise those of you who follow my words, songs and performances but it is bloody true.

If I am with a group of people I know, I can function at a level that would pass as normal social behaviour. I can make eye contact and I can keep the self talk to a barely audible level. (There have been occasions where my personal pep talks to “just RELAX Em” have been heard by those within a 5m radius.)

But I dread unfamiliar social situations. I desperately try to avoid them.

Give me a stage, a mic and a room full of people and I am fine. Writing, easy. Radio, perfect. One way communication under the guise of entertainment suits me swell. Put me among strangers in a small room and I suddenly become Rain Man, only far less cool than Dustin Hoffman and without the genius maths abilities.


The majority of my stand-up comedy is me spewing my weirdness for an hour, singing some tunes and everyone feels okay about it. Unfortunately when I’m in a one-on-one situation I forget that people don’t want to hear about the songs I cry and masturbate to. Sigh.

Let me explain.

This is the socially awkward penguin.

To compensate for my awkwardness I either go one of two ways, and they are the extremes of each other.

I sit silently hoping to not draw attention to myself by avoiding eye contact and movement (potentially coming off sullen and rude).

Or I overshare in an attempt to win that person over through familiarity (potentially coming off as bat shit looney).

I was sitting with some women from Beyond Blue (who I’m doing some work for) and became anxious in the silence.

Adele was playing in the background so I blurted out, “What would broken-hearted women do without Adele, huh? I know I cry and masturbate to her often”.

It was a joke, but they were clearly uncomfortable – as most rational people would be. You probably would have stopped your blabbering about touching yourself there, right?! Well not me, of course not, why would I?

I then proceeded to launch into a diatribe about how a person’s self pleasure soundtrack spoke volumes about their personality and then surveyed the group all on their music choices during private time.



I lie awake most nights torturing myself over that particular day’s exploits.

I have not made one friend at my kids’ school because I just don’t know what to say to the other mothers. I tried once.

Oh God, it was terrible.

One of the mothers had been getting treatment for breast cancer. She is a lovely woman. I wanted to offer to help her with her daughter, should they need it. Instead I managed to tell her my Grandfather had just DIED of cancer so she should… you know… try and get better.


As soon as I arrive at functions, I want to leave. I am always the first to do so.

The instant I make an appointment, I start thinking up ways to get out of it.

The worry is so overwhelming when I enter parties, that I get sleepy.

Ema Rusciano and Dave Thornton used to host Mamamia Today on the Austereo Network.

I have found one way around it. I BYO human buffer, or as I call them “charisma shields” to social events. A charisma shield is a close friend who is aware of your strangeness, and stays near you at all times deflecting approaches with their small-talk-prowess.

Dave Thornton is one of my charisma shields. He is the most socially competent person I know. Watching him in action is truly majestic, he weaves in an out of conversations with such skill.


He doesn’t deeply engage a person (the goal of small talk) but still maintains a level of depth, pith and wit.

The funny thing is, this doesn’t happen with kids. I am most comfortable around small people. I seek their company out. I actually request to be placed on the childrens’ table come festive holidays. I’m sure there is a deep psychological issue at play here but lets not open up that bottomless abyss.

I want to get better at this, I truly do.

I know I am missing out on some marvelous humans, so the first step was to acknowledge it out loud. As I always find, containing my worries to language gives them some boundaries. Sometime I allow them to rattle around in the corridors of my mind for far too long.

Writing the above admission has not been the cathartic experience I had anticipated. I feel anxiety over my anxiety, because that is what it is. Labeling myself as “socially awkward” is a jazzy way of saying I have anxiety, I’m aware of that.

Are any of you, like me? Feel free to tell a tale of awkward below, it’ll be good for a laugh. WITH you, not AT you.

Okay, a little bit AT you, but it will come from a place of understanding.


Em Rusciano is a comedian, singer, writer and entertainer. She previously hosted the popular Mamamia Today afternoon program on the Austereo network. You can follow her on Twitter here and take a look at her website here. You can also find her Facebook page here