Justin Hamilton talks about Comedy @ Crown

By Lisa Clark

Earlier this year Crown Casino put on a Winter season of comedy in its Groove Bar and they had the smarts to get Justin Hamilton in to help put the night together. Hammo’s reputation brought the hardcore comedy nerds in (like me) and Crown brought a relatively different comedy crowd that you might not see in a dark Fitzroy dive but appreciates good comedy none the less. The lineups were, as expected, exceptional and everyone had a great time.

The good news is that comedy is back at Crown for Spring. It’s a four week season curated and hosted by Justin Hamilton that goes til November 9th. Performers coming up this season are a great mix of established and up-and-comers including; Tommy Little, Michael Workman, Anne Edmonds, Hannah Gadsby, Kate McLennan, Geraldine Hickey, Frank Woodley, Michael Chamberlin and Rob Hunter.

It is a truly wonderful thing that Melbourne has such a vibrant, varied live comedy scene at the moment, with everything from tryout nights, cosy established pub rooms, to really out there kooky variety comedy nights and impro and then high end mainstream places such as Crown. It gives a lot of choice for punters and performers alike, newbies have a variety of places to start and to aspire to and experienced performers have places to try out stuff and also do a well paid gig.

Comedy @ Crown has a great atmosphere, with a convivial crowd ready to laugh. The room has two bars and a choice of chairs and some couches. The venue is easy to get to, close to the CBD with undercover parking and lots of pre-show food choices nearby. There is also a Groove Bar snack menu.

If you usually only see one or two shows a year during the comedy festival this is a great place to get a taste of the style of performers who you’ve never seen perform live standup or may not know so well.

Justin Hamilton was kind enough to talk to me about this relatively new Melbourne comedy venue.

L: How did Crown recruit you to curate their new comedy night?

Justin: Crown approached me after seeing a few shows at The Shelf.  Crown Entertainment realised they have a thriving comedy scene in their backyard that they could showcase in an upmarket environment so we sat down and made our plans from there.

Lisa: How does the room work?

J: I wanted the night to be the sort of show that not only shines a light on our biggest stars but also helps introduce some of the younger acts to the types of gigs they may not see on a regular basis.  If you want to make a living in Australia you have to be able to work all types of rooms and this is a good opportunity to help open up those types of markets to newer acts while bringing in the big guns to headline. 

L: The first season seemed like a roaring success, did you and the venue people learn from that season and fine tune things for this season?

J: Without a doubt.  You should always be attempting to improve no matter how successful.  We’ve cut back from the three brackets to the two as since it is on a Sunday night it means the night finishes just a little earlier for the punters.  It is fine for us comedians staying up to all hours but for real people working real jobs it was finishing just a little late.

L: With performers clamoring to get up at The Shelf, have there been some performers (or even punters) who don’t like the idea of performing at a Casino?

J: I’m certain there are but nobody has said anything to me.  That is how the industry works.  You bitch about it until it is offered to you.  Then you usually say yes.  Everybody who has done the gig has had a pretty easy time of it.

L: How are the performers coping with the flames going off on the hour?

J: It is surprising how little happens.  It was a concern going in but our audiences have been so good that they’re locked in and appear to be a little annoyed if a comedian goes on about the flames for too long.  They’re a pretty focused audience.

L: Has it been interesting for the performers to perform to a more mainstream crowd?

J: Maybe for the younger acts but for the rest of us it is business as usual.  Most comedians are happy to do the same type of set for any type of audience.  You just pull them into your world rather than going into theirs.

L: Have you noticed a new type of regular turning up to these nights?

J: More people dressing up for the gig.  That has been interesting.  Not quite as laid back as you would see at your normal gigs.

L: Where did you get your inspiration, in running a good room? Did you seek advice?

J: My inspiration comes from my Adelaide days when Lehmo and I started running rooms to stop Adelaide promoters from ripping off the local acts.  You just run a room in a manner that suggests you might like to perform in it.

L: Do you enjoy the flexibility of doing short season runs of rooms as opposed to running them year round?

J: Sure do.  I wouldn’t run a room all year, too much work and not enough gratitude. I know that from my time in charge of The Rhino Room in Adelaide.  I tip my hat to the Karl Chandlers and Steele Saunders who run rooms and perform year in year out.

L: Is there a disadvantage of some people missing out because they may not find out about it til late in the run or afterwards?

J: Then they can come along next season.  We’re not entitled to see everything that ever happens.  It is good to miss out now and again.

L: Do you have any advice to anyone considering running a comedy room?

J: Don’t be an arsehole and make certain you provide space in the line up to get your own stage time.

L: Will there be more Comedy at Crown in the future?

J: If it continues at this pace for the rest of the season I would say there would be.

Comedy @ Crown takes place in the Groove Bar at Crown Casino Southbank on Sundays at 7.30pm. 

Tickets can be bought at The door from 6.30pm for  $20. This Spring Season finishes on Nov 9th

To find out more about Comedy @ Crown, check out their website http://www.crownmelbourne.com.au/Comedy-at-Crown/

 

New Comedy Rooms in Melbourne

By Lisa Clark

We’re half way through 2014 and the live comedy landscape which is ever evolving has been gradually changing in Melbourne. Some comedy rooms have closed (or are Winter dormant – it can be hard to tell) and new ones are opening, so I thought it might be pertinent to highlight some new venues popping their heads up around town.

We are lucky in Melbourne to have a good stable base of established rooms that have been around for many years giving performers and punters regular spaces to get their comedy fix. It is always a good thing though, for a fresh outlook, either with a new concept or even an old one re-opening in a new space. It can encourage new audiences and inspire new performers as well as new ideas amongst old performers and gives us all new places to play.

The hard part is keeping track of them. Our Keeper of the Lists Colin, does his best, putting hours of work into hunting down info on comedy rooms but it seems to us that some room producers would prefer to keep their rooms secret with very little on-line presence or out of date/scant information. Sometimes we only hear about a new room because a performer tweets that they are performing there and it’s very rare that anyone announces when a room is closing. This is why we mostly concentrate on Melbourne rooms. I know the list below is not exhaustive and the best information can be found on the gig guide drop down menu above. If you are planning a comedy night out on the town check out Colin’s work on our comprehensive Comedy Gig Guide. If you know of a room not listed feel free to let us know!

Meanwhile these are some of the new- ish rooms happening around Melbourne we wish them all great success.

 

TUESDAY

Society Variety – Standup Comedy and Variety acts

In a classy café [sounds like the very roots of comedy in Melbourne back in the 70s.] You can have cocktails or dinner here too.

Monthly – Last Tuesday of Every Month from August

Venue – Society Restaurant, Bourke St Melbourne – 7pm $20

http://www.societyvariety.com/

 

WEDNESDAY

A Very Public Punch Line – Standup 

It’s by the Yarra in the CBD. Not brand new, they had a season in 2013, but new to us…

Weekly

Venue – Melbourne Public Bar, 11 Dukes Walk  South Wharf –  8pm (Dinner available from Bar from  6.30pm.)  $15

http://www.melbournepublic.com.au/upcoming-events/details/65-A%20Very%20Public%20Punch%20Line%20-%20Comedy

 

THURSDAY

Tiki Bar Comedy Night – Standup 

With an islander atmosphere and Mai Tais in Richmond.

Weekly

Venue – Tiki Bar, 327 Swan St Richmond – 8pm  Free (coin donation for charity)

http://tikiloungeandbar.com/2014/07/02/tiki-bar-comedy-night-every-thursday/

 

FRIDAY

Friday Night Comedy – Standup with a difference 

“Comedians battle for the ultimate comedy championship. Everyone in the audience can take out their phone, log in to a super-secret website, and write stuff that goes on the projector screen behind the comedian.” definitely something different…

Weekly

Venue – Butterfly Club, Carson Place, off Little Collins St Melbourne – 10.30pm $14/12

http://thebutterflyclub.com/show/friday-night-comedy

 

SATURDAY

Alan Smithee’s Screen Test – A comedy gameshow 

Two teams of comedians compete to show off their film and television knowledge – live and uncensored. Recently moved to the gorgeous Butterfly Club now in the heart of the CBD, down one of those famous Melbourne Alleyways.

Monthly

Venue – Butterfly Club, Carson Place, off Little Collins St Melbourne  – 10.30pm $15 / $10

http://thebutterflyclub.com/show/alan-smithee-s-screen-test

https://www.facebook.com/AlanSmitheeST/timeline

 

Rule of Three  – Comedy Variety 

With different line-ups each month including: Sketch, Improve and Character comedy.

Monthly

Venue –  Butterfly Club   10.30pm $10

http://thebutterflyclub.com/show/the-rule-of-three

 

SUNDAY

Ha-Has at Yah Yah’s  [not to be confused with HaHa’s at YaYa’s in Perth] 

Standup at what is an inner city music venue that has presented comedy festival shows in the past.

Weekly

Venue – Yah Yah’s 99 Smith st Fitzroy – 7pm $10

http://yahyahs.com.au/

 

The Fancy Boy Monthly Super Show – Variety 

If you’ve seen the Fancy Boys you’ll know that they are smart and they pull no punches also – no money will be refunded to walkouts. The team were the hot ticket for those in the know at Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2014 and won The Golden Gibbo Award. Toff in Town is a beautiful little music-hall theatre styled venue in the CBD with tiny round tables up the front with candles on them, a bar and food nearby.

2nd Sunday of the Month (starting August 10th)

Venue – Toff In Town, Level 2, Curtin House, 252 Swanston Street, Melbourne- 8:30pm $20

http://tickets.thetoffintown.com/event/view/8gjf91xrb

 

Groove Bar Comedy – Stand-up curated by Justin Hamilton. 

The Winter season has just finished with astonishingly good, tight line-ups and packed audiences every week.

Weekly – the next season will be starting in October

Venue – Groove Bar, Crown Casino, Southbank Melbourne – 7.30pm $12

 

Check out the full Squirrel Comedy Gig Guide

Interview with Matthew Hardy about Yarraville Laughs comedy room.

By Lisa Clark 

A month ago I was lucky to be in the audience for the first birthday show of Yarraville Laughs. It was one of those really special nights in a club with a top notch, awesome line-up of standup from Glenn Robbins, Dave O’Neil and Tony Martin. Then to top it off Shaun Micalef dropped by to add to a finale that was a live version of radio panel show Now I’ll have to Kill You where comedians tell stories that they’ve kept secret from others. It went late into the night. Hosting it all was Matthew Hardy, comedian turned entrepreneur who returned to Australia just over a year ago and decided to open up a comedy club in his new neighbourhood of Yarraville, a gentrified, latte-fied village in the inner western suburbs of Melbourne. In only it’s first year, the venue can boast having had performers such as Tom Gleeson, Denise Scott, Hannah Gadsby, Dave Hughes, Cal Wilson, Peter Hellier and the list goes on.

The last time I saw Matt was in his show Willy Wonka Explained which he performed with the actress who played Veruca Salt in the original film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Julie Dawn Cole. The fact that he was able to talk her into coming all the way from England to Melbourne, to perform in a relatively small room for his comedy festival show, says something about Matt’s ability to talk people into things and make stuff happen.

Lisa: How long were you in the UK and what was that like?

Matt: For a total of twelve years. 8 in the 90’s and 4 sporadic individual years since. I arrived just before the comedy boom began, and just before the Britpop boom began too. Comedians became rockstars and rockstars became comedians. The Gallagher brothers from Oasis, Jarvis Cocker from Pulp, Damon Albarn from Blur, were all being as funny as the comedians in their media interviews and the comedians were conducting themselves like rockstars. Mighty Boosh, Ross Noble, Russell Brand. Somewhere among all that, at least attending the same parties anyway (!), fair dinkum, was me. My own comedy highlights were writing with or for Ricky Gervais and Kelsey Grammar, headlining the Mecca, which is the Comedy Store in Leicester Square, and stepping on stage at Glastonbury (again, fair dinkum!) just as the acid kicked in. Whoops! Ah, they were the days. There’s many more lowlights but you didn’t ask that question.

Lisa: Was it there that you learned about running a comedy room?

Matt: My biggest lessons in regard to our Yarraville Laughs club is why some comedy clubs work, and others don’t. or how a good club can become great. It’s never a mystery, or a case of good luck. Hard work and smart choices, and financial risks lead to the performers and the punters having an equally enjoyable night. Which leads to them wanting to return.

Lisa: When / How did you get the idea of running a room in Yarraville yourself?

Matt: I had my first kid (a beautiful daughter) which meant no more jet-setting back and forth to London. We settled in Yarraville and rather than wait to see if Spicks & Specks or whichever other shows would invite me back, I decided to be proactive and start a regular club, which ideally leads to a regular income.

Lisa: Tell us about Yarraville Laughs, what kind of room it is and how it is organised.

Matt: We’ve built a stage within the original stage, which creates the impression of an illustrious theatre environment.
I run it with the great man James Young, a Melbourne entertainment maestro (formerly RRR, now Cherry Bar), who’s also a great mate.
I wanted to create the best comedy club in the country and think we may have achieved that goal.

Lisa: Do audiences tend to be local?

Matt: I’d say it’s 30% local and 70% from everywhere else. We have the data (a very unfunny word I know!) showing where people come from, and there’s people from as far as Brighton, South Morang and Glen Waverley who are attending. And often.

Lisa: Have you had any feedback from the community?

Matt: Definitely. One lengthy hate letter and hundreds of pats on the back, fortunately. Pretty good ratio.

Lisa: Considering that it is in the less fashionable western suburbs of Melbourne, were you worried about getting audiences to come to Yarraville for comedy?

Matt: I thought, like Kevin Costner in Field Of Dreams, that ‘If we build it, they will come’. As long as we build it to withstand all sorts of weather. Luckily, it’s been mainly sunny.

Lisa: Were you worried about getting bigger named comedians to come to Yarraville?

Matt: Not really because again, being a comedian, I know what comedians want, and how to create an environment where they’re totally comfortable and confident. I’m not personally rich or famous or mega talented, but I’ve worked with and am friends with most of the comics who are.

Lisa: Was it quiet at the start and easier as things went on?

Matt: I’m beginning to wonder how up myself I may be sounding here, but from our very first show we’ve sold out. Mick Molloy, Bob Franklin and the Nelson Twins is a fair bill up front, and it’s maintained itself since then. But this fact has arisen only because of how much relentless hard work everybody involved puts in. The Yarraville Club’s General Manager has been incredibly supportive, his staff are passionate, plus the restaurant provides great meals and friendly service so it’s all part of the package. I am obsessed with checking ticket sales (too much so) and if they slow down, our work rate speeds up. As does our ad spend, unfortunately! 

Lisa: Have you had any ‘challenging’ experiences from patrons – or performers?

Matt: Not once from a performer and only once from a patron. Who was a woman, surprisingly, who we had no choice but to evict because she was spoiling the show for everyone else. We knew this because everyone else was telling us. That said, her hate letter arrived shortly afterwards. Even though we’d given her money back and two free tickets for another show as she departed. Hey, we all have bad days.

Lisa: There are quite a few comedians running successful rooms around Melbourne at the moment do you think a performers own experience helps them be good at it?

Matt: I think there’s just three other comedians running successful rooms. If there were a couple more I’d not have bothered starting my own with James Young. I gauge a successful comedy club to be one which is paying respectful, guaranteed fees to the performers, charging the patrons a respectful fee to get in, and attracting a large number of patrons to most shows. Being a comic should make it easier to run a club but that’s not always the case. Anyway, my way isn’t the only way, and others gauge success differently. And we’re still minnows compared to the promoters who bring out, say, Dave Chappelle.

Lisa: Does the percentage of people Dining / viewing a show change a lot from week to week and does this change the configuration of the room?

Matt: Not really. For massive acts (like the upcoming Michael Winslow from Police Academy shows) we do rowed seating to fit more in, otherwise it’s table seating but either way works for us.

Lisa: Name some of your favourite experiences in running the room so far.

Matt: MC-ing our first ever show to a full house, headlined by the brilliant Mick Molloy. Having James Young hold up the phone when I rang Yarraville Laughs from a Thailand family holiday, so I could hear the deafening laughter Dave Hughes was creating. Booking a diversity of comedians, rather than just four white men every week. Even if white men make up the majority of comedians. Our first birthday show with Glenn Robbins, Dave O’Neil, Tony Martin and a surprise appearance by Sean Micallef. Who are, umm, four, white, men. Hey, I invited Julia Zemiro and Magda but they were both unavailable.

Lisa: Tell us about your up coming MICF shows.

Matt: We have EFFIE the Gold Logie winning Greek Goddess of comedy, who’ll be speaking about her new baby girl, Aphie (short for Aphrodite). Effie & Aphie. Simple but fucking funny I reckon.

And we have Michael Winslow from not just Police Academy, but also Gremlins, Spaceballs and regular voice-work (including as himself) on both The Simpsons and Family Guy. Both have been with us before and both are truly superb performers.

Lisa: I’m guessing running a room has meant you don’t get out to do stand-up as much.

Matt: Yes and no but I am the MC of all of our shows (if I don’t employ myself, who else will) so I’m not missing out.

Lisa: What advice would you give to other performers thinking of starting up a room.

Matt: Go for it, do it thoroughly and don’t cut corners, have a partner to bounce ideas off, and then when it works, enjoy the camaraderi

e with your fellow comedians and feeling like you’re overdosing on adrenaline after each great show. And every room ends so have fun while it lasts!

 

Find out about upcoming shows at Yarraville Laughs on their website http://www.yarravillelaughs.com/

You can book dinner with the show too.

 

Find out about their Festival shows on the MICF website

 

Effie A Date With Effie: Looking For Love… And Child Support!

– http://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2014/season/shows/a-date-with-effie-looking-for-love-and-child-support-effie


Michael Winslow Police Academy Sound FX Show

– http://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2014/season/shows/police-academy-sound-fx-show-michael-winslow

Commedia Dell Parte

by Luke Simmons

Commedia Dell Parte may well be one of Melbourne’s best kept secrets. It’s got a reputation for holding a great “underground” night where new and high profile comedians can test their new and existing material. To the good fortune of everyone in the packed house, many of the performing comics provided samples of their upcoming Melbourne International Comedy Festival shows.

The night was MC’d by Sean Ryan (co-runner of the night) who commands attention on the stage with his Ned Kelly / ZZ Top style facial hair and comedic style of storytelling. He’s great at giving examples about how not to win friends and influence people – in a wide variety of settings. To his credit, not all examples feature him as the villain. He maintained the pace of the night well and kept the audience grinning throughout.

After Sean’s intro, the first act was Lijretta who is a unique comedian who hails from Ambassell, Ethiopia. With his sunglasses planted firmly on the top of head, he got the audience laughing straight away with a series of punchy observational one-liners. The highlight of his set came when he took everyone through an odd situation on the tram which involved two good Samaritans almost coming to fisticuffs. His show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival is called The Lijretta Show.

Jay Morrissey stormed onto the stage and showed everyone how his thousands (not millions) of miles an hour style helped him win the Victorian final of the RAW competition. Whether he was talking about mind-altering experiences at work or how females find it easier to garner support on Facebook, he generally had the audience in stitches. Check out his #bollard show at the current festival.

Xanda Allen then came on looking like he’d come straight from a Whitesnake concert. Purely based on his look, he demanded attention on the mic and used his visual gags to extreme effect. In fact, if he grows tired of comedy, he could do well on the catwalk. Melbourne needs to see more of this guy because he has the X factor.

Dean Eizenberg’s quirky style provided an interesting change of pace for the night. He also used the intimate stage to full effect for his visual gags – mixed in with his stand-up of course. If comics are going to use some edgy material (see: bad taste gags), they need to be able to come back with a strong punch. Based on the crowd reaction, Eizenberg’s sucker punch almost hit the mark. His unconventional style of stand-up was a gas though.

Ronny Chieng hit the stage and unleashed a volley of jokes towards the audience for the length of his short set. For some of his material, he loves to use his ancestral roots as both a source of boasting and piss taking. After all, we are currently in the “Asian Century”. He’s clearly got a keen observational wit and an acidic tongue to match. He took exception to poor old (or, young) bar tender who had the audacity to capture his attention which was a highlight. His show at the current festival is “Can you do this? No you can’t” and would be well worth it.

Steele Saunders then took the mic and immediately took control of the crowd. In fact, this man oozes stage presence and doesn’t mind taking a risk with a bit of banter with the audience. His power set was a mixture of short gags and extended stories – which both went down well. Don’t make a fool of yourself in a nightclub when Steele’s there because karma may make you pay… His show at the festival is The Steele Saunders’ Venue Got Demolished Late Night Show.

Daniel Connell is a rising star and this stunning set proved why. His voice has the calming effect akin to a doctor which helped him connect with the audience. On this particular night, Connell took the audience on a journey of piss-funny storytelling with the highlight being his tumultuous (and sumptuous) upbringing. In fact, he made most in the audience lose their appetite based on the groans… See his Mr Personality 1988 show at the festival!

The night ended with Luke Heggie whose dry style of joke telling makes Dave Hughes sound like a giggling Rodney Dangerfield. He peeled off joke after joke and whipped the audience into a wee-in-the-pants frenzy. What a way to end the night. He obviously dislikes people with jet skis, sneaky strippers and would rather drink paint that head to the horse races and/or greyhounds. Unsurprisingly, his upcoming show at the festival is called Mega Dry. Check this man out!
Following Radiohead’s lead, the night is run on a pay-as-you-like basis with most being happy to part with a fiver or a tenner on the way out. If you’re ever around the St Kilda area and have a free Thursday night, Commedia Dell Parte is a perfect place to hear some short and punchy sets from a wide selection of comedians.

Commedia Dell Parte is at George Lane Bar every Thursday night thoughout the year.

5 Good Reasons to see a show at The Imperial during MICF

We love supporting smaller independent venues away from The Town Hall during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, ’cause lets face it, everyone knows about that venue – they really don’t need any of our help. We were sad to say goodbye to the little bar Rue Rabelons as a venue in Melbourne, but we’re happy to announce a new venue for the festival up the posh end of town, opposite the Government House – The Imperial Hotel. The comedy there is being curated by Angela Thompson and Micah D Higbed. It will have 2 rooms running through the festival with a variety of young and up and coming performers giving it a great vibe. They had their own mini Gala on Thursday night where host Jimmy James Eaton and performers Tom Ward, Victoria Healy and Neil Sinclair (above) gave us a great taste of what’s to come. So with fourteen shows to choose from, a bar and some yummy pub food deals on offer, don’t forget to hop on a tram and pop up to The Imperial during the festival this year.

5 Good Reasons to see a show at The Imperial during MICF

1) There are 14 great shows on in the one venue!

1. Andy Matthews & Tony Besselink – Atchieve Nothing
2. Balderdash (Tim Clark & Liam Ryan)
3. Dave Fairclough – In Love
4. Elliot Cyngler is Too Small to Function
5. Jason Geary & Jimmy James Eaton – Sketch-ual Healing
6. Jonathan Schuster’s Chrysalis
7. Micah D Higbed – Noteworthy
8. Neil Sinclair – Phoney
9. Sam Peterson, Natalie Harris & Nick Quon – 3 Little Gigs
10. Sullivan & Bok
11. The Time Machine
12. These Kids Are Good
13. Victoria Healy’s Anatomy
14. Xavier Toby – White Trash

2) The shows are all cheap. Most are $15 full price. Some are even cheaper. Also, cheap student tickets on the door.

3) Independently produced! We’ve even kitted the place out ourselves. BYO stage? Yes siree.

4) The Imperial has great food, and they are doing even more special specials during MICF. They also have a top notch drinks selection.

5) All the shows are great. We don’t have any duds, hidden away in a smaller font. They are ALL THE SAME FONT SIZE!

Check out facebook.com/ImpyComedy for updates on the shows, pics, giveaways and competitions. We’re also on @ImpyComedy if you’re in to that kind of thing.

The Imperial Hotel is at 2 – 8 Bourke St Melbourne on the corner of Spring St.

See the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Guide and website for show details

http://www.comedyfestival.com.au

The Variety Collective

By Colin Flaherty

For almost a year The Variety Collective have been providing Melbourne with a weekly dose of good old fashioned variety. In the cosy and decorative surrounds of the theatrette in The Brunswick Green, punters are treated to short sets by comedians, jugglers, magicians, balance acts and many more weird and wonderful performers. I spoke to magician, comedian and professional swindler, Nicholas Johnson about this exciting and fun show.

Whose idea was it to come up with The Collective?

The Variety Collective was started by five of us and we were sitting around talking about how hard it was to find places for variety performers to put their stuff on. [It is] myself, Sarah Jones, Tom Davis, Elena Kirschbaum and Michael Connell. We’re all from different types of variety entertainment and wanted a place where we could put on our stuff without being tacked onto the end of a stand up comedy night or put into a circus show.

Have the themes been a part of the shows from the beginning or have they just happened naturally?

It’s because each of the five of us produces a night and we were trying to top each other. We started off without themes and then someone proposed a really ridiculous theme. Then next week the next person tried to top it with a more ridiculous theme. We had an Australia Day theme and an Easter theme that we had in February for some reason. We had a “Matt Special” where all the performers were called Matt just because I thought that it would be funny. It also means that the regulars get rewarded with something a bit special. Like with our Geek Night for people like Noel the Doctor Who fan who comes every week. It’s nice to have something for the regulars.

Have the performers readily embraced the themes?

They just leap at it, it’s amazing. I think it’s because the audiences are so giving and supportive. Basically it’s anything goes and as long as it is professional and entertaining you can do whatever you want. You don’t have to fit some sort of strict criteria so as soon as we give them a theme to work with, they’re prepared to take risks and chances and try out crazy ideas. If they crash, the audience is there to catch them and are forgiving. It’s that kind of crowd.

How do you see yourself in the scheme of things? It is just a place to give these performers stage time or is there a bigger plan?

We chose a venue that was a modest venue which was fairly easy to fill each week. The whole idea was just to make it about the show. Each week we are going to put on a show and then work out ‘What’s something else we can do that’s going to keep people coming back through the door?’ I used to run the Catchpenny Club that got bigger and bigger and then we turned it into a TV show for Channel 31 and it got really stressful. This is fun, easy to do and enjoyable. It’s kind of like a playground for performers to come and have fun.

How do you tackle curating your nights? Do you have people approaching you?

We have a lot of people who contact us and want to perform but we stress that it’s not an open mic night. If they say that they’ve got an act that’s a bit different we will grab them and use them. We’re really supportive of those who are trying something new or might be a new talent. We have a lot of people from NICA (National Institute of Circus Arts) who might not have a lot of stage time but have incredible skills and do the most amazing things but haven’t necessarily performed in front of an audience before. We are happy to support them in that way but it’s not the sort of place to drunkenly tell dick jokes (unless you’re really good at it!).

We had a guy last week that I found on YouTube. He’s a unicyclist who does Extreme Unicycling which is basically skateboard tricks on a unicycle. He’d never performed on stage in his life, so we put on some Blink 182 while he jumped all over packing crates and it was incredible.

You have a lot of circus acts. Is the small stage a restriction?

It totally is, it’s hilariously limiting. When we first started there wasn’t a light hanging over the stage. We didn’t notice it until a ladder act climbed to the top of their ladder and hit their head on the light. If we had a bigger stage we would have a bigger audience which would add to the stress. We can fit jugglers, we’ve had acrobats who’d throw each other around, the unicyclist, stilt walkers and fire acts. Last week we had a stuntman who rode a minibike up onto the stage and did wheelies. It’s limiting but at the same time is a four metre squared box where anything can happen. They may start with their back against the wall and finish with their nose against the wall but they do incredible things between those two moments.

How did you end up here at The Brunswick Green?

We started at a venue that was a really great cafe but there was no stage and we performed next to the front door. We’d have someone balancing an umbrella on their nose about to eat fire and some people would wander in hoping to get some crepes, walking through the middle of the “stage”. So we moved here where we have a nice stage and curtains set up with a nice high ceiling for juggling. Matthew Keneally, who runs Political Asylum here every month, put us on to the venue.

It’s a nice set up here in that the bar is separate to the performance space.

Yeah. We had to make it just theatrical enough so that you could still enjoy a drink with the show but not have people wandering in and out all night. This breaks the performer’s heart: even if someone goes to the bathroom, they think “They don’t love me!”

I also noticed that you didn’t have an interval tonight. That’s unusual.

Sometimes we have an interval and perhaps tonight we could have done with one. Last week we did a “Ten In One” show which is a old vaudeville idea where you see ten acts in twenty minutes. We had ten different acts with only a three minute break to quickly move things around. We don’t want the audience to get bored with an act that goes on too long, we want a quick five minute spot then onto the next performer. If you give the audience an interval it breaks that flow.

The performers heckle each other and some get distracted so sometimes the show goes on a little longer than it was supposed to. The whole idea is to make it feel like an old show that Graham Kennedy had where things were a little bit falling apart at times. A lot of nights are a little too slick and shiny whereas we try to make it so that the audience are involved and they can suggest things.

The Variety Collective have their first birthday coming up at the end of the month. In addition to very special guest acts, Sarah Jones will be providing face painting, Michael Connell will conduct a game of Pass The Parcel while Nicholas will be doing some magic to entertain the punters. And of course there will be cake!

The Variety Collective happens every Wednesday at The Brunswick Green (313 Sydney Road, Brunswick) The show starts at 8pm and entry is $10.

Information can be found at http://www.thevarietycollective.com/

Many thanks to Nicholas for his time.