Interview – Lorelei Mathias of Lemon Comedy

By Peter Newling

Squirrel caught up with Lorelei Mathias from LEMON Comedy on the eve of the 2018 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

LEMON Comedy bills itself as “a global comedy showcase that aims to promote diverse voices in stand-up, and comedy with a cathartic flavour”. Initiated a little over a year ago, the founders set out to find a way to celebrate comedians of colour; female-identifying and gender non-binary comedians; Indigenous comedians; comedians from the LGBTQ+ community; comedians living with mental illness, and comedians living with disability.

Lorelei, one of the co-founders of LEMON tells me that
The name comes from the experience of people of diversity feeling like a lemon – feeling left out or left to one side. Inclusion is about never feeling alone. And that’s what LEMON is all about – inclusion. And it works both for the performer and audience.

Some of their stories shake people out of their comfort zone she says. But for some audience members, the experience makes them feel less alone – sometimes for the very first time. That they’re hearing someone on stage talking about things that are very real to them, and surrounded by a like-minded audience, can be a very liberating and self-affirming.

At the same time, it’s a great avenue through which performers of diversity can get their stories and experiences in front of a paying crowd.

It works for comics feeling less alone, as well as audience members Lorelei says. Comedy has the power to do that.

LEMON comedy has an impressive line up for the MICF. They’re doing five comedy showcases over five nights – April 2 & 9 at their usual home, Hare Hole in Fitzroy; and April 3, 10 & 17 at the Imperial Hotel. They have an impressive array of talent joining them for these events. ABC Radio’s Sami Shah is headlining at the showcase on April 2. Alice Fraser will have that responsibility for the showcase on April 3. And they have an imposing collection of surprise MCs and headliners performing with them over the festival. But I can’t tell you who they are!!

I asked Lorelei how she went about the task of recruiting the big names to perform with the company. She told me that
The response from these star performers to the mission and aspirations of the company is extraordinary. They love the concept. It’s just great. They’re so supportive.

In a profession where one is constantly walking the thin line that separates proper from improper (whatever that is), it’s so good to hear that ‘the cause’ is an important thing to headliners.

I get the feeling that, as the LEMON comedy brand grows, they’re not going to have any trouble securing top quality, diverse acts to work with them.

The masterplan is for a global network of diverse comedy. LEMON is already established in Melbourne and London thanks to the hard work of its founders, Lorelei and Canadian stand-up levy Stamatov. They’d love to hear from anyone who can help them spread the word and establish in other places.

Thanks Also to the hard work of its founders, and co-producers in Melbourne Rose Bishop and Alistair Baldwin

LEMON Comedy have MICF showcases on April 2 & 9 at Hare Hole in Fitzroy; and April 3, 10 & 17 at the Imperial Hotel. Tickets via comedyfestival.com.au or at the door. (There’s a discount if your surname is “Lemon” or citrus related!) You can find out more about them on Facebook (www.facebook.com/LEMONCOMEDY) or follow them on twitter @LEMONCOMEDY

Here’s a Trailer: https://www.facebook.com/events/1621054831318617/

Interview with Lauren Hayward and Francis Hadid otherwise known as Hayward and Hadid

By Phillip Lescaut

First off, tell me a little about your show for this year, This Is An Excuse.

This is our first comedy festival, and we wanted to find our voice. We wanted to make a show that spoke to women, which was equal parts silly and smart. We’ve put on stage the things we always talk about with our friends but have never seen in a comedy show.

What’s your earliest experience of making people laugh or entertaining? Was it at school, putting on shows for family, etc.?
Hadid: I would say definitely at home. Everyone in my family is funny and with a dark sense of humour. They’re a tough crowd, my grandmother especially; she’s a tough bitch so making her laugh has been reassuring.

Hayward: I always hoped I was funny (I still do). I was a gangly oversized only child with Hollywood dreams and a penchant for Jim Carrey and Ben Stiller movies, but I wasn’t funny yet. Through serendipity and osmosis (and good training) I think I’ve become funnier in my 20’s –away from my parents’ disapproving eye.

Was comedy always the dream? If not, how did you find your way to comedy?

Hadid: Writing has been the dream and Comedy is where I often find myself.

Hayward: Comedy was always the dream, comedy and an unlikely friendship with Tina Fey.

Who or what inspires you in comedy? Do you have a preferred type of comedy you like to watch (eg. standup, sitcoms, movies, etc.)?

We love satirical comedy, with a dark twist, but can’t deny our love for a dick joke. We’ve loved watching The Characters (Netflix), Broad City, and Bob’s Burgers. 

Tell me a bit about your creative process. Do you write a lot? Do you do it alone? Do you only write when you’re inspired or do you have a disciplined schedule like a Jerry Seinfeld?

For us the creative equation is COMEDY = FOOD + LAPTOPS. All we do is eat, gossip and write. We’re our funniest with a full mouth.

Do you prefer to be immaculately rehearsed or are you very loose and ad-lib-by on stage?

Hadid: on the loose side.

Hayward: immaculately rehearsed.

Hayward and Hadid: happy together

If it’s not too painful to think about, what’s the most awkward experience you’ve had on stage? What did you learn from it, and how do you get past a weak night?
We took our show to Adelaide to workshop it in front of a crowd, and boy did we learn some lessons. On our opening night we had four (uninvited, anonymous) reviewers in the audience, and both of our computers crashed 5 minutes before show time. We pushed on (read: flailed) with no tech, had a front row walk out and were heckled by Siri chiming in from an audience member’s phone.

We were crying between changes backstage because it was such a disaster. To make things worse, we had a review in The Advertiser the next day: “In comedy, timing is everything, and the sometimes lengthy pregnant pauses between “costume changes” meant any momentum quickly evaporated”. No shit dickhead, “costume changes” took too long because we were sobbing silently backstage! We learnt to always triple-check our backups, and that nothing can stop us.

What are you proudest of in your career so far?

We’re proudest of our show right now. Since Adel-geddon, we rewrote, refined and reworked the show and we are super proud (and we couldn’t have done it if we hadn’t learned the hard lessons). Our audiences have loved it, and we’ve had so much fun putting it on every night. Not a single tear shed back stage.

Is there anyone at MICF this year that you really want to check out?

Well we’re right at the end of the festival, but we’ve seen so many awesome shows. Of course, everything at our venue, The Improv Conspiracy; it was a treat to see some hilarious and deliciously weird comedy at Feeble Minds (Zanzoop/Sam Campbell) and we were absolutely blown away by Butt Kapinski (Deanna Fleysher) – completely different to us, but totally inspiring. 

What’s been the biggest surprise of your career so far?

Selling out half of our run at our first MICF show has been surprising and pretty special.

One piece of advice you’d give to someone starting out?                        

Be nice: everyone is trying their hardest and probably not getting paid.

Be brave: the hardest nights show you what you’re made of, and will definitely pay off.

Be rebellious: not everything has to follow the rule of threes

 

Hayward and Hadid’s debut show This Is An Excuse is on at The Improv Conspiracy

http://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2016/season/shows/this-is-an-excuse-hayward-and-hadid

 

Interview with Randy

By Daniel Paproth

It has been a great year for Randy, the beloved, foul-mouthed, purple-hued comedian and singer. The musical sitcom that he filmed with good mate Sammy J, the brilliant Rickett’s Lane, is doing good numbers on ABC iView and is soon to be premiered on television and he is enjoying performing his latest solo show, Randy Writes a Novel, to big crowds at Fringe festivals around the country.

Still, the ennui of regular life remains.

What are you doing today? I ask him down the phone.

Just about to put out the washing, comes a deceitfully enthusiastic reply.

His novel is written, but in his show, he can never quite work up the courage to read it aloud. Instead he procrastinates and distracts himself for an hour with several impressive, well-researched and hilarious rants and raves.

I love this show. It basically is just me saying what I want to say for an hour. I wrote this show as a catharsis, which sounds a bit wanky, but Sammy and I had just finished shooting Rickett’s Lane and this was a way of cutting loose, not being confined by a certain style of scripting.

Randy Writes a Novel is wonderfully self-indulgent, and thankfully, the rants – whether they be about McDonalds, relationships, drinking, not drinking, veganism, fist-fucking, religion, art – have the audience in stitches (apologies to Randy for this very poor pun).

That’s when I’m having my most amount of fun. When I started comedy I did a lot of political, hardcore, opinionated stuff and I was very angry and never quite got the balance right. But now I’ve mellowed quite a lot, to the point where I can strike a balance.

But part of the appeal of Randy’s shows is that strong-willed attitude, one that leaves you in no doubt where he stands.

There’s a bit of grit, The ultimate is being able to talk about stuff and share things and have an opinion on it without it going downhill.

It’s dependant on the audience. If they’re not up for it then it goes a bit skewed, if they think I’m being a dick. But then I acknowledge it! And then we can all fucking move on together. I fucking love it.

Randy, as something of an archetypal “struggling artist”, took inspiration from Ernest Hemingway, in particular his quote “the first draft of everything is shit”. Randy devotes a breathless three-minute portion of the show to the whims and wonders of Hemingway’s life, a sort of pseudo-google search but with more laughs and less data collection.

It’s not hard to uncover his life, but he’s an interesting case study of a tortured artist. He was a bit fucked up. And it was that quote that made me look into him more.

What about delivering the spiel live to audiences?

I had to learn the speech and that took fucking ages. I have out-of-body experiences reeling that off.

So even though he isn’t yet ready to read out his novel –

I don’t know if I’ll release it, I might not make it that far, I might only live a few more years!

Randy is finding plenty of joy “in the immediate”.

I’m doing whatever is giving me joy now. That’s this show and the TV show, which I love. It’s just so fucking stupid. When I grew up I was a huge Young Ones fan and Sammy loved Lano & Woodley so it’s great to have a show with so much silliness.

Randy then realises that ours has been something of a serious interview and so asks what I am doing today. I tell him I’m about to go to Ivanhoe, seeking elderly people to photograph for a column I write for another publication.

Maybe that could be my next thing. I’ll write your autobiography, he tells me. It might not be a funny book, just a chilling expose of your lifestyle choices.

I’d definitely read it. Randy is funny as all hell.

Randy Writes a Novel has finished its run at Melbourne Fringe but check out Randy’s Sitcom with his partner in comedy Sammy J – Ricketts Lane which is currently available on Iview and will be appearing on ABCTV from October 14 2015.

Interview with Karl Chandler about Comedy at Spleen and Portland Comedy Rooms

By Lisa Clark

Karl Chandler came into the comedy world in his late twenties and has since built a small comedy empire of sorts around him. Along with his contemporaries, he played a big part in rejuvenating the Melbourne Comedy scene of the past five or so years. Karl runs two of Melbourne’s top comedy rooms that have been crucial in the developing careers of a new generation of comedy stars such as Ronny Chieng and Luke McGregor. They have also provided fresh audiences for established comedians to try out material and for media stars to perform to live.

Karl grew up in Maryborough then lived and worked in Ballarat before moving to Melbourne. He didn’t really start getting into comedy til he was 29 or 30 and so was a bit more mature and ready to get serious about making a living out if it. As a stand up Karl became well known for his short-jokes. A form of comedy that had not been very fashionable in Melbourne, though the likes of Tim Vine and Milton Jones in the UK were making it popular. Karl’s take on it has a more relaxed, country-bloke laconic quality, a bit closer to Americans such as Steven Wright and (the late) Mitch Hedberg . With a reputation for helping others with their routines Karl has written for television shows such as Good News Week and Spicks and Specks. In 2011 Karl edited and published a book of jokes by local comedians called Funny buggers – (the Best Lines from Australian Stand Up Comedy). Karl was also quick to get in early on the Podcast scene in Australia and with mate Tommy Dassalo has created one of Australia’s most popular podcasts The Little Dum Dum Club

Live comedy scenes in towns are often as good as the venues available and the people willing to run them. Comedians need a variety of good places to perform, to develop their craft and preferably be valued and paid for their efforts. The Melbourne scene, like many has gone up and down over the years, rooms tend to come and go  and around 2007 was in a bit of a lull. Karl with his comedian friends Steele Saunders (who now also runs Public Bar Comedy) and Pete Sharkey started running existing free comedy venue Comedy at Spleen on Monday nights in Melbourne’s CBD in May 2008. It became known as a good quality try out night where no one was paid but newbies got to perform along side bigger names, gradually gaining a strong audience of regulars and a great reputation, spawning two sequels; running on Thursday nights, Karl’s first paid-gig venue Softbelly opened in July 2010, and the short lived but just as excellent Felix Bar opened in St Kilda on Wednesdays from 2011. Softbelly later moved and was re-named Five Boroughs. It has recently moved again and on December 16th 2014 Karl brought his room (and comedy nous) to the Portland Hotel to become Portland Comedy.

At the moment Karl is also getting ready to perform his solo show at this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival called Karl Chandler – Worlds Greatest (and Best) Comedian. A brave title indeed. As you can imagine he is a very busy man and hard to pin down, but was kind enough to find a spare moment before a busy night at The Portland Hotel to talk to me about himself and the rooms he runs.

Who do you look up to or who inspired you in comedy?

My favourite, because I do shorter jokes, is Mitch Hedberg, absolute favourite by far, between the jokes and even the character and the charisma… I don’t listen to heaps of comedy but he’s a guy I’ll listen to over and over.

What got you into comedy?

When I grew up I always watched and I’ve always enjoyed watching sitcoms and every form of comedy but I never thought I’d do anything with it. I came quite late to actually doing standup.

I suppose growing up in a country town there wasn’t much opportunity

Well I’d never seen a gig. I had a mate who liked to watch Champagne Comedy on Channel 31. He used to love it because it was so bad. He used to get me round to his house and we would get drunk and watch it and laugh at how bad it was [as did I] and then once after they said at the end of it ‘Come down and watch it live’ we said “What if we went and saw a whole night of this – how bad would that be?” So then me and my mate started going down there and watching it live every week and getting drunk and saying ‘How bad is this?’ and this was the only stand up I’d seen live. Until one night I got that drunk I said to my friend “Right. That’s it. Give me two months and I’ll do it once.” It was just a drunken thing to say but he held me to it saying ‘Nah it’s happening!’ and then told all my friends so I couldn’t back down. So then I had two months to write a routine. Then my friends found out about RAW comedy, I’d never heard of it before and my mate said “Right, you’re booked!” So then I did RAW Comedy without knowing anything else.

Wow, I’m amazed that quite a few people have started out in RAW.

Well if you are not in comedy you wonder, ‘Where do you Start?” It’s pretty intimidating stuff.

But I would’ve have thought RAW Comedy would be… a weird place to start

Intimidating?

Yeah, it’s a comedy competition!

You’re right, but I didn’t know any better, I didn’t know what else there was. And it was of course the best way, I don’t know about now, but it used to be a great gig.

There are surprisingly quite a few comedian’s who’s first gig was RAW.

Well it’s advertised. I think that’s part of the reason. I think my mate saw it in the paper, whereas you don’t see other open mics advertised. You see, that was never in my… head, I certainly never had the idea to see comedy live or anything.

It’s a weird thing to jump into and suddenly go ‘Alright I’m doing this from now on’.

When did you, Steele Saunders & Pete Sharkey start running Spleen (a venue that already existed)?

I can only speak for myself. It was about eight years ago, and I was so sick of doing gigs that weren’t very good

I remember that time well and it was a bit of a low point in the rooms available to see comedy in Melbourne. It goes up and down and that was a bit of a bad time.

Yes and I remember people saying ‘You can’t do comedy in the city’. Maybe because I’m a bit of a control freak or a perfectionist – I was just sick of going to gigs and thinking ‘well this is shit, why are they running it like this? They should be doing it like this.’ I finally went I’m sick of this complaining about everything why don’t you do something yourself?

The owner of Spleen still says ‘Oh I made a good decision choosing you’ But it wasn’t like that at all. What happened was; Spleen was an existing gig, but it was not that great, the numbers weren’t there at all, about 10 people turning up each week. About four people ran it before us. They went through four different people. I went in there drinking with my mates one night and I really believe this, I think the owner thought ‘I’ll kick these current people out and I’ll get these guys to run it because they’ve got seven mates here and they’ll bring their mates every week and that’ll be it.’ So I think he thought ‘They’ll bring their mates every week and that’ll be a business’ and I thought ‘well it’s time to put up or shut up’. So it was me and Steele [Saunders] and [Pete] Sharkey and we were all in. We were all serious guys we all had common sense and wanted to do it properly.

The first week we honoured the line up that had been booked and it was the worst fucken line up. I mean honestly looking back at it, if you tried to fuck up a night – the start of a new room – this is how you would do it. It was literally the 10 worst comics in town at the time and we got there and they didn’t even turn up.  Because they’d been booked by the previous management. So I remember clear as day, 8.35pm having no audience members and being out the front of the gig and ringing people to say “Can you please come down and do this spot?” So it was quite bad.

The second week was more or less the same and I remember the owner saying to me “This can’t keep going on” and me saying “You’ve only given us two weeks so far, you’ve gotta give us more than two weeks”. After that I remember the third week wasn’t so bad and then it sort of took off. Within six months we were full every week.

And you know, that’s not a big deal now I reckon.. It sounds a bit like ‘Old Man Chandler telling a story’, ’cause there’s a lot of rooms around, but I fully believe that Spleen gave birth to a lot of rooms. I’ve given a lot of people advice on how to run rooms, so they’ve all come from that. I think Spleen is sort of like the heart of the comedy rooms that we’ve had in the last five years.

At first we were too scared to get big names to come down. We didn’t want to go ‘Come down Tom Gleeson, come down Lehmo and play in front of 10 people.’ So we made sure we were consistently really good before we started saying ‘Hey, if you want to come down…’ and it sort of built & built from there.

We’d been on for six and a half years and someone said ‘Oh aren’t you sick of it?’ and I’ve never been sick of Spleen. Even though we’re running it as a sort of open mic room I love it, you hang out with your mates and it’s such a good gig and I hop on every two weeks and do material. I feel at home, that’s my home ground. I feel so comfortable there. I actually feel a bit scared and sad that one day I won’t be there. Like someday… if you have to pass it on. If I got successful enough that I didn’t have to do that gig anymore, I think I’d still be trying to find a way of still doing it.

Has Pete moved interstate?

He’s moved away, he’s got married and had a kid and he’s in Perth now. He left eighteen months ago. So it’s just me and Steele running Spleen now.

What is the concept behind Spleen?

The whole idea of it is ten acts about five minutes each and we want a nice range of acts. This is the sort of gig we wanted when we first started. We started running Spleen about 2 years into doing comedy and we tried to build it as the sort of gig that we would’ve been able to get on or would’ve been a great gig to get on at.

So even though you’d been doing gigs for a couple of years, in the comedy world you would be still considered newcomers. It’s pretty amazing for newcomers to be running such a successful room.

Sure but Steele and I are around the same age, we’d had jobs and had run things before. We weren’t like the typical open mic-er; a 21 year old who’s never held down a mainstream job, may never get one. We had business savvy about us.

We designed it so it was ten acts, with a good Emcee, there was always going to be space for new people to hop up. That’s how it’s always been, but it does get over booked now. Which means it’s always a bit of a shame when people think I don’t book new people. We do, but the thing is there’s that rule where you’ve gotta come down and sign up. You’ve got to come down and support the gig.

It’s always been my advice to young comedians that if you want to get up in any room you’ve got to go down to the venue first and hang out there for a while. Get to know the audience, the other performers and the people who run the room and how they run it.

Well we never got given that advice when we started and anyway there was mostly bad rooms and the bigger places where we couldn’t get on. So we always try to make that space for new people to get on because we see ourselves through those eyes.

I don’t think I did a gig with anyone remotely famous inside my first eighteen months. At Spleen we’ve had people doing their first gig with Tom Gleeson or their second gig with Dave Hughes. We find that a really cool thing to be able to pass on to people.

None of the performers at Spleen are paid but then you opened up another gig where you can pay the comedians with more experience.

So once we were running Spleen on Mondays for eighteen months to two years we were killing it and it was great but I noticed there was that market and because I’d learnt a lot of lessons and been successful I thought, you know what? I could do another room. Also I had quit my job and thought, what do I do well? I run a room well, maybe I can run another one. So I started running a Thursday night room which was Softbelly which became 5 Boroughs and has now become Portland Comedy. The model for this one is big names and an Emcee with acts being paid.

Again there was not a room quite like it running in Melbourne at the time. After Spleen a few similar free rooms popped up. I thought it was time for a good paid room with big names in and it sort of became the Best of Spleen. I turned Spleen in my head into a bit of an audition room for the good gig. It was new and a bit of a struggle at first.

It seems easy now ‘cause you’ve got so many rooms happening but back then in was in a bit of a lull. I think it might be that people didn’t know about it but now you’ve got the Internet…social media has really helped with that sort of stuff. Back then you put an ad in the street press and few posters around and that’s about it. I would always flier to start with for my rooms and comedy people would remark “Oh that’s for Comedy festival” but I would say “No that’s for business!” You can’t sit on your arse and think ‘I hope people find this place’ plenty of people have tried that concept!

So flyering did help?

Yes, definitely and I still do it…. because you get a lot of tourists going through. Not so much for Spleen anymore because we couldn’t fit more people in but for here I do. [Karl has recently moved his Thursday night gig to The Portland Hotel and changed it’s name but both nights I’ve been there it’s been pretty packed out.] It’s effective in Comedy Festival, why wouldn’t you do it here? It’s only because no-one likes to be rejected, I mean I’m the same but it’s business.

It’s not personal.

No

You’ve named all your comedy rooms after the venue they are in. Have you thought of not doing that, so you don’t have to change the name every time you move?

Yes I know. It’s a very valid point. The plan was at the start that we wouldn’t move around. The other thing is that I want to give value to the venue. So if I call it ‘HaHa Comedy’ you have to explain it. It has to be HaHa Comedy at The Portland Hotel – it becomes a bit complicated. But the gratifying thing is that each time I’ve moved people seem to follow. Definitely if I had my time back I would probably do that, but it seems to have worked out anyway, so it’s fine.

How Long did the Felix Bar run for in St Kilda.

It began about nine months after Softbelly started and ran for two and a half years. It was an up and down gig that was never bad but I think it was just harder, it may have been being in downtown StKilda.

Because it was mainly Backpackers?

I don’t think so, because it was a different model room – it wasn’t a free room. It was a $12 room and backpackers don’t really want to spend $12. The lowest crowd we ever had was 25 people but at it’s peak we had 130 in there and people would say to me that that was the best room of all of them. When it was good it was amazing, but it was just too much work and it never got that flow on.  Whereas Spleen and this gig at The Portland had flow on; where they hit their mark and people said ‘well we’re coming here every week’. Whereas Felix never flowed. One week we’d have 130 people in for a big name then we’d have another pretty big name in the following week and only get 30 people and I’d think, ‘Well what do we have to do?’

So as well as running two major rooms a week, you have a podcast with Tommy Dassalo, [The Little Dum Dum Club which includes regular live recordings], you’re doing a Festival show – [The Worlds Greatest (and best) Comedian]. You sound pretty busy!

Well I do all that and I also do TV writing. I’ve been really busy the past three years because of the TV writing. Well you just try to take on as much as you can.

Because you never know when the work is going to dry up

Yes I think to do full time comedy, unless you are a big name, you’ve got to have a lot of strings to your bow.

Karl certainly has a lot of strings to his bow.

Comedy at Spleen is on at 8.30 on Monday nights

http://www.comedyatspleen.com/

Portland Comedy is on at 8.30 on Thursday nights

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Portland-Hotel-Comedy/106643309424356?sk=timeline

The Little Dum Dum Club can be downloaded here

http://littledumdumclub.com/

Karl Chandler and Tommy Dassalo Live Podcast Little Dum Dum Club at MICF

http://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2015/season/shows/live-the-little-dum-dum-club-with-tommy-dassalo-and-karl-chandler

Karl Chandler – Worlds Greatest (and Best) Comedian 

http://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2015/season/shows/world-s-greatest-and-best-comedian-karl-chandler

Thanks to Peter for the Photo

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/

 

Interview With Frank Woodley

By Alanta Colley

Frank Woodley; the lovable man child has been part of our lives for as long as we can remember.  Appearing at one of the first ever Melbourne Comedy Festivals in the late 80s as part of a trio,  Frank went on to decades of success as part of the dynamic duo ‘Lano and Woodley’, has performed an array of on-stage physical theatre pieces, produced the ABC hit ‘Woodley’, as well as larking about on social media. He talks to Squirrel about the early days of the Melbourne Comedy festival, how his work has withstood the test of time, what being a Dad is like, what he finds funny off stage, and what advice he has for newer performers. He also gave us the scoop on what we can expect to see in his MICF show Fool’s Gold.

Alanta: A whole generation of us grew up watching you on Lano and Woodley, and seeing you on stage, both doing theatre as well as stand up. As a comedian who has kept their fame for so many years, how have you evolved your style of comedy to suit the ever changing needs of the audience?

Frank: I haven’t really evolved that much. There was a big change in going from the duo to going solo. Up until that point I could just be a child on stage. It was Col’s job to manage the practical realities of putting on the show. I’d sabotage whatever he was trying to do. If I went too far he would just berate me saying “the audience aren’t enjoying this you stupid little skinny man”.  When I went solo for about six months I’d go off on tangents but I wouldn’t really know how to stop. It is a bit like seven year old kids going into their classroom, and the principal introduces them to their new teacher and he’s also a seven year old, and chaos just erupts. I’ve had to develop the bit of my brain that is also responsible for the direction of the show.

But really basically my whole career I’ve just been trying to create the kind of comedy that comes naturally to me. From an audience perspective I can enjoy all sorts of styles of comedy, it’s not like the thing I do is the only kind of comedy that I enjoy watching.

I’m sure things have evolved, but not in a way that’s been conscious to me, if that makes sense.

Alanta: That makes sense. I guess when you’re playing the funny man to the straight man, you are reacting to the situation they create, which changes when you’re doing solo work.

Frank: Exactly. I have to create the situation, and when I go off on flights of fancy there still has to be some ‘don’t worry, ladies and gentlemen, I’m in control’, and it took a little while for me to find that balance.

Also, it became easier when I developed the technology. I now have a large animatronic colon on stage.

Alanta: I see. That must be difficult to take touring.

Frank: Extremely difficult.

Alanta: You stand out in the Australian comedy scene as a comedian who uses a lot of physical theatre in your work. Australia seems to have a scarcity of comedians with a strong physical theatre bent. How did this become part of your world? Who were your inspirations?

Frank: It’s always perplexed me that not more people do it. I didn’t look for it as a niche market. I just did the thing that came most naturally to me.

The things that influenced me when I was a kid were things like Get Smart and the Goodies and movies like the Clouseau movies and Jerry Lewis, so I just naturally reflected that.

At school I was always mucking around being the clown. Showing off on the diving boards to impress the girls. I never did impress them very effectively. I thought I’d been this kind of Adonis on the diving board. I met a girl from school just the other day and she remembered me on the diving board and she described me as ‘a bag of bones’.

So it surprises me that there aren’t more people who do physical theatre. The vast majority of comedians do straight stand up, which is great as well, but I don’t understand why there isn’t more people running round like dickwits.

When I was 15 I dressed up as a hobo clown and went down to the local street festival and did roving, just for my own interest. And when I look back on it I think that’s a really peculiar thing for a teenage boy to do. It’s a mystery to me. There’s no performers in my family. It’s not as if old Uncle Larry has done some clowning.

Alanta: Well, I have a feeling you may have inspired a generation of people to start it, even if there wasn’t one when you started.

The process of sitting down and writing jokes for a stand-up comedy show sounds difficult. However, the idea of sitting down and writing a physical comedy show sounds impossible. What is your process for developing new pieces?

Frank: There’s really no secret. I just tinker around with ideas. For example I’m at a friend’s place at the moment. As I came up the road someone came around the corner driving on the wrong side of the road towards me. And it scared the absolute bejesus out of me. And I know there’s not a comedy routine in that. But if something like that happens to me, I just file it away in interesting experiences. And when I have to start writing a show, I’ll start drawing on a thousand little possible things like that. Maybe ten of them, I’ll find there’s actually something in this, and I’ll start teasing out the possibilities.

The secret is to not wait until you’ve got a brilliant idea. Start with anything that seems a little bit interesting and work with it. It’s like the art of conversation. You don’t wait until you’ve got something brilliant before you start talking to your friends, but through the process you’ll find hilarious things. It’s an intuitive instinctive skill we all have.

It’s almost like I have to pretend there’s a whole group of me standing around shooting the breeze with an idea. Like creating a brainstorming environment where I’m bouncing ideas off myself, you know ‘what if…maybe you could…wouldn’t it be funny if…’

Alanta: After years it must be good to have that sort of trust in knowing what you find funny others will find funny as well.

Frank: The great thing with comedy is that you can do trial performances, so with new material I’ll do about five trial shows before I start expecting people to pay to watch it. So when I use a piece of material I’ve usually got about an 80% strike rate of things that generate some kind of laughter and half of that will have legs. So only about 40% of it is strong material. And luckily, that other 60%, no one ever needs to hear about again. When it comes to the point of doing a show you can give the actual illusion of being more talented than you are.  It’s great! By the final product it all seems spontaneous, but in reality I’m pulling the wool over people’s eyes. I’m nowhere near that funny.

Alanta: You and Colin Lane first appeared at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 1993 with ‘Fence’. How has the festival changed much since those days?

Frank: Well, ‘Fence’ was when we performed with Lano and Woodley but we performed as a trio for 4 or five years before that. So I think I did my first comedy festival in 1989. It’s weird to think that there are people with grey hair in comedy now who weren’t even born when we started doing comedy. I mean, it would be premature greying, but still, it’s weird.

But the festival has just grown and grown and grown. ’89 was either the first or second year of the festival. At that stage it was about twenty acts. Very much a Fringe kind of event. Nobody really knew much about it. There was about five venues. And its just gone from strength to strength. I think that a lot of people in Melbourne take it for granted. I think they imagine every city has an incredible comedy festival once a year like this. But it’s a very special thing.

The Edinburgh Fringe festival is huge but it’s different in terms of it being a Fringe festival, not just a comedy festival. And the Montreal comedy festival is different because its curated, which means you don’t have that same crazy sort of experimental ‘anything goes’ quality to the shows.

Melbourne is absolutely amazing . It’s fantastic to see it grow and grow. I saw a bunch of shows last year and couldn’t help thinking that it was incredible art that goes straight from the artist to the audience. Most of the art we receive is through television and movies and because it’s expensive to make there’s many producers and all sorts of people who have an opinion about the content before it gets to the audience, which makes some of it homogenised. Whereas live comedy is just some lunatic with an idea going straight to the audience which means that the material is unique and personal. The shows I saw I felt that they couldn’t have been made by anybody but that person. It was great. You know, someone like Paul Foot. You just know no one else in the world could or will do anything like that. It’s brilliant and wonderful. I love that aspect of the comedy festival.

Alanta: The physical theatre that you undertook in ‘Possessed’ and ‘Inside’ among others must be intensely physically demanding and to a degree dangerous. How do you develop the skills to not kill yourself? Training must be a big part of your regime?

Frank: I have simple straight forward exercise regime that’s nothing special. I try to keep myself healthy and strong. But most of the physical stuff I do probably anyone could do if they applied themselves to it and did a bit of practice. It’s not high-level skill for most part, much more about choosing where to place things in terms of creating the meaning. For example in Possessed there was an opening sequence of me falling down the stairs. When I was making that I actually went to the christening of a friend there was a little set of stairs going up to the altar of the church and all these kids who were about 4 or 5 just started tumbling down stairs, and I was agog. I thought I could not do what these kids were doing. It humbled me. What I do in my shows is very controlled. I’m being careful I don’t actually hurt myself. You know, if the audience believes you to be a world class acrobat and you do a double somersault, they’ll think ‘we’ll that’s good, but there’s someone out there who can do a triple somersault.’ But if you get your sleeve caught on a doorhandle as you enter the room and then fall on your bum, then the audience relates to you as a normal person, and any stunts after that have high impact.

I’ve still tried to push myself to the limit of what things I’ve tried. But even the major stung in Possessed, just about anyone could do the technical trick if you talk them through it and they’re prepared to try it.

Alanta: Well, you had us all convinced that it was a death defying stunt, falling down the stairs.

Frank: Oh, I shouldn’t have told you all that then. To do the physical comedy I do, you just need to have no self-respect, really.

And with Inside the thing is Simon Yates – my co-performer and long term friend, is actually a world class acrobat and he is actually elite. I kind of got a bit of reflective glory working with him. And because we look quite similar, some people thought that I’d done some of the stunts he did!

Alanta: Inside depicted a dystopian tale of two prisoners in a sort of 1984 style prison camp, which flew in the face of the more whimsical and light-hearted comedy that you’re known for. What lead to you exploring such a bleak theme? And how did people react?

Frank: I was really proud of that show. It was a combination of Simon and mine imaginations and areas of work. When put heads together and followed our noses. There was a lot of love in the relationship between two brothers. The show definitely explored the much darker themes of suffering. Only about a third of my regular audience came and only about 60% of them enjoyed it. And maybe the remaining 40% found it a little bit too difficult or were disappointed that it wasn’t as light-hearted as other stuff. But I feel that in order to keep my comedy alive, and not getting too stuck in formulas or repeating myself…there’s a fine line between repeating and refining a skill, and becoming jaded and playing it safe. If that happens all of the playfulness will just leach away from the performance. So it was an important thing for me to do, to throw myself into the unknown. It was like going back to my first days of comedy; feeling ‘I don’t know how this works; I’m excited and unsure about this’ which is a good thing ultimately. 

And ultimately while the character was a simple Russian brother, the differences with my normal character were superficial, it was still the core of the character I’ve played my whole career of the innocent child-man, with the same guileless quality.

Alanta: Woodley the television series was just beautiful and moving. You managed to explore some of the sadder realities of family life and death of loved ones, while still maintaining a whimsical and humorous air to the whole thing.  How much of yourself did you put into the show? Where does Frank Woodley the character end and the man start?

Frank: My wife thinks it’s a documentary! There are parts of me in there; I am a romantic. I do believe that the love between people is really all that matters. I do have that sentimental perspective in my real life.

I’ve seen in the silent movies this blend of broad clowning and sentimentalism and pathos. You don’t see it very much anymore. Most modern broad physical comedy doesn’t allow for that sentimental poignancy. And because I love that genre I wondered if you could do a show that sort of references them but is not a parody or replication of the silent films; is still a modern show that is somehow integrating that pathos and broad comedy in a way that feels cohesive. That was the challenge I set myself. It was an absolute labour of love. I’m really grateful to the crew. They really elevated it to something beyond what imagined. I was very rapped with that.

Alanta: Well, it really came together, the music, the visual style and the characters. It also had an Australianness combined with physical comedy I hadn’t seen elsewhere.

Frank: More gushing. I love it.

Alanta: Hah, yes. Sorry. You described yourself once in an interview as: the child-man who hasn’t grown up. Have you felt that character need to evolve as you’ve grown older? As a Dad?

Frank: Yes. I don’t tend to talk about my private life, but I am a father. That is a genuine tension as a father and a clown. It’s like I was talking about stepping away from the duo and I had to integrate the adult responsible character into my own; parenthood is a bit like that I’m sure for all people becoming parents; we’re all just little kids going ‘Ooooh, I don’t know what to dooo!” It is kind of terrifying for sure.

I think as I grow older I can still maintain that fundamentally innocent perspective. Even when you’re 85 you can still have that befuddled and bemused reality just below the surface. So it’s not as if I suddenly need to become mature and knowing. Though ageing does subtly change what the audience expects of you I think.

Alanta: We’ve sort of touched on this already; you’ve done trios, duos, television, stand up, and intensive physical theatre. With such a long and successful career to date, how do you keep challenging yourself as a performer?

Frank: I don’t have conscious strategy; I just try to keep it interesting I guess. I try to avoid being fearful. If you are feeling fearful you start playing it safe and losing that sense of adventure.

Alanta: I put the question out to a few friends what they would like to ask you and there were a few marriage proposals; but I said I wouldn’t pass them on –

Frank: Well I mean, send me some photos. I mean I have been married for over 25 years but if somebody better comes along –

Alanta: I’m assuming your wife isn’t in the room.

Frank: I’m sure if she was she’d appreciate that was a JOKE.

Alanta: It would seem you’re a keen observer of the inherent humour of day to day life. What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen off stage?

Frank: Well, it might have just been the mood I was in, but I saw a guy in Ackland street in St Kilda wearing his pants low slung, being cool, you know how you usually see jocks above the pants? He had no shirt on, which added to the laissez faire effect. He had no undies on, and you could see his entire buttocks, then at the front you could see all of his pubes and just the suggestion of penis. And he was swaggering down the street so confident that he was on the cusp of a fashion revolution. I must admit I followed him for a while.

I actually tried to recreate that moment on stage one time and the audience just said: ‘No. We don’t want to see your pubes.” That was one of those examples of the 60% of material that no one ever needs to see again.

Alanta: Thousands of people now follow your YouTube and Facebook pages. How do you use those media to in relation to developing your work?

Frank: I had a crack at that for about three months- I tried to be prolific but don’t know if can actually keep doing that. Almost taking up too much of mental space just thinking about it. I don’t like just posting things that haven’t been considered. There’s no doubt though that the internet is an amazing in way artists can go straight to audience.  

Alanta: You’re an inspiration and a mentor to many young physical theatre performers and comedians. What advice would you offer those early in their career?

Frank: The main thing I would say is: find opportunities to perform in front of audiences. However you can.  Whether its busking, or open mic nights, anything you can find to get out in front of audiences and perform.

Alanta: What style of comedy can we expect to see in ‘Fool’s Gold?’

Frank: It’s a classic stand up show with a mix of performance types a bit like Bemusement Park and  it’s got everything from exploring how the Nazis came up with their salute, to a crocodile tour, to a couple of songs and physical theatre. Basically anything I can think of to stop the audience thinking that they wish they were somewhere else.  A whole bunch of disparate ideas but hopefully a good night out.

Thanks Frank!

Frank Woodley performs Fool’s Gold at The Melbourne Town Hall

http://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2014/season/shows/fool-s-gold-frank-woodley