By Lisa Clark
I first got to know Janet A McLeod as co hostess of The Cheese shop, a public radio show about comedy and its live standup counterpart at The Prince Patrick Hotel. Since then she has gone on to host many rooms and encourage many fledgeling comedians into the limelight. I cornered her before a gig with a few questions about her legendary room Local Laughs.
1. When did you start running venues by yourself
The Planet [at The Prince Patrick Hotel] started in 1999, but prior to that I was always putting on things like Quiz International.
I was one of the instigators of Upfront, I actually came up with the name. Lots of ideas were put forward and that was the one that nobody had anything against.
More recently Janet ran comedy rooms at The Laundry in Fitzroy for a while as well as in Bendigo.
2. What is your policy re newbies
I check out as many Newbies as I can. I either see them personally and think oh I like you I want to support you! Or I might take advice from people I trust. The way I check if it’s genuine is by saying to them ‘OK, if your reputation stood on this, would you still recommend them?’ If they suddenly backtrack I say ‘OK fair enough we won’t worry about it then, you see, my reputation does stand on it.’
As well as Running Local Laughs Janet judges at Melbourne Fringe Festival and at RAW.
I’ve probably seen in excess of 10,000 comedy performances easily, which is quite extraordinary really, so I think My judgement of comedy horseflesh is pretty refined.
3. Any advice for wannabe comedians
Be Nice. When you are approaching people who run rooms be considerate of the fact that you’re not the only person in the world wanting gigs.
Be inventive, if everybody is talking about the one thing, don’t talk about it, find something else to say.
Find a different way to express yourself, find your own voice on stage.
If you really love comedy, you don’t always have to be a comedian. That might not be your calling and sometimes trying to fit a square peg into a round hole isn’t a great thing to do. You can do other things, production, front of house, writing.
4. Your Favorite Performances here, anything that stands out?
The Flashmobbing last year organised by Dingo & Wolf who were joined in there dance routine by Dave Callinan, then me, who was inveigled on stage and to the surprise of everyone I knew the dance routine as well then just when it seemed to be over we dragged Anyone from Tennis on stage and they knew the Routine as well. Appropriately it was to ‘Strawberry Kisses’ which I’d selected. That was really good fun because it was pranking the audience.
Another great time was when Adam Hills was doing an extended set and discovered something I’ve known for ages, that people on the trams stopping out the front can here the performers up on stage. He was able to get a couple to get off the tram and come on stage and in great StKilda style they were hilarious. That was a top moment. The Bedroom Philosopher running out into the street partially naked pretending he was crazy frog. Duff vs Tram, he ended his set by disappearing onto the tram.
5. Any Tips for others wanting to start their own Room?
Start your room on time. If you wait hoping that extra people turn up, the people who are there will get pissed off and the people who turn up late think ‘oh it looks like it starts late, so next time we’ll come at quarter to instead of half past’. So the start time will get later & later.
Book people because you like them, not because you think the audience might like them. If you think they are funny, put them on, if you don’t, you don’t have to. If they are a mate and you don’t think they are funny, invite them to your party, don’t put them on. Don’t make it a ‘mate’s room’ which can also be a bit of a sausage fest, go out and beat a drum together instead.
It doesn’t have to be free to get people in, even as a student I could afford $5 to see comedy which is more like 10 or 20 dollars now. Make the audience value it and make the comedians feel valued. And if you’re running a room, you’ve gotta feel valued as well. You’re not allowed to be a martyr and pay everyone else and miss out yourself, because you will stop running your room. It’s important that everybody gets something out of it.