Interview with Kate McLennan about The Ducks Nuts, Bleak – the web series and her recent trip to India as part of RAW Comedy.

By Lisa Clark

Kate McLennan first came to everyone’s attention with her extraordinary solo performance in the 2007 Barry nominated The Debutante Diaries, where she created a small town of characters all preparing for a Debutante Ball. Since then she has been involved in many different projects including animation voice work, (Dogstar and The Flaming Thongs), a children’s live radio show (Super Speedy Sound radio Show), television (It’s a Date and Slide Show) and performing as part of a comedy double act such as in last years Standard Double which was a moving and funny sketch show performed in a hotel room with Wes Snelling. This year, as well as creating  The Ducks Nuts for MICF, Kate has been busy producing an on-line web series with co writer and producer Kate McCartney called Bleak.

Lisa: How long have you been doing comedy and how did you get started?

Kate: Some uni mates and I formed a sketch comedy group, The 5th Dementia, in 2001 and we did our first show in the Melbourne Fringe that year. 2014 will be my 12th Comedy Festival; it’s a bit like I’m graduating from Primary School and heading off to play with the big kids at High School.

Lisa: Who in comedy has inspired you?

Kate: As a teenager I was completely obsessed with Absolutely Fabulous. I loved how Jennifer Saunders created these characters who had no redeemable features. They’re not likable at all and I’m more interested in that area of writing; how far you can push an audience into loving characters that are saying and doing awful things.

From a stand-up point of view I’ve been definitely been inspired by Maria Bamford and her incredible knack for slipping effortlessly into characters.

Lisa: Tell us about your recent trip with Justin Hamilton to India for RAW Comedy.

Kate: It was brilliant. It’s an exciting time for comedy in India because the scene is in its infancy; all the comics that we worked with were so hungry for information and worked so hard at the craft. Hammo and I got so attached to everyone – like we were coaches on The Voice. I cried on the final night because I was so proud of everyone, in hindsight I might have had my period, but still, it was an emotional experience. I met this love comic in Bombay, his name is Akshay Shinde; he was a real dark horse and such a lovely kid. I wish I could have smuggled him back on the plane. I can’t wait for everyone to see our winner, Rohan Desai; he’s deliciously awkward with shades of Hannah Gadsby, Luke McGregor and Dayne Rathbone. You’ll all love him.

Lisa: Have you been to India before?

Kate: It was my first time – it won’t be my last though.

Lisa: Was there a bit of culture shock?

Kate: Not really, I expected it to be nuts and overwhelming, but I didn’t find it to be as full on as people had led me to believe. But then again, I love a bit of culture shock. If I travel and don’t get jolted a bit I feel like I’ve had a really boring trip.

Lisa: You’ve done some fairly theatrical pieces like last year’s stunning Standard Double. What was it like working with Mark Watson as a director?

 Kate: We had an intense rehearsal period with Mark Watson, which was such a great learning curve for Wes and I. We were totally intimidated by Mark because he’s got such a brilliant mind, but he had a wonderful way of totally disarming us and made us feel totally relaxed around him. We improvised a lot in rehearsals and Mark was really open and let us take things to their most intimate and disturbing of levels, I think we could go there because he made us feel like he was genuinely interested in watching us work, he knew how to appeal to us because Wes and I are such ego maniacs! Each night after rehearsals we’d debrief in the Vics Bar at the Victoria Hotel and we all ended up forming creative crushes on each other. It was lovely.

Lisa: Was it hard to find venues to do warm up spots for that?

Kate: We didn’t really do any warm up spots, as such, for that show – it wasn’t that type of work. Though we did do a couple of spots during the season of the Comedy Festival at The Shelf, which went really well. We’ve since done other spots with characters from the show at that night and they work because they audience gets the style of the sketch and have gotten to know Wes and I. Justin also does a brilliant job of setting the scene.

Lisa: So how do you think Standard Double went and was hiring the hotel worth it ie did it cause problems or add to the excitement, or both?

Kate: Some hotels didn’t want a bar of it, which was a real shame, but The Blackman were bang up for it; they have a bit more of a creative vision and were onboard from the word go. It’s actually great exposure for a hotel, like an open for inspection for hundreds of potential guests really.

Obviously it’s not a money maker for us because we can only fit in a small amount of people so we’re limited with the festivals that can take us on; they have to have an interest in the creative and audience experience, rather than the financial rewards, as was the case last year with our stint up at the Darwin Festival.

I only have positive things to say about the hotels we’ve performed in, the only weird thing that happened the whole time was a couple having a barny next door. They did shut up when Wes and I went out onto the balcony for our first scene, which involved us simulating a couple having sex. They stopped arguing and went very quiet…I’m not sure what they got up to after that.

Lisa: I also loved Super Speedy Sound radio Show. What was it like writing for others to perform your work?

Kate: It was tough because my mates were in the cast and I didn’t want them thinking; ‘This is really boring dialogue YAWN.’ So I tried to make it interesting for the actors, while also appealing to the kids and the parents. It was also weird getting to the point where I had to let it go. I’m a control freak so it was good to learn to walk away from it and hand it over.

Lisa: Is this year’s festival show The Ducks Nuts about personal experience or is it about characters and situations that you’ve made up?

Kate: It’s a personal show that basically looks at this idea of reaching an age where everyone around you is telling you that you need to get married, buy a house, have a kid and buy shit loads of stuff. I have so far rejected all of the above stuff, I don’t know, I just think we complicate things. When I was a kid my parents weren’t obsessed with making us happy

Lisa: Have you gone back to a more standup kind of show?
Kate: Yeah, it’s pretty much straight stand-up, of course there are moments through-out the show where Gayle and Pockets (my Mum and Dad) get a run, along with a couple of other relatives and colourful characters that have popped up in my life, like a particularly full-on border security guy at LAX.

Lisa: Is this a personal show or is it about characters that you’ve made up?

Kate: It’s a personal show that basically looks at this idea of reaching an age where everyone around you is telling you that you need to get married, buy a house, have a kid and buy shit loads of stuff. I have so far rejected all of the above stuff, I don’t know, I just think we complicate things. When I was a kid my parents weren’t obsessed with making us happy

Lisa: The costume is amazing, is it just for the publicity shots or will you wear it on stage?

Kate: Not telling.

Lisa: Tell us about Bleak the webseries.

Kate: Kate McCartney and I have been working on Bleak for about three years, it didn’t look like it was going to be made for TV so we decided to run the Pozible campaign and make it ourselves. We wanted to have something to show our grandkids when we were old and frail, I mean who wouldn’t want to watch their grandma saying ‘My vagina is massive’ on screen? It’s a beautiful legacy.

We are completely indebted to our Pozible supporters; they’re about shareholder, not just in Bleak but also in us as a creative partnership.

Kate McCartney and I have started a company, Lead Balloon Productions and we’re using Bleak as our launching project, you can view it on our Youtube channel LeadBalloonTV. All going well we’ll have our next project, Katering, on Lead Balloon by the end of the year.

Lisa: I’m guessing that you would like it to be picked up for TV?

Kate: Naturally we’d love it to be on the telly, both here and internationally. We just want to keep working on the show, we love Anna and the OBriens, You might find this hard to believe but McCartney and I have a suitcase of idiotic stories to draw from for storylines.

Lisa: Bleak is quite dark and gentle comedy. Has the success of Josh Thomas’ melancholy comedy Please Like Me inspired you (and possibly anyone who wants to write comedy drama) that Australian audiences might be ready for these sorts of home grown TV shows?

Kate: I think we’re probably inspired by different shows for different reasons; when we were first developing the show we liked the tone and world of Bored to Death, the characters of Arrested Development, the dialogue of Veep and then we wanted it to look like a combination of the Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In and a Todd Haynes film. So our influences are fairly varied.

Kate: I’m not sure if Australian audiences are ready, I don’t know if I care if they’re ready. If our show does get made everyone can strap themselves in, because we’ll be taking them on a bit of a ride.

Lisa: Is this a brilliant new world where talented people like yourselves can put your raw work up without influence of producers and commercial interests and see how it stands up?

Kate: We’ve been fortunate enough to have a chance to make a product that we’re happy with. I think it’s hard to fully realize your vision on television screen, because there may be a few too many people throwing their opinions into the conversation. The way we’ve done it we can show people and say ‘Here, this is how we’re doing it. See. That’s the tone. That’s the template for the series.’ Of course people may look at it and say ‘No, we don’t like that’, and that’s just the way it goes, at least we’ve had a chance to make something we’re proud of and on our own terms.

Lisa: I think having Denise as your mum is inspired have you worked with her before?

Kate: She had played Noni in a read-through that we held during the Comedy Festival last year at The Shelf. So filming Bleak was the first time I really got to know Scotty and boy oh boy, what a DIVA! You give her a little role in an internationally broadcast TV show and all of a sudden she’s throwing her weight around demanding stuff like…actually she demanded nothing. I think that was all me, come to think of it.

Lisa: Has it all been filmed already?

Kate: Yeah we filmed 4 episodes over 2 weekends in August last year. So we have two more episodes to release.

Lisa: How do you write a show? Do you set time aside each day and do one at a time or is it a bit more organic?

Kate: I do lots and lots and lots and lots of thinking about it. Then when I figure out how it ends in my head I sit down and knock it out – usually in one or two sittings. Then I might have a bit of a break from it for a couple of weeks, do another draft and then do a read-through or a trial. Then repeat that process until opening night. This show has involved me doing LOTS of gigs in the lead up to try out the material in spots, they’ve been going along quite nicely. I’m just excited to get the show running now.

Lisa: What’s your favourite thing about taking part in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival?

Kate: Having a wine and a debrief with Geraldine Hickey and Anne Edmonds in the Vic Hotel lounge.


Bleak the web series can be found on Lead Balloon TV Youtube

The Ducks Nuts is on at The Melbourne Town Hall in the Lunch Rm