by Lisa Clark
How did you become a stand up comedian?
I certainly never trained or applied for it. But there was a point when I looked back and realised I’d been doing stand-up and comedy writing all my life. Having said that, I do remember performing an entire Colin Lane routine for a camp talent contest when I was about 14, so I must have had an inkling. I didn’t start performing at open mic at the Sydney Comedy Store for another 12 years.
Who inspired you in comedy?
Growing up, I was a massive comedy nerd. My earliest stand-up memories are of Bill Cosby and Tom Lehrer on vinyl, but when I got a bit older I used to watch the Big Gig. I was a big fan of Anthony Morgan, Glynn Nicholas, Jean Kittson, The Found Objects and the Doug Anthony All-Stars, and I’d go see what I could at the Adelaide Fringe. I also went through a big Steve Martin and Emo Philips phase. The first full stand-up concert I remember seeing was Lenny Henry on SBS, and I was mad for Alexei Sayle in High School, so my tastes were pretty eclectic.
You’re obviously very busy at the moment. Is this why you’ve decided to perform your brilliant Moosehead winning The Social Contract instead of a new show (which was to be called The Grand Guignol)?
Yeah, there were a number of factors, but the biggest one was probably Randling. It’s a new show I’m writing for and helping develop for the ABC, and it turned out to need all my days, two of my evenings and bits of my weekends. Plus I’m co-producing two other shows, developing a sketch comedy show and (until recently) running a monthly comedy room in a bookshop. And being a dad. If I’d had time to think, I would have realised much earlier that I was an idiot and could’t get Grand Guignol as polished as I wanted in time.
But I was also particularly proud of both The Social Contract and A Complete history of Western Philosophy, and wasn’t prepared to perform Grand Guignol if it wasn’t up to the same level of quality yet.
Is it true that you will be doing a short taster of The Grand Guignol at the MICF this year?
Sure is! There are parts of it I’ve been developing over the last year at a room in Sydney called Arthur B’s. Every so often I’d go read out a new comedic horror story, so about half the show had already been written. It just wasn’t going to be polished or memorised. I’m no quite sure what the taster will be yet, basically an hour of stand-up, mucking about, some horror stories and maybe some impro. But I know it will be fun.
In reply to Justin Hamilton’s blog about performing his last festival show you tweeted: “Mine (current MICF show) must be about ‘realising last year SHOULD have been the last one”. I’ve had the feeling that Justin Hamilton has been putting off changing his life for a few years now, are you getting those feelings too?
Not really, but never let the truth get in the way of a good punchline. I’m constantly overwhelmed by the amount of work that’s needed to be a successful comedian. I’ve never had an agent or a manager, and I’ve frequently vowed to quit and be a full-time writer / improvisor. But being on stage is very addictive, particularly once you get to the point where most of your gigs are good ones. I don’t think I could ever stay away for too long. You look at people like Lewis Black and think: screw success, I’ll just keep doing this til I’m old and shaky.
Does having a child to provide for change your perspective on your career?
Yes and no. I was a comedy writer with a steady income before I was a paid comedian. The big difference with having a child is that it saps your will to tour. It’s almost impossible to be a successful comedian in Australia without the ability to travel around it. If it wasn’t for my daughter, I’d probably spend at least 4 months of the year doing festivals. As it is, I usually just do a few weeks.
Tell us what you can about Randling.
It’s a game show about words, hosted by Andrew Denton and starring an excellent and bizarrely eclectic bunch of talent. It’s been really strange hammering it into shape, but the shows we’ve recorded so far have been thrilling and hilarious. If I wasn’t having so much fun with it, I would have written Grand Guignol by now.
You’ve done a lot of TV. How does it compare to stand up?
I tend to be behind the scenes, which is both exciting and frustrating. I will quite happily write pages of jokes every day, but I often get very emotionally invested in what I’ve written, and that can be hard when the person you’re writing for rejects your favourites or (worse) likes your favourite joke but screws up the delivery. More often they pick a joke you threw together as filler and use their superior delivery skills to spin it into gold. But with stand-up, you have to own the material yourself then and there. It keeps you honest in a completely different way.
Do you see yourself leaving performance behind and becoming a straight writer?
I could never be a straight writer. It always comes out bent.
What would be your dream job?
Computer Game tester, purely because I fit the demographics so well. I’m in my mid 30s and 60% male.
Tell us about Wit Large.
I started Wit Large because I was becoming frustrated with the Sydney comedy scene. It felt like it wanted to appeal to the largest common denominator, and as a semi-literate nerd with an open mind, I wasn’t just wasn’t part of that audience.
So, I approached a bookshop about running a political, socially progressive and intellectual comedy room, which seems to have worked. (I wanted to call it Smug, but the bookshop wisely convinced me that wasn’t a great idea). Since then it’s evolved out of the bookshop and into a ‘comedy label’, largely thanks to Carrie Hardie, who acts as my organisational brain. We’re producing my show at the MICF, along with those of Jack Druce and Shane Matheson.
What is your favourite thing about The Melbourne International Comedy Festival?
People whose work I don’t know bring their comedy close enough for me to see it. And the people whose work I already know push themselves to create something new and exciting. Mostly, that friends of mine from all around the world come to Melbourne to work and drink like the blazes.
Give us 5 Reasons to choose your show The Social Contract.
1. It’s a heart-warming tale of the little guy (that’s me) going up against ‘The Man’.
2. It’s topical: ‘The Man’ went on the run late last year with tens of thousands of dollars from high school formals around NSW. I’ve no idea if he’s been found, but he certainly made the papers.
3. It has been certified funny by the Bondi Junction Small Claims tribunal, and I have the legal documentation to prove it.
4. You’ll be supporting the fantastic St. Ali cafe venue in South Melbourne, a truly independent hub venue run by comedians, for comedians.
5. If you don’t, I’ll sue. 😉
The Social Contract is on at St Ali
Click here for tickets and more infomation