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

Interview with Luke McGregor

By Noel Kelso

Luke McGregor is a stand-up who came to prominence after winning Best Newcomer award at the 2013 Melbourne Comedy Festival. Since then he has continued to perform stand-up both in Australia and the UK and has appeared on television on the ABC’s Dirty Laundry Live with Lawrence Mooney and acting in It’s A Date.
I spoke to him about his new show at the 2014 Melbourne International Comedy Festival – I Worry That I Worry Too Much.

Noel: Do you find it easy to write your routines, or is it more like a long, slow process?

Luke: It can be sometimes. It’s like when you hear a musician say that a song just came to them, it’s the same with comedy. You sometimes get a piece that comes through and it’s fully formed, but it may need a bit of tweeking, but essentially you’ve got it ready to go. Other times you might have a bit you think is funny – or there’s something funny about it and you can’t quite work-out how to word it. Sometimes you just take in front of an audience and just talk it out, and you may have a couple of bad gigs, but eventually you’ll end up with material. Some pieces can take a lot longer than others, definitely.

Noel: You won Best Newcomer at MICF 2013 – is recognition by your peers important to you as a performer?

Luke: yes. You can get very down on yourself when performing and doubt yourself a lot. If you have a bad gig you might actually think about retiring. But with something like that – and when you see the people who’ve wone it previously – it does help. It’s kinda like a nice little thing that you can’t argue with and makes you think that maybe I am doing the right thing. I have a lot of respect for those who have won it before like Ronny Cheung and Matt Okine. Those two guys are just legends. It was really nice to win.

Noel: Did growing-up in Tasmania influence your decision to enter the performing arts?

Luke: I guess so. I did it on a whim. I did my first gig because I went to watch my housemate perform in RAW and someone pulled-out, so I asked if I could get up. And that was how I got into comedy. I think that no matter where I was I would probably end up going into it. I think it was more school that had an influence. I used to try and get away from bullies by making them laugh. So I just kept that up, I suppose

Noel: Your on-stage persona appears nervous and ill-at-ease. Is that purely performance or is it your actual personality just turned-up to eleven?

Luke: Pretty much the second one, yeah. I just don’t try and hide anything which can be good or bad, but I feel that if I’m really open it’s better than trying to hide. I feel people kind of relate to me more if I just open-up and let that come out.

Noel: You traveled to the UK to perform last year. How did you find the audiences across there?

Luke: They were great. Really switched-on. They got subtle stuff and nothing was really lost on them. The comedy that comes from there is incredible. I was really nervous at first because I’d never done anything outside of Australia before, but they were great. There’s just so much of my favourite stuff comes from there. I got into Alan Partridge whilst I was there. I watched all three seasons in one go.

Noel: Which comedians have inspired you?

Luke: Eddie Murphy and Bill Murray were heroes growing up. They have such presence on stage. More recently Zach Galifianakis, David Chapelle, Brian Regan, Chris Rock, Ricky Gervais – there’s quite a few now. Basically anyone who talks about their own experience or view on something as opposed to just jokes. Like Louis CK just talks about his life and is just really open. Chapelle is just a genius.

Noel: You’ve had your fair share of acting roles. Is that something you’d like to do more of or do you just see it as an additional part of your skill-set?

Luke: Yeah. I’d like to do it more. I really enjoy it. I think I should take acting classes, so far Ive been pretty much playing myself with slightly different words. I haven’t really played anyone too different. I haven’t played a tough-guy who rides a motorcycle yet. I think it’s a lot of fun. If I could keep doing both stand-up and acting that would be great.

Noel: So what can you tell us about your show this year – I Worry That I Worry Too Much?

Luke: Well – I’m worried that title is no good for a comedy show. It’s basically a show about me
talking about all the stuff I worry about, seeing if anyone else worries about the same things and then trying to collectively get over it in a funny way. Hopefully people will enjoy it.

Luke McGregor’s show I Worry That I Worry Too Much is on during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival from March 27 to April 20 at The Portico Room, Melbourne Town Hall, corner of Swanston and Collins Streets.

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

Interview with Milton Jones about his first time at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival

By Noel Kelso

Milton Jones is a celebrated UK television and radio comedian probably best known to Australian audiences for his regular appearances on topical quiz show Mock The Week where his clever and surreal one-liners prove even more entertaining than his blazingly bright Hawaiian shirts. He has won numerous awards for his comedy including Time Out’s ‘Best Newcomer ‘ and Chortle Magazine’s ‘Best Headliner’ awards and is author of a partly biographical novel Where Do Comedians Go When They Die?: Journeys of a Stand-Up.
As he makes his Australian debut at the 2014 Melbourne International Comedy Festival Squirrel caught up with him for a few questions.

Noel: As this is your first time performing solo in Australia, many people here will only be familiar with your material through seeing you on ‘Mock The


Noel: How would you describe your live show to those unfamiliar with it and convince them to come and see it?

Milton: Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Clever in places. But mainly stupid.

Noel: What inspired you to first get started in comedy?

Milton: I wanted to be an actor, but no-one else wanted me to be one. So Idecided to try and pull faces for a living.

Noel: Your BBC Radio 4 show ‘Thanks A Lot, Milton Jones’ derives much of the humour from everyday situations gone awry when your character becomes involved. Do you have the same ‘can do’ attitude in real life?

Milton: I used to, until there was a petition from my family and local residents.

Noel: Has performing comedy always been something which appealed to you or were you originally intending to follow a different career path?

Milton: As I say I wanted to be an actor. All other doors were closed to me on the grounds of incompetence.

Noel: Which comedians – past of present – do you admire?

Milton: Rowan Atkinson. Emo Philips. My many Grandfathers.

Noel: Your comedy style comes across as that of someone who is perplexed by the way the world works and you just want answers – however odd and surreal they might be. Do you have a similarly questioning character off-stage?

Milton: Listen this is pretty much the same question as question 3 isn’t it? (see I a have questioning character)

Noel: Also – your performance style appears less confrontational than many of your contemporaries. Was that a conscious decision or is it something which arose naturally from your personality?

Milton: Oh shut up you pig.

Noel: Returning to your appearances on ‘Mock The Week’ – do you enjoy the competitive nature of that style of comedy and do you feel it gives that extra push to inspire more innovative comedy?

Milton: I would prefer it if I had 3 minutes to answer all the questions on MTW on my own, then I could go home and not have to compete with the others. Then at least I could always get a word in.

Noel: How do you find the writing process for your live shows differs from that used when writing a radio series – if at all?

Milton: Well when I’m writing radio I can use sound effects and read it off a script because the audience at home can’t see me – heh heh. But when I’m doing a live show I can pull faces.

Noel: You are known for wearing bright shirts when performing. Are these purely an affectation for the stage or do you actively seek out these fashion items? (I myself have quite a collection of hideous shirts which I wear with pride)

Milton: It’s a signpost to go with my stupid character. Id don’t know what your excuse is.

Milton Jones is appearing at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival from March 27 to April 20 at The Supper Room, Melbourne Town Hall

Interview with Ben McKenzie about his ‘Uncool’ Festival show, Splendid Chaps and Night Terrace.

By Lisa Clark

Ben McKenzie, also known as The Man in the Labcoat, has been spreading his intelligent geeky comedy around Australia for ten years. This includes comedy tours of the Melbourne Museum, performing a comedic version of Dungeons & Dragons (Dungeon Crawl) and performing with the Anarchist Guild Collective sketch troupe.  In 2012 Ben appeared in eight different shows at MICF but none of them were his own Solo show. In 2013 Ben took part in celebrating 50 years of Dr Who with the monthly live podcast ‘Splendid Chaps. This year Ben and the Splendid Chaps team are working on an online audio series called Night Terrace and Ben is performing a solo festival show at The Melbourne International Comedy Festival called Ben McKenzie is Uncool.

Lisa: How long has it been since you last did a solo show at MICF?
Ben: Seven years! I’ve done a few smaller solo shows here and there, and plenty of solo work – MCing corporate events, charity gigs and conferences, plus presenting and spots here and there – but it’s mostly been, and continues to be, collaborative stuff for me, like Dungeon Crawl, Splendid Chaps and Night Terrace. So this is pretty exciting!

Lisa: You said in our last interview that your next solo show would be about Nerd culture is that how it turned out?
Ben: …sort of. I mean, yes, I talk about stuff that is part of geek culture, and I talk about why I love it so much. It’s that rejection of cool, of embracing passion and enthusiasm, that’s such a part of being a fan of things.

Lisa: Tell us about Ben McKenzie is Uncool
Ben: It’s a whole pile of (un)cool stuff, essentially: little bits of all the things I love. What I was saying about nerds embracing enthusiasm and passion, that’s what this show is about – the things for which I’m a fan, that mainstream culture perhaps doesn’t embrace in the same way. I want to share them with the audience!

Lisa: Will it be a more general show about nerdery in your science professorial style or will it have some personal stories as well?
Ben: There’s a little bit of personal stuff, but mostly just as background for who I am and where I fit in. Establishing nerd credentials, you might say – though also rejecting the idea that those should be necessary! Mostly though this show is not about me, it’s about some of the things I love, which probably says as much about me as anything else. 😉

Lisa: How do you tend to write shows; all at once, long and slow, at a set time and place every day…?
Ben: In the past I’ve come at it from a very theatrical kind of bent. I would workshop ideas and then script the entire show, then learn it like a monologue. But this show has been different, partly because I haven’t had time to do that, and partly because it’s a show made of lots of parts. It was an interesting development process, I didn’t know exactly what it was going to be, but I had a pretty good idea of what I didn’t want it to be! So not just stand-up, but using other skills I have; it has a bit of sketch, and some games and impro. I’ve worked on it in fits and starts, whenever inspiration took me. I come up with a lot of ideas in the shower for some reason, when I’m least able to write them down! And it’s not all new, I should say; it’s got some stuff I’ve written in the last few years, but it’s stuff comedy festival audiences probably won’t have seen.

Lisa: Will you be doing any other shows in the Festival this time?
Ben: Nothing official, this year – which is quite a departure for me. For the last six years I’ve usually been in three to five shows each year, though mostly they weren’t long runs. I’m sad to miss out on Late Night Letters & Numbers this year; typically the year it clashes with something else is they year they make it into the Town Hall! But they have Lawrence Leung on board filling my spot at the whiteboard, who I know will smash it out of the park. (Though I’ll lay odds he won’t get as many solutions as I did. Take that, racist stereotypes!) Richard and I are doing two late night Dungeon Crawl shows during MICF as part of our final regular season, but they aren’t officially part of the festival.

Lisa: You spent a lot of last year working on Splendid Chaps, now that it’s over how do you look back on it?
Ben: It’s funny, I often have trouble talking up my own work, but I’m really proud of Splendid Chaps. I wanted to talk about this show that I love so much, but make sure the podcast wasn’t like all the other ones, and that it wasn’t just about Doctor Who. That’s why we had the guests, and the broad topics, and performed (nearly) every show to a live audience. And I think it worked. It’s one of the few things I’ve done that I go back to every now and then and listen to, because the guests were so great and the conversations went to interesting places I didn’t expect. And that’s just the stuff that made it into the podcast! I really must get the raw recordings from John and listen to the full versions some time.

Lisa: How did you and John get together and decide to do it?
Ben: It was kind of my idea. John and I met through Boxcutters, the TV podcast; I knew host Josh Kinal through some friends and did a guest spot. We discovered our mutual love of Doctor Who and got along really well, so we used to go out on these “nerd dates”, as John called them. We’d have a coffee and talk about the new series and possible casting and our opinions of the old series. John had an idea for a pretty nerdy show he wanted to do with me, though it didn’t work out; then when the anniversary was coming up, I thought it was high time I talked about Doctor Who in public. I mean why not? I love it, other people love it. And I wanted to get into podcasting, to make something that would persist; the vast bulk of my work is live only, so you can’t show it to anyone. I love that but I wanted to record something. The idea for Splendid Chaps came to me nearly fully-formed, and I pitched it to John, and he loved it, tweaked it a bit, and that was that.

Lisa: How did you meet Petra and get her involved?
Ben: I met Petra through a mutual friend years ago, when she first moved to Melbourne. We hung out a bit. I’d seen her perform a couple of times and we caught up again a couple of years ago, and it struck me she would be great to work with on the Melbourne Museum Comedy Tour. And I was right! Originally the idea for Splendid Chaps was that we’d have a different announcer/co-host every episode, and I invited Petra to do the first episode; she has a brilliant voice for that kind of work. But then she worked so well, and the audience loved her too, that we just decided she had to stay! And she’s really part of the Splendid Chaps family now. We couldn’t do the show without her.

Lisa: Do you have Splendid Chaps Highlights?
Ben: Oh, loads! The Seven/Religion episode is probably my favourite, and getting to take the show to Sydney thanks to the support of fans through our crowdfunding campaign, that was amazing. Meeting Alexandra Tynan, the designer who created the Cybermen, was fantastic; she’s so wonderful! But most of all I think I loved the songs! Finding those old songs about Who and reviving them for the show, and getting to pay these wonderful performers to cover some truly awful tunes. I love them all, but performing The Universe is Big and blowing bubbles into the audience was a moment I’ll always treasure. I also absolutely love Georgia Fields and her cover of Doctor Who Is Gonna Fix It, this ridiculous song from the 80s by Australian band Bullamakanka. And getting Keira Daley to cover Jackson Zumdish’s I Wanna Be Doctor Who…I don’t think she’ll ever forgive me, but it was totally worth it.

Lisa: Tell us about the new project for the Splendid Chaps team Night Terrace.
Ben: Night Terrace is an audio series, so like a radio serial, a bit Hitchhiker’s-esque I suppose! It’s not a podcast, we’ll be selling it as a digital download; you get the whole thing all at once, eight episodes in this first series, kind of like a Netflix original show, or the newer stuff from Big Finish. It’s a sci-fi comedy, in which adventuring scientist Anastasia Black (Jackie Woodburne, best known as Susan on Neighbours) quits her job saving the world for a secretive government organisation and tries to retire to the suburbs. But just as she’s trying to get rid of a door-to-door electricity plan salesman, her house starts travelling through time and space! So she’s stuck having these fantastic adventures with this guy, and it just makes her seriously annoyed. She hates it! But they have to try and survive and make their way back home by figuring out the mystery of this house. They also meet this mystery woman, “Sue”, played by Petra…but I can’t reveal too much. I’m playing the sidekick, Eddie. He’s the salesman, but he’s also a university student; someone who’s studied a lot but doesn’t have practical, real-world experience. He’s a bit useless most of the time, but excited about their adventures. A nice counterpoint to Anastasia being grumpy about it.

Lisa: How did you get Jackie Woodburne involved?
Ben: We asked her! John just got in touch and pitched it to her. She was our first choice and she said yes! We were over the moon. She’s so perfect for it, and it’s going to be great fun; Anastasia is a very different role to Susan Kennedy!

Lisa: Will Night Terrace involve any live performances?
Ben: We have talked about it, but it’s difficult. There have been some great live radio play style shows in recent years, like the superhero story Bullet, but those were written with that sort of performance in mind. And being sci-fi, there’s a lot of effects and post-production work needed; David Ashton, our fourth Splendid Chap and professional sound engineer, who’s also writing an episode (he used to write and perform on The Third Ear with John on RRR), he’s got his work cut out for him! That said, we’re planning on having a live event to launch the series, to which many of our Kickstarter backers will be invited, and we will have live performance at that. We might write something especially for that, though it’ll probably be difficult to fit that into Jackie’s Neighbours commitments!

Lisa: Will it have a finite number of episodes or will it be ongoing?
Ben: We’re approaching it like a TV series, so what we’re writing now is a first series of eight 25-minute episodes. If it’s popular and sells pretty well, we’d love to come back and do more series later on. We already have lots of ideas about where to take it!

Ben McKenzie is Uncool at The Provincial Hotel during Melbourne Comedy Festival.

Information about the web audio series Night Terrace can be found on their website

The podcasts for Splendid Chaps – A year of  Dr Who celebrating the 50th anniversary of Dr Who can still be found on the website if you missed out on it last year.

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

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!


Michael Winslow Police Academy Sound FX Show