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 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.


By Luke Simmons

Everyone has a (funny) story to tell

Made in St Kilda, by  Brendan McKenzie, Pieter Malherbe and yours truly Luke Simmons,  bytestories is a new storytelling site which can provide you with your “sit-down-at-the-keyboard comedy” fix on demand. Dedicated to short, byte-sized stories (There is a 1500 character / 200-250 word limit) based on true events, it’s proving to be a popular writing space for some of Australia’s favourite and up-and-coming comedians.

MICF 2013 comics who have shared that time when….

Brad Oakes and Michael Connell have already revealed some of their most embarrassing stories, Alexis Simmonds has exposed why her Uncle deviously volunteered to learn craft while at school and Becky Lewis takes you through what it’s like to work in a bar full of hard drinkin’ cowboys. 

Brad Oakes – Embarrassing encounter with the floor polishing machine

Michael Connell – Do Not Say This In Japan

Alexis Simmonds – One tale from Tales of a straight, single cat lady

Becky Lewis – 7 rum and cokes thanks, no ice


Other recommended authors on the site include: Andy Thompson, Nick O’Connell, Jennifer Burke, Tom Middlebrook, Ron Hailes, and Torre De Roche.

Anyone can submit

If you’re thinking about sharing a story, it would suit if you do not wish to have the hassle of setting up a blog OR if you’d like your funniness to reach an International audience. It could also be a good way for performers to work on ideas for a routine or festival show.

The site is cute and ideal for killing time while at home or on your mobile (i.e. sitting/staring on public transport). The reader in you can get on-demand chuckles and the comedic writer in you will enjoy gathering a fan base.

Check out and get involved!

Yianni – Numb & Number

Since relocating several years ago, Yianni has been kicking goals in the UK comedy scene. At last years Edinburgh Fringe he presented the show Numb & Number which had a hilarious YouTube promo video:

Yianni is currently in Melbourne & has been popping up as a guest on various MICF shows. While here Yianni will be treating us to a one off performance of his fabulous solo show about being diagnosed as mildly autistic at 33 years of age. We saw it in Edinburgh and can thoroughly recommend it.  

Numb & Number will be on this coming Monday 15th of April at Ding Dong Lounge (18 Market Lane, Melbourne).

The show starts at 8pm and tickets are $25 full / $20 concession (available at the door).

The story of The Best Wedding Video Ever

By Lisa Clark

Anyone who was lucky enough to see Danny McGinlay’s lovely Comedy Festival show this year, Danny McGinlay Learns Ukranian, will know that the reason he was learning a new language was that he was getting married into a Ukranian family and his show was about the lead up to that wedding which happened on June 9. Apparently the wedding was such good fun they’d love to do it over again (and hopefully Danny might get some great new material out of it – ahhh comedians!). A few days later Danny released his ‘Wedding Video’ on Youtube. It is the story of Danny and his new wife Lesya’s relationship told through scenes they re-enacted from classic movies. Danny is justly proud of it and hopes to get it played on Ellen. I was bowled over by it (as well as a little nauseous from all the pashing) and decided to ask Danny about how it was made.

It’s referred to as a ‘Wedding Video’ but obviously isn’t of your wedding ceremony. Was it shown at the wedding and at what time?
It was shown at the wedding, just as people sat down for the reception. Only a few people knew about it. The Bridal party and our parents. [Oh and the film makers]

How long did it take for you to make it?
It was only about a week of filming but spread out over six months because everyone had different schedules and we were all working for free.

It looks quite professional, did you use a professional video company, or friends?
Two friends who are professional film makers Jarrod Factor of Factor Films who I had worked with before in my 08 Festival Show “Coming Soon”,
and Hayden bevis who is best known as Gary the Bricklayer from the CGU ad, he’s just made a really funny sketch show for c31 called “The Delightfully Shit World of Hayden and Lachlan”

Was it all storyboarded out beforehand or did you add ideas as you went along?
We came up with the concept years ago, before we were even thinking about getting engaged. Then we wrote the script over a couple of weeks and storyboarded it out. Scouting locations took a while [did anyone recognize The Comics Lounge?] and costumes even longer, Lesya did an amazing job on costumes.

Any chance of a sequel?
If it gets on Ellen we’ll make a sequel.

The video goes for about 8 minutes and it’s worth sticking through the whole thing, enjoy!

Backstage at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Melbourne collective Little Picture Box have been busy producing “Backstage” at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
Headed by Amanda Reedy, Little Picture Box and her team have produced a couple of seasons of Channel 31′s Studio A and have also produced comedy short films and sketches for online.

The “Backstage” project is a collaboration between Reedy, her team at Little Picture Box and comedians Tommy little, Dave Thornton and Nat Harris. They’ll be producing exclusive online content including interviews, sketches and other funny stuff during the festival plus a half hour Comedy Festival special to air on Channel 31, April 14 at 8.30.

There’s a bunch of videos online now including Tommy Little interviewing Tom Green, Frank Woodley, Tom Ballard, Paul Foot and more. Here’s a few of our fav’s. You can check out more on Little Picture Box’s YouTube Channel.