Michael Workman: Nothing You Do Means Anything

By James Shackell Michael Workman 17

Michael Workman has lost the will to be funny. Or, more accurately, the will to be the niche brand of funny that leads to critical acclaim, personal fulfilment and abject poverty. Since he stormed onto the scene way back in 2011 with Humans Are Beautiful, he gained a rep for thought provoking fables: well-sculpted parables on the human condition that left 30% of the audience confused, and brought the other 70% to tears. The awards flowed in. His 2012 show Mercy got its own DVD. He picked up his first Barry Award nomination in 2013 for Ave Loretta. Compared to the average Australian comedian’s trajectory, which begins with an Arts degree and ends somewhere in Human Resources, things couldn’t have been going better. There was only one catch: he wasn’t conventionally popular.

His latest show, Nothing You Do Means Anything, is about what happened next.

Fast-forward to 2016. Michael Workman has been hired on The Voyage of the Damned: a cruise ship comedian, serving up his personal brand of whimsy to a silent and aggressive room of geriatrics with their arms folded. They hated him. He finished the cruise and seriously thought of giving up comedy for good – old people can be mean when they want to be.

This is the kind of soul-tearing, existential crisis from which grew Nothing You Do Means Anything. The title, we realise, refers to Workman himself. His own doubts about the merits of artistic integrity when measured up against stuff like money and popular success. “I can be a hack. I can be,” Workman rants at himself, while deliberately trying to channel a ticket-selling persona, or the naff pull-back-and-reveals which probably would’ve have killed on the cruise ship. It’s tongue-in-cheek meta comedy at its blackest nadir. Like watching Keith Richards get up on stage and smash his guitar with tears in his eyes.

Having said that, I laughed a lot. I thought a lot. And the show’s stayed with me for days since, living in some back pocket of my mind, resurfacing at odd moments. In other words, even when Workman is trying not to be Workman, he can’t do it. He can’t not be clever and articulate and niche and cynical and challenging. He’s too much himself for that.

There’s a point in the show where Workman references Bill Hicks, the great 90s comedian, whose last words on stage were “I don’t want to do this anymore.” But there’s another Hicks quote that’s relevant here: “When did mediocrity and banality become a good image for your children? I want my children listening to people who f***ing rocked! I want someone who plays from his f***ing heart.” Amen to that.

Michael Workman performs Nothing You Do Means Anything at The Chinese Museum



5 good reasons to see Michael Workman: Nothing You Do Means Anything

1. You have recently had a psychotic break, and you’re looking for a crowded place to ‘cleanse’ society of ‘thought stealers.’

2. You mistakenly thought this was the line for Stephen K Amos.

3. You couldn’t get in to Kitson.

4. You are currently a ghost haunting the theatre I’m playing in.

5. You are a ghost buster politely enduring my show whilst trying to catch the ghost that haunts the theatre I’m playing in.

Michael Workman’s Nothing You Do Means Anything is on at The Chinese Museum



Michael Workman – We Have Fun Don’t We?

By Noel KelsoMichael Workman

Michael Workman doesn’t do ‘traditional’ stand-up. His shows have an interesting part-narrative, part-stand-up structure broken into sections through stage lighting cues. Previous shows have tackled subjects such as Cuban dissidents and oddball characters in small town Australia, both containing a potent mixture of comedic hilarity and poignant storytelling. ‘We have Fun, Don’t We?’ follows this pattern beautifully.

This is another personal tale from Workman regarding the break-up of a relationship with a woman he truly loved and the drunken chaos which briefly followed and it is a testament to the man’s skills as a storyteller and comedian that I was not reaching for the razor after five minutes.

Comedic storytelling is a tricky genre to master – balancing the nuances of narrative with the necessary punch of stand-up, and Michael Workman has been navigating that narrow line successfully for the best part of a decade. His deadpan delivery, soft tones and expressive face allow him to deliver stinging punchlines and thoughtful musings on life and death with equally forceful impact.

His evocative and detailed descriptions transport the audience to the very places and events about which he is speaking and one finds oneself laughing at the tiny incidental details in addition to the big punchlines. One of my favourite lines involved the scathing description of a well-meaning child’s gift as a ‘macaroni fiasco’ – a phrase which I am sure I shall be trying to use indiscriminately whenever I can.

This show is full of beautiful little moments such as the running metaphor of life as a snowglobe and all of the interesting parts occurring when it gets shaken-up rather than the safety and dullness of stability and settling.

Workman isn’t afraid to take his audience to the darker places in his comedy and stories and alternates between the absurd humour of deciding that his parents wanted him to literally name the time at which he would lurch home at an ungodly hour as a drunken teenager, contrasted with the desperation of a broken man at the end of a relationship trying to find comfort and solace in all of the wrong places.

The issue of body image is one not usually covered by male comedians, but here Workman wrings it for as much comedy and pathos as he can and juxtaposes it with talk of shameful trips to a certain deep-fried poultry establishment to drown his sadness in grease.

Clearly Michael Workman is not your average comedian and this is a good thing. Yes – the job of a comedian is to make one laugh, and Workman manages that with tremendous ease; but good comedy should also make one think and this is Workman’s real talent. He has the ability to take quite downbeat subject matter – the kind of things we would rather not talk about such as death, loss, heartbreak – and fashions them into beautiful creations which force the audience to approach the subjects in a fresh, comedic light.

Yet again, Michael Workman has produced a show which is well-crafted, thought-provoking and laugh-out-loud funny.

We Have Fun Don’t We? is playing at the Victoria Hotel, Little Collins Street until April 19th.

Squirrels Top 5 Picks of the Festival

Well the 2013 Melbourne International Comedy Festival is winding down this weekend.

We no longer hand out awards, because it is just too difficult for us to see everything, or even see the same shows as each other. Instead most of the Squirrels have picked their Top 5 shows. If they are still running we recommend that you might like to see some of them this weekend. It was really hard to narrow it down to only five.

Of course the festival isn’t over yet and we may see something that changes our list but we wanted to put this up before the festival was over so you could gain from our recommendations.

You’ll notice a few of the names crop up more than once. Some sold out shows are putting on extra performances in the final weekend like the play Choir Girl that had finished its run of three performances, but has added one on Sunday afternoon.

Check out the Melbourne International Comedy Festival website for details and keep festivalling ’til you drop!!

Lisa Clark 

Hannah Gadsby – Happiness is a Bedside Table

Dave Bloustien – The Grand Gignol

The Writers

Luke McGregor – My Soulmate is Out of My League

Sammy J – Potentially


Caitlin Crowley

Luke McGregor – My Soulmate is Out of My League

Hannah Gadsby – Happiness is a Bedside Table

Michael Workman – Ave Loretta

Best Comics Worst Gigs

Dave O’Neil – 33 Things I Should Have Said No To



Cathy Culliver 

Dayne Rathbone – It’s Me Dayne

Luke McGregor – My Soulmate is Out of My League

Simon Keck – Nob Happy Sock

Dr Professor Neal Portenza

Ryan Coffey – Late & Loud


Colin Flaherty 

Fabian Lapham & The Actual Musicans:God Fights the Dinosaurs & 9 Other Stories That Will Awesome You in the Face.

Simon Keck – Nob Happy Sock

Set List

Choir Girl – Sarah Collins

David Quirk – Shaking Hands with danger


Elyce Phillips 

Lessons with Luis – Famoucity!

Lords of Luxury

Sam Simmons – Shitty Trivia

Lawrence Leung’s Part-time Detective Agency

Mike Birbiglia – My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend


Luke Simmons 

Khaled Khalafalla – Devious

Brendon Walsh

Bev Killick – Goes “There”…Again

Daniel Connell – Mr Personality 1988

Trevor Noah – The Racist


2013 Melbourne International Comedy Festival finishes on Sunday 21st of April

MICF Award Nominees Announced

There are seven Nomineed shows for The Barry Award this year.

Hannah Gadsby who is doing two shows – her personal show about surviving her teen years and becoming an adult – Happiness is a Bedside Table and her art show which this year is called Nakedly Nudes and is becoming a bit of a tradition and sells out pretty quickly.

John Conway – The New John Conway Tonight Show. An anarchic crazy late night chat show.

Kitty Flanagan, for Hello Kitty Flanagan. A stunning performer who came back to Australia from the UK a couple of years ago for which are all immensely grateful.

Max & Ivan Are Con Artists –  British performers who’ve been getting some good reviews. (I’ve clearly not seen them)

Michael Workman with another magical lyrical story Ave Lorretta.

Rich Hall he’s so fabulous his show doesn’t need a name. He kicked ass at Political Asylum’s Late Night Riot too.

Trevor Noah The Racist. He’s South African and have heard fabulous things about him.


Now for this year’s Nominees for The Golden Gibbo! (Named in honour of the late Melbourne comedian Lynda Gibson it is awarded to “a local, independent show that bucks trends and pursues the artist’s idea more strongly than it pursues any commercial lure”.)

Kate McLennan & Wes Snelling for their Moosehead awarded, site specific work Standard Double. A character  based show set in a hotel room that can only hold a small audience.

Simon Keck – Nob Happy Sock – For his moving and amazing show about depression with the most heart stopping opening of the festival

Slutmonster and Friends (Jessie Ngaio, Lucas Heil & Wes Gardner) – a gorgeously designed, joyful celebration of sex, silliness and puppets.

Tommy Bradson – Sweet Sixteen or the Birthday Party Massacre. Rock Musical satire of suburbia.

The Writers (Bob Franklin, Stephen Curry and Stephen Stagg) – What goes on in the mind of Bob Franklin?


The Best Newcomer nominees were announced on Tuesday April 16th they are….

Damien Power – Monkey’s in Space

Dayne Rathbone – It’s Me Dayne and The New Conway Tonight Show.

Luke McGregor – My Soulmate is Out of My League

and Steen Raskopoulos – Bruce SpringSTEEN LIVE IN CONCERT!

Congrats to all the 2013 Nominees, Winners will be announced next Saturday April 20th (well… actually early Sunday morning)  at the Comedy Festival Club Hifi Bar


By James Shackell

Since emerging from Perth in 2009 to win RAW Comedy, Michael Workman has taken out nearly every award for being funny the country has to offer, along the way gaining a reputation for whimsical narratives, haunting poetry, and eyebrows that move as if independent from his body (although that may be just this critic’s opinion). This year he returns to the festival with Ave Loretta, a dark comedy about depression, loss and expectation. I met up with Michael at a cafe on Swanston Street to discuss the new show.

So tell me about Ave Loretta. What’s the story?

It’s hard to talk about it without making it sound like something it’s not. It’s about a successful musician who travels back to his shitty home town to visit the grave of his muse who committed suicide. When people ask me what it’s about, that’s kind of what I’m obligated to say because technically that is what it is about, but it’s hard to picture that being funny.

Well you are known for going into dark and different places with your comedy. Is that your intention?

Well I bring it on myself. I did a show about political unrest in Cuba and freedom of speech, which again is not typical subject matter for comedy, and really to expect people to go, ‘Hey! Go see this hilarious thing!’ is possibly a bit much. But that being said, it is funny, and it is a comedy show. But that’s probably not the focus. I like to use comedy as a vehicle to convey loftier concepts.

And what are the concepts this year?

Well this year the show is kind of a departure from my other stuff because it’s quite morally ambiguous. There’s no distinct moral conclusion to this show, it’s pretty open ended. So I’m really just trying to get people thinking about depression and suicide and banality and how that affects the human experience. This was something that was important in my life, certainly before I started comedy. Those were the sort of battles I was going through. But I wanted to fictionalise that story a little bit and give an impression of it, rather than an autobiography.

What were you doing before comedy?

I was making music. I was writing scores for theatre, and drinking heavily. Those were my two main interests at the time. Comedy seemed to be the panacea for that. I pretty much stopped immediately after I started stand-up.

Do you feel pressure to back up with this third show?

Yeah definitely. This was certainly the most difficult show to write. Because I felt like I was maybe falling into a formula with doing these fables, these very symbolic shows, and then I decided to get out of that by doing a really gritty, down-to-earth story with very little whimsy. This is dark as hell. People should be expected to be very surprised that they are laughing at some of the things they’re laughing at. And they should expect that I won’t pull any punches. This is an intense subject and I’m not going to make light of an intense subject, but I am going to find the humour in it. This is definitely got the biggest chunks of real me in it.

Did it feel like therapy writing it?

Yeah to an extent, it did. Having to come up with ways to express what I meant in ways that maybe people who hadn’t experienced it could understand; I think that’s actually been really helpful to unravel some of the problems. But I should say that this is not about my therapy, which had a positive outcome. This is about other people.

Your shows always have a narrative. What do you think story can bring to comedy?

I feel this compulsion to get maybe a single idea across in each hour. So I think of a show as a potato – coz like a potato is like a big sack of starch, and that’s the part that we eat, and that’s the part that we like, but the whole point of that big sack of starch is so that a tiny sapling at the top can poke through and survive. So the audience prefers the starch – you can fry it, mash it, have it with some duck, but the sprout is the point I’m getting across. The sack of starch is just what makes it edible.

So what do you find funny?

Honesty and self awareness. People who can stand back and see exactly who they are objectively are very amusing to me. People who deconstruct what’s going on in their social interactions and that kind of thing without being awkward.

And who are you objectively?

Oh God. Look I think it changes from situation to situation. I think there’s a whole bunch of inaccurate views of me, that I’m aware of. People often say that I’m a mysterious person, but I don’t think that’s true at all, I think I’m just really very awkward, socially, but also very comfortable with the fact that I’m awkward socially, which culminates in this air of mystique which is possibly misguided.

Is the life of a full-time comedian at all like a rock star?

While I don’t have a lot of experience with what a rock star might do, I’ve heard the stories. There’s probably some of that, a little bit of that. You’ll find that comedians are generally pretty obsessive about their work, especially while a show’s on, they’re extremely committed, and they have to be, because if you’re not you’re just going to bomb. So there’s not a lot of wild parties and lines of coke and prostitutes and yachts. Not a lot of yachts.

Do you think that could be what’s missing from comedy? Yachts?

Yeah, I think so. Yachts, mizzen masts, jibs, spinnakers. The whole thing.

Now your accent, what’s going on there? (Workman has a kind of minestrone accent: there’s a bit of Australian, a bit of British, a bit of American, and a bit of something else).

No one quite knows. I was born in Perth, and my parents are Australian. The prevailing theory at the moment is that I was possibly too influenced by television as a small child. But as long as I can remember I’ve spoken like this.

And your look keeps changing year by year.

I keep changing my look to suit the show. So this show is more of a dark, but also casual, show so I’ve gone unshaven and back to the natural black hair. Because I think that represents this person I’m playing.

And what’s the next step after Ave Loretta?

Well I start writing the next show pretty much now. But I’m going to do more music and painting, but in terms of comedy I’ll start writing now. I have a few ideas in the works that I’m not at liberty to talk too much about, but there’s movement there.

Michael Workman is performing Ave Loretta at Melb Town Hall – Regent Room