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A Wool, and he’s funny…

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Q&A with the legendary Glenn Wool, prior to his Comedy Store residency. See him whenever you get the chance, he’s brilliant.



Dom Romeo: By the time I first saw you live – in Edinburgh in 2003 – you had already established a reputation as a great comic, even though I didn’t get to see you in Australia for a few more years. How did you come to comedy?

GLENN WOOL: I was always funny as a human, and I thought, ‘I’ll make some money off of that!’ So you go to open mic nights and they tend to laugh or not laugh. Thankfully, they laughed.

Dom Romeo: Did it take going to the UK to establish yourself, or were you already a known quantity before that?

GLENN WOOL: Not really. I was doing road gigs in Canada and was just sort of learnin’ my chops but it was good to come to the UK with no expectations – I could really blossom over in the UK. I sort of count myself as half English and half Canadian because it was so much of becoming man – it was over here, you know?

Dom Romeo: Why was that? Why didn’t that happen back in Canada? Canada does have the Montreal Comedy Festival, after all. Why did it seem to take Edinburgh to make you?

GLENN WOOL: I didn’t get to the Montreal Festival until three years ago. Canada’s a great place to learn your trade, but you kind of have to leave; it’s hard work, trying to make a living from comedy in Canada. England is definitely the place to be for the International Comedian. It’s just got so many gigs. I mean, I’m standing outside of a gig called ‘Old Rope’ here tonight, and it’s just f*cken wonderful. We had guys who are doin’ theatres and stuff just tryin’ out new material… it’s a really positive scene and everybody really supports each other. Not that they don’t in Canada. It’s that the upside to doing well in the UK is bigger than the upside to doing well in Canada. So I came here. But I’m moving to America soon, anyway, so we’ll see what happens there.

Dom Romeo: Why is that?

GLENN WOOL: I got signed to CAA, which is a big agency, and they said, ‘Come to America, my friend! Give us your poor, huddled masses, and we will make you a STAAAAAAR!’


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Dom Romeo: Since I’ve known you, or known of you as a comic, Glenn, you’ve always looked like a Fabulous Furry Freak Brother to me. You know, the hat, the moustache.

GLENN WOOL: Hahahahahahahaha. I’ll take that!

Dom Romeo: Are you going to California?

GLENN WOOL: Yeah, man.

Dom Romeo: You’re gonna fit right in.

GLENN WOOL: I know! I’m going to try and start a Crosby, Stills & Nash cover band, and play all the roles myself!

Dom Romeo: The person you are on stage doesn’t seem to self-censor. Are there any limits to what you can or will talk about?

GLENN WOOL: No. I don’t think there is any subject matter which is out-of-bounds. If you’re going to talk about a subject matter which has a possibility of offending somebody, you better be saying something about it. I don’t like to be gratuitous, you know? If I talk about something, there’s going to be a joke there and an angle and a point of view. If I can keep all those things together, then no, there are no limits. Don’t get me wrong – on stage, off-the-cuff, I’ve said things that I don’t agree with, that I wish I could have back, but that’s the beauty of the live performance – that you always have the possibility of doing something like that. And in the end, if people really want to get offended, well it’s a comedy gig, and I’ve always said this about offense:

If you can understand the joke, if you can understand why somebody thought it was funny, it means that in your head, you could have thought of that yourself. So really, when you get offended, you’re actually offended by your own brain. Which is never a strong stand-point in an argument.

Dom Romeo: Looking at your material – hilarious, clever – there are times when, if I’m to be honest, it can be reduced to ‘difference between men and women’ or this religion versus that religion. Of course there’s so much more going on – because you’re bringing your experiences and your unique world view into play…

GLENN WOOL: I try to not bring up a situation and then have the joke be, ‘so you could imagine what I would do in that situation…’ unless you actually have a structured joke and punchline. You can put your persona into a joke, but I always like to keep an actual joke there. You have to write a lot if you’re gonna be a stand-up, and a lot of the time it’s one of the lazy traps other comics can fall into. Me myself: I’ve got jokes I can’t stand that get a laugh, so I keep them in. Not that I think they’re offensive – I think they’re beneath me. But the crowd likes them, so f*ck it, you know? You give it to ’em.

Dom Romeo: Is it too much to ask for one example of such a joke that gets a laugh so you keep it, even though it’s beneath you and shouldn’t be in the routine?

GLENN WOOL: Don’t do that to me, man; this ain’t a trial! I don’t want any of my jokes to know which ones I don’t like. They’re sensitive, and they’re like my children. They are my children; I don’t have any children.

Dom Romeo: There’s a moment that comes up, time and again, when hanging out with certain friends, when a quote comes up: ‘I don’t care that the Jews control the milk!’…

GLENN WOOL: Hahahahahahahaha. I know what you do with your friends.

Dom Romeo: You know exactly what I’m talking about.

GLENN WOOL: Yes I do, man, oh yes I do!

It’s funny. It’s jokes like that, that are really fun to tell because people come up afterwards and are just happy that somebody’s talking about that sort of thing and not demonising the person. Yeah, we’ve all got vices; we’ve all got problems. Or maybe it’s not a problem; maybe it’s just something we do, and we can just laugh at it and go, ‘that’s observational about a new sort of thing that people are doing’. They’ve always done stuff like that, you know; it’s like old jokes about booze.

Dom Romeo: Well that’s another example of you taking an old topic and turning it into something spectacular as a routine: the Drunk Glenn/Sober Glenn routine.



GLENN WOOL: Yeah. That is an Australian favourite because I did that on the Melbourne Comedy Festival Gala.

Dom Romeo: Yep!

GLENN WOOL: And I’ve had Aussies all over the world pulling over in their cars and going, [in broad Aussie accent] ‘Is that sober Glenn or drunk Glenn?’

I was back in Vancouver visiting a mate – kind of the guy that, when I started out in comedy, he sort of tutored me. He’s a great dude. It was a really weird experience: I was just walking through the mall with him. I see him every once in a while, but I was saying, ‘I’ve got so much to tell you… so many things have happened. I’ve been all over the world…’ and this dude came out of nowhere – he was working in the shop – an Aussie kid with big dreadlocks. He was like, [Aussie accent again]‘omigawd, you’re Glenn f*ckin’ Wool, I never knew you even came here!’ To me, it looked to my sort of ‘teacher’, ‘you see, Teacher? It seems to be going well.’

You’ve been to Australia a lot. Have you been to Sydney before?

GLENN WOOL: I’ve been there. I’ve never done a show there. I’ve got an old buddy from high school in Canada. He actually now lives in Sydney. I was able to go fishing with him. Did some rock fishing with him. He was like, ‘yeah, yeah, it’s fun’. Then I heard the statistic: [Aussie accent again] ‘you might get pulled out to sea’. I just thought, ‘that looks dangerous, but there’s other people here fishing’. Little did I know…

Dom Romeo: Well – that’s part of the job, isn’t it? Doing something dangerous and then talking about it onstage after surviving?

GLENN WOOL: Yeah. I was just talking to Eddie Byrnes about it last night. We were talking about writing new shows, and we were saying you just wait for bad shit to happen, you know? That’s how you write a new show. Sometimes, instead of going home and watching a movie, you have to stay out and hope that something humorous might take place.

Dom Romeo: When you come to Sydney, are we gonna see the best of what’s been, or are you working up material for next year’s Festival circuit?

GLENN WOOL: You’ll see the best of what’s been, but a lot of it won’t have been on the net or on television because it’s from my Edinburgh show this year, and that has not been performed at all in Australia. I’ll probably throw in a couple of the old classics just because people like to hear them, but it should be a pretty new show.

And that’s the other thing, too: if you want an entirely fresh show, stay off the internet. I get people going, ‘I saw that on the internet!’ I’m like, ‘yeah! For free! So pay this time, you prick!’

Dom Romeo: Last time I saw you in Melbourne you were selling a very good DVD.

GLENN WOOL: Yeah man, I’ve just about sold out the run of that one. I’m about to shoot another one. And I’ve got an album coming out in the States in February. It’s through Stand Up Records. Make sure you print that, they’ll be happy with me that I’ve mentioned it.


Come try and work out which of Glenn Wool’s hilarious jokes might be beneath him at the Comedy Store - until October 10.


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Merrick is Grouse-o

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I recently interviewed Timothy J. Ross – aka ‘Rosso’ of ‘Merrick & Rosso’ fame – in honour of the DVD release of Series 2 of The Merrick & Rosso Show.  One of the points that came up was the fact that Merrick & Rosso have sold a version of their Show to the UK, which is excellent news. While that interview is going to appear in the next issue of FilmInk (he wrote, at the end of September 2009 – in case you’re reading this long after that date) I thought it would be nice to pull out my first ever Merrick & Rosso interview – one of several – that took place with Merrick Watts in 1998. Enjoy.


Merrick is Grouse-o


“When people think of ‘Merrick & Rosso’ they think of my old man as a builder’s labourer with a massive coin slot and half a dozen cans shoved down the front of his pants,” Merrick Watts says.

Merrick’s dad is no builder’s labourer, but I can see where the confusion may lie. My own first reaction to Merrick & Rosso, not having seen any of their work, is to file them in the same category as, say, Derek & Clive: the yobbo’s yobboes. Images of Tim Ferguson, from that golden Big Gig era of the Doug Anthony Allstars, creep into my head: “me name’s Shane-o, but me mates call me... Shane-o”.

That the duo were meeting with every sort of success only made matters worse: I was anticipating the comedic equivalent of a regular six-pack of Stubbsies1. The faux glam of the lime suits, the big, bubbly writing and the taking of Peter Allen’s name in vain on their Mardi Grouse posters offered, at best, evidence of the pair jumping on the current cocktail/easy listening band wagon (the only wagon they’d ever be on, though, considering that their first show was entitled Pissheads from Outer Space). Boy am I wrong!

Merrick insists that his parents are “very interesting people” who contributed greatly to his development as a comic. Papa Watts, “incredibly patriotic, very funny, very witty and very talented”, is also a “f*cking total smart arse.” When Merrick was a boy, friends refused to go to his house to play because his father would pay out on them, making them feel small. “I used to think it was hilarious; I never thought twice about it because in my house the only friends I ever had were ones that would mouth off back to him, and then my dad would respect them. If they weren’t a smart arse, he wouldn’t like them. So that meant the only mates I had were smart arses.”

Mama Watts, on the other hand, is “about as Aussie as you can get. My mum is hardcore.” Growing up in Broken Hill, the daughter of a miner, Merrick’s mum is also described as “fiercely patriotic” as well as being a “very, very hard-working Aussie woman.”

Avoiding the cheap gag temptation to suggest that Merrick’s mum is the one with the coin slot and the six-pack, I instead enquire as to how two so disparate entities could ever have got together.

“I’ve got no idea,” Merrick says, “but I can tell now why they got divorced. I can’t imagine why my parents would ever be together; they’re just absolutely poles apart. My parents are great. In their individual climate they’re fantastic.

“My Mum’s sense of humour is something that has helped me through what I’ve been doing and has really been an influence on what I am. She’s got a good Aussie sense of humour: she likes to have a good time; she likes to be vocal. The energy, I think I get from my Mum.”

As well as a father who likes to take the piss, Merrick’s older brother and his mates were also smart arses. Like many comedians before him, Merrick realised at an early age that “if you weren’t a smart arse you just didn’t get through school properly”. Merrick’s wasn’t the sort of school where you’d get beaten up. Instead, you’d be “bullied verbally. All the time. It was a circus of smart arses and I was the ringleader.” With such a proving ground to grow up in, it is no surprise that Merrick Watts is a comedian. In fact, it also really isn’t surprising, though it may be enviable, that Merrick is only 24 years old.

“People always get surprised to hear that,” Merrick says, playing it down. “A lot of comics start when they’re 25, 26, 27, but I knew I wanted to be a comic before I even knew I wanted to do comedy. When I was a kid I used to just look at the television and think, ‘oh yeah, one day I’ll be on the telly’. I had no idea what I was going to do, but there was no doubt in my mind. In high school I still didn’t know that I was going to be a comedian. I thought I wanted to do funny stuff, but I wanted to be on television. And then when I was about 19 I decided I was going to be a comic. By the time I was 20 I was doing it.”

Not long into his stand-up career, Merrick met Tim Ross. The pair had “been mates for a couple of years,” meaning that they had become familiar with one another on the comedy circuit. Back then Tim led a band, a comedy troupe called Black Rose2 . “I used to go and see Black Rose play,” says Merrick. “I thought that they were pretty funny.” One night when both men were on the same bill they introduced themselves to each other, and, in Merrick’s words, “that was it.”

Rosso, three years Merrick’s senior, grew up near the beach while Merrick lived “up in the hills”. Despite their coming from “completely opposite” sides of town, Merrick claims that the two of them have very similar backgrounds. “We both were left-of-centre or right-of-centre – either way, we were both not ‘centre’; we also grew up in a very similar physical climate.” Merrick claims that they were both reared in forested areas with a high bushfire danger. “Not that I’m saying bushfires determine your comic abilities” he adds, “it’s just that where he grew up was very similar aesthetically. There’s a lot of similarities there: he also went to a school with a lot of smart arses.”

As they both have a similar sense of humour, the pair agree on most things. “There aren’t many ideas or jokes that one will suggest that the other one doesn’t like. We never have to argue about what we’re gonna do or anything like that. We sort of agree on most things because we have a similar sense of humour.”

Merrick says that Pissheads from Outer Space, his first collaboration with Rosso, “wasn’t dissimilar to what we do now. It was just very, very raw and very, very messy.” It was also very, very successful, considering that it was the first show of a new act. Its follow-up, The Imposters, was mounted a few months later, and it also proved successful. Finally, The Merrick & Rosso 5000 was conceived and mounted for 1997’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and that, says Merrick, is “where it all fell into place.”

A Triple J slot followed, almost as a matter of course. Although, truth be told, it was really the result of Merrick & Rosso’s professionalism. Helen Razer and Judith Lucy were broadcasting their Triple J show The Ladies Lounge from Melbourne during the Festival, and were featuring a horde of comics that day.

“It was our second time on national radio and we wanted to make a pretty strong impression,” Merrick recounts, “so we took in a few of our letters to read out over the air.” As it went down a treat, the team was invited to appear more frequently, for a bit of a casual chat. Then, during last year’s Sydney tour, the offer of a weekly slot was made, and accepted. “I think it was just ‘right time, right place’,” Merrick modestly admits.

As was Planet Merrick & Rosso, no doubt. Planet Merrick & Rosso is a five-minute comedy slot that can be seen each week on the Comedy Channel. Each episode consists of a short film. “They’re called ‘interstitials’ in the television industry,” Merrick informs me. I don’t know about the technical jargon, but I guess those little time-filler clips you’d occasionally see before The Goodies on the ABC must have been ‘interstitials’. Meaning that The Goodies and whatever preceded it… were ‘stitials’…? Anyway, the beauty of Merrick & Rosso’s interstitial films is their complete off-the-wall simplicity. “We don’t have a script, we have no lights, no studio time, nothing like that,” continues Merrick. “We travel really, really light; we have a cameraman and a sound man. Basically, we just get a f*cking camera and we hit the road.”

Merrick gives an example of one of the films: “We get a camera and we dress up as what people in Sydney call ‘real hardcore Westies’ and we rock down to Bondi Beach and just start asking people questions. We wear hidden microphones and most of the time the camera is just not obvious, so people often have no idea that they’re being filmed. It’s shot-gun comedy; it’s really hit-and-run and it’s great fun to do.”

In fact, Merrick goes as far as to assure me that he has encountered fans who get Foxtel purely to have access to Planet Merrick & Rosso. “We go ‘hang on, our show is only five minutes a week…’ and they go ‘nuh, nuh’. They’ve seen the shows before, and in some instances they’ve only heard about them, and they’re going and signing up with Foxtel.”

I, of course, find this hard to believe. I’d want more than one program, and certainly more than five minutes of it, if I were to sign up to cable. Even if the show was Duckman or South Park. However, if Planet Merrick & Rosso is as successful as Merrick says, I can only say “release a best-of video, you fools, you’ll make a mint!” Or at least, get Packer to bankroll a series. Then The Sydney Morning Herald’s comedy hack can stop re-writing the ‘there’s no funny Australian comedy on television’ story that gets published in a colour supplement every couple of months.

“There’s been rumours that we might do a half-hour program or a series of half-hour program at some stage,” Merrick admits, “ but it is all hearsay and chit-chat, there’s been nothing proposed as yet. But obviously that’s the next thing we’d be looking to do – a bit of television.” He goes on to say that there have been some “partial offers and soundings” from certain networks, but he and Rosso are not interested as yet because “it doesn’t suit who we are and what we’re doing at the moment”.

What Merrick & Rosso are doing at the moment is Mardi Grouse, their latest stage show. “I’ve got no fucken idea what the title means,” Merrick confesses. “Neither does Rosso. He said, ‘I want to a show called Mardi Grouse’ and I said, ‘Aw, hang on…’ He said, ‘No, no, it’s good.’ Oh. No worries then…”

Mardi Grouse, according to Merrick, picks up where the hugely successful Merrick & Rosso 5000 left off: “Prank phone calls, prank letters, prank films... The way we see it is, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.” Hence, Mardi Grouse offers a “new angle” on a similar show, with lots of new material. However, as far as Sydneysiders are concerned, Mardi Grouse also shows Merrick & Rosso to be a lot slicker than we’d remember them. “Last time we were in Sydney we weren’t stumbling around in the dark or anything,” Merrick explains, “but it’s six to eight months since we were last in Sydney performing. Over that time we’ve done about thirty or forty shows, and that’s thirty or forty shows’ experience. We’ve really got it down pat now.”

Two years, four shows, a regular slot on radio and television. I think it’s fair to say that it has been a rapid rise for Merrick & Rosso. “I suppose in some ways it has,” Merrick concedes, with some reservation. “Rosso and I work very hard on what we do to get where we’re going so it doesn’t really come as much of a surprise to us.”

For Merrick, honesty is the secret to Merrick & Rosso’s success. “We don’t look as though we’re putting on the ‘Hey, this is CRAZY MERRICK…’ routine,” he says. “Obviously, the Merrick that’s on stage is different to the Merrick at his home. It’s the same with Rosso. But we don’t put on characters. Part of the appeal to audiences is that we look like a couple of mates who just tell each other jokes. We tell the audience jokes and it’s very, very honest. It really is Rosso and I, the way we are.”

It is Merrick’s honesty that prevents him from glorifying his own work thus far, which he refuses to analyse or dwell upon. “At the moment,” he says, “what I’m doing is not artistic, it’s just funny. When people ask us what sort of comedy we do, we go ‘funny comedy’. It’s that simple. There’s no education, there’s no politics, there’s no trying to tell people how bad the world is. People just come along and then you laugh and then you go home. It’s as simple as that.”

It is as simple as that. But if their success continues to grow as rapidly as it is growing now, one imagines that this will be the last tour that we see Merrick & Rosso in a venue such as the Comedy Hotel, where Mardi Grouse is currently playing. I suspect that next time, it will be the Enmore, or perhaps even the State. Merrick denies this.

“The difference we see in our shows compared to other comedy shows,” he begins, “is that you can put most comedy shows into a theatre without any problem, and you’ve got more problems putting them into a pub. But with us, it is pub-oriented comedy. We like people being able to smoke and to drink… We put on a night of entertainment. It’s like being at a barbecue where we tell all the jokes. It’s more like party than a show.”

Gorgeous sentiments, Merrick Watts. Any final comments?

“This show is Mardi Grouse. And Mardi Grouse is grouse.”

Amen.


Footnotes


1. Having only seen Richard Stubbs a couple of times on the box – in stubbies and blue singlet – I’d somehow mistaken him for something other than the brilliant comic he is. I was younger, more foolish and far less ready to admit it!

2. Black Rose still play, as Rosso told me in that FilmInk interview, in a bit that didn’t make the final cut, and so I present it here:

We played at the V Festival this year. We did a gig at the Oxford Arts Factory about three or four weeks ago. I drop in and out of it. The V Festival was a blast. It was only Melbourne and Sydney, but I think we’ll do that again next year. So we’re still actively doing it, but it really is, when we get a moment. When we played that gig four weeks ago, I don’t think the boys have played better. We’re still a good, funny act. We went and did a song on Kerri-Anne to promo it. That stuff’s still unreal, to sing a song on morning television. Tick that f*cking box, motherf*ckers!

Unfortunately, the guys all live interstate. If we all lived in the one city, we probably wouldn’t play live at all. We’d just write, rehearse and record albums that noone was interested in buying, and keep hobby music the way it is. But as it is, we find that for us to get together to play, we need to do shows or get someone to pay to get everyone in the one city at the one time. That’s pretty much how it works.



’Scuse Me While I Dis This Sky
(or: ‘Anybody Know Dust?’)


Yellowcolouredlabel


A dust storm blowing in from South Australia and western New South Wales failed to make the news – despite eclipsing Broken Hill the previous afternoon – until it created an eerie early morning red haze when it reached Sydney. Before it eventually faded to a sepia tinge for most of the day, most people awoke to an extended orange coloured sunrise – and then had difficulty avoiding awesome, albeit disturbing, photos online. Which in time gave way to that bloody Kanye West meme. (‘Yo, Sydney, I’m gonna let you finish; but Mars/LA/Africa has better eerie colouring/poluted skies/all-enveloping dust storms…’.)

By the end of the day, news outlets were reporting that the dust clouds were stretching all the way to the Gold Coast and Brisbane. Meanwhile, Sydney’s air was 1500 times more polluted than usual.

I had intended on compiling my favourite photos from around the net – but the day got away from me. And they’re all over the place now, anyway. So I just picked a handful that are representative of a whole bunch.

Of course, the place to start is with an excellent YouTube clip of home video taken in suburban Broken Hill. If I were reporting about this on air or making a YouTube video of my own, I’d use Elvis Costello’s ‘Turning the Town Red’ and a couple of different versions of ‘Orange Coloured Sky’ (including the ridiculous Burt Ward version that Frank Zappa produced back in the late 60s) to orchestrate it. And, of course, anything from Dusty Springfield’s entire oeuvre. Oh, and how could I forget – seeing as I have a later re-issue of the 7-inch single pressed on red vinyl: ‘I See Red’ by Split Enz.



Rayneegirl’s YouTube clip of the dust storm in Broken Hill.


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Lauren Jarrott’s photo of the same view of Neutral Bay, before and during the dust storm. From SMH.


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Tom Hide’s excellent – but disturbing – photo of Luna Park, from his Flickr page. (How cool is the reflection in the puddle? All that’s missing is a Cyberman’s boot in the bottom left corner.)


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St John’s Church, Parramatta, by Kevin Waterson, from the ABC702 breakfast radio blog.



A rather apt excerpt from a Little Britain sketch. (If it’s been particularly annoying, having that soundbite play automatically every time you’ve followed a link to more photos and then come back to this page, consider it the aural equivalent to the abrasive particles carried by high winds in the dust storm itself.)


ADDENDA

• Rachel, pointing out this weather is “a reminder that Australia is mainly desert and nature rules everday in every way”, sent me a link to rishian222’s cool slideshow. (The musical accompaniment is ‘Great Southern Land’ by Icehouse.)



• Some 24 hours after I posted this, Adrian Raschella closed his report on the ABC1 7pm News bulletin with the Little Britain ‘Fat Fighters’ sketch that ends with “Dust! Anbody…? No…? Dust…! Anybody…? No…?” Wonder where he got the idea for that.



Nice Crisp Flavour?

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

Actor Tom Felton asks, “Does this flavour crisp alarm anyone else or am I just weird?”

To be honest, Tom, I suspect the reason Kettle opted for this flavour combination for their ‘savory snacks’ (the term for their ‘hand roasted potato chips’ that they prefer over ‘crisps’), is because a competing multinational corporation’s food division had already copyrighted the particular cocktail of chemicals that constitute ‘sour cream and chives’ in that territory.

Or, perhaps, given the unavailability of flavouring additives x and y that normally constitute ‘sour cream and chives’– the variables stand for those substances listed as numbers in the ‘ingredients’ section of food packaging so that we never really know what chemicals we are consuming – they had to go with x+1 and y+1, which shifted the resulting flavour a little to the right of the hitherto acceptable ‘sour cream and chives’.

But if either of these options happens to be the case, I’d go a step further and suggest it’s been done before. Why go to the trouble of removing the letter ‘h’ from the word ‘yoghurt’, if not to sidestep legal redress from established purveyors of ‘yoghurt and green onion’ chips?

According to my buddy Lexa, in the US, Kettle offers both ‘Sour Cream, Onion & Chive’, and ‘Yogurt & Green Onion’ flavours. So what’s actually going on – while it still may be an instance of utilising chemicals x+1 and y+1 instead of x and y – is that practice favoured by companies of producing an extensive range to lock out competition. After all, if someone likes the Sour Cream, Onion & Chive flavour, chances are they’ll actually like the Yogurt & Green Onion flavour.

Irrespective, I still must conclude that you are just a little bit weird, Tom. Kettle’s ‘Yogurt & Green Onion’ chips are fine. It’s the ‘Custard & Garlic’ flavour that’s to be avoided. And the ‘Pickled Herring Thickshake’ variety.

Addendum

Who'd have thought someone else would have made a similar observation – and a similar joke – about Kettle’s Yogurt & Green Onion chips? Alex points out that Judith Lucy did – about a decade ago on The Mick Molloy Show.



Onna televish



One afternoon in 1980, when I was in Year 3, my mother looked up from a school notice I’d just handed her and said, “Oh. Who else was given a note like this to take home?”

Unlike the weekly newsletter or an excursion consent form, which would have been distributed to every student in the class, this notice had come in an envelope and was given to only certain students. It explained that the school had been approached to provide kids for a spot of filming, to take place at a park after the day’s lessons had been completed, and inquired whether my parents would give permission for me to be involved. (It was long before the days of Bill Henson.) The body seeking to have the footage shot was SBS, the ‘Special Broadcasting Service’ that was about to launch a new television station that would cater to ‘multicultural Australia’ with multilingual programming (that is, shows that wogs would want to watch). Well – would cater to multicultural Sydney and Melbourne, initially.

Much as the ABC was ‘Channel 2’ for most people back then, we knew SBS as ‘Channel 0’. Although the nought was a numeral, it was always pronounced ‘oh’ rather than ‘zero’. On air, voice-overs would also refer to the station as ‘channel oh-twenty-eight’ (Channel 0/28). I have no idea how that worked – which parts of Australia could turn a channel dial (because it was the age of dials, and not buttons and remotes) to ‘28’ when they only seemed to go from zero (yeah, all right, ‘oh’) to only as far as ten. Although, anything was possible in the old days of analogue; old television sets had a setting on their channel dials for a station between 5 and 6. It was 5A. Why? What got broadcast on 5A? Who by? And to whom? (The answer, I discovered  while writing this, is Riverland Television Limited – a commercial station broadcasting in regional South Australia.)

Anyway, point is, SBS was about to launch Channel 0/28, and so Mama Romeo surmised there’d be a fair whack of other non-Anglo Australian parents reading a copy of the same letter that evening. And she was right. While token whiteys were also approached – they outnumbered us at the school – the closest of my mates who happened also to be second generation Australians were certainly invited to partake. Tony, whose family came from the same southern Italian village as mine, and Clement, who was – and still is – Chinese Malaysian.

So one sunny afternoon after school we were collected by a chartered bus and delivered to a park. I’ve no recollection which, nor of the teachers and possibly even parents who accompanied us, but I do remember Japanese kids playing cricket nearby, and being approached, with my best friend Clement, by one of the crew as we stepped off the bus. A tubby little Italian and a Chinese kid fitted the bill perfectly. We soon had our ankles bound in order to partake in a three-legged race. We were clearly ‘the compliant ones’ rather than The Defiant Ones.

We only feature for a few seconds, but I’m sticking with ‘feature’ over ‘appear’. I don’t know why they went for it – well I do, actually. We’re coming last in race, but I know I’m giving it my all.


3-legged race01 

Despite the fuzziness of the screencaptured image (the videotape hasn’t dated well, and there’s not much call to digitally remaster a 30-year-old station ID) you can see me, the fat kid on the right, powering on. Look at the pair on the left having trouble holding onto each other, their legs going in opposite directions… despite the binding at their ankles, they’re clearly competing against each other.

I was lost in the moment. I must have been – I was too young to worry about making a dick of myself in public, and didn’t know enough to be conscious of the cameras. Neither did anyone else, I’m sure; we were just kids. But in the second take (there were at least two) they moved me ‘centrestage’, as it were. Although hidden by an audience cut-away, you know there’s a second take because there’s a continuity flaw: Clement and I change sides.

3-legged race02


That I’m getting right into it is evident even in this poor-quality image. Look at the expression on my face! And maybe there’s a subtext being conveyed: those foreigners – they may not be at the forefront of society, but gosh, they work hard! Although that’s not any more deliberate than the parallel I’ve already drawn, between the three-legged race consisting of foreigners and outlaw fugitives. More amusing are some of the broader signifiers that, 30 years on, come across as funny.

Why is it that the baby most keen to read a book happens to be Asian?

The Australian flag makes a dark-skinned child flinch – shouldn’t that be the effect of an American flag?

Does the fact that the tailor shop is called ‘Klein’s Clothes Clinic’ suggest the schmutter trade runs in the family, but there was a disappointed Jewish mother who really wanted a doctor for a son?

Were cops that polite to new Australians ever in the history of white occupation? (Possibly, back when cops, too, were new Australians; but I suspect they called themselves ‘English’ then, and were nice only to people they called ‘sir’.)

Is it wrong to note that it’s the less white-looking kid in the canoe who has the ‘Bankcard’ symbol on his shirt, and may well come from a family with a shop or restaurant so successful that they actually used Bankcard facilities often enough to warrant related merchandise such as clothing?

Do all Italian men in Australian television have to wear moustaches so that we know they’re Italian?

I’d like to point out how wrong such broad observations are, how ignorant you’d have to be to make them – but 30 years on, I’m an Italian with a moustache. So the only generalisation I can speak about authoritatively is the one that, for me, happens to be true. Of course, I don’t have a moustache in the ad; I was only nine when it was made and puberty was still a matter of – oh, I don’t know – months away. But I know the station drew an audience who saw the ad repeatedly because, by the mid-80s, well past puberty, I was still being almost recognised in the street: “Aw mate – you know who you look like? That guy on Channel Oh!”

I still get on television from time to time, either as a guy laughing (and hiding an edit) in the audience of a comedy performance, or as an extra in a comedy show sketch. Fittingly, my next appearance, in the background of a sketch, will again be as a token Italian, pretty much because, for all intents and purposes, I still look like someone on Channel 0.



Ultimate Punnishment

Rumalast

I blogged, at the beginning of the year, about the worst example of a punning shopfront name I had encountered up to that point: Ruma….Has It.

Now I discover a blogger called Ben has undertaken a worthy sociological task to compile and maintain a repository of pun shopfronts, under the fitting title of ‘Tanks A Lot’. He accepts submissions; how could I withhold this little gem? He no doubt agrees: tanks a lot for ruma has it, Ben.



Scary? Fleety!

Fleet_big_


I’ve interviewed Greg Fleet – Oz comedy legend for comics and comedy lovers alike – a number of times and each occasion has been fun. The first time, dating back about a decade ago to the days of the original Harold Park Hotel, was in support of his show Scary – which would culminate in the courtyard where the audience, led there by Fleety, would watch him attempt to boot a roast chicken over the fence  (successfully, more often than not). I can’t for the life of me remember why; like so many other details of the show, the reason has faded into the abyss. Although I do remember Fleety was selling t-shirts after the performance, and I tried to score a freeby from him – being the keenbean comedy nerd who had interviewed him, and all – though sadly to no avail. I duly purchased one, and although I have’t seen it for the better part of the intervening decade, I recall it bore the caption “‘Vengeance is mine,’ sayeth the nailgun,” attributed, mock Biblically, to ‘The Book of Ian’ (although I can’t recall the chapter or verse ).

I present this first interview in anticipation of Fleety’s up-coming appearances at Local Laughs (Darlinghurst), BBs (Bondi Beach), Cabana Bar (St Leonards) and Mic in Hand (Glebe). Although, as he won’t be performing Scary at these venues, don’t expect roast chook bootage.


Greg Fleet in is Scary

“My ultimate horror is to fall out of a 40-storey building – to my death, obviously – but to land teeth-first on a drinking fountain. Before I die I’d have a half-second to go ‘ow, my teeth!’ Thinking about things that can happen to teeth is a spin-out. Putting a fork or something between them and bending it really quickly…”

The man talking to me on the other end of the line is Greg Fleet, and the fact that he is discussing horrific, spin-out topics is fitting, for the next show he is to embark upon in Sydney is Scary. Five seconds on the phone with him and you know that he is the man for the job. For example, the first thing he does when he picks up the receiver is to make me jump by emitting a loud and unexpected squawk down the line. I cannot reproduce it here in words, but imagine a chook that has been impinged upon unbearably, taken within inches of its life without actually being allowed to die. The sound it would make is the noise Fleet assaults me with. After I introduce myself, he makes it again before clearing his throat and announcing that he’s “just eating a bowl of cereal”. Interesting news, considering it is 6:30pm.

When I call again later, having given him sufficient time to complete his breakfast, Fleet explains that the squawk is his “favourite noise at the moment,” something he and a friend in England made up as their contribution to the English language:

“If something is really sh*t — you know, I went into this rap one day, sitting around the house, and it was SO SH*T that it was embarrassing, not only for me but for those having heard it, just hearing someone be so sh*t. So we came up with this thing where, if something was bad, we said it was ‘loggy’. You know, we say, ‘oh man, that was so... loggy.’” Fleet luxuriates in the syllables, lingering on the double-g without actually pronouncing them properly. “We’re trying to say it in the most humiliating, embarrassing, fey way. And then ‘extra loggy’ becomes ‘cloggy’. It’s ‘log’, ‘loggy’, ‘cloggy’, ‘clowky’, ‘clowl…’” By this stage it’s the now-familiar squawk of the tortured chook that first answered the phone. See, Fleety’s English friends phone from overseas just to announce to him that he is “so clowky”, followed by the squawk. So when I phoned him out of the blue, he assumed it was an international – rather than merely interstate – call, and just wanted to get in first.

Glad we sorted that out.

Onto more important topics. Like his dinner of breakfast cereal. Having seen earlier Greg Fleet shows in which the comic makes full admission of his drug use, and knowing him as a veteran of many an Edinburgh Festival, I wonder if while in Scotland he might have become acquainted with that country’s most vile and addictive substance: porridge. Fleet clucks at me some more before breaking into a foreign accent:

“Oh, no, no, no. Porridge for bad man; porridge make kill; porridge make murder. Me so sorry for kill stranger. Eat porridge make me kill again. Now me feel clean. Me have blood of stranger in mouth so deep.”

I laugh with insecure trepidation. Fleet joins in, cackling dementedly. “I reckon murder is hilarious,” he says. He outlines a new method that he recently devised, which he calls “mystery-bagging” or “carpet-bagging”. What you do is “kill someone or knock them unconscious and make a small incision in their back – about four inches across – and then just poke natural oysters in there. Fill them up with oysters. So the police find them and they’ve got two dozen oysters inside them, like a carpetbagger steak. THE SEAFOOD KILLER STRIKES AGAIN! It’s something pointless. Really time-consuming and indulgent.”

Will this stuff feature in Scary, I wonder.

“Maybe," Fleety says. "I don’t know. I’ll mention it the night you come. And I’ll give you a bit of ‘clowk’ as well.” I can hardly wait. Meanwhile, Fleet’s strange mind elaborates on his ‘clowky’ movement. “We drew these drawings. You know how sometimes you can curl your feet up when you’re in a car accident or whatever? You curl your feet?”

“Like when the house lands on the Wicked Witch of the East in The Wizard of Oz?”, I suggest. When the ruby slippers are removed, her feet, protruding from beneath the farm house, wither and roll up.

“Yeah, that sort of thing. If you see anything clowky it makes your feet curl. We ended up curling our feet and creating a character who went with Loggy. Loggy was a rapper, but he had this DJ called Curve Foot. ‘Curve Foot appears courtesy of WEA records.’ Then we came up with ‘loop foot’, which is when you get curve foot so badly that your toenails grow into your heels, and you’ve got a circular foot. So there’s Loggy, Curve Foot, Loop Foot and then... what else?” Greg loses his train of thought as he tries to complete the list of characters, and before I can offer ‘Fleet Foot’ – (as in the Dylan lyric: ‘Maggie comes Fleet Foot/Face full of black soot…’) – he gives me a despairing ‘clowk’.

“Oh I don’t know,” he says, answering his own question. “Something about eating human poo? No, that’s not true, I just made it up! Oh, I so want to stab a prostitute to death and try and get away with it. Ah fuck! I shouldn’t’ve told you, now I’m gonna get done.”

Dear me. Where to from here? Fleet tells me of the Great God Clokus, a chicken figure whose fathers have been plucked entirely, except on the neck, by his mother. I start praying to the God of Interviewers for a crossover to a live feed of... well, just about anything else. Fleet obviously recognises the misgivings in my pause.

“Ask me anything, I don’t care,” he assures me.

I begin to discuss Scary with Fleety, realising that ‘Fleety’ and ‘scary’ are interchangeable concepts. “What is Scary about?” I ask.

“Nothing yet. That’s why it’s scary!”

Greg Fleet can tell me this much: the show will probably feature the Old Man character that was in Underwater World, his last Sydney show. Fleet has broken with his usual tradition of putting a show on for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, developing it in time for Edinburgh, wowing all and sundry in Scotland and then bringing the final version to Sydney. This time he has deemed his most recent Melbourne Festival show, Bridge Over the River Me, not good enough, and instead of going to Edinburgh with it, remained in Australia to appear as Feste in a Bell Shakespeare production of Twelfth Night.

“I like the discipline of doing Shakespeare,” Greg Fleet admits. “I’d love to do more; drama stretches me in a different direction”. Fleet is not unfamiliar with the straight theatre work. He has spent time at NIDA and claims his theatrical leanings stem from a desire to “know what it feels like in somebody else’s clothes”. That his comedy is becoming more character-based shows a development of both his comic and dramatic skills. Although he states the case a little differently: “The characters are usually people that I’ve killed. I’m the last person to see them and I want to keep their memory alive a little bit. Drop a few hints to the cops. But they’ll never catch me.”

“How long does it take you to come up with a show?” I politely change the subject.

“I’m gay,” he replies, also politely changing the subject. “Sorry, no, what was that? That’s not true. I just wanted to say something inappropriate. Uhm It’s kind of hard to say. From the time you come up with a title to the time you actually come up with the show, for me, can be anywhere from a year to a week. But I generally kind of fuck around with ideas a little bit, and then wait until about the last week and just panic and chuck it together.”

“Really?”

“Almost invariably.”

Fleet explains his arrival at a comedy festival as a matter of looking around the room to “see all the other comics who are there, work out that they’ve probably written their show two months before, but know that you’re probably three times better than them so it’s all right.” He cracks up. “What an arrogant f*cking c*nt!”

Perhaps the arrogance is justified. The man has been known to come away from Edinburgh with five-star reviews, his performances, in his words, “very non-clowky”. He considers himself vindicated, in a way, “because so many good Australian comics go to Edinburgh that the local comics go ‘fucken’ hell, when’s it gonna end?’” But of course, it won’t end, since “comics over here are having a hard time getting paid for a gig. They’re making a hundred and fifty bucks a year or something. And they would be making a minimum of a grand a week in the UK. And that’s pounds, too: it’s something like a million bucks Australian.”

This takes Fleet off on another tangent, this time about “the funniest person” he has ever heard, who in fact isn’t a comic earning a million dollars Australian, but “just a guy in England.”

“You know how I was saying that if something is sh*thouse, it’s loggy and clowky,” Fleet begins, “if someone offers him an extra mild cigarette instead of a strong one, he says, ‘Ah, no, I won’t accept an extra mild cigarette because I’m not actually gay’. He equates this whole ‘gay’ thing with softness and weakness. I know it’s really wrong and a cliché, but I’ve started doing it too and we can’t stop, and now I’ll go to cross the road and the lights will change and I’ll go ‘How gay! How faggotian’” (pronounced ‘fuhg-ocean’, but with more sibilance). He lists a couple of other adapted words in the clowky lexicon, like ‘huh-MOCK-shul’ (derived from ‘homsexual’), ‘huh-TROCK- shul’ (‘heterosexual’). And as for ‘buh-SOCK-shul’ (‘bisexual’), he’s used the term “in front of a few gay friends and got away with it. One of them thought it was really funny. The other one didn’t hear me. Thank god, because it was Sue-Ann Post and she probably would have picked me up and snapped my spine.”

Fleety’s not serious in his mocking attitude of the variously-sexualled – or ‘shuled’, in this case – nor in his fear of fellow comic, the six-foot-plus Sue-Ann Post. He and Postie are great mates. He describes her as “f*ckin’ great” and “so much fun” and “able to beat my head in, easy,” which sparks another memory: the time she was a topless sumo wrestler in  the Jim Rose Circus. According to Fleet, “Postie” rose to the challenge, “pissed one night at the Festival Club”. Vowing to “fucken smack” her soon-to-be opponents’ “heads in”, she approached Jim Rose with the words “yeah, I’m up for it.” Fleet puts on an American accent for Rose’s reply: “Yeah, wow, great, wow, yer big, that’s great.”

Sue-Ann Post actually had slides made of the event and used them in her subsequent show Sex and Sumo. Fleet sums up the bout:

“There’s nothing like the sound of four massive titties just THWAPPING together. It’s the funniest noise Postie’s ever heard, four tits, and each one of them’s about the size of me. A big THWAP!”

That’s also kind o scary.

Getting back to the topic briefly, Greg Fleet explains that a show can alter between conception and actual performance.

“Radically?” I ask.

“Oh, f*ck yeah," he replies. Then pauses before asking, “You said ‘radically’, didn’t you? Because I thought you said ‘radishly’. Does it resemble a salad vegetable? No, because it’s been changed so much. I keep telling you things that aren’t true. I hope that you’re managing to pick them.”

Greg Fleet: a bit silly, but still, quite a scary guy.


I have another Greg Fleet interview – from one of his (many) appearances in The Complete Works of Shakespeare  (Abridged).



Kyle Hitler?

Sieg Kyle

I know any blase comments about the Holocaust have to be jumped on, dealt with and brought to light; we can never be complacent about systematic genocide because it happened once and could happen again. But I have to admit from the outset: I don’t honestly believe Kyle Sandilands’s remarks, that comedian Magda Szubanksi ought to be put in a concentration camp in order to lose weight, were deliberately and specificly anti-Semitic. More likely he was just being ignorant, stupid and insensitive. Again. So what else is new? 

Still, the opportunity to have fun with a photo is too good to resist. Because everyone looks funny with a Hitler moustache. And Kyle normally has such stupid hair that giving him the Hitler-part-and-fringe is a worthy undertaking. Of course, to top it all off, ‘Kyle Hitler’ is a nice rhyme, but ‘Sieg Kyle’ is a glorious pun, particularly if you shout it with the accent.

Finally, I just want to remind 2Day FM that if it really needs on its breakfast shift a fat ugly bastard with ridiculous facial hair and a pathological need to talk complete bollocks without first thinking, I’m available.


An edgy, hilarious, American comedian who ‘gets’ Aussie comedy, and whom
Australia ‘gets’? As Ifft!

Mkt_eddie_ifftlr_1248748437

“It frustrates me, sometimes, that nobody really wants the truth. They say they want the truth, but they try to hide from it constantly. Look at the most popular comedians: they usually aren’t the ones that are that edgy.”

Eddie Ifft, a comic hailing from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, late of Los Angeles, California, and frequently calling various parts of the world ‘home’ for significant periods of the year, speaks the truth. Ifft is a comedian who doesn’t like to hold back on stage, and while he doesn’t begrudge any working comic an audience, has been known to react to some comedians’ material much like that annoying emoticon on the banner ad that used to grace MySpace pages: “Just say something!”

Eddie has plenty to say. But it’s not just outrage for outrage’s sake. The shocking statement will convey a message. More importantly, it will be a joke: a remark that isn’t necessarily what he thinks about the subject, but certainly makes you think about it from somewhere other than the popularly held notion, by making you laugh either at his position or the truth he’s revealed to you about your position. But I’m sure this is too high-falutin’ a concept for you to deal with a mere few paragraphs into an interview, so let me give you an example: Eddie’s take on Michael Jackson.

I’m so sick of people going, ‘He was the greatest entertainer of all time’. You’re forgetting about the fact that he was a child molester. And people always go, ‘He was alleged; he was only alleged, he was never convicted’.

OJ Simpson was never convicted, either. He was never convicted of murder. But we’re not gonna be celebrating him at his funeral.

You like Michael Jackson because you like his music, and he didn’t touch your kid. He f*cked kids, and the only reason he didn’t get convicted is because he paid the families 25 million dollars. Twenty-five million, to each family. And I will tell you this: for 25 million dollars, I will drive my entire family and let him have sex with them. I would drive them in a bus, drop them off at Neverland Ranch. I’d be like, “Granny, get off! I’m going to Cambodia and buying a whole new family!”

(c) Eddie Ifft

“I like to get the audience angry, and then turn it around on them and make them laugh and realise they were being jackasses for their opinion or perception,” Eddie explains. This Michael Jackson routine is a prime example. Kiddy-fiddlerage is no laughing matter. Or it shouldn’t be. But if it’s impossible to discuss anywhere other than in sensationalist media reports, broaching the topic under the guise of ‘comedy’ enables issues to be raised and considered – giving the weaker-willed an ‘out’ to dismiss it (it was ‘only a joke’ or ‘a rude joke, not to be repeated in mixed company’ or ‘something that oughtn’t even be joked about’), but those with stronger convictions to acknowledge ‘actually, there’s something in that…’.

Eddie’s happy to report that audiences mostly fall into the latter-most category with this Michael Jackson joke. “People go, ‘You’re right; twenty-five million dollars is enough money to wipe those sins away’. Everybody likes to think, ‘No, no, no, I would fight that to the death; there is not a price you could put on it…’ But then, when a guy has you outside court and he’s going to give you twenty-five million dollars, you’re going, ‘Well, you know, we can put the kid in therapy; he already did f*ck him, so, uh… yeah… let’s take that…’.”

Truth is, it is the comedian’s job to explore this territory. Sure, there are audiences who don’t want to forced to think about this stuff; the ‘I paid to be entertained’ crowd, who are seeking a genuine escape, who are not paying to be reminded what’s wrong in the world. The truly talented comedian let’s you do just that: pay for the escape, lull you into thinking this is the escape, and yet revealing truths about the world – the way that comic sees the world – to you. And because it’s done with humour, you are genuinely entertained, discovering the truth about how the world is. Well, that’s the ideal. It can, and often does, get watered-down a little along the way. And it sometimes has to be: the pure, unadulterated message can be a bit hard to handle for audiences who think comedy is only that funny stuff recorded, edited and packaged for television. But that stuff is only one part of comedy. There’s stuff that happens live on stage that is amazing – that you’d never know about if you never went out to see live comedy. The work of Doug Stanhope, for example, that Eddie finds hilariously inspiring.

“I watch Doug Stanhope and just go, ‘He’s right…! He’s right…! He’s right…!’” Eddie says. “You’re  laughing because you’re going, ‘How f*cked up is the world?’ And ‘Why aren’t more people revelling in this?’ I think what happens is people just shut him off and go,‘I don’t want to listen to it; I know it’s the truth…’ It’s like someone getting a bill in the mail and not opening it. ‘I know there’s a bill  in there but I just don’t want to open it.’”

I’ve suggested there’s more ‘comedic truth’ on the live stage than on the screen, but that isn’t necessarily the case. There are times when comedy is captured well for movies or television, usually in a documentary that mixes performance with a look behind the scenes, like in Paul Provenza’s masterpiece, The Aristocrats. Eddie’s working on a documentary at the moment called America the Punchline, and he quotes from  comedian Lewis Black in it – on striking the balance between delivering a message and making an audience laugh:

“At the end of the day I’m trying to get the laugh,” Black tells Ifft, “and the joke might start out preachy but it doesn’t stay in the set unless it gets a big, big laugh. The important part is, ‘How do I get the point across initially?’”

Chris Rock, who also appears in America the Punchline, says, “I write down what I want to talk about, then I make it funny.” Eddie’s approach is the same:

“I put down all the subjects I want to talk about and then I find what’s funny in them. I was probably talking about Michael Jackson for two weeks, saying, ‘Why are we celebrating him?’ And then I finally found that angle about driving my whole family in the bus to Neverland Ranch and dropping them off, and getting massive, massive laughs. I’d found their ‘hot’ button: once you paint the picture in their head of something so silly, and me being so honest – that I would give up my entire family for money – by then the whole idea becomes funny.”

It’s the idea that’s funny, not the underlying issue – which is an important one. Comedy enables the serious topic to be broached in a way that it can be discussed, and – you’d hope – that leads to  reflection and debate. “People go, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t joke about that stuff’,” Eddie acknowledges. “Yes, you should. You should joke about it. You should talk about it. You should make points about what is right and what is wrong.”

At the moment, Eddie’s working on a routine about a current trend of incarcerating teenagers for having sex. The inspiration is the case, outlined in a recent issue of The Economist, of “a 17-year-old girl who gave a 16-year-old boy a blow job, and went to gaol for it”. Meanwhile, argues Eddie, “you’ve got a guy who is eighty-something years old, who’s got a mansion, and we watch a TV show where he bangs 18-year-olds. That, to me, is a lot creepier than a 17-year-old giving the 16-year-old a blow job. Where are our moral standards there? It’s okay for Hugh Hefner and we celebrate him? Why?”

Another one of the inspirational comics Eddie likes is Louis CK, a “phenomenal” comic who “can say anything and it's funny”. According to Eddie, Louis likes to take “the edgiest route you can go”. He had a routine about how most people mistakenly believe molestation to be the worst thing that can happen to your child. “I have two kids,” Eddie says, paraphrasing Louis, “and if somebody called me to say my child had been killed, that would be the worst thing ever. And the child molesters kill them because they don’t want to get caught. I would much rather get the phone call from the guy going, ‘Hey, ah, listen – I got your kid, I just molested him. I know he’s got football practice, so I’ll drop him off there. You can pick him up.’” As Jim Jeffries, a fellow uncompromising comic, has pointed out, “Louis has this way of taking a subject that if not done correctly, you could walk an entire audience out of the room on a joke”. As for Eddie, he has his own take on the situation: “When you see someone who is so amazing, you walk out and go, ‘I'm a fraud’.”


Who’s your Father!

Of course, Eddie Ifft is authentic, and always has been. His whole life has been about challenging authority with funny ideas. And although he reckons he turned to a life of comedy because he “couldn’t do anything else”, I’m not so sure.

“I was a failure at everything, I really was,” he insists. “I wasn’t good in school; I wasn’t particularly good in sports at a young age. Those two really are your only options. To get attention I turned to making the class laugh and being the class clown.”

Possibly. But there was intent in the boy’s actions. Raised “your typical, hypocritical Catholic”, Eddie clearly had ideas about how to make that funny. Because, as an altar boy, there is a clear path to getting ahead without having to be good at sport or academia – just toeing the religious line. Not Eddie. Dressed in those vestments an altar boy wears, he knew, “if I stood over the fan, my gown would blow up and make everyone laugh in the church”. Sure, the priest got angry and Mama Ifft got angry, but Eddie loved making the congregation laugh.

Despite playing his faith for laughs, Eddie somehow persevered until he was “nearly 30”, going to church every Sunday. “I was always a typical, hypocritical Catholic,” he says. “I’d get up and go to church on Sunday, after having been on stage to tell a story on Saturday about having a threesome with two girls in a tent at a music festival.”

Hmm. A threesome with two girls in a tent at a music festival isn’t necessarily typical of Catholic hypocrisy; in fact, nor is telling a story about it. But, taking the point, you can only assume the priests must have relished their turn hearing Eddie’s confessions, surely? Not so, according to Eddie, who recalls his last attempt at confession, as an 8th Grader:

“There were two priests who would hear confessions: the nice priest and the evil priest. They divided us up, one group to go to one priest, one group to the other. I was on the side to go to the evil priest. His name was Monsignor Kraus. He was a mean f*cker. I was a little bit nervous: ‘Why did I get this side?’

“I went in and I kneeled down on the kneeler to start telling him, and the nun came in and pulled me out and walked me over to the other side, knowing that otherwise, you were never gonna see me again!”

Good on the nun, who possibly saved two souls with that one action. Still, not a lot has changed since Eddie Ifft’s days as an altar boy. The authorities, responsible people, powers that be, might all prefer he didn’t say the stuff he says, to the people he’s saying it to. But Eddie still makes congregations laugh. Indeed, there are parallels between the stuff priests do and the stuff comics do, as Eddie knows. He used to be a volunteer ski patroller, and one of his fellow volunteers was a Catholic priest who confessed to watching “a lot of comedy” in order to come up with ideas for his sermons.

I know! Eddie was dumbstruck, too. But the priest had an explanation:

“If you think about it, comedians have their finger on the pulse of the nation and the pulse of the world. They have to. They have to know what’s relevant. So for me, watching comedy, I get my idea of what my sermon should be and how to relate to the people. But I’ve been watching Def Comedy Jam a lot. Those guys say ‘motherf*cker’ way too much.”


Stand-up Downunder

Eddie Ifft has been coming to Australia at least since 2006, and returning frequently – a couple of times a year. “I love it here,” he says. “I love the people, I love the surfing. I love everything about it. I’ve got an Australian cattle dog back in LA named Noosa.” That’s pretty Aussie. But Eddie can go a step further: he’s been coming here for so long, he’s getting aspects of our humour that you virtually have to be Aussie to truly appreciate. At the recent Sydney Doin’ it for Dave show (an all-star fundraiser for Oz comedy stalwart Dave Grant, one of a handful of local comics who understands the art of comedy intimately and loves passing the knowledge on), Eddie finally understood Carl Barron.

“I found myself laughing hysterically at Carl’s stuff,” Eddie says, fittingly describing it as “an acquired taste” not unlike another great cultural icon Australia holds dear. “You know when you’re young and you drink beer, and you almost don’t like it?” Eddie offers. “You drink beer, and you drink beer, and you drink beer, and then, all of a sudden, it clicks and you’re like, ‘I love this stuff!’ Carl came together for me like that, that night.”

Proof that Eddie is, pretty much, one of us. But that was already obvious: it’s why he keeps coming back. Although people back home don’t quite understand. They reckon he’s “hurting his career in America” by spending so much time downunder. Eddie’s answer? “What? The career you want me to have? How do you know this isn’t the career I want to have?” Eddie likes spending time on both continents. “The truth is, I’d much rather be in Sydney in Australia than in Branson, Missouri,” he explains, and although I can only commend Ifft’s decision from a parochial position – why wouldn’t you prefer Sydney? – he has a far more logical rationale:

“American comics are working hard in all the shit towns in America so that some day they become really successful and have enough money to vacation in Australia. I’m sitting here thinking, ‘Chris Rock just got to come to Australia; I’ve been here ten times!’ So I try to make my life the life I want. I surf and I ski a lot, so I try to get as many gigs as I can in ski resorts and places with good waves.”

Ah, I’m quick – and foolish – to point out, you can get both of those here…

Yeah, well…” Eddie begins. “Let's not talk about your skiing…”

Yeah but – isn’t there a snowfield comedy circuit? Jindabyne, Perisher Blue, Thredbo…

“I’ve done the snow,” Eddie explains. “For an American with the Rocky Mountains, it’s kind of insulting to call that ‘skiing’, just as I would call our waves ‘surfing’ compared to the amazing surf you have here.”

Well, okay – I’ll grant him that. But only because he added the bit about the surf. Which makes me a bit kinder than Eddie’s Aussie ‘snowfield’ audiences. When he kept making fun of “the snow – what they call ‘the mountains’,” the punters were a little proud and got somewhat restless. “I was like, ‘Aw, c’mon, you call this rock with a dusting, a sprinkle of snow, ‘skiing’? You’re kidding yourselves.’ And they’d boo me for it.”


Rules (and Laws and Regulations) of Comedy

Despite the typical negative reaction of an ignorant and prejudiced crowd to a comic admitting he’s American with malice aforethought, it’s quite an interesting position to be in: travelling the world, speaking the truth not just about America but also the parts of the world you’re visiting. That’s essentially what Eddie does – not quite ‘innocent’ abroad, more like ‘guilty, as charged’. Fact is, we love it when he speaks the horrible truth about his culture and country, even more than when he speaks of ours (although there are times when the differences between ‘his’ and ‘ours’ are virtually nonexistent). He’s been doing that for a while now – Eddie’s show for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival a couple of years ago was called Anti-Septic Tank, playing on our rhyming slang, ‘septic tank’ for ‘yank’, and setting the record straight.

“It was all about the perception of Americans around the world and why people feel the way they do and what it’s like to be an American and travelling.” Subsequently, Eddie’s expanded the idea, and has started to turn it into that doco he’s making, America the Punchline (currently in post-production).

Last year’s show was Disorder to Chaos, in which he was drawing on what it is, the broadest sense, that he does: whereas laws attempt to bring order to the world and prevent chaos, Eddie’s job is to question that process. “I go ‘F*ck off! I don’t have to abide by your rules, all I have to do is live and die and pretty much make myself happy’. All my jokes involve me questioning authority and questioning rules and laws and regulations.”

This time round, Eddie’s working up his next festival show to be called either I Shouldn’t Have Said That or Evolution to Revolution. And, as you’d expect, he’s doing what he does so well: questioning authority. “Here we are at this point in history and we haven’t evolved as human beings,” Eddie explains. “We’re still abiding some of the stupidest religions and the stupidest regulations. We fall into these dumb, stupid laws and we haven’t evolved. And the only way to evolve is to revolt. This is the basis of that show that I’m gonna do at the next Melbourne International Comedy Festival.”

Eddie loves the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and Sydney’s Cracker Comedy Festival. We’re lucky we are to have such a wealth of festivals, given also the upcoming World's Funniest Island Comedy Festival and Adelaide Fringe. There are no equivalents in America.

“We have the Aspen Comedy Festival – that’s an elitist thing – and we have the Las Vegas Comedy Festival and that, in a sense, is an elitist thing also because it’s $150 a ticket to most events and there’s no real variety. If you go to New York there are a million comedy clubs, but you're gonna see a lot of the same.” Go to Australia's comedy festivals, though, and what you see is “a lot of variety”. Just as you can love different types of music – and Eddie does – you can also love different kinds of comedy – and Eddie does. “I can enjoy David O’Doherty and then walk across the street and enjoy Jim Jeffries and then go enjoy Tim Minchin or go enjoy Arj Barker...”

And of course, you can enjoy Eddie Ifft. Because when he first came to Australia, he pretty much hit the ground running (perhaps ‘landed on his feet’ is a better metaphor for a stand-up comic), doing material about us, to us, that was insightful and hilarious. Although, there are still gags in development and transition. He tells me about the Crocodile Hunter – how, years ago, Steve Irwin material was ‘hacky’ in America, no matter how good your impression was, or astute your observation.

“I always found it funny that, coming to Australia, people would think everyone in America loves the Crocodile Hunter. So one time somebody asked me on the radio, ‘Are you a big fan of the Crocodile Hunter?’ – kind of like taking the piss out of me. And I said, ‘Oh yeah, I watch the show every day, but for different reasons. I watch it hoping every day will be that day!’”

That’s a brilliant take on the Croc Hunter. Or at least, it was, until that day arrived. “Now, people boo me,” Eddie says. “When I said that before he died, hilarious! Now when I say it, even though I tell them, ‘I said this before he died, not knowing he died’, people shut down on me. To me, it’s a real study of the mentality of people. Even though they know I was just joking and didn’t mean it, the fact that it just happened…”

Again, the role of the comic. Risking your life foolishly and getting away with it makes you a hero, and it’s okay to make fun of heroes ’cos they’re invincible. But once the foolish hero risks his life that last time, only someone as foolhardy as a comedian can take the risk of mocking. Even though the hero’s behaviour didn’t change, nor that of the comic knocking him, for some reason, once he’s gone, the hero attains a status some feel should be beyond the probing light of comedy. It’s true of all the media’s duffers. Remember the reverence afforded Ronald Reagan? Much greater in death than during life. Eddie’s got a theory about that.

“In America, it’s all about ‘branding’,” he explains. Regan “branded himself as the guy who ended the Cold War and made peace”. The theory is, America bankrupted Russia “just by building weapons and building weapons and building weapons – Russia couldn’t keep up and eventually bankrupted their entire country”. But, Eddie points out, look at the current state of the American economy: “America spends 51 cents of every tax dollar on defence. We had a trillion-dollar war because we have to justify all the weapons that we made. Who’s bankrupt now?”

This tendency, to rewrite society’s attitude towards people after they passed away, is what got us to Michael Jackson in the first place, so we’ve essentially come full circle. A good place to end our interview. But just to make sure, I ask that one last ‘housekeeping’ question: is there anything I’ve overlooked, that fans might need to know?

“Um… let’s see… What do fans need to know?” Eddie thinks aloud. “Well, I’m in room four-fifty-… No!”


What fans need to know is that Eddie's at the Comedy Store, Tue September 1st to Saturday September 12th before heading to Adelaide.