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Simon Palomares:
A Spaniard in the Works

This piece got bumped by the magazine glossy fashion mag for which it was written.

Simon looks awesome in an expensive suit, as stylish as any comic, if not moreso. But I thought an interview with him about his life and broad experiences in comedy was a more interesting read than a page of his punchlines, which work much better when you pay to see him do them from the stage (as does he, most likely).

I considered pitching again in time for the broadcast of his SBS doco, but you can only beat your head against a brick wall until your head starts to give, particularly when the wall hasn’t changed at all, apart from the odd fleck of blood splatter pattern.

I should add, I nicked the title from John Lennon.


Simon Palomares
has come full-circle. His third national tour with quartet Il Dago, who take so-called ‘wog’ comedy to mainstream audiences, embark on their third national tour at the end of November. Having emigrated with his family from Spain aged 10, Simon went on to pioneer the genre with long-time friend and collaborator George Kapiniaris as The Tibaldi Brothers. His last Comedy Festival show, My Two Boys, dealt with being the father of teenagers, and his most recent spate of solo stand-up found him performing to the locals back in Spain, as documented in the SBS special Ko Ho Nas (at the moment you can still watch it online; the follow-up, which will see Simon performing stand-up in Argentina, is already in development). According to Simon, he has more ideas than time to execute them. He still finds time to teach an excellent comedy masterclass. (Details on his website).

Dom Romeo: How do you decide what project to embark on next?

SIMON PALOMARES: Fun. Whether it sparks you up or it doesn’t.

Dom Romeo: How did you end up in showbiz?

SIMON PALOMARES: I tricked my parents by going to teachers college, where I studied drama and psychology. Little did they know… At the end of the day, if you keep doing what you love doing, it pays off, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t really matter because you enjoyed doing it.

Dom Romeo: How much of an effect did ‘being foreign’ have on you as a kid?

SIMON PALOMARES: I grew up in Lygon Street, so to me, Australia has always been ‘ethnic’. It wasn’t until I went to drama school that I realised that there were people who weren’t of European background. I thought that everybody was from somewhere else.

Dom Romeo: Success = recognising a break + making the most of it. Discus.

SIMON PALOMARES: We had a good run. As The Tibaldi Brothers, George and I did one try-out. Someone said, ‘can you do an hour and a half?’ and we went, ‘yeah,  sure.’ We bullshitted our way through it – put a bunch of sketches together. And then someone said, ‘we’re doing this thing called a Melbourne Comedy Festival; can you put something together?’ and we went, ‘sure,’ so we did Wogs Out Of Work. And from that someone said, ‘have you ever written a sitcom?’ and I said, ‘no, but I’m sure we can,’ and we made Acropolis Now.

Dom Romeo: What’s the best gig you’ve ever had?

SIMON PALOMARES: Two years ago I produced three shows in a row and my brain was mush so I took time off and worked as a bike courier around Melbourne. I can’t tell you how much I loved it. I lost about 12 kilos. I could eat anything. Can you imagine doing a job where you could stop for a doughnut or hot chips whenever you feel like it?

Dom Romeo: More along the lines of great showbiz moments…

SIMON PALOMARES: Very few of my life’s ‘greatest moments’ happened on stage or in front of a camera, although working with John Clarke on The Games was a moment like that. Improvising with Peter Cook in the first Melbourne Comedy Festival was like that. You know you’re alive when Peter Cook starts throwing stuff at you and you’ve got to throw it back! And of course, going back to Spain and making a Spanish audience laugh has to be up there…

Dom Romeo: What was it like, returning to Spain?

SIMON PALOMARES: Interesting. Trains and bull fights are the only things that run on time.

Dom Romeo: Do you have any regrets?

SIMON PALOMARES: I had to turn down a role in Underbelly. The thing with creating your own work is that they ring and say, ‘we’re filming between April and August, will you be available for an episode?’ and you go, ”well, no, I’m not going to be sitting around for four months waiting for you to call me for an episode. I’ll be working.”

Dom Romeo: Why do so many locally produced comedy films seem to fail?

SIMON PALOMARES: So much of our film industry is funded by government committee, and the guy sitting at that end of the table wants one thing while the guy over here wants something else. To get the project through, you have to find the medium that pleases the most people, and films made to please the average end up being just that: average.

Dom Romeo: From ‘wog’ comedy to family comedy; from having parents from a different culture to being one in a different time. Explain the transition.

SIMON PALOMARES: Sometimes walking into my house is like walking into the cantina in Star Wars: everyone is a different, weird animal. My parents came to Australia from villages in Spain and my kids spend three hours a day talking to friends on MSN – they’re just worlds apart. And in one lifetime, I’ve gone from hiding behind the shed so that my parents don’t catch me smoking, to hiding behind the shed so that my kids don’t catch me smoking.

Five other ‘wog’ comics you should know about:

1. Nino Culotta
Author of seminal text They’re A Weird Mob, the first stab at Aussie wog comedy. The filmed version is one of the few truly successful Aussie comedy films. Only, it doesn’t really count, because ‘Nino Culotta’ is in fact the pen-name of journalist John O’Grady

2. Peter Sellers
Yes, I know, he only pretended to be Indian… but, as fellow comic (and erstwhile ‘brain surgeon who mounts operas’) Jonathan Miller has noted, Sellers was the first who cracked the accent and the mannerisms  – after which, no anglo comic ‘did an Indian accent’; they did their impression of Peter Sellers doing an Indian accent.

3. Russell Peters
Canadian Indian who travels the world selling out massive theatres by word-of-mouth. Appeals to virtually every ethnic minority in each English-speaking nation by dint of having perfected an impression of every non-English nationality’s English accent. And being very, very funny, of course.

4. Goodness Gracious Me
English sketch show featuring a cast of sub-continental Asians (Indians) including Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal and Anil Gupta. If  the title is familiar, it’s because they adapted it, ironically, from a novelty disc that was an early 60s hit for Peter Sellers (in character) and Sophia Loren. Of course, the cast of Goodness Gracious Me made more of a mark in Australia with their subsequent show, The Kumars At Number 42, briefly adapted less successfully in Australia as Greeks On The Roof.

5. Shappi Khorsandi
Gorgeous and funny English comic of Iranian extraction who brought her show Asylum Speaker to the 2007 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, absent from subsequent festivals – despite success and popularity – owing to parenthood.

Wanna hear more?

Here’s a broadcast with me as Rod Quinn’s guest on ABC Local Radio – a conversation about differently cultured comedy, broadcast Australia-wide, November 15 2009.

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