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Spanish facial

Harpo Marx had a regular bit of shtick. It was a ridiculous and hilarious face he’d pull, known as a “gookie” (rhymes with ‘kooky’ rather than ‘cookie’). Something I saw this week reminded me of it. And of Eric Bana.

Vertical gookie

“No, wait, let me explain…”

Supremely immature and tasteless, it looks like, me taking this line of humour. But this was my genuine reaction as the news story played out, with its scientists and journalists assembled for the unveiling of the latest miracle of modern science: the first totally transplanted face. And the face actually works: the tear ducts cry; the facial stubble grows.

Well, the face mostly works. So far.

When the new face was revealed, it was a bit confronting. My response: “That’s what you gave him? I mean, yes, I saw the ‘before’ photo – it is an improvement. No, it really, really is. But…”

With therapy the face will look more… facial. And even if it didn’t, I’m no oil painting so who am I to judge?

It’s just that, when they had the guy talking at the press conference – with a new face that clearly can’t smile or emote or do anything at the moment other than look like an oversized mask – he sounded pretty much as he looked, only moreso. Suddenly I had a vision of that scene from Young Frankenstein, when the ‘monster’ (Peter Boyle) sings ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’. Well he doesn’t; Gene Wilder sings it. Boyle joins in at the appropriate moment by bellowing ‘Suuuuper-duuuper!’ and ‘Putting on the Riiiiiiiiiiiiitz!’ – like a drunkard who was never taught consonants. Although, ‘Oscar’, as the Spanish transplant recipient is known, was speaking his native tongue; maybe all Spaniards from his part of the country sound like that.

Again, this is supremely cruel of me – likening this genuine modern miracle to some comedy (a fine comedy; a work of art, when it comes to comedy, but a comedy nonetheless). However, the analogy actually works: an assemblage of cutting-edge medical scientists, before the representative world press, to show off the latest breakthrough in medical science: sewing together a man using parts from another man.

And yet I feel justified in poking fun. When Oscar spoke, the most obvious thought was, ‘Wouldn’t you wait until the face works enough so that he can talk? Wouldn’t that look more impressive, before the assembled scientists, journalists and viewers around the world?’

But then I realised, in addition to revealing how amazing the latest breakthroughs in medical science truly are, such a press conference needs to take place to acknowledge: the science works. The funding is justified. Publicise it, maybe more funding will be forthcoming. Once again, modern science truly is amazing. Oh, brave new world!

But I still think Eric Bana can play Oscar in the biopic.


Who’s a funny boy then

One of my favourite spectacles used to be watching a young audience less familiar with live stand-up comedy in Australia regard the appearance of Garry Who, as their headline act of the night, with a degree of disappointment. Perhaps they didn’t recognise the name, but they certainly recognised the face: from a primetime Aussie comedy. Surely this guy wasn’t gonna make them laugh, armed only with a microphone. Not long into the performance, they’d be loving it. That was almost my own initial response. Oh, I’d known he was a stand-up comic, I knew his name, but I hadn’t seen him before. I’d stumbled on his comedy album in one of my favourite second-hand shops that, back in the day, always had a well-stocked comedy section. But at the time of finding the record, I’d thought, ‘That guy?! That guy’s a real comic?’ Yes he is. And he’s a good one. See him. This week at the Laugh Garage. Meanwhile, also read this interview I did with him ages and ages ago.

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“I’m not gonna be relaxed until I get a cappuccino,” Garry Who explains, adding that he assumes from my “vibe” that I must want to get this interview over with. If I am unsettled it is because I need to make a confession: my first knowledge of Garry Who was during his incarnation as Dougie, John English’s faithful roadie in the Channel Nine sitcom All Together Now. I had become aware of his career as a stand-up comedian later, through the discovery of a live album. But Dougie still looms large in Garry Who’s legend. This confession of course leads to essential questions that revolve around the gorgeous blonde female co-star of that sitcom, Rebecca Gibney. Although hindsight casts her as a precursor to the ‘Nanny named Fran’ archetype, she was a major prime time recipient of unbridled lounge room lust across Australia.

“I’ll tell you two things about Rebecca Gibney,” Garry thankfully anticipates before I have to pose the question. “She was gorgeous. And no, I didn’t.” A pause. “Oh, one more thing,” he adds, throwing in an answer to a question I didn’t think to ask: “she wouldn’t let me.”

All Together Now was fun to make, Garry acknowledges. He’d do that sort of work again if the right project came up, but he wants to concentrate on his stand-up now. Despite having been Ray Martin’s resident comic on The Midday Show for two years, and having been a stand-up comic prior to his television work, Garry tells me that “a lot of people” still think of him as ‘Dougie’. “And that’s fair enough,” he adds. “It was great exposure. It opened up doors to other things. But I want to concentrate on my stand-up now. I want to get that exposed.”

Who’s own first exposure to stand-up comedy when he was a young apprentice sign writer. Fresh out of school, a lack of sufficient grades prevented him from following his desired vocation of commercial art. “I wasn’t good at maths, which really has fuck-all to do with it as far as I’m concerned, but I didn’t pass so I couldn’t get a job as a commercial artist,” he explains. Garry opted for sign writing, the next best thing. He “dug” it, he says, until the realisation dawned that sign writing “is only art when it’s a little ten by eight work, when it’s something in front of you or something you can get to. It’s not art when you’re up on a wall in the blazing hot sun, splashing out with a big paintbrush. When you get up on those big wall signs, you’re no longer sign writing, you’re painting a building.”

Despite the admission that he had “always been the class clown, like everybody else,” (that’ll account for your lack of grades, Gazza), Garry claims that when friends, amused by his antics and anecdotes, advised him that he ought to be a comic, he had no real idea what they meant. “I’d never, ever seen a comic,” he says. That all changed when he attended an ‘all-mens night’ in a club above the Rex Hotel in Kings Cross. There, amid… things they showed only to men in clubs in Kings Cross in the early- to mid-1980s on all-men nights, Garry Who saw his first comic. “He was a guy by the name of Barney Coombs, who was an American club comedian working out here. He had an American accent. It blew me away. I thought, ‘Wow!’ That was what really inspired me.”

Garry had, by this stage, come to loathe the boss to whom he’d been apprenticed. While scouring the Herald one morning, in search of another sign writing job, he came across a “really weird ad” which, he claims, said “‘comedians and script writers wanted, phone this number.’ I thought, ‘Gee that’s how they get to do that for a living; it’s an actual job’. I’d never thought of it as a job; I thought people were just in show business.”

Rang the number. Visited the offices on Oxford Street, near Taylor’s Square. Paid the guy for some courses. “The guy ripped me off,” Garry insists, “but he gave me some very good notes. He got me into talent quests. If it hadn’t have been for him I wouldn’t have known how to go about it. So he kind of started me. I didn’t really get ripped of.”

Within two years Garry was doing the pub and club circuit. “I was very young. I was twenty one or something. I had hair down my back, I just didn’t suit the crowd. They didn’t understand me. You could only do old gags.” When the Comedy Store opened soon after, Garry had the opportunity to do more than just old gags. “I always look upon the Comedy Store as my beginning,” he says. Film and television work allowing, he has been a regular on the comedy circuit ever since.

Garry acknowledges the difference between a ‘party comic’ and a ‘stand-up comic’ being that “the party comic says things funny” while “the stand-up comic tells things funny”. He also acknowledges that stand-up comedy and sitcom acting “have nothing to do with each other”, that they are “different worlds”. However, he amends this by pointing out that stand-up, ultimately, is acting. “No matter what sort of comedy you’re doing, you’re still acting. You’re saying, ‘a funny thing happened to me on the way over here tonight’ when it didn’t. How far you want to take the acting depends on the style of comedy that you’re doing. Just doing one-liners, you don’t have to act particularly well; you only have to deliver in the word or the phrase.” The comedy of Garry Who involves telling stories, and so, one assumes, there is a bit more acting involved. But a difference certainly does exist between audiences of today and those Garry played to when he started out. Audience awareness has grown, comedy has become freer and as result of both, it is more sophisticated.

“The only thing that’s different today is that you’ve got things like The Comedy Channel, so you can actually do shit on telly. It doesn’t pay or anything, but it’s experience.” In the not-too-distant past, a comic’s only option was signing with a network, and if you didn’t, you weren’t on telly unless you could land on the ABC. “Now there’s a chance for people with their ideas…”

However, the scope for ideas appears to be somewhat limited at this stage of the game. While I have never had cable access, Garry got rid of his. “Too much repeating,” he says. “I’d see the month’s movies in two nights; I come home from a gig and by six o’clock in the morning, I’d have watched all the movies for that month. I’ve got to go to the video store anyway, so I didn’t see the point. Discovery Channel: What I discovered was that nothing changes on that channel. Just repeats.”

This does not preclude Garry Who from appearing on the Comedy Channel. His recently filmed guest spot on ‘Headliners’ will be… re-broadcast with regularity, because it’s the Comedy Channel. But keep an eye out for a new telemovie he is in, called Close Contact:

“I don’t know when it’s coming out,” Garry explains. “Some time between now and the end of the year. Kimberley Davies is in it.”

“Oo-er,” I venture, contemplating the gorgeous blonde. “What was it like working with Kimberley Davies? Same three things as Rebecca Gibney?”

“Yep,” Garry confirms. “Same three things.”


Wikipedia Thyself

Let me warn you upfront, this one’s a bit rude.

So I was just being a vain fool late at night and decided to do a Wikipedia search for my name.

Now here’s the thing: a lot of my blog entries have been cited in Wikipedia entries – some under my real name, ‘Demetrius Romeo’, which I was still using when I started blogging, some under the name I’m more commonly known by, ‘Dom Romeo’.

Imagine my surprise when, reading through the list of results to the ‘Demetrius Romeo’ search, having passed entries for Tara Moss and Akmal Saleh that link to this here blog, I got to the 13th item. It’s between entries for the New York City Ballet’s Spring 2009 repertory and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

  Wikidemrom

That’s pretty funny.

But I knew what it was about – when I interviewed Graeme Garden for the first Goodies reunion tour of Australia, he commented about campus life at Cambridge University, where he cut his teeth in student revue, by making a joke about being a member of the Cambridge University National Trust Society. Think about it as an acronym.

There it is in the Wikipedia entry, under the ‘Spoonerisms and acronyms’ heading, in the ‘Linguistic variants and derivatives’ section. The references is footnoted as number 81. The 81st footnote sends you to the Graeme Garden interview on this blog.

But the best thing in this Wikipedia entry is the ‘See Also’ section. It re-directs to another entry, for ‘Scunthorpe Problem’. The ‘Scunthorpe Problem’ is the internet phenomenon of spam filters preventing messages getting through because they include certain innocent words that contain a combination of letters that constitute a banned word. ‘Scunthorpe’, the name of a town in North Lancashire is one such word that causes spam filters to block a message. In fact, in 1996, residents from Scunthorpe could not register email addresses with AOL, because of that special combination of letters contained in the name of their town. Penistone in Yorkshire gave rise to similar problems. So did Lightwater in Surrey, and the Lancastrian town Clitheroe .

But my favourite part of the entry carried the title ‘News articles damaged’. Turns out a news site run by the American Family Association (AFA) automatically censored articles. So a piece on sprinter Tyson Gay defaulted to being about Tyson Homosexual. Other vulgar words would similarly be replaced by safer alternatives. So ‘ass’, for example, would become ‘butt’. Which is fine, until you want to talk about clbuttical music, or a politically motivated killing, better known as a buttbuttination.


A nifty conversation with
John Robertson

  John Robertson

“You know what I looked up today?” John Robertson asks down the phone line, joy in his voice as he adds, “this is fun!” What he’s looked up today – and I’m not sure whether he knew what he was looking for, or if he stumbled upon it – is a Wikipedia article about a serial killer. “It’s a guy called ‘The Servant Girl Annihilator’, which is now my favourite serial killer name ever.”

Okay, don’t get the wrong idea. John does appear a little too happy to discover the existence of The Servant Girl Annihilator, revelling in the description of America’s first documented serial killer who slightly predates Jack the Ripper and whom some believe was in fact one and the same homicidal maniac as Jack. But John Robertson, a fine comic who has been doing stand-up some seven years, is currently touring a show that happens to be called A Nifty History of Evil – which one promoter has astutely summed up as “the comedy of your nightmares; a manic journey through history’s biggest  bastards, with the icky bits left in!’ With that kind of description, you not only already know you’re gonna like the show, you also know that ‘The Servant Girl Annihilator’ is likely to inspire more material. And if you do like the show already, you should also know that you’re in good company: A Nifty History of Evil recently won ‘Artists’ Choice’ and ‘Critics’ Choice’ awards at Perth’s recent Wild West Comedy Festival. So you can understand the comic’s joy at discovering that such a thing as ‘The Servant Girl Annihilator’ exists.

“My favourite element,” John says of the Wikipedia entry, “is that centuries later, some anonymous dickhead is attempting to claim, for the glory of America, that they had serial killers before Britain; there’s a more obscure and less lauded serial killer more worthy of attention.” John likens it to the story of Jim Shepherd, publisher of superhero comic book The Phantom, having once written to Bob Kane, creator of Batman, and accuse him of being a hack for stealing Lee Falk’s work and Ray Moore’s character design – since the Dark Knight is clearly the Ghost Who Walks, Man Who Cannot Die with ears and a cape…

The reference is a little obscure, even for me, but it sums up the essence of John Robertson: extreme knowledge of precise minutiae, delivered entertainingly. It’s part of what makes this Perth comic such an interesting proposition.


Acting funny

On first blush, John’s clearly an actor turned comic. Not because, like most actors-turned-comic, he declaims his routine on stage like a well-rehearsed script; no, he’s one of the good ones. But you guess he’s an actor because everything John says off stage could well be dialogue perfectly scripted for the character he happens to be in real life. Or, to be more accurate, the character he happens to be, in larger-than-real-life.

As a comic – and indeed, as a frequent host of sci-fi conventions – he keeps an audience equally spell-bound with hand puppets and ukulele-accompanied songs as he does purely with words. But before you even get to that point of the on-stage – or off-stage – performance, you might be struck, as others have, by John’s resemblance to other people. Like Melbourne comic Danny McGinlay, for example.

“Oh, that’s nice,” John says. “You can mistake me for Danny McGinlay if I was a foot-and-a-half taller, and his voice was three feet deeper…”

Actually, if you knew either of them well, you wouldn’t mistake one for the other… unless you were dealing with them over the phone – since John’s voice isn’t three feet deeper than Danny’s. There’s probably only a couple of inches difference and it’s hard to call who’s actually ahead. However, if Danny’s sideburns were a couple of feet broader, you would have trouble telling them apart. John’s sideburns are, after all, part of the source of the other comparison he frequently receives, to Wolverine of the Uncanny X-Men. “Yeah, if Danny had sideburns that stretched from here to the Tasman Sea… although our shoulders are reasonably the same breadth…”

It’s hard to tell if John is merely doing the comedian’s thing – taking an idea that’s been offered and running with it, turning it around to look at it from various angles, to see which bits of it catch the light and so can reflect a new twist leading to new humour – or merely running through thoughts that he’s toyed with previously.

“I’ve only met Danny once, actually,” John continues. “It was like, ‘Aha…! Two years ago someone told me I was a little like you, and now that I’ve met you, I wish I were. Because you’re quite handsome, you devil-may-care devil…’”

I doubt they were John’s exact words to Danny, even if they had actually met. But Robertson insists they’re certainly his sentiments. “With his well-developed chest, and me at five-foot-eight and slightly overweight, I’m so glad people think I look like him!”

John also accepts the allegation that he “can’t not have been an actor before he was a comic”, adding the proviso that “it doesn’t mean I was a good actor”. Rather, he says, as a stage actor he found the “artifice” of live performance to be “absolutely ridiculous”:

“A comedian will walk out onto a stage – which is an area purpose-built so that a large group of people can look at you – and will look back at the crowd and talk directly to them. Whereas an actor has to go through this ridiculous contrivance of pretending that somehow the audience isn’t there, while at the same time talking to someone who’s next to them in a highly intimate manner – and by ‘highly intimate’, I mean, they’re standing at an angle and in fact yelling at the top of their voice, so all the people that they can’t see because they aren’t there, can actually hear them.”

Clearly, stage acting had to be jettisoned for comedy – John’s ability to see the absurdity in life wouldn’t allow him to actually live that absurdity daily without being able to call it, as a way of life. “I’m too logical to be an actor. I like the idea of, I walk out, I look directly at you, and I communicate directly to you. And if you like what you hear, you let me know immediately.” That arrangement works best for John, he insists, because he’s “an impatient, ‘only child’ sort of a chap” who likes his feedback directly.


Playing himself

John doesn’t quite engage with the suggestion that he’s ‘playing himself’ larger than life off-stage, although he agrees that he does “adapt” who he’s going to be, depending on what he thinks of the crowd. I reckon it’s as true of the people he’s with off stage, but I know he’s speaking particularly of audiences. “You can tell how high I think a crowd’s IQ is – or to be fairer, how drunk I think a crowd is – by whether or not I roll up my sleeves before I go on stage”. 

According to John, rolled up sleeves means “g’day, I’m your everyman! I’ve just finished doing some heavy physical labour, and here I am now, to communicate to you”. With his sleeves down, John just looks like “a reasonably well-dressed boy”. It’s the difference, he says, between giving a ‘happy-and-fun’ audience happiness and fun, and a rowdy, aggressive audience, some aggression. As we’re discussing this over the phone, I can’t tell if I’m chatting to the reasonably well-dressed boy or the physical everyman, but I remind John of one such gig where he had to roll the sleeves up; he talks about it on stage: a horror gig before an audience of pissed-up Yorkshiremen.

“There’s a whole subset of comedians from my town who were there that night,” John recalls. He relates the story in a tone that almost sounds like warm nostalgia – and it may well be, now that time has passed. “Everyone has a war story from that evening.”

The story goes, a “lovely” Perth promoter – a luv-er-ly cockney lad who used to book the comics for club gigs and corporate gigs, and whom John ‘does’ in character when telling the story, phone the comic up with the offer of a “lovely, lovely” gig to a “lovely, lovely young crowd”, replacing the original MC who had dropped out. The ‘young crowd’ happened to be an audience of 80-year-olds at a golf club.

“They were all old Yorkshiremen and women who had been members of the club since they emigrated to Australia 20 years before. Every comedian on the bill was 40 to 60 years younger than them and they hated us.” 

Rest assured, the gig commenced as normal, with both sides trying to make the most of a bad situation. They respectfully sat through John’s opening slot, despite not really ‘getting’ him; they tolerated the first act. But the second act was an American, at which point, John says, “they lost their shit”. A guy up the back yelled out, “Ah don’t lahk yanks!” It was followed by 20 minutes of “deathly silence and Yorkshire grumbling”.

Another comic – whom John describes as “basically like an Umbilical Brother” – got up and did sound effects, and while the agéd Yorkshirefolk didn’t like him either, they eventually applauded him out of respect “for the sweat he produced”. 

It was during the interval, while John was taking a leak, that revelation came. “I heard a large voice behind me say, ‘Oh, aye, a comedian. Ah lahk you. Some of your jokes are funny. You know who Ah lahk? Ah lahk that Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown.’” It was at that moment, John says, that he realised they’d been booked for the wrong gig. “At the time, none of us were punchline merchants. We are now. That’s what we learnt that evening: ‘Whattaya know? We should write some jokes. People like those!’”

True enough, although the extent of damage wrought by lack of punchlines was yet to be unveiled. Somewhere during the night an old-school open mic-er got up and delivered sub-book gag routines like “…She asked me to kiss her somewhere dirty, so I took her to Battersea Power Station…” which went down a treat. So when the headliner, who was meant to do a fifty minute set, told an internet joke, which the agéd Yorkshirefolk loved, followed by another internet joke, which they also loved, and then promptly ran out of material agéd Yorkshirefolk like, things were bound to come unstuck.

“I can’t tell you his name,” John says of the headline act that night, “because I’m certain he doesn’t want to remember this. But he said, ‘I’m out of internet jokes; wouldn’t you people rather be asleep? Or dead?’”

And that’s when the crowd – on the verge of hostility all night – finally cracked: four minutes into a 50-minute set. He said, ‘Are we all tired of stand-up?’ and they said ‘Yes!’ and started booing.” The audience booed the headline act offstage, and then started chanting for the old-school open mic-er to return. So John got back up, thanked everyone for coming while the booing and the chanting continued, and then all the comedians fled from the venue, fearing for their lives. “And three of us pissed on the side of the building,” John adds. “That’s how aggrieved we were. And off we went.”

John recalls that he happened to be sitting next to the promoter’s daughter while the headline comic was busy asking the audience whether they wouldn’t “rather be watching Gardening Australia? Or Matlock? Or just rotting in the ground?”, and she turned to John, demanding, “What is wrong with him?” According to John, “there was nothing to say. It was an age war. And we lost. We were the Germans in this encounter. It was Perth comedy’s Gallipoli: an Englishman sent us to the wrong beach.”


Close-knit fraternity community

The metaphor of warfare – a battle waged between the comics on one side and… well, and everyone else on the other – is telling. Perth comics are a closely bonded tribe, particularly evident when they’re interstate.

“This was one of the incidents that cemented the brotherhood,” John insists, before getting sidetracked by trying to correct ‘brotherhood’ with ‘fraternity’ and realising that ‘fraternity’, like ‘brotherhood’, appears to overlook the female Perth comics. “This is one of the problems with the English language”, he says, hoping to opt for ‘community’ but deciding against it since ‘fraternity’ at least implies ‘family’ whereas ‘community’, he argues, “could be anything”.

“Yes, you are a close-knit family,” I agree, “but don’t change the subject. I want you to talk about it.”

“Yeah, let’s do it!” John insists. What I want is the story of how the Perth comedy circuit built itself up from nothing; how it is comedian-based, since they set up and run the rooms as a collective and – Shock! Horror! – everyone gets paid. Instead, John wants to concentrate on “that incident” that took place a few years ago at the Yorkshirefolk golf club. “We were all younger then,” he reminisces – as though he’s the one who’s hit the other side of 80 having died in two World Wars. When I point this out, he cites his own old age and physical decrepitude: “I’m 25 now, and my thighs are going”; having just hosted a scifi convention in Sydney, his body is “absolutely covered” in bruises, the provenance of which he cannot trace; his legs ache. “I’ve no idea what I did,” he says.

“You need to regenerate,” I offer. Lame as the Dr Who reference is, it’s the best I can offer. Like a properly trained out-of-work actor who plays a lot of theatresports, John knows better than to turn down the ‘offer’: “I think I will,” he says, “but the adamantium in my system is corrupting my body.”

Ah, a Wolverine reference. How apt.

“I was so delighted to find that out: the only reason Wolverine is not immortal is because of the adamantium in his body. There you go. There’s a fact.”

John receives comparisons to Wolverine far more than he does to Danny McGinlay. But, I point out, it is Wolverine whom Robertson resembles; not Hugh Jackman, who played the character on the big screen.

“Hugh Jackman is from my town,” John says. “We’d all like to look a little more like Hugh Jackman.” At this point, he realises the interview has mostly made him sound “particularly ugly”. But that’s down to John; it’s come out in his answers, not in my questions.

 “Ah well, you see, that’s humility,” John replies. “If I were to be fair to my own self-image, I’d have to say that Hugh Jackman styled that look on me. I am a tremendously attractive deep-voiced soul, all 5-foot-8 of me. I have the build of a rugby player who doesn’t play rugby anymore.”

“Yes,” I add, in a downright un-Australian and cheeky manner, “but you just haven’t had your ‘alleged’ marriage of convenience yet.”

I regret the cheap and nasty Perez-Hiltonesque remark before it’s even finished coming out of my mouth, but John – ever the gracious professional – keeps moving in a different direction. “I can’t imagine a convenient marriage,” he counters. “I had a look at the two men from whom we get the term ‘sado-masochism’, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch and the Marquis de Sade, and both of them had some good ideas, just that they were really shit at using them.”

According to John, “all Leopold wanted” was for his girlfriend to sleep with other people, but she was reluctant. “It was illegal at the time, and she would probably be shot, so he had a nervous breakdown”. Meanwhile, all the Marquis de Sade wanted, apparently, was to have orgies, but “he was such a dickhead about it that he kept telling everyone that he was doing it, which was unheard of at the time, so he kept going to prison”. John’s conclusion? “I should find some nice bohemian combination of the two, and then never mention it to anyone, ever.”

I know it looks as though John’s taken the opportunity to chase down another tangent in order to side-step discussing the nature of Perth comedy, but what he’s actually done is deftly led us back to the topic of show he’s doing, A Nifty History of Evil. Still, in the process, it does look as though he’s having a much better conversation with himself than with me.

“That’s what comes of being an only child,” John counters: “a need to respond to a simple question with a nine-part answer, none of which parts are inter-connected”. Indeed, he concludes, “I’m the Old Testament version of my own life story”. 

 

Raymond and Cat Cat

There is the tinge of the Old Testament to John’s life just at the moment, an example of the Good Lord who giveth, taking away. A key point of his performances has been the appearance of two adorable puppets – a sad guinea pig and a hideous cat. “I don’t know what it is about them,” he says, “but audiences find Raymond the Manic-Depressive Guinea Pig and Cat Cat the Munt-Faced Cat utterly enchanting.” 

Turns out John found Raymond on the floor of the children’s entertainment centre where he used to work. “He just looked so miserable and so desperately sad that I took him home. I literally stole him.” John used to walk around the place with the guinea pig on his hand, speaking with in its voice all day. “I absolutely loved the idea of a sad hamster. It was just so much fun. You could make it look like he was cutting his wrists; he could cover his eyes; it was just this great moment of pathos. It could make an audience so sad.…”

How sad? The way Raymond was first incorporated into the act was, John says, in the middle of a stand-up performance where all of the various lines, jokes and act-outs worked, and everyone was having so much of a “generally crazy time” that he decided to take the gamble and ask the audience if they’d like to see the puppets. The drunken audience loved the idea. So John pulled out Raymond the Manic-Depressive Guinea Pig and made him start talking and covering his eyes. The crowd was utterly hushed, until a man broke the silence by shouting, with tears in his voice, “Make us laugh! Make us laugh!”

“It was a nice moment,” John says. “That was Raymond sealing his part of the deal: girls would squeal in delight when Raymond came out, and then they would be moved with intense sadness. This is something I think we could do more of.”

You don’t need to do more of it if you can do it well. The moment of sadness in a comedy show – if done properly by someone who knows what he’s doing, is magical. It makes the release of the funny, when it returns, even funnier, because there’s been some patently ‘not funny’ (but no less powerful) to compare it to. After all, if everything was uniformly hilarious, how would you know? And it’s worth noting, Aussie comics do pathos very, very well. Consider Grahame Bond and Rory O’Donohue’s ‘singing tramp’ characters Neil and Errol on Aunty Jack, or Paul Hogan’s wino…

“It’s true,” John agrees, “and we handle it well, too. But we treat it like a foreign concept whenever it appears.” So much so, that it only works if the performer is totally committed to it. In fact, he adds, the lesson he’s learnt is that, with everything you do, “you have to really commit to it, or it doesn’t work. That seems to be the secret to the universe.”

Having reached the point where Raymond had more-or-less reduced an audience to tears, he’d pull out Cat Cat the Munt-Faced Cat, another item purloined from that place of work. “He’d been touched and played with by some 40,000 school children, so this once beautiful cat had been rendered almost black with dirt; his face was pushed in; his eyes were just blazing and sinister.”

Before an audience wracked by sadness, the repulsive cat did the business. “Cat Cat could scrunch his upper lip into his lower lip and then flap out his mouth, whereupon he would speak like Jabba the Hutt: ‘Waka jawaka, Solo. Bring the Wookie to me. Waka jawaka jawaka.’ The release in the room would be amazing every time.”

I have experienced this firsthand, but what didn’t quite twig that time – and I’ve no idea how or why I missed it – is that Cat Cat spoke like Jabba the Hutt. The Han Solo reference should have been a give-away.

“I don’t think anyone remembers it. That’s the nice thing about puppets: they get a biological response. Who gives a crap what the puppet is saying, providing it’s moving, and looks funny?”

John has used these puppets, he says, in places where it should almost be unreasonable to use them. There’s a YouTube clip of him entertaining a 1,200-strong anime convention with a kid’s story featuring Raymond and Cat Cat in prominent roles. “They lose their shit,” John says. “A little girl yells out, ‘everybody loves Raymond…’ They love it.” He also pulled Raymond and Cat Cat out while doing the support slot for Wayne Brady. “That was 2,500 people. And I learnt something that day – visual jokes don’t carry to the back of the room!” Three tiers of people laughed while the fourth tier – who had been making a lot of noise up to that point – fell silent. John knew it was time to put the puppets away and pull out the ukulele.

Unfortunately, John lost Raymond and Cat Cat during the most recent Melbourne International Comedy Festival, on the way to a sci-fi convention. “I hadn’t pulled them out for the whole festival because they’re not part of this year’s show,” he says. “I was taking them to the sci-fi convention I was hosting. I got off the tram and realised I’d left them on it.” John ran through traffic to catch up to the tram, but couldn’t reach it. He jumped onto the next tram, and had that diver contact the driver ahead, but to no avail. “By the time the driver on the first tram looked, they were gone. I rang my girlfriend and we wept. It was like losing some kids. Except that now, it’s months later, and it’s like losing some kids we didn’t really care about. I loved those guys, but I don’t burst out crying. Anymore.”

Well-meaning friends have sent John replacement puppets, but they know they’re not the same. The new kitten puppet is far too adorable. Even though it can be very funny when you “make it a Nazi and give it the voice of Christoph Waltz, from Inglorious Basterds”. Indeed, John says, it’s amazing how many puppets can do the Nazi salute. “It’s one of the first things people do when they grab them. ‘Can I make it touch its dick? Can I make it do a Nazi salute?’” Those things are hilariously funny, clearly, but it’s the pathos that the other puppets presented, that made John’s onstage shtick what it was. “I like my pathos,” he explains. “I like my animals weird and munted.”


Better acting as a musician

The puppets may be gone, but John still has his ukulele, which, like the puppets, doesn’t exist for what it is, so much, as for what it isn’t. “It’s not even there, necessarily, to be a musical thing,” John insists. “It’s just a point of difference. ‘Look, I’ve just done however minutes of high-energy stuff on stage, maybe we’ve gone a few places, maybe we’ve done some weird shit, maybe I’ve yelled a whole bunch of jokes at you; now let’s see what I can do with this happy instrument.’”

What John usually does with the ‘happy instrument’ is perform three songs, two of which “appear” to be “very happy” – although, when you listen, he points out, “neither of them are” – and the other one, really depressing. The ‘depressing song’ is mostly conveyed through John’s facial expressions. He finds the “face work” to be liberating. “Playing a slow, sad song where you don’t sing and all you do is look out into a large crowd as if you are dying on the inside is one of the most enjoyable things you can imagine,” he insists.

“But a lot of the time you can’t see the crowd,” I offer.

“I can,” John argues. And in a way, he can. Because “it isn’t about ‘seeing’ the crowd; it’s about ‘hearing’ them. If you’ve got a really large crowd and you walk across a stage looking incredibly sad and you’re singing a song that is amazingly pathetic, and you’re looking out at people, it’s amazing to hear a ripple of response go through them.” And, he reiterates, “having it carry through the entire room as you walk the length of the stage is a really gorgeous thing. It also makes you think ‘Christ I must look sad! I’m a better actor than I thought!’”


Nifty history of the show

We’re almost back to the point where we began: John Robertson, the actor-turned-comic – except that we actually began with John’s infatuation with serial killers and evil, which he’s turned into a live show, A Nifty History of Evil. I quite like the poster graphic – John as a cross between the Nosferatu vampire (from the film of the same name) and that character Ron Moody played – or rather, that character Noel Fielding of the Mighty Boosh plays, based on a Ron Moody character, that has ‘Polo mints for eyes’. It also reminds me of Screaming Lord Sutch, an English rock’n’roll character from the ’60s. But John reckons it’s accidental that he looks as though he might want to talk to me about eels; rather, the look grew out of the costume, first and foremost. “I just thought, ‘Hey, let’s put on all of our steampunk gear today and see how we look. Oh, I look a little like an aristocrat…’”

The ‘steam punk’ clobber comes from Gallery Serpentine, a ‘goth shop’ that sponsors John by slinging clothing in his direction “every once in a while”. So, he says, “I’m wearing one of their frock coats. I’ve got one of their corsets on, I’m wearing their shirt… the hat was mine.” As to the poster image for the show, John’s feeling was, “how good would it be if I were to have these really horrifying distended fingers?” His buddy Mel, “this tremendous graphic designer” that John insists is on par with Shaun Tan (Tan is “a more dream-like, less photo-realistic version” of Graeme Bass, according to John), ‘knocked it up’ for him with little effort.

“It’s the finest piece of graphic design I’ve ever been associated with,” John says. “Mel’s been my best friend for years and she really hates it. So much. Tim Ferguson wrote to me and told me that he likes it. I told Mel, and she was so embarrassed. She would have preferred if he’d seen any of her body of work that wasn’t that.”

The show A Nifty History of Evil itself, according to John, is about “marketing, blood and style”. It’s an historical journey through “obscure moments of evil mythology”. So it features “Philippino vampires, a puppet show about the Marquis de Sade, a happy song about Stalin’s Purges which is basically Goldilocks and the Three Bears retold from a soviet perspective…” – a little bit of everything, really. If it’s inspired by anything, it’s the facts gleaned as a kid from children’s encyclopedias.

“I really liked those entries you’d stumble across that would end, ‘and then he massacred all of them’,” John says. “When it’s been divorced from context by about 400 years and then phrased in a children’s encyclopedia, it usually tends to be great. I basically wanted to put together a horrible history of the world, and some of these things are just excruciatingly funny.”

What sort of things are excruciatingly funny? He offers the possible alternative endings to World War II as an example. Both the Russians and American were working on secret weapons that would finally bring the conflict to an end, once and for all. The Americans were developing the deadly ‘Bat Bomb’, essentially “a bat with dynamite strapped to it,” according to John.

“They were going to release these over Tokyo. They never did it because the first day they were experimenting with the bats in a secret army base, they flew up into the roof and, when they exploded, took out the base.” The historical consequence of this was the Americans developing the more cost effective nuclear fusion. “It was cheaper to develop the atom bomb.”

At the same time, John says, the Russians were developing the ‘dog bomb’ – a dog with a landmine strapped to it. Dogs were being trained – no doubt via Pavlov’s classical conditioning, to run under German tanks, by putting food under tanks. “But the Russians didn’t have any German tanks for the dogs to practice on,” John reports, “so the dogs would go out into battle, look at German tanks and freak out, then look at Russian tanks which they associated with food, run back to them, and explode.”

These ridiculous historical factoids are great, but better still, for John, are the moments in the show when people hear about stuff they already know, but weren’t aware others were into.

“I’ve seen a large guy dressed in footy shorts cheer when I mention Countess Elizabeth Bathory,” John says. And why shouldn’t an apparent rugger bugger cheer at in recognition of the horrible Hungarian ruler who used to bathe in the blood of young virgin women – since beauty products containing the stem cells of discarded fetuses weren’t yet on the market – in order to remain youthful? 

Likewise, “troupes of young women high five each other” when John begins to discuss Lilith, the first woman. Well, she’s the first woman according to the Kabala and variations of the original myth from which the Adam and Eve story is reportedly derived. Apparently, Lilith was banished from the Garden of Eden by God because she refused to acquiesce to Adam as husband and boss. Depending on the version of the story, Lilith disappears, becomes a howling wind, or becomes a vampire who preys on children and pregnant women. No guesses which version of the story A Nifty History of Evil deals with…

This has been a long conversation, admittedly, John concludes, but it’s the last chance we’ll get to have one for a while. “The minute I finish the show in Sydney,” he says, “I’m flying home to Perth where I’ll spend four hours changing my bags over so that I can fly to Edinburgh and do 44 shows in 22 days. Then I’m doing club work in the UK until October.”


There you have it. If you want to see A Nifty History of Evil in Sydney, John’s doing it at the Comedy Store, Sunday July 25th. Until then, he’s featuring in the Store’s season of ‘Heavy Weights of Ha Ha’ featuring Bruce Griffiths, Chris Wainhouse, Smart Casual, Jackie Loeb, Joel Creasey, Amelia Jane Hunter, Rhys Nicholson, Umit Bali and Emma Markezic. Oh, but during August you can see A Nifty History of Evil in Edinburgh!


Eine Klein(e) Foxsprecht
(A little chat with Fox Klein)

Fox Klein is playing the Laugh Garage this week. I took the opportunity to chat to a comic I’ve known for years but never quite gotten around to interviewing.


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Dom Romeo: So tell me about going to LA with a script.

FOX KLEIN: ‘Going to LA with a script?’ What are you referring to?

Dom Romeo: Didn’t you go to LA and have a script commissioned?

FOX KLEIN: I’ve got a couple of scripts that I’ve got out there, but nothing I’m going over there for, as such.

Dom Romeo: I thought you’d already been there and had a nibble on something you’d already put up…

FOX KLEIN: Yeah, yeah, yeah, but as Hollywood is, the wheels turn very slowly there. I’m not holding my breath for anything. It’s a company called Delaware Pictures and they were interest in a project called Broke – that I wrote with Dani [Solomon]. But they’ve got a lot of projects on the board that have more priority for them, and then if and when they get around to it, they get around to it. It’s not as though it’s locked in from pre-production and everything’s raring to go. They’re definitely interested in it, and something could happen with it, but I’m not holding my breath – I’ve learned not to do that anymore.

I’ve got a few things though – I’ve just finished an animated Family Guy style script and I’m gonna start shopping that as soon as it’s fixed up – spelling errors, stuff like that.

Dom Romeo: What took you to the States in the first place?

FOX KLEIN: I don’t know, I always felt like – comedy’s great in Australia, no denying it – but I just wanted to give it a shot. I made some contacts and I just wanted to head over and give it a shot.

Dom Romeo: I know that some of your heroes when you were coming through were American comics, rather than the ones we grew up with here, or the British model of stand-up comic.

FOX KLEIN: Absolutely, I’m a huge fan of the American comedian – Dane Cook, Louis C.K., people like that. Not that I don’t appreciate Australian comedians, I love Australian comedians, but that’s just what I gravitated towards. It’s not just a matter of ‘liking’ it – I was able to ‘do’ that kind of humour rather than an Aussie ‘bogan’ type of humour, if that makes sense.

Dom Romeo: Why are you ‘Fox’ Klein? Do you talk about that? Do you prefer it not being spoken of?

FOX KLEIN: No, not at all. It’s not a secret. It’s a nickname that I got in school, because of David Duchovney from The X-Files. I looked a little bit like him, therefore I got that name. Then when I started doing comedy, I was using my real name, which is Matt, or Matthew, but there were a ton of Matts doing comedy, and I wanted to stand out a little bit so I used my highschool nickname. It seems to have worked, there are no other Foxes doing comedy. Not in Australia, anyway – there may be a few Foxes in America…

Dom Romeo: I can only think of Redd Foxx and Jeff Foxworthy, off the top of my head.

Who inspired you when you were starting out? Who made you go, ‘I’m going to do this thing’?

FOX KLEIN: This is going to sound weird, but the first comedian that I listened to that made me do stand-up was Bill Hicks, and I’m a million miles from his biting political and social commentary type of stuff, but that’s how I got started and I was attempting to do that kind of comedy when I started.

Dom Romeo: But if you were just another stoner conspiracy theorist, we’d probably never hear of you; all the ‘Bill Hicks’ clones disappear unknown unless they develop their own voice, at which point they’re no longer Hicks clones. You’ve clearly developed your own voice. How did that happen?

FOX KLEIN: I’m not very political myself, so I couldn’t sell it. It was just bullshit. I was just trying to do what Bill Hicks was doing. Then as I got more comfortable and widened my scope of comedy, I found my voice and I didn’t really… it’s not that I didn’t have a message, it wasn’t my agenda. I just wanted to have fun, let my audience have fun, and entertain, is the bottom line.

Dom Romeo: I haven’t seen you in ages, but one of my favourite bits of yours is about wanting to learn martial arts – finding a teacher. Were you into kung fu?

FOX KLEIN: I did tae kwon do for years. There are a couple of embarrassing photos of me doing the splits Van Damme style on chairs, out there somewhere. They’ll resurface some day that will surface some day and embarrass the shit out of me, I’m sure.

Of course, that story’s from my childhood. I love hung fu, I love martial arts, I love old films and it’s become part of my material like a lot of that stuff does.

Dom Romeo: What was it like doing gigs in LA?

FOX KLEIN: Totally different ball game to over here. We don’t really realise how good we have it here in Australia. It was actually a nightmare, but that’s mostly because of where I was, which was bang in the middle of Hollywood where there are only three big clubs and about five thousand comedians all vying for stagetime. It was horrible. It wasn’t a pleasant experience at all, but that’s not true of everywhere in America, of course, but particularly where I was, it wasn’t fun.

Dom Romeo: What did you do? How did you get stage time?

FOX KLEIN: I got stage time. There were a lot of little rooms around, but nobody bothers going to them because they’d all rather be at the bigger clubs where the celebrities would turn up.

So when I got back to Australia, I was really looking forward to it because the week that I got back, I jumped up at the Lounge and did 20 minutes in front of 500 people.

The contrast was surprising: I’d supposedly been at the mecca of comedy in America, but really, back home is where you get the proper opportunities to perform. The contrast was surprising.

Dom Romeo: Are you back for good? You’re not chasing summer the way most expat Aussie comics do, ’cos you’ve come back for winter…

FOX KLEIN: No, I’ve actually negotiated a new contract with a new management team. The reason I came back was because I was ‘glamoured’ by Hollywood assholes. Which is fine. Apparently, you’re supposed to go through all that before your career actually starts to happen.

Dom Romeo: Right. I won’t ask for details.

FOX KLEIN: I’m happy to talk about it. It was just someone who totally misrepresented themselves and basically lied about their position and what they were able to do. Which was fine, because I went over there and made a lot of contacts, so it didn’t really matter and led to something bigger and better, which is why I’m heading over in a month or so.

Dom Romeo: It’s a bit of an initiation process in showbiz, though – being suckered in by someone who says they can do something for you when really they’re trying to get you to do stuff for them.

FOX KLEIN: Absolutely, and instead of being bitter and negative, it’s actually been a blessing because it opened my eyes to the whole business, and it got me over there. I got a lot of contacts and met a lot of great people and now I’m going back prepared, eyes wide open, with a proper management agency.

Dom Romeo: So what’s planned for this next visit? Will you get to play one of three big venues in Hollywood?

FOX KLEIN: The company that I’m going across with is based in New York, Nashville and LA and I’m doing the college circuit when I’m there. I’m staying away from the comedy clubs this time. The money’s good, everything’s cool

You have to excuse me, I’m on a treadmill. I’m doing an incline of 10.

Dom Romeo: What’s the workout like when you’re being interviewed and have to talk and think on the treadmill?

FOX KLEIN: It’s good. It’s distracting. I hate working out without something to do. I want to do all interviews at the gym.

Dom Romeo: The college circuit is cool – you can play to anyone, you’ve got the experience; but you’re clever enough that you’ll appeal to students.

FOX KLEIN: I know this will get me a lot flak from a lot of people, but one of my heroes is Dane Cook. I know he’s fairly dissed in the industry, but the one thing that he’s great at doing is performing to a large crowd. He’s very entertaining. That’s what I’ve moulded my style on. There are a lot of comedians who can only do small rooms because that’s all they’ve ever done. When they do eventually get to  a bigger crowd, they don’t know how to perform to it or handle it. Not a lot of them – just a handful of them, who only seem to do the boutique rooms. I think you need to be able to do both for your own professionalism.

Dom Romeo: Indeed, and for the sake of being able to make a living. But people don’t really dis Dane Cook because he’s hugely popular, but rather because he’s hugely popular and an alleged joke thief. My problem with him is, when I listen to his CDs, he doesn’t make me laugh. But now I want to watch a DVD to see if he’s funnier to watch than listen to.

FOX KLEIN: Absolutely. He’s very energetic and his stage present is incredible. That’s what I try to emulate. The weakness of his performance is the material – he’s not the greatest writer – but when you’re watching his facial expressions or his actions, it adds to it. Performance wise, as an entertainer, I don’t think there’s anyone better.

Dom Romeo: Is it true that President Obama models himself to him?

FOX KLEIN: I heard that. I heard that he studied all the great speakers, and Dane was one of them. But regarding the joke-stealing thing, it’s a huge story and is all over the internet. But I’ve actually compared the material that he’s actually accused of stealing. He has 10 to 15 hours of material; the jokes he’s actually accused of stealing is about two minutes. At some point, material is going to cross over. I’ve got jokes that are similar to people here and vice-versa. But when you compare it to someone like Carlos Mencia, who is well-documented, practically word-for-word doing Bill Cosby jokes, it pales in comparison. So the whole joke-stealing thing just sounds like an excuse to hate on him, you know what I mean?

Dom Romeo: And have you noticed a difference in your performance since you’ve been back?

FOX KLEIN: I don’t really have a new American attitude or anything like that. I’m just doing gigs as much as I can. I’m still performing. Nothing’s really changed. I’m writing as much as possible. I’ve got a whole heap of material.

Dom Romeo: Last year you were doing stuff for a show on Channel 31 in Melbourne.

FOX KLEIN: Studio A. it was organized by Ged Wood, who used to work for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. It was a Rove-style talk show format that Dave Thornton was hosting and myself and Karl Chandler and Tommy Dassalo and a few others were writing for the show. It was a good show and we won a couple of awards for it – Antennae awards. Now it’s in its fourth season, I think, and Tommy Little is the host.

Dom Romeo: Are you still involved?

FOX KLEIN: I had to drop out close to my leaving for LA last time because I was spending too much time writing for the show and not for myself, and it was effecting my stand-up. Stand-up will always come first. I don’t want to spend time writing jokes for other people. It’s a little bit selfish, but I’d rather write for myself. The show’s got enough writers.


Jim Jefferies: No Regrets

Jim Jefferies is back at the Comedy Store this week – YAY! But if you’re not familiar with his work, at least read this earlier blog entry about him and watch the clips before proceeding.

 

 

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 “It still bugs me a little bit that I’m not famous in Australia,” Jim confesses. “There’s an argument that I’m probably the biggest Australian comic in the world right now – except for in one country…”

I’m catching up with Jim Jefferies, an expat Aussie who has not only made a name for himself in the UK and Europe, but who, in the last year, has cracked the United States. He has returned to Australia for a season at Sydney’s Comedy Store.

The last time I spoke to him, he was back for the 2009 Melbourne International Comedy Festival; I’d spoken to him a decade earlier, when he was starting out, but by the time he was playing MICF 2009, there was a massive buzz about him among other comics. A buzz not always shared by audiences. For example, the MICF 2009 Gala audience met his set with, as far as this writer’s concerned, a kind of indifference you’d only expect from the truly ignorant.

Sure, he did do his ‘awkward rape’ routine, but that’s funny. Jim wasn’t fazed, of course. He’d just signed a deal with HBO, the terms of which entailed exclusivity. Jim’s set wouldn’t make it to the screen, so neither the rest of Australia nor the rest of the world would get to scratch their heads in bewilderment over a theatre audience’s inability to appreciate the brilliance of Jim Jefferies.

Meanwhile, the audiences going to see his actual Festival show, Hellbound, were hip to who he was and what he did – if not before the season began, then certainly, by word of mouth throughout. (My favourite night was the one with the grannies – not his, mind – right up the front, laughing at everything!)

Since that Festival, the HBO special I Swear To God has been filmed, shown a heap of times and released on DVD in the US. “It first aired a year ago, and then it came out on DVD in October,” Jim says, adding that in between first airing and DVD release, there have been “weird things” – like it  being show on aeroplanes for a while. “HBO have their own channel on all the US airways. The only time I watched it was on a flight, to check to see if they’d censored it in any way. They hadn’t. It was all right. But they put a warning label on it.”

Since its first airing, I Swear To God has been repeated “anywhere between 20 and 50 times”, according to Jim, “usually at some strange hour, like 2am or 4am or midday”. The reason he knows this is because each time, he suddenly receives more attention online. “More people will be writing to you or writing about you on the internet because it’s just aired…”

Don’t worry if you haven’t seen it yet; a UK company has just secured the rights to release it on DVD throughout the rest of the world. So, in all, Jim Jefferies appears to be doing very well indeed. Although, he says, his life hasn’t turned out exactly as he’d anticipated. “I guess I’m famous but it’s happening a lot slower than I expected”. Where he imagined the television offers would be pouring in, instead, he’s got a multitude of fans wanting to see him live. “It sounds like a bit of a guilty trap when I say something like that,” Jefferies acknowledges. “That’s all I ever wanted a few years ago, and now I want to be in television. It’s never good enough!”

Oh, Jim Jefferies certainly has crossed the media divide since hitting the big time. Only, it hasn’t been from stage to telly, so much. “It’s weird now,” he says. “I used to just go to towns and do gigs, but now I’ve got to do a lot more radio, a lot more newspapers and stuff like that.”

It’s probably good that it’s happening slowly; what would Jim do once he got a regular television gig? What would he want next? “It’d be movies. And then I’d want to be president. And then I’d bitch, because they wouldn’t let me, because I’m not an American citizen…” In all, he says, “things are going well. I’m happy with all the work.”

Now if you’ve seen Jim’s material – and do go check the clips that accompanied my last interview with him – you might consider that it’d be a bit ‘too edgy’ and ‘in your face’ for America. “Not at all,” Jim corrects me. “This is the place of Richard Pryor and George Carlin. The edgiest comics in the world came from America: Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks…” All true. But there’s no way Jefferies will be able to take all of that onto television. Sitcoms are going to require Jim Jefferies-lite, surely…

“Yeah, but you can water things down on TV and still be who you are on stage,” Jim points out. “Richard Pryor made a lot of films that I enjoyed as a kid before I even knew he was a stand-up comic. Richard Pryor was in The Toy. You’ve got Eddie Murphey in Daddy Daycare and Dr Dolittle, and he’s Donkey off Shrek. But if he went back to stand-up, he’d still be the same kick-arse stand-up he always was. Being who you are doesn’t have to be so one-dimensional.”

No, of course not. Besides which, I Swear To God is Jim Jefferies being his full-on, stage self, on television. But it’d be foolish to think that’s the only pace, volume and level he can play at. “I always find it funny when I list on my fanpage on Facebook that I’m coming town,” Jim says. “They always go, ‘We’ll have the hookers and drugs ready for you’. I’m like, ‘Ah… I just wanna relax this weekend…’”

So what’s changed now that Jim’s gotten to this current level of success? Has he gotten to meet some of his own big comedy heroes? What do you say to them when you finally meet them? Are they still heroes? “I met Slash at a barbecue the other day,” Jim says. “His kids were there. We talked about pinball for a bit. We both like pinball.”

However, even though you do “just pass people in the street” a lot more in LA, you don’t necessarily get to meet them. When you do, it’s usually because you’re at the same event, or you share the same management. Otherwise, Jim says, he doesn’t meet “the big acts” because even if he’s not quite one of them, he’s big enough now to be gigging as a headline act; the only other comics he regularly meets are his support acts – people on the way up.

The exception to that is a comedy festival gala. “Straight after Australia, I’m doing the Montreal Comedy Festival, and then Edinburgh Festival,” Jim reports. “In Montreal I’ll be doing the gala hosted by Steve Martin or the gala hosted by Cheech & Chong. So I’ll get to meet Cheech & Chong and Steve Martin the week after Sydney. That’s kind of exciting.  But you very rarely talk comedy with anyone – these guys are movie stars; I’m still a comedian. I just get on with what I’m doing.”

Getting on with the job of being a comedian seems incrementally more difficult as you progress further up the food chain – as your success contributes to you becoming more of a ‘celebrity’ . The more successful you are, for example, the more your everyday life differs to that of most other people. There’s less common ground to draw from. But that’s not an issue for Jim Jefferies. Not yet, anyway.

“I have the privilege in the US of being a new face and a foreigner,” Jim explains, “so I get to deliver the ‘foreign’ point of view – as a lot of American comics do when they come over to Australia.” Not that Jim does ‘the difference between Americans and Australians’ material; rather, not having as vested a interest in the country yet, he can talk objectively – “which for my type of comedy, is a lot better” – about American politics and social issues, employing a deceptive ocker naivety that renders his killer punchlines all the more potent, having lulled the locals into a false sense of security. “I’m not big on the ‘Oh, you guys eat a lot of hamburgers, don’t you?’ type of comedy,” Jim adds. “I mean, they do appear to eat a lot of hamburgers, but so do I.”

What has changed for Jim now, since doing the deal with HBO, is people know who he is and so know what to expect. When working the circuit as just another comic, Jim’s candour had the tendency to shock. At festival time, there’d always be advertising pointing out that he is a so-called ‘dirty’ comic, so that an ignorant audience wouldn’t be jarred by an unexpected level of fankness in the comedy. But now, having had his material broadcast extensively and released on DVD, the audience knows who Jim Jeffries is and what he does; they go to his live performances knowing exactly what to expect.

“It gives you so much more freedom than if you have to prove yourself on stage in the first couple of minutes,” Jim says. Because a cold audience have to be on your side before you take them into dangerous territory – otherwise they turn against you and get offended, rather than laughing. “When I play a room where they haven’t seen who I am, sometimes I can’t just be irreverent and a little bit flippant about such harsh subjects,” Jefferies agrees. “I have to get them to like me before I can just say my cancer joke, for instance.” It’s not like that in the United States anymore; before heading to Australia, Jefferies played to a 1200-strong Boston audience – twice in one night – who were chanting Jim’s name as he took the stage. “You just don’t think when you’re starting out that you’ll ever walk out to people just calling your name, all that sort of stuff”.

Indeed. What exactly was Jim expecting when he started out? He never imagined being a star in the United States, that’s for sure. But, he says, his dream “was always to be a full-time comic”. But the problem Jefferies has encountered, having become one, is that “you just never seem to be happy. I’ve reached every goal I ever wanted to in comedy, and some goals I never even thought I’d reach, but now I’m thinking, ‘Ah, f*ck! I’m not rich yet’. I’ve got to have more money.’ It never ends. You’re always looking over the horizon.”

Don’t think that Jim Jefferies has totally lost touch with reality. Some things do keep him grounded. “I need to smell the roses a bit,” he acknowledges. “Sometimes I just sit here and think, ‘F*ck, how did I get here?’ When they’re sneaking me into a place through a back door ’cos there’s queue of people out the front, I think, ‘That never happened before!’ You’ve gotta be thankful for things like that – of course you do. It’s thousands of comics’ dreams to have something like this happen to them. I never thought – especially with my type of comedy – that I would be embraced on such a large level.”

This makes me laugh – given the first time I met Jim Jefferies, he’d graduated as an opera singer from Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts left Perth for Sydney because he’d gotten as far as he could on the Perth circuit – the only people more famous than him in Perth were news readers.

“There’s no use being a big fish in a small pond,” Jim says.” I will give myself this amount of credit: I know a number of comics who over the years have bitched about me or said that the only reason I’ve done something is because I got punched on the internet or because I moved over to England or whatever. But I did all those things…” A lot of comics prefer to bitch about the lack of opportunity rather than seeking those opportunities out, Jim says. A prime example might be a gig in Sacramento, six hours out of Los Angeles.

“When I’m up there, they’ll give me some comics to support me who are local guys, and they’ll be talking about how they haven’t had a break yet. And I’m like, ‘Well, you’re only a six-hour drive from Los Angeles…’ I had to get a plane and move from Perth to Sydney, from Sydney to London, from London to LA to keep seeing how far I could push this thing. And if at any time I just kind of stayed stagnant in a town, it would never have happened.”

There is, of course, a price to be paid, Jim acknowledges. “I’ve never been married or had kids or anything like that because I’ve never had a relationship that’s lasted long enough through all this travelling to contemplate something like that. I know a lot of people who get tied down with things like family, or they don’t want to leave their day job before a certain time. But you never know in this life unless you give it a go. I can say for sure, at the end of this career, I won’t have any of those, ‘If only I’d done this…’ regrets. That’s something to be happy with.”

The regret, if there is one, is that age-old issue that all stars who push themselves to find the opportunities, ultimately face: international success often means homeland indifference. Jim Jefferies is massive around the world, and relatively unknown in Australia. It is, as ‘American’ Australian comic Tommy Dean once pointed out, a characteristic that comedians share with prophets: they’re never embraced in their homeland, but need to preach in foreign lands to gain acceptance.

“I appreciate that completely,” Jim says. “I understand that. I live with Eddie Ifft in LA in a house on the beach. He talks about how he’s struggling to get work in the United States, and I talk about how I’m struggling to get work in Australia. And we have a laugh about it on our couch, watching the TV.”