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Keeping abreast of Bev Killick

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I got to have a lovely chat with Bev Killick to which I’ll direct people whenever she’s doing a gig. My apologies for 'guessing' the spelling of the Busting Out character names…


“I haven’t done stand-up for a little while because I’ve been busy on Busting Out,” Bev says, “but I was standing on stage the other night, and it came to me, the way I used to tag a joke. I went, ‘oh, thank god!’ I love the way your mind can work: it can help get you out of a situation when you need it – if you trust yourself.”

There’s a heap of stuff to start with right there, talking to Bev Killick, who has been a professional comic for the better part of a decade and a half. But as she says, recently she’s been concentrating on Busting Out, a kind of ‘women’s own’ Puppetry of the Penis (only, not really, as Bev’ll explain), that she does with Emma Powell.

Point is, Bev’s in town to do stand-up, and a scary thing happened to her in the process: she actually had to stretch some comedy muscles that had hitherto not been exercised in the show Busting Out, despite it enjoying three months of success in the UK – after nearly four years of success in Australia and New Zealand.

First things first, though.


Starting Out

Bev, in her own words, has always been ‘the funny girl’ and ‘a party animal’ growing up, always prepared to do “shocking things to get attention”. She also trained in theatre, and, true to form, ended up in hospitality for many years, until she realised shed had enough.

“I worked one too many shifts when there was an entertainer on, when I went, ‘Why don’t I just switch? I wanna be up there; I don’t want to be walking around with a tray in my hand!”

So Bev, believing comedy to be “such a different genre to theatre”, attended Peter Crofts’s ‘Humourversity’. “It was just a really good way to focus, I suppose,” she says. The best aspect of Crofts’s approach to teaching comedy is that he was more a ‘life coach’, taking an holistic approach to getting his students on stage. So despite Bev being a procrastinator – “if it was too difficult or scary, I’d put it off, which a lot of funny people do” – Peter ensured a date was set for her comedy debut. “I had to ring up a club and book it in. So I had to get there, and I had to have five minutes.”

Having “worked and worked” on her five minutes of material, Bev Killick made her debut. She got up. And did 17 minutes. Of open mic. That’s outrageous. For several reasons. It’s hard to come up with 17 minutes of comedy. That is actually funny. That an MC will actually allow you to deliver, uninterrupted.

But it gets better: Bev’s MC was Dave Grant. The Dave Grant. Though sadly gone, Dave was a master, and a mentor to many a comic. And one of the lessons he lovingly imparted – usually with stern gusto – was the importance of sticking to your time. It’s amazing that he let Bev go for more than three times that. She must have been exceptionally good.

“He was enjoying it,” she assures me. “I got to the five-minute mark and he sort of looked at his watch and said, ‘You know what? Just keep going’.

There is, of course, an epilogue to this tale:

“I went back to the same club the next night and just bombed.”

Oh yeah. That happens a lot to new comics – they get through their debut on fear and nervous energy, by the grace of an understanding audience. And then, in Bev’s words, “you rest on your laurels. You think, ‘Oh yeah, that’s that,’ and you don’t put in the same work that you did the first time.” And, she adds, “nervous energy can sometimes make you really funny”.

Thereafter, Bev learnt her craft the hard way: by doing it. “I stayed at that five minute mark for a while,” she says, “but it didn’t take me long to get to the fifteen minute mark…”

Of course not. How could it? She debuted past the 15-minute mark. And those initial 17 minutes, plus the skills she’d been taught – understanding “transitions, heckle lines, comeback lines, all those sort of things – meant she took to the stage well equipped. “I felt I could go up there armed, like, ‘If this happens I’ll do that…’ I also had some freedom to improvise here and there.”

The real lesson, for Bev, was learning how to stay relaxed on stage. Because early on, she used to get “so strung out” before a gig that she lost heaps of weight from being nervous all the time. “You over-produce adrenalin and it’s just not good for you,” she advises, adding, with a hearty laugh, that “your bowels work very well when you’re starting out as a comedian.”

The question is, did Bev have any inkling, as the funny girl and the party animal on a constant mission for attention, that she’d end up doing all of that professionally, as a comic?

“I didn’t,” Bev says. “I was trying so hard to be an actor, I didn’t see comedy as a career path. It sounds odd, doesn’t it? Sometimes I’m the last to know. When I told my friends that I was thinking of doing stand-up, it was like, ‘Der’!”

Bev Killick (Small)

Some Kind Of Bust

The success of Busting Out, both locally and internationally, has taught Bev to take a more balanced approach, particularly when the work is constant. “Maybe it’s just the travel,” she says, “but you just can’t afford to be up all hours of the night. You don’t hang around for the big, long affirmation of how good you are. You pack up, you go back to your hotel and you go to sleep.”

So let’s look at Busting Out. On the surface, it seems like the female version of Puppetry of the Penis, but it can’t literally be that, I imagine. Because while, with the right kind of tackle, you can bend, flex and twist it into shapes. But what can you do with breasts?

“In a way, it’s an homage to what those [Puppetry of the Penis] guys set out to do,” Bev says of the comparison. She reckons there was an element of “reclaiming the penis” as something that could be fun, rather than threatening. However, “boobs were never really that threatening in the first place”, so of course there’s a different dynamic at play.

“The only prerequisites you’d need to be a penis puppeteer,” Bev reckons, “is have a penis, want to get it out in public, and be able to speak”. (It’d have to be a penis worth getting out in public, of course.) “But Emma and I have amassed a lot of performance art training between the two of us.”  So there are some tit tricks, and although I can’t imagine many of them, I couldn’t imagine many dick tricks until I saw Puppetry of the Penis. But there is also sketch comedy, character work, songs… “There is a little bit more of a status between the two of us. It’s scripted, and it’s more of a two-hander. I’m the foil.”

Bev and Emma are two breastologists from some nefarious Baltic country. Emma is Ivana Fitcherbrayerbitch, the boss bra fitter. Bev is Nania Bizhness, who essentially just likes getting her tits out in public. “That’s the sort of relationship our characters have,” she says. But there’s a point at which the power structure is reversed, when Bev is the boss, and Emma has to do what she’s told – which involves trying to fit a bra on an audience member. A man, of course.

“We show the audience that men don’t really have much of an idea when it comes to what we have to go through as women. It’s really good fun. We fit this guy up, we dance with him…”

Emma happens to have a beautiful singing voice, so there is a torch song – sung to the tune of ‘Memories’ from cats. (I’m guessing it’s ‘Mammaries’.) During this performance, Bev comes on as a cat and tries to upstage Emma. “It’s not an easy show to do,” Bev insists. “We do actually have to have gifts and talents. It’s not just standing there with your tits out.”

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Neither is stand-up comedy so straight forward, though. Although a lot of work goes into Busting Out, in the end, there is a script to fall back on, as well as a partner on stage. If one of them flags, the other can step into the breach. In stand-up, it’s just the comic. There are always issues of “What kind of crowd is this? What kind of material might they react to? What am I going to wear?’ All of these sorts of things, and you’ve only got yourself to fall back on.”

Bev discovered this, last week, stepping back onto a stand-up stage she used to play all the time a few years ago. “I didn’t enjoy it at all,” she says. Back whe she was a regular, she’d routinely get a couple of encores from the audience. This time it was all hard work. And she’s got a few theories as to why: “The demographic’s just changed; it used to just be that fun pub atmosphere. It’s outside their age bracket; I’m talking about kids and stuff and they’re not even thinking about having children. And, after playing the big stages, maybe, without realising it, I’m being a bit too theatrical.”

It was probably a combination of all three factors. Whatever. The following night, Bev altered her approach, chatted more to the audience giving herself more time to acclimatise to them, and vice-versa, and the result was every gag hit its mark and both the audience and the comic were content! “As soon as they can relate, you’ve got ’em,” Bev confirms.

The next plan for Busting Out is a return to the UK – during which time, a ‘company B’ cast will continue to deliver the show in Australia.

“We’re going back in March and there’s already some interest from the West End. We’re also going to invite some American producers because it’s not too far for them to travel. So it’s probable that it will go to LA, New York, Canada…”

With all this success, I’m wondering if at this stage punters who come to see Bev Killick do stand-up are disappointed that she’s not on stage as Nania Bizhness, doing tit tricks.

“No,” Bev replies. While people come to Busting Out because they know Bev Killick as the killer comic, none of them expect to see ‘Busting Out Bev’ on the stand-up stage. “I don’t get people coming to see me do stand-up, yelling ‘show us your tits!’,” she assures me. “Although, if they asked politely, I’d probably be willing to show them. Except, it’s actually in my contract now, that I’m not allowed to!”


Metal fatigue?

Remember when you were a kid, how, no matter what sort of music you were into, your parents were convinced it was crap?

I found it particularly annoying; as a kid, I was into ‘old people’ music. Not raucous punk or indie noise or metal like other kids my age were into; I liked The Beatles and Bob Dylan and Cream. This was back in the day before CDs and the Internet, where if you were into something from the previous generation, you really had to love it and search hard for it. Really, my parents had it easy. But they still thought whatever music I listened to was rubbish.

Turns out it’s the way of the world.

I recently interviewed Max Cavalera for Live To Ride magazine. Max is a metal legend who formed Sepultura and these days fronts Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy. His son Richard is in Incite, the band that opened for Soulfly on their recent tour.

Max grew up loving metal, and pioneering it, much to the distress of his mother, who thought Max’s lead vocalist in Sepeltura “sounded like a dog”.

Turns out, even if you’ve rebelled so unequivocally as to pioneer a genre your parents don’t dig, you still have to hate the music your kids are into.

Here’s an excerpt from the interview – which will appear in full, soon, in Live To Ride. It took place in a loud café, so I’ve transcribed it below. I asked Max a question about the music his kids were into. Max’s immediate, unflinching answer to my question made me laugh. A lot.

Max Cavalera excerpt

Dom Romeo: Sometimes kids are into music their parents don’t dig and it might cause problems. What sort of music would your kids have to bring home for you to go, ‘Oh, for God’s sake; you’re no son of mine!’

MAX CAVALERA: Rap. The older one kind of listened to some rap and I give him shit all the time. I’m like, ‘This is f*cking crap! Don’t listen to rap.’ And Richard, the one who’s in Incite, for a while when he was younger, he used to be into hip hop and he used to have the baggy pants and the whole kind of hip hop New York Yankees hat. I still give him shit for that, now that he’s a rocker. He’s a full-on rocker with long hair and metal t-shirt. I still go, ‘remember your baggy pants? You gonna put them on one of these days?’


Acting funny:
an interview with Matt Okine

Matt Okine - Photo Shoot

I’ve started our conversation rather bluntly, at what I consider to be the beginning: my first awareness of the stand-up comic Matt Okine.

It wasn’t after I’d first seen him on stage. It wasn’t after I’d first seen him on television. It was a couple of years before that.

I’d first heard of Matt when another comic who had cut his teeth on the Brisbane circuit told me about two Brisbane comics – Matt being one of them – who’d made an ad for McDonald’s. The Macca’s ad, as far as comedy peers were concerned, was a bad move.

“A lot of people thought that,” Matt laughs, admitting that the thought also crossed his mind. “As a comic, you’re always going to come across situations where you have to question whether doing something is going to be good for your career or not. It all comes down to what you genuinely think of whomever you’re advertising for, I guess.”

Matt’s got no problem being affiliated with Macca’s. Why would he? They were literally his very first employer as a teenager. “After I did that ad, I landed a small part on a TV show which I since got to work on the next season of; I got a small part in an American TV show that they were doing on the Gold Coast at the time; I’ve done multiple spots on TV as a comic; I’m working right now as an actor; I’m making my own stuff… I don’t think it was a bad move.”

And of course, Matt’s worked for them again. More recently, he was in the rather cute ‘Macca’s Chef’ created as a 9-part web series created and broadcast during MasterChef. They featured Melbourne comic Michael Chamberlin alongside Matt Okine.


“Comics in general don’t like anyone doing anything that’s not ‘pure’ and ‘for the art, man’,” Matt explains. “If you do anything for a commercial company, you’re ‘selling out’. But as far as I’m concerned, I was a 20-year-old guy who had nothing to sell in the first place.”

Indeed. And because Matt’s an actor and a comic, it was the perfect move to finance his comedy, and to land more acting work. It meant he didn’t have to actually keep working in a Macca’s, or undertake any other kind of Joe Job to get by. (And who can take, or even define, the moral high ground on this one? How many comics do you know will opt for late night fast food after a gig or during a festival run?)

In fact, McDonald’s has enabled Matt to do is work on a new web series with a “reasonable budget” that enables him to spend time writing with two other co-creators. “There’d be no chance that I could put something together that is mine, that has my own voice and has everything I wanted to do, without doing ads. Not just for McDonald’s, but for anyone.”

The other point, of course, is that Matt’s been able to take the mickey out of Macca’s in the process. The Macca’s Chef ads were “pretty daring”. It’s impressive, he reckons, that a corporation like McDonald’s can take a different and funny approach to what it does.

Yeah, I know; I watched Gruen Transfer too. I saw Wil Anderson, Todd Sampson, Russel Howcroft et al deconstruct that behind-the-scenes ‘trust us’ pizza ad (the ‘cheese pull’ ad); multinational corporations are producing the statistically necessary and sufficient degree of self-deprecation required to win trust and keep making money. But if, in the process, they employ comedians to do what they’re good at – be funny – and thus enable them after hours to do what they’re good at – be funny – that’s clearly far better than if they didn’t employ comedians at all.

“If more companies were willing to make content like that, it’d be a lot better,” Matt concurs. “I – and a lot of other comics, I’m sure – wouldn’t mind… working…” Irrespective, Matt also acknowledges that, chances are, “no matter what I do, there will be some comic out there who just does not like my sort of thing, or wants to have a whinge about it.”

 

MatthewOkine

 

Acting like a comedian

Matt got the comedy bug young and tried to convince a buddy whom he thought was very funny to enter the Raw Comedy competition with him, straight out of school. Unfortunately, by the time they got around to it, they’d missed the entry deadline. So Matt went about his business attending drama school. He chose the Queensland University of Technology’s course since they offered an intensive four-week comedy workshop in the second year. Before that workshop came, Matt made sure he’d registered for that year’s Raw Comedy competition. “I wanted to get a heads-up before I did the workshop, and I’d always wanted to do comedy anyway.”

Matt did extremely well. His first ever comedy performance was his Raw Comedy heat. Which he won. His second performance was his Raw Comedy semifinal. Which he also won. And although he came second in the state final – which was only his third gig – he was selected for the national final, “which,” he says, “I subsequently f*cked up”. I know it sounds harsh; it was only his fourth ever gig, and customary though it is to do okay at your first, getting by on adrenalin and fear, and then crash and burn thereafter, it is a pity that he had to crash and burn in front of his biggest live audience while being filmed for television.

“It was an amazing experience and everything like that, but it still goes down as one of my worst gigs,” he recalls.

I can’t help wondering if there was a bit too much ‘riding’ on the gig; beyond the fact that it was the national final, Matt did mention he was selected for the national final despite not winning his state final. Indeed, the state winner didn’t make the national final.

“I still don’t know why exactly,” Matt says. “I can only assume why, but I can never state why.”

I think I can guess why. Or at least, guess what Matt’s thinking, but not wanting to say. And I’m having a bit of a problem saying it, too. Perhaps he fears there was some affirmative action at work – that he got through so he could be the ‘member of a racial minority’ on the bill. “Totally,” Matt says. “I’m sure that helped…”

Yeah, being different from most people, but as talented as the other person who’s the same as almost everyone, does make you stand out. And if you think about it, guys who are totally the same, competing with others for a prize, stand less chance than guys who are very different, because they don’t stand out as much. Perhaps Matt got through to the final because he is black. (There. I said it.) But I doubt it. He more l likely got through because he was good. And not comedically ‘samey’.

Promoters the world over will program a comedy night to make it appeal to the most people and there’s any number of reasons they’ll select some specific comics over others. Usually it is so the audience doesn’t have to sit through two comics doing the same shtick. You don’t want to see two musical folk singing comics on the same bill, or two impressionists, or two anythings (unless it’s a festival specifically celebrating folk singing comics or impressionists or the anything subgenre of comedy, in which case, take a bunch of the best and hope they stand out from each other for some other reason) because the second one’s rarely even close to seeming as funny as the first, even if the second is as good as the first. Unless, of course, the second one is better than the first. In which case, ditch the the first, go with the second.

But if you do perceive yourself as a member of some subgenre, and you are put on a bill, there’s more to be said of making the most of it, of taking the stage time and making it matter, rather than wondering why. Far better you just ensure you have your shit together enough to make the most of such a situation, should you ever be part of it. Because all stage time is good stage time. Particularly when you’ve won each round of a talent contest because you’re good. Maybe Matt didn’t win the state final because he had an off night, or didn’t bring as much of an audience, or any other number of reasons that would have been taken into account before putting him into the national final. It doesn’t matter anymore.

 And anyway, it’s not like affirmative action – if that’s what it was (and I don’t believe it was) – can’t work against the minority, either. Matt knows this from his acting experience. “Instead of being one in 2000, I’m one in 20,” he explains, which is good. But, he adds, “the amount of roles that come up for those 20 is about 80 to 90 percent less.”

And what of those roles that do come up? I can’t help thinking of Margaret Cho, the American comic of Korean descent who, before she made it as an internationally successful comedian, would get offered television parts all the time. Mostly as ‘the Asian prostitute’ in a police drama.

“I always get to play the homeboy or the guy’s best friend,” Matt laughs. “But I don’t care if I’m playing the best friend; I’ll take that.”

 


Black comedy

The reason I don’t mind writing about this is because Matt has to deal with it, time and again, as a way of life. Indeed, the first routine I ever saw him do was one about how he is perceived: people asking him where he’s from – (it’s Queensland) – when what they really want to know is why he looks different. Point is, in the process, Okine revealed some of my own inherent racism to me. Not an overt hateful bigotry, just a tendency towards preconceived modes of thinking and behaviour in which, to be honest, I’d otherwise have kidded myself I don’t indulge. And that’s what good comedy can do: reveal truths about yourself and your world that you didn’t realise were the case. Or truths you knew, but didn’t actually realise or acknowledge that you knew.

“That’s why I still use that joke, three years on,” Matt says. “I do a little bit of ‘black’ material in my set, but I try not to over-saturate my material with it. I like opening with that joke because generally, when I walk on stage, it’s just natural for the audience to go ‘here’s the black guy’, and I just address it and get it out of the way and it’s over.”

In other words, there can often be a level of trepidation in the audience that dissipates as soon as Matt has dealt with it. It’s not so apparent in busy cities where there are lots of different people. But in regional towns boasting a more homogenous populace, you can “really feel it in the audience, people watching you, going, ‘I wonder what this is going to be like’. And then after I do that opening joke, you can really feel the audience warm and relax.”

And of course, in the big cities where the audience is less homogenous, punters will step up to Matt after a gig and tell him that they experience the behaviour he described – people asking where they’re from and not meaning ‘where in Australia’ – all the time.

That opening routine is one of many I can quote, having seen him perform several times. But when I think about it, I can’t actually encapsulate what his comedy is about or what it is he does. In fact, Matt hasn’t quite found a pat description for his comedy either.

“People ask me what my comedy’s about all the time, and you know what? I don’t really know. My comedy is about me. It’s very self-indulgent, but I just talk about things that I’ve done and the way that I see things in the world. That’s all I really talk about. Put simply like that, I sound like some kind of egomaniac, on stage with a microphone, letting loose about whatever I think is funny – but that’s pretty much what I do. I don’t try to hide that with one-liners or anything. What I talk about is my point of view. I’m just talking about shit that I’ve done and seen.”

There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s pretty much what every good comedian you care to mention does, in the end.

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Disco Matt MC Esquire III

Given that Matt continues to act and to do comedy, the question is whether acting and comedy are parallel careers for him. Because some comics trained as actors but really just want to be comedians. Other comics are doing stand-up in the hope to ultimately get into movies. In Matt’s case, the two will continue, together.

“From very early on, I’ve wanted to something like Larry David or Jerry Seinfeld,” he says, “where I can write and act in my own sitcom or show. It doesn’t have to be The Matt Okine Show. I’d like to be part of the writing team and act out a character I’m writing for.”

Matt’s already started: late last year he worked on a pilot for television, but by the time they cast it, there wasn’t a character for Matt to play. “I didn’t want to write a new one, I just enjoyed working on it. But I’ve done the writing thing; I’ve done the acting thing; I’ve done comedy; I’d like to meld it all together, whichever way it works. I really like the idea of writing a show and then acting in it.”

The first step towards the master plan is a web series that’s due to launch in November, entitled The Future Machine (one of those proejects Matt is able to finance through doing ads for the likes of Macca’s). In fact, here’s the trailer for it, hot off the press:

 

There are, of course, other creative projects he’s undertaken, in order to hone his skills and pursue his creative bent. Like the video blog he maintains, as Disco Matt MC Esquire, III. It began as a hobby.

When I was 18 I started making music in my bedroom. At first it was acoustic music, me stuffing around with my guitar. Then I discovered how to make rap beats in my bedroom. So I just started making hip hop EPs with a friend, and I went under the name Disco Matt MC. The first one  was me learning how to use everything.”

The second one was more creative. Entitled The Bling, it was a take-off of The Ring: “If you listen to the EP you’ll die in seven days,” he says. “It’s got a narrative that goes through the five songs.” The third one, The New Start, was more serious, dealing with his “move to Sydney… and stuff”. In the process, the Disco Matt MC character developed.

“I really like the character,” Matt says. “I think he’s fun.” Ideally Matt would like to put Disco Matt MC Esquire III in a sitcom. In the meantime, he appears in funny sketches on YouTube.


“The video blogs are there to see what other people make of that character. I really like him. I’ve done a couple of live performances as him, but not many people know about him. I want to see what people think of him.”

Of course, the EPs are still available for download from Matt’s homepage, should anyone want to listen. But he’s quick to point out that, unlike the comedy and the acting, the music is just a hobby. “Don’t expect Ice Cube or Ice T,” he says. “It’s more like Ice Coffee. Or Vanilla Ice.”

Whatever you think, it’s an impressive body of work for relatively young comic to have behind him. Although Matt insists that it’s a “pretty weird experience”, his career thus far. Two days ago we were chatting at the Laugh Garage Comedy Club, where he took the stage first as a member of Man Choir, the a cappella group consisting entirely of male comedians, and then as a solo stand-up comic. But for this interview, I’ve phoned him in Far North Queensland, where he’s spent the day “on a boat, sailing between the islands off the coast with a full navy vessel” behind him, filming scenes that will appear in the second season of Sea Patrol. At the end of the week he’ll be headlining at the Laugh Garage again.

“It’s really cool,” Matt says. “I like acting, I like comedy. I don’t have anything else to fall back on. This is my one thing that I’ve done pretty much since I left school and I’m going to make it work, regardless.”

So, chances are, there’ll be more comedians bitching about Matt Okine soon!

Matt

 

Addenda:

‘Matt Okine’ is a difficult name to make one of my customary cute, punning title out of. The closest I could come was to use a phrase with ‘ok’, and substituting ‘Okine’ in its place. They kinda sucked (try it yourself if you don't believe me). In the process, however, I discovered a theory that ‘Okine’ is a Scottish surname, not too far removed from ‘Atkins’ and ‘Aitken’. And that the family motto is ‘Strength and Vigilence’. See for yourself.

The hilarious and absurd Shane Matheson (who presides over something called Mrs Funberries with the equally hilarious and absurd Ryan Withers) has suggested a corker of a title: Close Encounters of the Okine. I'd have used it, but when Shane gave me permission, he said that he’d previously given it to Matt as a show title. That’s where it really ought appear: as a festival show title. But I like it a lot.


Rick ’n’ Roll Highschool?

Once upon a time there was a geek prank frequently perpetrated in chatrooms and messageboards known as 'duckrolling'. It involved offering a link to something really cool, that when followed, proved to be nothing more than an image of a toy duck on wheels. For example, check out this awesome image of a vintage Cherry SG Les Paul with blah blah blah, or this intense photograph of an anaconda trying to swallow a cow.

This practice evolved into 'rickrolling', where you’d link to promised footage of something rather cool but ended up merely being a clip of Rick Astley performing his breakthrough single ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’. Like the footage of the pelican trying to swallow a pigeon. (Okay, if I was a proper geek, I'd have uploaded the Rick Astley clip with a different title so that you wouldn’t realise until it was far too late.)

Now, Gizmodo reports, computer science student Mayniac182 has raised the bar, turning an assignment entitled The Disadvantages and Advantages of Networks into a giant acrostic featuring the lyrics to ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’.

Impressive. It took eight hours to format, apparently. And it had to be that song for it to be a proper, glorified rickroll. It had to be a rickroll for it to be recognised by fellow geeks, like the one marking it (if indeed the marker managed to spot it).

But I think it would have been more impressive to include the lyrics to something a bit more challenging. Bob Dylan's ‘Jokerman’, for example, for a bit of Christianrockrolling:

Standing on the water casting your bread
While the eyes of the idol with the iron head
Are glowing.
Distant ships sail into the mist.
You were born with a snake in both of your fists
While a hurricane was blowing.

Or Frank Zappa’s ‘Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch’:

There's a ship arriving too late
To save a drowning witch
She was swimmin' along
Tryin’ to keep a date
With a Merchant Marine
Who told her he was really rich
But it doesn't matter no more . . .
She's on the ocean floor
'N the water's all green down there
'N it's not very clean down there
'N water snakes
'N rusty wrecks
Is all that she can see
As the light goes dim
And she's tryin’ to swim
Will she make it?
(Boy, we sure hope so…)

I look forward to that paradigm shift. Or one better: where the geek’s gotta cheerleader there, gonna help with the paper, let her do all the work and maybe later you’ll get this reference if you’re a Zappa fan.

Meanwhile, here’s the paper (click to enlarge so you can actually read it!):

500x_rickrolled-paper

 FYI: The actual clip of a pelican trying to swallow a pigeon:


Talking the Mickey

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Mickey D is a legend of comedy.

Despite not having filmed an HBO special yet, nor yet won the Whatthefuckisit™ Award at Edinburgh Fringe (formerly ‘The Perrier’, and then the IF, but I’ve no idea who sponsors it anymore or what they’re now calling it), Mickey D is an institution of comedy. He jumped on stage straight out of school, scarpered to the UK not long thereafter, and cut his chops through hard work. He established a festival institution: the Phat Cave, a late-night anything-goes room where comics came out to play.

Now he’s returned to Australia, settled down – more-or-less – and established a mid-week room – Project Wednesday – in his hometown of Adelaide. A different room. It’s built on the New York ‘bring three paying punters and you’ll get on stage’ model, which is unexpected, a bit provocative, and quite different for Australia, all at once.

It’s high time we had a chat.


The Mickey Rat Club

“I started doing comedy straight out of high school,” Mickey D informs me. “Formal lessons finished on the 28th of October. We were meant to study for our exams. I got the exams out of the way and on 22nd of November, ten days after my 18th birthday, I did my first gig in Adelaide.”

The ‘meant to study for our exams’ is the telling line. By his own admission, Mickey wasn’t the most studious of kids. “My dad was a publican,” he says. “We moved around a lot, went to a lot of schools. From an early age I was in an adult environment and I had a lot of problems because I’d go to school equipped with stuff I’d heard in the front bar.”

In addition to a tendency towards being the “offensive ratbag”, Mickey admits that he was no mathematician: “Creative writing was my thing. I was a creative writer and debater. But also a bit of a shit-stirrer. And that culminated in Raw Comedy in 1998, the year I left high school.”

That explains an awful lot, actually. Why Mickey D is so at home in pubs – because his home actually was a pub. “That’s where I grew up from the age of seven,” he says. “Thankfully, I’m the only one of my family who’s never worked a week in a pub. I’m always on the other side of the bar.” Mickey has done some shifts as a “glassy”, though. He ended up getting his “arse pinched by some old ladies in an over-aged nightclub”. Ah, Mickey!


Early days

Adelaide seems to have a very close-knit comedy scene. When Mickey started, just over a decade a go, it was smaller and closer-knit. He sites Justin Hamilton as  a very big influence early on. Lehmo was also very supportive. Adelaide. Justin Hamilton was a very big influence early on in the piece. “ They were my big brothers, really,” says Mickey, “but there’s only so much you can get going at that age when it’s just the three of you there. I got on stage as often as I could with the boys. Then Justin moved on to Melbourne, Lehmo got on the radio, and I had to do something because they were my boys; they were my benchmark. I went the overseas route. I went to London.” Although Mickey D would go on to perform at Edinburgh and establish himself over the course of nine Edinburgh Fringe Festivals, he started his journey in London. “I felt worthless; useless. I thought, ‘Why am I even getting on stage when you can see the Glenn Wools, the Sean Meos? Why do I even bother?’”

It took Mickey a couple of years of “really digging deep and finding self-worth”, gigging four or five times a week and sometimes travelling up to 1500 miles “up and down the island” during that week, to find his voice and work out who he was as a comic. “It was just quantity of work that the quality finally picked up,” he says. Nowadays, he’s up there with the Glenn Wools and the Sean Meos. Although allow me to digress for a moment:

Throughout our conversation, Mickey refers repeatedly to Glenn Wool, his “second favourite comic”. Eventually I ask the inevitable question – to which, I suspect, I already know the answer: Who is Mickey D’s favourite comic?

“Me,” he says, adding “I’d hate to be number three!”

Turns out the top spot for ‘favourite’, as far as Mickey is concerned, is a tussle between Glenn Wool, Doug Stanhope and Mickey D. Glenn and Doug are in fine company.


Cricketer’s Arms

One of the legendary stories of Mickey D is the one about the year he broke his wrists. It was Edinburgh, 2003. Mickey was playing for a local cricket club called Drummond. “It’s important that I make friends other than just with the comedy fraternity,” Mickey explains. “I wanna ingratiate myself by any means possible in any city I’m in.” The Drummond club, situated “just off the botanical gardens there in Edinburgh”, were a natural fit for Mickey, who was part of the team for three season wins.

After one match, however, in which they’d enjoyed a good nine-wicket win, Mickey had enjoyed a few pints and was perched head and shoulders above the stone wall of an old pub overlooking the senior oval of the team they’d just destroyed. Ever the boisterous comic, Mickey started ‘heckling’ the cricket game that was in play in a thick Aussie accent, to the bemusement of other patrons in the Scottish beer garden. “I yelled out, ‘I’ll see you next year! We’re gonna destroy ya! Yer going down!’”

With teammates hoisting him up on the wall so that he may be better heard, Mickey got right into it: “I’m yelling out, ‘No ball!’ The guy bowls a no-ball. I yell out, ‘Wide!’ and he bowls a wide. I’m thinking, ‘I’m controlling this game!’”

And then it goes just a bit far: one teammate jostles just a little too much and Mickey’s over the wall. “I needed to save this beautiful money-maker that is my face, even though I’m no Danny Bhoy,” Mickey explains. So he put both arms out – and received “two absolutely symmetrical breaks on either sides of my wrists.”

For the record, however, Mickey was only three pints into the celebrations by that stage. “I wasn’t drunk, just comfy. Quite relaxed, actually, which was good, because if I was any more stiff I’d have broken more than just me wrists.”

Now, all this happened before that year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. So Mickey ended up playing his whole season in casts – two arms solidly outstretched in front of him. “I went out there full of morphine and a lot of doubt,” Mickey recalls. “People were going, ‘this is a joke’, grabbing my arms, twisting them. People were handing me two pints: ‘hold these’. I was on morphine and having jokes played on me.” Canadian comic Tanyalee Davis had the most fun. She’s all of three and a half feet tall and made of the most of the opportunity: “she ran her hand up my leg and played with my balls”.

Adam Hills – a regular of the Adelaide comedy scene from his time hosting breakfast radio there – would give Mickey a plug at the end of his show: ‘Go and see the guy with the broken wrists’. “I was the freak,” Mickey says. “I remember doing seven gigs one night in Edinburgh because everyone wanted me in their late shows. That’s where I got the idea that there is definitely an audience for late night comedy.”

And so Mickey D the legend was forged that season. And so were the seeds for his legendary room, the Phat Cave.

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To the Phat Cave, Robin

The Phat Cave is a late night venue that Mickey established in Edinburgh and now runs there and at other festivals, where comedians could come and unwind at the end of the night. Chances were, by that stage, they’d have had a few drinks and were more likely to ‘play’ rather than merely ‘perform’: visit material that they wouldn’t usually do to the regular public; take each other on; blow off steam. In its heyday it was a dingy room with an audience consisting mostly of comics, with some hardcore punters along for the ride. “I bill it as ‘the unsafe haven’,” Mickey says, “where comedians come to play, rather than do shtick. It’s a yardstick of your own mettle, really. If you want to see if you can hold your own, this is the place. It’s a curated bear pit.” According to Mickey,  “you walk through hell to find the garden”; the comics are mostly playing, the punch lines don’t necessarily come thick and fast.

According to Mickey, Brendon Burns – the “stunt comedy clown” and “angry genius” – summed it up best. “If there’s enough of us in the room” – ‘us’ being ‘the comedians’ – “the punch line will always build itself.” But it’s the brave late-night punter who’s willing to sit through that to get to the pay-off. And it’s not always the pay-off you’d expect or want. Mickey explains it this way:

“How many times have you heard, ‘Oh, you’re a comedian; it must be great hanging out with other comedians’. No. We’re hateful, twisted wrong’uns, and what we need to have fun is to see someone scamper. Not flounder, but nearly have a melt-down.” The Phat Cave provides that environment for comedians to challenge themselves and go to comedy places regular gigs won’t allow them. “Off the top, I welcome the general public into something special because they’re outnumbered. They’re seeing what we do.”

The Phat Cave provides a vital outlet for comics, allowing them a safe haven to push the boundaries and cross the line. Those lines and boundaries are important – they define a society. A comic’s job is to test them.

“You don’t know where the boundaries are until you’ve crossed them,” Mickey says. “And you’re not a good comedian unless you can come back from them. If you can set an audience off the wrong way, and you can come back from that, that’s art. You can make someone angry and then back it up with your good material, but if you can do that all in the same paragraph and breath, you are clearly a craftsman and a master.”

The Phat Cave also provides that pressure cooker safety valve – if comedians have the presence of mind to make the most of it. “I’ve seen comedians walk out because they think it’s too much,” Mickey says. “If it’s too much, shout out, don’t walk out. Stick in there, be part of it. I want everyone to get involved. It’s where we can go and test each other playfully.” This is the perfect environment for those comedy showdowns that nowadays take place online: when Comedian A’s material is far too close to Comedian B’s material, after they happened to play the same bill way back when. “Instead of reposting footage and using iMovie on your Mac to put the date and graphic on there to say ‘he stole my bit…’,” Mickey insists, “come and talk about it on stage. Work it out.”

So well established in Adelaide is the Phat Cave that nowadays it sells out its entire Adelaide Fringe run in the 200-seat Bosco Theatre in The Garden of Unearthly Delights. Because of the pressure of the general public coming, it has to be a proper ‘show’ show. Which it can be, of course. “I’ve got a lot of talent up my sleeve,” Mickey says: “all my mates wanting to perform for f*ck-all”. Although Mickey does get to return to the original ‘dingy, illicit comedy room’ blueprint when he runs the room at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival or Sydney’s Cracker Comedy Festival. Although those audiences require a bit of coaching to embrace it fully: “Where I’ve grown up and honed this is in Edinburgh, where you might still be on stage at quarter past four. People have got their third wind on the piss. You’ve got a whole cross-section of people fighting for attention, be it the audience or other comedians.”

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Project Wednesday

In addition to taking care of the high-end of comedy – the curated bear pit in which the great comics can play, and the fans of great comedy can watch, Mickey’s also taken it upon himself to work with comics at the other end – relative newbies. He’s starting a Wednesday open mic room at the Rhino Rooms, “cultivating a welcoming environment” for comics.

The requirements to get on stage are interesting are the requirements to get on stage. It’s stuff like being punctual – first come, first served, from 7:30pm onwards, for an 8pm sharp start time – and bringing an audience – you need three paying punters if you want to get on stage.

The ‘bring your audience’ model is standard for New York open mic rooms. Some London rooms do it too.

“The ‘three friend minimum’ policy is in place in New York to enable promoters to pay the rent,” Mickey explains. “Here, it’s more or less to create a wider awareness and teach the comics important skills to help them debut their fringe show, and that is, how to rustle up a crowd.” According to Mickey, “wrangling people” is among the key arts to establishing yourself as a performer.

“It’s something that will ensure that you’re someone who’s still alive in the industry in five years, because you’ve learnt how to find your audience: you’ve gone about making it yourself. If you learn that from the start, it’ll be a natural part of your being a comic.”

The irony, however, as Mickey points out, is that once you do make it, you don’t have to worry about that kind of stuff because people will start generating their own word of mouth. But in the meantime, he insists, “it’s integral to getting started. It’s how you get the ball rolling.”

When you think about it, if you’ve done open mic and seen it being done, it makes good sense for the comics to help bring the audience. I’ve played rooms where there have been more comics than audience. It’s good practice – getting on stage is always good practice – but it reinforces the wrong things in a comic: the other comedians are going to be laughing at different things. They’ll either be too hard on you – laughing when you stuff things up – or too easy – laughing because they understand where you’re coming from, even though you haven’t developed the idea adequately, or worked out the best way to set it up, deliver it, or end it. Then you take that stuff to a room with a real audience, a paying audience of punters, and the material you know got laughs just the night before falls flat.

These sorts of rooms cropping up all over London, where comics who needed stage time were essentially playing to other comics, were part of Mickey’s inspiration. “I witnessed a development of a sub-circuit in London,” Mickey says. “I didn’t want people to stumble onto an open mic night and think ‘is that what comedy’s all about’, because there’s no middle ground between the Channel Ten Melbourne International Comedy Festival Gala and a little, ramshackle open mic night.” Mickey’s aim is to provide that middle ground – somewhere between those rooms where comedians get together and more-or-less workshop material to each other (which all comedians love – all stage time is good stage time!) and those performance opportunities that take years of development before you get to play them.

“Comics will go, ‘I need to get gigs somewhere’. If I can help regulate a decent level of quality and environment for them, everyone wins.”

Everyone does win. Because, you might wonder, what’s in it for Mickey? Well, Mickey’s just gotten married (congratulations Mickey, to you and Minnie D!) and more-or-less settled down in Adelaide for the time being. It’s got a great comedy circuit, but like every other city in Australia, it’s no London. He needs to ensure he keeps his comedy muscles supple. So he’s MCing every week: a regular hour on stage to develop material. And if the room gets a regular audience – which it will: at least thirty punters – he won’t get away with doing the same material every week.

“Exactly!” Mickey agrees. “The pressure’s on. The hardcore supporters will be putting the immediate pressure on comics, including myself, just by their presence.” Everyone does, indeed win.

There’s also a bonus prize, from time to time. If a visiting comic – a mate of Mickey’s – happens to be in town, there might be a bonus headline act. For example, tonight, Wednesday 20th October 2010, there may well be a special guest. Usually, the deal is they’re doing it for free, so you can’t announce them. But a local paper reported that it was Fiona McLachlan. Whoever that may be.


Graphic Content

Before I let Mickey go, I commend him on the artwork for the event: eye-catching, clever, creative. Mickey likes it too.

“I was on a tight deadline to get it in the street press, and the artwork came through,” he says. “I hadn’t had a coffee. I thought, ‘I like the crate, I like the writing’. But I don’t know why he’s stained the crate. What’s the black stuff he’s ‘spilled’ on it?”

Mickey admits that he “didn’t twig all morning” that it was a picture of him. In fact, his missus was the one who had to point it out!

I’m kind of glad, to be honest. I like the fact that Mickey D’s ego is so healthy he doesn’t automatically attenuate to images of himself. Even if he is his own favourite comic. “Subconsciously healthy,” Mickey agrees.

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