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There’s a Riot about to start

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Tonight I head off to do 15 minutes of stand-up at the Laugh Garage, on the corner of Parks and Elizabeth Streets in Sydney’s CBD, as part of the Wednesday night ‘Mixed Nuts’ bill (four comics, 15 minutes each, from 7pm). But also tonight, a new room has its official ‘hard launch’: The Riot House, at the Gaelic Club on Devonshire Street, Surry Hills. It’s been running as a weekly room for a couple of weeks, ironing out wrinkles and establishing its vibe among comics and punters, and launches with a strong bill of comics who all have high profiles on radio and television. The night is the brainchild of Jarred Keane, a comic who has been on the open mic scene for the last five years.

“The official start was probably February 2004,” Jarred says of his stand-up comedy, “but I don’t like saying that because I was shithouse for two years.”

Fair’s fair, everyone’s shithouse as a comic for at least the first two years, but we can at least acknowledge Jarred’s reluctant honesty as he admits he was “really, really bad, not taking it seriously but still gigging regularly”. That attitude – not taking it too seriously, but persevering – has served Jarred better than being utterly serious about it, and will continue to do so, particularly since he aims to be that sort of comic who seeks to reveal painful truths about the human condition. Admittedly, such a line of humour can prove more painful than an audience wishes to embrace and so laugh at. It’s the harder road for a stand-up comic to tread, than all-encompassing pop-culture references and ‘joke’ jokes. But it is the journey Jarred is – I promise to astutely avoid stumbling onto this pun hereafter – fittingly keen to take.

After those initial two years, Jarred travelled, stopping a while to work in Dublin. He took to the stage there, also. That point in 2006 is where, for all intents and purposes, he “started doing it properly”. Although, when he’s being totally honest, he reveals that he’d been “doing it since he was a kid” in talent quests and the like, employing mime, story-telling, accents and voices but never ‘joke’ jokes. “I could never tell ‘joke’ jokes,” he insists. “I still can’t. It didn’t occur to me to pinch other people’s jokes so I just had to wing it. But I knew I was funny and I knew I was weird…”

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Let’s just stop for a minute and note that neither of us are suggesting it’s ever okay for someone to use other people’s material and pass it off as their own – but you’d more readily forgive a child in a talent competition for doing material that said child didn’t actually write. Particularly if they are ‘book’ jokes or ‘joke’ jokes – those old jokes that it is impossible to know who wrote, that aren’t about the comic conveying his or her view of the world as a personal experience.

You’d especially think a person ‘not taking it seriously’ would be doing that as a kid. Not Jarred, though. Although, he admits, had he known the trajectory his career would follow, he might have done things differently: no, not learn how deliver other people’s jokes as his own material, rather, he might have considered a few years of university after school. Which comes as a surprise, since Jarred is able to reference and drop a wide range of information in his material. However, his personal situation at the time – living some distance from desired institutions, not wishing to spend so much of his time in transit, the self-confessed “autodidact” actively slaked his thirst for knowledge himself.

Which, it’s fair to assume, is why Jarred’s comedic style takes the form that it does. Loathsome as it is to name-drop, Jarred’s ‘talking about stuff that matters’ on stage is reminiscent of all those comics other comics especially love and think are über-hip, but wouldn’t in their right mind ever want to be caught comparing themselves to. Please note: Jarred isn’t making the comparison. Neither am I. I’m saying, his manner, matter and method are all more in keeping with your Hickses and Hedbergs and their modern equivalents (compile your own list) than your Connollies and Cosbies.

“That happened unconsciously,” Jarred says. Even when he started, back in 2004, he was doing ‘political’ stuff, despite, he admits, “knowing nothing about politics”. This was also before he knew anything about Hicks. Discovering the work of Bill Hicks “opened everything up”.

I assume, that’s why the room he recently opened up initially carried a blurb placing it in a tradition that included the likes of “the Goons, Young Ones, Bill Hicks, George Carlin, Richard Pryor”. The poster also carries the Bronzino foot – the one Terry Gilliam co-opted as a signifyer in the credits to Monty Python’s Flying Circus – in its original orientation (from the painting Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time), clearly stamping it with the evocation of “instant comedy”, Jarred agrees, even though he won’t take credit for it.

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“That’s the work of Clayton, the Entertainment Manager of the Gaelic Club. My original thought was the smoky frame of a burnt down house – it was really dark. But I helped with the wording, to immediately associate it with good comedy, comedy as an art form.”

The questions that always need to be asked of new comedy venues are, is there room for a new one, and why there?

“Yeah,” Jarred replies. “There’s always room for a new venue. From what I’ve heard of the ‘heyday’ of Sydney stand-up comedy, which was the late-’80s and early-’90s, there was a ton of rooms all going on, and all filled. So it could just keep going: more and more rooms, more and more gigs.” Jarred correctly interprets my ‘devil’s advocate’ question as, ‘Is there a limited audience that another room will serve to dilute?’ and replies (with my paraphrasing) thusly:

Sydney is massive, but poorly designed, making it difficult to get everywhere. So there is enough audience to go around, they just don’t get around. There are certainly enough comics to play to them, but they don’t all get enough opportunity to improve because there isn’t enough opportunity to play to them. So more rooms, aimed at local audiences, should exist to enable comics to travel around and reach those different audiences.

Thus, Jarred is very happy to have established a new room in Surry Hills, close to his own home, for the audience he knows is local. But the Gaelic Club is a particular stroke of genius: beyond the “young, intelligent vibe” that Surry Hills has got going for it, it’s not just a ‘local shop for local people’ because it’s within spitting distance of Central. You can get to it easily from anywhere.

And he’s not just happy to establish the room for the local audience. He’s especially pleased to establish a local room for himself: it’s the perfect opportunity for the comic still in the early stages of a career, wanting more stage time, to run their own room close to home.

“I opened up with Sam Bowring and Kent Valentine’s words echoing in my head,” Jarred says, citing the comics who founded another great Sydney comedy room, Mic in Hand, at the Friend in Hand Hotel (still going, nowadays run by Daniel Moore, Liam Nesbitt and Wayne Dixon): “I need the stage time, and I want to see my friends get more stage time”.

Wanna see a great show? Riot House launches tonight, July 13 with a gala line-up of television and radio stars: Dave Jory, The Cloud Girls, Cam Knight, Rebecca De Unamuno and Tom Ballard. Address: Glass Room @ The Gaelic, 64 Devonshire St, Surry Hills, Sydney. (I reckon you could see me at the Laugh Garage and then duck up to the Riot House if you wanted… just sayin’)

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