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.
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’!”
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.”
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!”