J’adore Jon Dore

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“Hi, my name is Jon Dore. I can’t get to the phone right now. My roommate Steve Patterson is a racist. Please leave a message. Thanks.” BEEP

In the process of contacting Canadian comic Jon Dore for an interview before he arrives in Australia, I repeatedly reach his voicemail; performing in the LOL Sudbury Comedy Festival in Ontario, he’s understandably busy. So I leave a message for his ‘racist’ roommate Steve Patterson – a great Canadian stand-up who I met on one of several Australian visits – and assure Jon I’ll phone again. At least the delay enables me to watch a few clips online, not just of Dore’s stand-up, but also excerpts from the television show he landed after serving as the ‘whacky correspondent’ on Canadian Idol.

“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that,” Jon offers as his icebreaker, when I tell him. I figure I should just get stuck in. It seems to me Jon must have some experience in improv-based comedy, seeing as there’s a strong physical aspect to his comedy, and he’s able, when interviewing on his show, to ‘accept offers’ and bounce off them to go in a new direction.

“Absolutely,” Jon says – about the improv experience, I assume, since he carries on with, “but when you say ‘physically’, I’m not sure what you mean.”


“That bit where you take the stuff off the stool, move it, sit on it and start swinging your legs as the set-up for a joke,” I offer as a clear example.  “There is a physicality to what you do.”

“Oh yeah,” Jon agrees. “I would say that’s a very specific moment where there’d be some physicality. I do walk onto the stage – so it’s starts pretty physically…”

There may be other clear examples that constitute evidence of a ‘physical’ approach to Jon’s comedy, he concedes, but he wouldn’t actually know. “I don’t think I’ve ever analysed it that way. I mean, I like to take it easy as much as I can and not move around much. I get tired.”

Fair enough. But as far as the improv aspect goes – there is clear evidence of it at work in one of my favourite clips from The Jon Dore Show, in which Jon turns to a little kid for help with giving up an addiction to cigarettes. It doesn’t look as though the kid’s been fed lines.


“We couldn’t feed him anything,” Jon confirms. Julian – the child in question – was chosen out of “a bunch of kids” because they were after someone who wouldn’t sound “scripted”. Although they soon discovered that Julian was no slouch when it came to ‘improvising’ either. “There was no way of controlling him,” Jon recalls. “He would get off the couch and run into the kitchen and pretend to shoot bad guys who weren’t there. He was a genuine child, completely unaware that there were cameras there.” The trick was to ensure that Jon ‘accepted all offers’ – bounced off whatever Julian did, using it as inspiration for the next bit. “We shot for about half an hour. We had to sculpt the interview into some kind of sensible viewing.” According to Jon, moments like those – “getting kids on the show, treating them like adults – are among his favourite. “That’s my theory: treat the adults like kids and the kids like adults. That seems to work out all right.”

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Go (mis)directly to comedy

Jon got into comedy “the way anybody would”, he reckons: when he was a student in his early 20s, a comedy club opened in his neighbourhood in Ottawa so he went there and started telling jokes. “I was terrible, and I then just kind of kept at it. A lot of my heroes were comedians and were funny, but I never thought I’d be a comedian by profession. I always thought it would be a fun thing to try, and you just continue to do it and it seems work out.”

At the time, Jon was “slinging drinks” in a bar to supplement his student loan while he studied television production – a degree he completed. “It solidified what I wanted to do,” he says. “I had no idea what I wanted to do in life, and then I studied TV broadcasting and found out I loved writing and directing and editing.”

Hence, Jon has a hand in all aspects of The Jon Dore Television Show, from writing it with his friends, to producing it while friends direct, to sitting in on the edits and liaising with the network regarding notes on the show. In other words, he says, “I was a bit of a control freak. It was the only way it could have happened.”

Perhaps ‘being a control freak’ is the only way the television show could have happened; the beauty of Jon’s stand-up is that there is no clear-cut way any of the jokes happen. That is to say, the only way to predict a punchline would be to predict the most unpredictable outcome. He always seems to be subverting audience expectation. Is this because he is always able to see a multitude of different options and pick the seemingly least likely? A good question, according to Jon, but one to which he doesn’t have know the answer.

“I think that’s just where, as a writer or a comedian, I naturally started to go,” he offers. “I started to see what would make audiences laugh, and it was the unexpected. The misdirection – making them feel like I’m going one way and taking them in a different direction – is what I became comfortable with. I don’t know when that happened or why that happened, I think that it’s just a natural way of evolving as a writer.”

Although, as far as Jon is concerned, “all comedy is misdirection”. Not knowing what the comedian is going to say next is part of what makes you laugh. “Sometimes it’s a more familiar punchline,” he concedes, “but I prefer to work in a world where the punchline is not going to be something familiar, it’s something the audience wasn’t thinking.”

Jon’s reluctant to analyse it further. Or at all, really. That mode of comedy comes naturally to him. “It’s how I behave with my friends. Having beers and talking, and then saying something they weren’t thinking always seems to get a response.”

 

Patterson’s curse…

Jon hasn’t visited Australia before. On the verge of departure he’s “very, very excited”. He’s also “scared”. In fact, he says, “I’m a whole bunch of things”, partly because he knows very little about the country – just what he learned at school and what friends have subsequently told him. “I imagine it’s a warm place,” Jon says. “People have told me that it’s very similar to Canada in terms of politics and personality.”

“Your flatmate would have told you that breakfast costs too much,” I tell him. I remember Steve Patterson remarking, from the stage, that the base price of a café bacon-and-eggs breakfast in this country appears to $15, whereas back in Canada, it is $5.

“My flatmate?” Jon says. “Oh, yeah, I got your message. You’re thinking of a different Steve Patterson.”

What? Surely not…

Turns out the Steve Patterson Jon shares a place with is different to the Steve Patterson who has come to Australia a few times. “I know the Steve Patterson you mean,” Jon says. “I’m also friends with him.  He now lives in Montreal. My friend Steve Patterson is another comedian and writer, who also helped me write The Jon Dore Television Show.”

“I was certain there was only one funny Steve Patterson in Canada…” I offer.

“You know what?” Jon says, “I think they both wish there was only one funny Steve Patterson. This confusion is what we constantly run into now.”

Anyway, I soldier on and point out that the other funny Steve Patterson’s observation: breakfast costs too much in Australia.

“Is that right?” Jon says, unfazed. “Here’s where that won’t affect me: I won’t be up till afternoon! That’s how I save a little bit of money.” 

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Silly fun

Not having seen a lot of Jon Dore’s work, I can’t make any sweeping generalisations regarding what his material is ‘about’. So I ask him to break it down. “I enjoy being facetious,” he says, proving it by adding, “I love lying – if you believe that! And I love being silly as well.” Like all good comics, Jon is drawn to any “so-called ‘taboo’ subject”, but adds, “not for any greater purpose – just that when tension’s built, it’s fun to relieve it.” Although he wouldn’t describe himself as “controversial”, and doesn’t specifically focus on ‘heavy’ issues like race and religion, Jon acknowledges the “built-in tension” of controversial topics that draws him to them. “If there is tension there, it’s a fun topic to approach,” he says.

‘Fun’ itself is a fun topic to approach, I reckon. I put it to the comic: what does Jon Dore do for fun?

“Interviews!” Jon says. Not just a clever response, given that he’ll derive comedy from interviews on his television show. But he is a comedian, after all; isn’t ‘fun’ a comedian’s raison d’etre? Well it is in Jon’s case, almost by definition, since he adds that he does “just about anything” for fun, and that “everything’s kind of fun”. He can be more specific, of course:

“I love hanging out with my girlfriend. We just ordered ‘heelies’ online. Adult-sized heelies.” ‘Heelies’, Jon explains, are “the shoes with wheels in the heel” that you see kids scooting along in. “We just found them incredibly cheap: $40 a pair, delivery included. So that’s fun.”

Grown adults in heelies. It is fun. But it’s also… rather childlike. Perhaps that’s where Jon’s theory – about treating adults like children, and children like adults – has its origins. As a comedian, he’s always ‘embracing the child within’, surely, in order to see the world fresh with a child-like innocence. Or not.

“I don’t know,” Jon says, sensibly avoiding any high-falutin’ philosophical nonsense. “I don’t think about it. I just know, for television purposes anyway, for whatever reason, it’s just fun to be childish and ask child-like questions of adults because they come across as a little more honest, a little more realistic, because they’re not crowded down with red tape and rules. And then to treat a kid like an adult and make them respond to various questions, they come out with some very earnest answers.”

It’s another one of those perfect comedy disjunctions and Jon cites a classic example of it: the show Kids Say The Darndest Things, best remembered for when Bill Cosby took over from Art Linkletter as host. “There was something fun about that: an adult in a suit with a microphone, asking a child to respond to a very adult-like situation and then saying something very childlike and honest.”

Treat adults as children and children as adults. I almost feel bad publishing it. It’s too good a secret to share with the rest of the world. Nobody needs the competition of other people who know ‘the secret to good television’. Jon’s not so precious.

“We’re all gonna die one day,” he reminds me. “Print what you want.”


Jon Dore is headlining at the Comedy Store for two weeks, supported by Jacques Barrett. Book tickets.


He’s alright, Jacques

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Wagon Productions is putting on a comedy show on Sunday May 23rd. Twice. Comics Jacques Barrett, James Rochford, Cameron Knight, Matt Dyktynski, Ray Badran, Sam Makhoul and Tom Oakley are performing at The Cleveland Street Theatre in a showcase called Pimp My Wagon at 5.30pm and 7.30pm, and filming it for DVD release. I took the opportunity to interview Jacques Barratt, a comic I’ve known for several years and got to know better during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival of 2008.


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“Comedy doesn’t necessarily make a lot of money for a bar on the night,” Jacques explains. “People don’t really get pissed at comedy. They’re watching a show, so they aren’t drinking constantly. They don’t hit the cocktails and build up bar sales.”

Room to laugh

Jacques Barrett is not just a great stand-up comic on the make – one you’d be hearing about sooner rather than later if you hadn’t heard about him already – he’s also a comic who sets up and runs comedy rooms. The thing about comedy rooms is they wax and wane. Someone starts one up and it does well. Suddenly more pop up. For a while a heap do good. And then one by one, they start to disappear until only the strongest survive. And then the cycle starts again. But, Jacques explains, the problem for anyone starting up a room is the thought that it’ll provide an instant cash injection for the venue on a night that’s normally dead. It rarely does. What happens instead, especially in a pub, is that a comedy night “gets a lot of people in that never even knew the place existed”. If they enjoyed the food and the selection of beer on tap and got great service, then the next time they’re in that part of town, hungry or thirsty, they’ll go to that pub – as well as returning on the comedy night if they enjoyed it. But it’s on the non-comedy nights when the pub will actually make money as a result of the comedy. Essentially, Jacques says, “a comedy night is a great way to advertise your pub.”

Jacques has had quite a lot of experience, not just on stage, but also in bars and kitchens. I discovered this a few years ago when he was one of the ‘best up-and-comers’ selected for Comedy Zone, a newbie comic showcase the Melbourne International Comedy Festival puts together. It was 2008 and I had the pleasure of sharing a South Yarra flat with Jacques for the duration of the festival. And it was a pleasure (apart from the first time we tried to use the oven and discovered previous tenants’ chicken nuggets therein). Jacques is a master pizza maker. He’s got a taste for the best ingredients (including jalapeno peppers) and knows which part of the oven to cook them in. (Low – bottom shelf – for a proper, even cook. As long as lazy cleaning staff have finally come in to remove the old chicken nuggets!) But remember, this is a guy who worked in hospitality – “bars and kitchens” – for the better part of a decade-and-a-half. And it was while working behind a bar somewhere in the middle of it all that he decided to give comedy a go.


Comedy in Store for Jacques

“Seven years ago I worked at the Comedy Store as a bartender and waiter,” Jacques explains. “I liked comedy, I’d always thought about giving it a shot and one day I just did it: I got up there. And it didn’t go too bad; I didn’t die. I got a bit of a taste for it and then the next gig I did, three weeks later on a Tuesday night, open mic night, I went better: I caned it; I smashed it. I was like, ‘I got this; I’m all over this. This is my thing’.”

If you know any comics, or have done any comedy, you know where this is going: good first gig; even better second gig…

“Three weeks later, I got up again, and I died. DIED. One of the worst deaths I ever had: pure silence. It was awesome!”

I love that Jacques describes his most spectacular on-stage death as ‘awesome’ rather than awful. This is part of the reason why he is a great comic on the make: he can appreciate the importance of failing. There is a truism that a comic has never done their best or worst gig: there’s always the potential for one better or worse around the corner. Jacques points out a pattern that has proven generally true in his experience: “you usually have your best gig after you’ve had your worst gig, because you learn a lot from the bad ones”. He shares another truism, revealed to him by “one of the greats”, comedian Chris Wainhouse: “You never really learn anything from a good gig;  you only ever learn from the bad ones”.

I can’t quite pinpoint when it happened, but for the last couple of years at least, Jacques hasn’t just been having more good gigs than bad ones – he’s pretty much mostly been having great ones! Jacques can’t quite pinpoint it either, but puts it down to ‘reliability’.

“When I get on stage, I have really, really good material,” he insists. “I don’t like to do anything below that standard. But it took me a long, long time before I got to a point where I had 15 minutes that worked pretty much universally.”

Actually, there was a time where that started to happen more often than not, and it was the month of the 2008 International Melbourne Comedy Festival, when Jacques was in Comedy Zone with Tom Ballard, Jack Druce and Lila Tillman. “Comedy Zone gave me 12-15 minutes of really reliable stuff and from that I just added extra bits,” Jacques explains. “It got to a point where I had thirty minutes.”

So the transition from good up-and-comer to a comic you’d see any time confidently knowing you’re gonna laugh, happened as a result of Comedy Zone. But Jacques himself can’t pinpoint the moment; it happens as a process. He does remember another great stand-up, Anthony Mir, giving him sage advice: “If you want to get booked a lot, you don’t necessarily have to be incredibly funny, you just have to be pretty funny all the time: you have to be reliable.”

Jacques Barrett got reliable, and so, he says, “got more gigs because of that reliability. And the more gigs I got, the more material I got that was reliable. It got to a point where I was pretty reliable and the phone rang a lot.”

The next step was MCing gigs. “I was MCing everywhere,” Jacques recalls. The beauty of being able to MC is that a lot of your job is functional. You need some material, but you also need to interact with the audience and bounce of the acts that have just been on (particularly if they’ve ‘broken’ the room and it needs to be ‘re-set’ before the next act). It’s often the perfect situation for trying out new material, usually under the guise of ‘talking to the audience’, which is great because “if it doesn’t go that well, you can still save it”: just fall back into your tried-and-true stuff, the ‘really reliable’ material.

 Although it doesn’t always work like that.


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Stand Up Get Down In The Fireplace

A couple of weeks ago, for example, I saw Jacques headline at World Bar, in the room Rhys Jones runs with Dan Chin, as ‘Stand Up Get Down’. World Bar is one of those Kings Cross venues that was clearly a stately old home back in the day. The comedy room was a spacious drawing room or lounge room once – the stage set up in front of a massive old fireplace, which is handy, because the mantle serves as a shelf for the comic’s drink. It has a lot of character. But it was a strange night: the audience began as minuscule; it would grow to quite a nice size as punters wandered in for a bit and then disappeared again; then it would shrink to only slightly larger than the core keen kids who’d been there since the beginning. During one of the lulls in audience size, Rhys put it to Jacques that as there were so few punters, there wasn’t going to be the opportunity for payment – would he still want to do the gig?

“I was like, ‘Yeah, sure, I’m here, let’s try and give these people a show’,” Jacques says. “Everyone was having fun with it, experimenting.” But the fact that he was now performing for free meant that he had no obligation to stick to his ‘reliable’ material – he could have fun and experiment too. Jacques spent most of the evening riffing and bouncing of an audience that, by the lead-up to his set, had swelled to a good size, and rather than shrink, appeared to continue to grow while he was on the stage.

Perhaps because he was now playing to a fair amount of punters, Jacques frequently chose, after each leap into the unknown, to bring the show back to a spot of established ‘routine’, a bit of ‘reliable’ with which to round off before moving on into some other hitherto uncharted territory.

But a strange thing happened: each concluding ‘routine’, building on observations and improvised banter with the audience, should have blown the roof off. Instead, the free-form material would build and build and then… plateau during the ‘reliable’.

In hindsight, it’s easy to see why. Even if they don’t realise that they’re hip to it, at some level, punters can tell the difference. It’s in a comic’s voice, or poise, or pace, the transition to being ‘in the moment’ and improvising with what’s being given to them, compared to the established material that they’re entirely in control of. No matter how realistically you can deliver a script, it’s never going to be as ‘real’ as saying what pops into your mind the moment it appears there. Jacques concurs.

“People see you having fun, and then you go back to old material, the material you’ve usually done… I think they see it in your face. They kind of go, ‘Oh, you’ve done this heaps of times before. You don’t believe it like you believe that ranty, off-the-cuff stuff.’”

Where it happened so spectacularly was with one of Jacques’s best loved bits (best loved by the comic and his fans), a very clever, very funny routine. And after it played to near indifference, Jacques ‘called it’: “Right,” he said, “that was my best bit, and you don’t care about it. I’m going to do the rest of the set from inside the fireplace.”

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At which point, Jacques climbed into the fireplace behind the stage, and proceeded to deliver his set from there. Which worked: suddenly he’d re-set the room. Elements of indifference disappeared. Any material now, even the most ‘reliable’, had been at the very least physically re-contextualised. When all you are is a head, a hand and a microphone, you are forced to put more into delivery and an audience is forced to do more in watching and hearing – if they’re interested. How can you not be interested in a guy who just climbed into the fireplace? Suddenly everyone’s on edge, wanting to see how it goes.

“There’s a real joy that comes through in a performer when you know they’re doing something that’s completely ‘new’, something they’ve never done it before,” says Jacques, likening the process to a street fight. “When it goes well, you feel like a real raw comic out there. You’re in the scraps. You’ve got no weapons. You’re not armed with any material. You’ve just got you and you’ve got your bare fists and you’re out there and you’re throwing punches and they’re landing. You’re not just funny because your material is funny; you’re actually funny in the moment as well.”

I guess it’s the difference between a choreographed fight scene and an actual fight. And the difference is, if you’re up for it, and you’ve got the confidence and you’re fit, it’s a fight you’re likely to win. “As long as you can land the first couple of punches,” Jacques qualifies. “You get ’em onside.”


The fat kid in history

Some of what gets punters onside for Jacques are admissions of growing up a poor, fat kid and a victim of indifferent schooling in Brisbane. It’s interesting because every comic pretty much starts out doing self-deprecating autobiography – ‘talk about what you know’ – but an audience doesn’t like having to give a comedian pity, no matter how much it is warranted. They want a comic who is in control. Tell those sad stories, by all means, but tell ’em funny, with the comic having overcome the hardships, delivering the right twist at the right time to make it about the audience’s entertainment, not about the comic’s therapy. When Jacques tells his stories, they are hilarious. I’m curious to know how ‘true’ they are – if they are utterly made up, have a kernel of truth or are utterly autobiographical. As ever, it’s mostly the middle range (kernel of truth), with bits at either extreme (made up, utterly autobiographical) that makes the story funny.

“My parents were real estate agents, so they went through sporadic periods of not having much money if the market was bad,” Jacques relates. “I was fat. I was teased pretty bad.”

According to Jacques, his parents “begged, borrowed and stole” to get him into a private boys’ school. But even though he did attend a private school, there wasn’t “that much cash lying around”. Rather, everything his folks did, they did to get their kid educated in a ‘good’ school.

“It was a big school, and I did stand out,” Jacques says. “I was in the top two per cent of the fattest kids in the school.” Even though he’s shed that weight, he claims to still have “that fat kid mentality: ‘please like me; please like me for my personality’.” It is, in effect, the root of Jacques Barratt, the comic, wanting to be loved by an entire room full of strangers on a regular basis. And Jacques knows it. He knew it back when he was “being fat at school”:

“People I didn’t even know would be teasing me at school. I didn’t know their names, but they knew mine. They knew who I was and it almost felt good. It almost felt like, if I lost weight, I’d blend into the crowd and nobody would know me. Instead, I stood out because I was chunky and people would pay me out. I almost liked the attention. Maybe that’s why I never lost the weight.”


Build it and they will laugh

After Jacques had arrived with his reliable routines, he did something a lot of comics do: he opened a room. He and fellow comic James Rochford started up a company called Wagon Productions, and opened a comedy room at BBs, a bar on Campbell Parade, Bondi Beach. More about the room later.

Traditionally, comics do this to ensure they get quality stage time. Eddie Izzard, for example, ran a cool room in London for a while, just before he broke through. But if the comic is too new, and too indulgent, it can mean a quick end to the room as they put themselves on too much, failing to entertain an audience with quality comedy. Newer comics may also fall into the trap of spending too much time building the empire when they should just be building up their own skills and material. Jacques found a way to strike a balance, to ensure that the room and his comedy both progressed healthily.

“When you’re putting yourself on in your own room to develop comedy,” he explains, “it has to be a real comedy room to actually know whether what you’re doing is funny.” By ‘real comedy room’, he means a room that appeals to every-day punters; people who aren’t necessarily comedy-savvy, but who will be able to watch a show in that room and laugh. “Sometimes when you’re doing an open-mic room, you’re playing to an audience that’s mostly open mic-ers and friends of open mic-ers and we have such a strange taste in comedy that if you do something in an open-mic room and it’s only that audience and they laugh, when you go to an actual comedy club and do it, like the Laugh Garage, for example, it’s not funny. Ridiculous, dark, off-the-wall kind of stuff makes other comedians laugh. It’s strange and weird stuff. But that stuff doesn’t necessarily work at a mainstream comedy club.”

So the reason why Jacques’s own comedy was working at the same time as he was running rooms and appearing in them was because he made an effort to make those rooms as much like the mainstream club circuit rooms as possible. “We paid the acts as much as we could. We got an MC, two or three suppot acts and a headliner. Pretty standard stuff. And that meant that people who came to see comedy got a show, as opposed to coming to support open mic-ers. If I got up on my stage and made them laugh, I was going to make people laugh in other venues. It helped my comedy.”


Where to start

Jacques and James had been considering setting up a room for a while. “I’d run rooms before,” Jacques says, “but they didn’t really work out very well, although I got invaluable experience and now know how they work, what to do and what not to do.”  He and James had spent some time “scouting around” and had “knocked up a little proposal” by the time Jacques had spotted the perfect venue, BBs, on Bondi Beach. “A guy I worked with at a bar, that was his local,” Jacques says. “We went in there and the guy said, ‘We were thinking of doing comedy in here as well, so it’s perfect’. We went, ‘Great, three weeks from now, let’s do a trial night’.”

As it happens, Jacques knows a lot of people in Bondi, a lot of surfers, and knows that “word-of-mouth in a beach suburb is crucial”. So they put the word out and they organised the opening night of Comedy@BBs. “When we got there, there were about a hundred people crammed into a space that holds 80. I MC’d it, we had Tommy Dean headline, James did a spot, Ray Badran did a spot, Tom Oakley did a spot… From the second I put my foot on stage, people were ready to laugh. They let us all know, ‘Yes we want comedy here and this is going to work’. It killed. It was one of the greatest nights of comedy ever.”

Comedy@BBs is still going strong, and what’s more, the audience is strong and demanding. “They have slowly built up a knowledge of comedy and now there’s a standard they expect. It’s pretty high, and it pushes comics: you get a decent crowd, but you’ve got to make sure you bring decent material. You can’t fluff around.” That’s part of the reason Jacques got so good so fast – the quality of the room he was running. “It raises your level. That’s been a contributing factor to some of my newer material and the snappy, punchy nature of it. The crowd at BBs is very much, ‘Make me laugh now until the night finishes. Do not stop making me laugh’.”

In addition to Comedy@BBs on a Tuesday night, Jacques and James’s other room, Coogee Comedy@Randwick Rugby Club “is ripping” on Thursday nights. “The back cocktail room only needs about 40 people to feel full,” Jacques reports, “but the crowds we’ve been getting down there – they love it. They love comedy so much, they laugh straight away. They’re not pretentious; they’re not expectant; they just get into it. Coogee will go with the dark, strange comics as much as the straight-down-the-line ones. They’ll appreciate where you’re coming from.”

Although Jacques intends heading overseas later this year, and Jim has a full time job, Wagon Productions is going strong. They’re working with other comics – Ray Badran, Sam Makhoul and Tom Oakley – to ensure everything continues to run smoothly. “We’re gonna pass the keys on to those guys,” Jacques assures me: “Bondi and Coogee are going to function, as long as there are people there to rip tickets. It’s just keeping the numbers really high – that’s where the work comes into. Because you can rest on your laurels and people will come for a certain period of time, but after about three months, if you haven’t promoted with fliers and posters and stuff like that, the numbers go down a little bit. That’s the kind of maintenance that’s required by the guys we’ve recruited. We handpicked them because we knew they were guys who have the same motivation and are at the same level as Jim and I. They’ll keep it going like that.”


Pimpin’ the Wagon

Speaking of fellow comics with the same motivation and at the same level, Jacques and James are taking the next brave step with Ray, Sam and Tom, and two other great comics, Matt Dyktynksi and Cameron Knight. They’re putting on two shows, back-to-back, in a theatre, to be turned into a DVD.

“The seven guys we’ve got, on paper we’re very similar; we’re all about the same age, we’re all guys, we do comedy that works,” Jacques says of the lineup, “but individually, we’re all different. It’s a really good example of how unique and diverse comedy can be. Off stage you go, ‘they’re all kind of the same’ but then you see our acts, they’re such different points of view on everything. There’s a little bit of everything for everyone. That’s why I wanted to make a DVD of it.”

One of the things they all have in common is the fact that they’ve not yet become ‘TV comics’. “If we have been on TV, it hasn’t been in any massive way. So we thought, let’s do something ourselves, let’s get something filmed, make it look good, get our names out there as best we can. Because we all want to get known for our comedy, as opposed to just getting on TV for any other reason. That’s the one common thread: we all just love doing comedy.” For Jacques – and, he argues, for the rest of the group, including NIDA-trained actor Matt Dyktynski who’s had roles in everything, and Cameron Knight, who hosted Stand Up Australia  for the Comedy Channel – the ideal is to make a living out of stand-up comedy, “with TV as the odd, extra-curricular activity to help get more stand-up. Comedy is the main passion and career. We all have that in common.”

According to Jacques, if you see the shows, or end up buying the DVD down the track, what you’ll be doing is getting a taste of good comedy you just wouldn’t see on television. “It’s safe and similar, the comedy that you see on TV. And I think people need a bit of a shake-up, and to see comedy that includes people who say stuff that’s a little bit wrong. Chances are, even though it’s a little bit wrong, people are into that. Chances are that’s what really makes them laugh.”


Funny Australia

Of course, the greater project is to try to make stand-up comedy as popular in Australia as it is in the UK, where it’s one of the top three forms of entertainment that people actively go out to see. “It’s such small amount of people who go, ‘Let’s go see some comedy’ and consider it a legitimate form of entertainment here,” Jacques says. “I don’t really know why that’s the case because 75 per cent of comedy gigs you see in Sydney, you’d go, ‘Wow, that was really great’.”  

I know part of the reason why that’s the case: in the UK, you just can’t sit outside at nighttime for most of the year. You go indoors. And when you’re indoors, even when you’re drinking, there’s something else you can be doing. Comedy is one of those indoor things you can go to. In Australia, you can spend most of the year outdoors at night. We’re an ‘outdoors’ culture. But if your ideal pastime is sitting on the back veranda sinking the piss with your mates while you all talk bollocks, why not go to a pub and sink the piss with your mates while someone on the stage talks bollocks?

Jacques agrees, but suggests another cultural reason why comedy doesn’t do as well here as it does in the UK just yet. In Australia, he points out, there’s a sense of everybody being funny. “Everyone’s got a sense of humour, everyone’s funny to their own mates, and I think some people have a bit of a problem seeing someone who’s funnier than them or perhaps not as funny as them but getting more attention to them. Cos they’re the larrikin at the barbie, the guy who tells the good story, everyone listens to them around the watercooler, they’ve now got to go to comedy and watch these other guys get more attention and get way more laughs. At the same time, though, we do it for a living and maybe, if you’re the guy used to being the centre of attention, the larrikin, you should give it a shot. It’s a lot of fun to do if you’re popular with your mates. Be a part of it. See what it’s all about.”



Absolutely. And some of the places to do it would be Comedy@BBs, Bondi Beach, on a Tuesday night, and Coogee Comedy@Randwick Rugby Club on a Thursday night. And at one of two gigs, 5.30pm and 7.30pm, this Sunday 23rd May at the Cleveland Street Theatre, Surry Hills. (Ticket info here). Or, otherwise, on a DVD that’ll be shot there.

 For more information visit www.thewagon.com.au.

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