Stand Up For Shapiro
Interview with organiser Julie Lawless

Shapiro

Here's the deal: legendary US comic Rick Shapiro has been ill. Awesome Aussie comedy wrangler Julie Lawless has organised a fundraiser for Tuesday 21 August 2012. Hilarious Aussie (and unnameable internationals) are performing. Here's the gig. Story follows. Read and come along.

 

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Julie Lawless – venue booker and tour organiser of both hip young talent and established legendary performers – is virtually ‘fresh off the plane’ when I catch up with her for a chat. She’s just been to Montreal’s ‘Just For Laughs’ comedy festival, returning via New York in order to check out new talent and old friends. Which is a good thing for everyone. It’s via Julie, when she was managing Sydney’s Laugh Garage, that we were treated to the likes of Lee Camp, Sam Tripoli, Thai Rivera, Nikki Lynn Katt and the very legendary Rick Shapiro.

I was first aware of Julie as the maker of hilarious and insightful comments on mutual friends’ Facebook pages. One of those mutual friends, comic Julia Wilson [whom fellow comic Danny McGinlay has noted, serves as my ‘good people police’] assured me Lawless was a cool chick worth knowing.

“Bless her,” Julie says. “I love Julia Wilson”. And so say all of us!

Although Lawless had been into comedy prior, she started interacting in the industry in the ‘early noughties’ – “around 2000, I’m guessing”. Reading street publication The Brag one day, she came across “a tiny little paragraph about Chris Wainhouse, who was playing the Fringe Bar. The piece ended, ‘…make friends with Chris on MySpace…’” Having just joined MySpace, Chris Wainhouse ended up being Julie’s first social networking virtual friend whom she didn’t know in real life. Although real life friendship ensued:

“We started hanging out. And that’s what I pinpoint as the beginning. I’d been to see live comedy before, but after having made friends with him and joking around on MySpace and then becoming friends with other comics and going to shows, I got to know people that way.”

It was through another such friend, comic Sally Kimpton – who, for a time, shared a house with comics Wainhouse and Paul Brasch – that Julie started working at the Laugh Garage. “Do you feel like bossing comics around?” Sally asked Julie, handing over an ad the Laugh Garage taken out for the position of manager. “I applied and got the job,” Julie says. “That was my first professional involvement. Via MySpace!”

Part of me thinks the early noughties are a bit early for MySpace. But if Lawless and Wainhouse really did strike up a cyber friendship that early, I may have had a hand in it. I wrote most of The Brag’s comedy copy from 1998 (when it was still Revolver) to 2003  . “That’s just awesome!” Julie says. “I’d like to think it was courtesy of Dom Romeo – that would add one more cog to my tale of how I got into comedy. And Chris is still one of my favourite comics to this day.”

 

Lawless Entertainment

Julie no longer manages the Laugh Garage. Now she runs Lawless Entertainment, and in this capacity looks after a number of venues. By ‘look after’, I do mean ‘book’, but it’s often more than that. Julie curates nights of comedy. It started with her simply helping organise gigs for overseas comedian friends visiting Australia. It started as simply as booking them for the Laugh Garage and ensuring there were other opportunities for them once they got here. “I’ve sort of made everything up as I’ve gone along, because nobody’s ever really taught me how to do this stuff,” Julie says. She learnt on her feet. Very quickly. Consider her involvement in the World’s Funniest Island comedy festival, taking place on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour. For the second year, she was programming the coolest stage.

“I totally was!” Julie laughs, appreciating the complement without taking herself too seriously. And then rightfully correcting me: “The two coolest stages, actually”.

Because Julie was in charge of ‘¡Satiristas!’ – Julian Morrow, chairing a discussion on satire that was to feature the likes of Paul Provenza (who wrote the book ¡Satiristas!), Lee Camp, Will Durst and Rod Quantock. “That talk panel was going to be amazing,” she says.

As was her other baby, ‘The United States of Funny’: “A bunch of young comics from the US, who were going to come and do half an hour each and kill.” The comics included Julia Lillis, Maggie MacDonald, Danielle Stewart, Lee Camp, Owen Benjamin and Thai Rivera.

Unfortunately, that second World’s Funniest Island festival never came to be. “When the rug got pulled out from under us, it was pretty heartbreaking for everyone involved, of course,” Julie says. However, she was instrumental The World’s Funniest Wreckage – a showcase of many of the comics who would have performed on Cockatoo Island – which proved a roaring success, as were the various other comedy spots around town, to accommodate the comics who had come over.

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Rick Shapiro

Of course, it was a year earlier, at the initial World’s Funniest Island, that I first encountered the comic, actor, poet and legend that is Rick Shapiro – one of a number of great international, and yet criminally locally unknown – comics featured that year by the Laugh Garage. The Laugh Garage’s – and thus, Julie’s – involvement with Shapiro began with “Superfans in Perth and Melbourne contacting me and getting the ball rolling”.

“I got a Facebook message from a comic I didn’t know called Evan McHugh McAwesome, saying ‘Would you put Shapiro on if we got him out here?’” Julie recounts. “McAwesome and a couple of guys from Perth were obsessed with Shapiro: they’d made a mini-documentary about looking for him in New York and got the ball rolling. We took it from there.” (It's worth noting that some Perth people are, comparatively, obsessed – after all, Tuesday night at Perth comedy venue Lazy Susan's is 'Shapiro Tuesday'!)

For the uninitiated, Rick Shapiro might be considered a kind of be-bop version of Woody Allen: a hip take on the observations of a New York Jewish upbringing. Rather than playing the chords, be-bop is about implying the chords by playing the harmonies. Likewise, Shapiro doesn't do the traditional lead line/feed line/punch line joke structure - he implies jokes by telling stories that talk around the topic and rarely end on pat punch lines, adopting  characters and setting up situations that leave room for the audience to interpret and engage without the need to make it obvious. They are organic – albeit hyperactive and highly energised – routines that skitter and dodge and weave much like, you begin to imagine, the comic has been forced to, throughout life.

Watching Shapiro at the World’s Funniest Island was a supreme pleasure, but it meant that other great comics who immediately followed were difficult to watch because it took time to acclimatise to their more linear approach to comedy. “It’s hard to follow a high-energy act like that,” Julie concurs.

Julie knows – she was essentially Rick’s tour manager in Sydney. Having had the pleasure of hanging out with them for an awesome afternoon barbecue (that ended well after midnight) I can say it’s an adventure full of engaging diversions following Rick down the streets to the shops, let alone following him on stage.

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Harold Park Hotel

With Julie's gig- and comic-wrangling history, Lawless Entertainment made perfect sense. Management company A-List Entertainment – who look after a number of big names – used to book two rooms that continue to offer the two longest-running comedy nights in Australia: the Old Manly Boatshed (Monday nights) and the Oatley Hotel (Wednesday nights). When A-List divested themselves of the rooms, they sought someone “appropriate” to run them. Someone who “wasn’t a manager, agent or comic, and so would have no conflict of interest”. That person? Julie Lawless.

“They very kindly thought of me. I’ve been running those rooms for about a year and a quarter.”

More recently, Julie is involved in the renaissance of the Harold Park Hotel. This is a major gain – for Lawless Entertainment, for Sydney Comedy, and for the Harold Park. ‘Back in the day’ (from the early ’80s to the turn of the millennium), the Harold Park Hotel was one of two definitive Sydney comedy venues (the other being Sydney’s Original Comedy Store). The Harold Park was a place where you got to see so many amazing talents in their formative years – as well as the cream of the international crop. Robin Williams played there whenever visiting to flog a film.

Sold to developers towards the end of the ’90s, the Harold Park Hotel always promised to retain a ‘wine bar’-type comedy venue, yet its couple of stabs at comedy since have never quite cut it. Its current incarnation is its most promising yet.

“I’ve been booking the Harold Park for about a month and it’s fantastic,” Julie says. “It’s alike a little custom-built theatre created with comedy in mind.” She elaborates: this time round, the comedy takes place upstairs, “right away from the main bar this time”. Which is how they first launched the new Harold Park some years back – before throwing up open mic comics to an indifferent bar.

Sounds good. And according to Julie, it is: “Everyone’s enjoyed all the shows there. We had Dicko there last week, watching Chris Franklin!” On the whole, she says, “they seem to be a pretty smart crowd around there, so I’m trying to give them some clever comedy.”

Stand Up For Shapiro

The Stant Up Shapiro Fundraiser Gala promises to be clever – and very special. While Rick Shapiro continues to play Edinburgh Fringe with his show Rebirth, it is in the wake of what is now being referred to a ‘minor heart incident’ that he had a few months ago. “He was actually hospitalised and wheelchair-bound for about 45 days,” Julie says. A month-and-a-half of incapacitation when your income is stand-up comedy, in addition to the USA’s arcane and downright medieval approach to health care, means no ability to meet what must be astronomical health bills. “I don’t know exactly what they are,” Julie says, “but I got billed $3,000 for a broken finger that I didn’t even get treated, so you can imagine what 45 days is going to add up to.”

There have been a number of fundraisers of Shapiro in the United States. Now, says, Julie, “we’ve decided to show Rick our love over here. Everyone’s working for free on this: absolutely every cent that we raise is going directly to Shapiro, not just to help him with his bills but also to show him that we love him.”

Of course, you want to know who’s on: mostly, comics who relate to Rick and are friends with him. This includes some international acts that I’m not at liberty to divulge but I am able to list Damian Smith, Sally Kimpton, Ben Ellwood, Darren Sanders and Simon Palomares.

Fine Print:

Tue 21st Auguest 2012

Show starts at 8pm, with doors open at 7pm.

Cost is $15 (or $10 if you’ve got student or backpackers id).

“I’m going to ask any comics who turn up and don’t want to pay to put money in the bucket at the door.”


Amusing Facts

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Lee Camp is a revelation, but a slow one for me. It was through the program for the 2010 World’s Funniest Island event, sadly cancelled, that I was first aware of Lee. The Laugh Garage Comedy Club's manager, Julie Lawless, was programming the United States of Funny on the Harbour Stage, and Lee was to be among the male comics in the line-up. He was also to feature in the ¡Sataristas! event, along with Will Durst, Paul Provenza and Rod Quantock, hosted – in order to maximise ticket sales – by a big celebrity comedian equipped to cope with political comedians (one of the Chaser gang, of course). Unfortunately, not even celebrity comedians could help sell tickets, so we missed out on The United States of Funny, ¡Sataristas! and World’s Funniest Island (since it lies in the harbour of the world's most indifferent city…)

Thankfully Lee – an informed comic whose material is always about stuff, and who contributes to The Onion and The Huffington Post – was keen to head to Australia anyway, with a residency at the Laugh Garage. I spoke to him over the phone while he was in the transit lounge, awaiting his flight to be called, the day he was leaving for Australia.

If, like me, you’re a bit new to Lee, here’s some of his stuff on the oil spill:

 

He was also in a recent episode of Provenza’s The Green Room:

Lee Camp Green Room from Brian Abrams on Vimeo.

 

And here's our brief chat:

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Dom Romeo: You’re a writer and a performer. It seems easier to sound funny in print with a speaking voice, than it is to sound funny on stage with a writing voice. Which did you develop first, and how do you delineate one from the other? How does it work for you? 

LEE CAMP: I developed writing first. I started writing in high school and then when I first got into college I thought I was going to be a professional humour writer. But during that first year of university, I started thinking a lot about performing and I’d been kind of ‘saving up’ my stand-up writing for a year, so I finally started performing. I had never stepped on a stage before in my life; never been an actor or anything. So I definitely went from writing to performing.

That being said, it’s definitely a different muscle, writing for stand-up rather than for the page. I’m actually better at writing stand-up than I am at writing regular comedy for the page and I prefer stand-up too. Performing your words has so much more life to it and so much more energy, and obviously the immediate response from the crowd is a different world. So for me personally, writing is the distant runner-up to performing live.

Travelling around the world and getting to see different people’s reactions and what different types of people react to is quite a thrill. Travel can be frustrating at times, but in my experience, it’s always worth it.

Dom Romeo: As a comedian from the United States, how does your stuff go down elsewhere?

LEE CAMP: Luckily, because of my politics – I’ve been so unhappy with a lot of what America does around the world – I tend to fit in quite well outside of America. I have the same viewpoint as a lot of the rest of the world. But I’m only beginning to branch out internationally. I did Montreal many times, but that’s not that far from New York City. And I recently did the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last summer and really loved it. It was amazing. And this will be my first trip to Australia. But in my experience so far outside of the US, it has been very good to me.

Dom Romeo: What’s bringing you to Australia?

LEE CAMP: Initially, I was going to play the World’s Funniest Island Festival. That didn’t happen but it piqued my interest and got me excited to go. It’s been a long time coming. It’s been in the back of my head that I wanted to go to Australia and perform there – comedians I respect from the US have played there and enjoyed it: Jamie Kilstein, Arj Barker… a lot of guys who I think are doing cool stuff.

Dom Romeo: Where do you draw the line between politics and comedy? Does your comedy have to be political? At what point is it comedy and not just public speaking?

LEE CAMP: Whenever I’m on stage, I’m always writing and angling towards getting a laugh. The laugh does come first for me. That being said, if I do have a bit that I have a strong feeling about, and that specific crowd doesn’t laugh at it, I’m not going to abandon it; I’m going to stick it out because it does have a point. So my feeling is, if you’re not making people laugh, you better have a good reason. You better be saying something pretty important. But at the end of the day, I’m still a comedian, so my goal is still for the laugh and not just to be a speaker.

Dom Romeo: What are you joking about at the moment? What subjects do you feel strongly enough about to be making a point through humour in Australia?

LEE CAMP: Well, the United States still has the death penalty and 70% of America agrees with it, so I’ve been doing a long piece on that. I cover a little bit of everything, all the issues of the day: immigration, gay marriage… I’ve been doing more on the environment, global warming, our incredible ability to continue going down the path that we’re going while it hits us on a day-to-day basis. I do really go all over the map but I like to think that what it all has in common is that they’re all important issues.

Dom Romeo: Given that you’re funny with a point, that you actually talk about stuff, tell me this: can comedy change anything?

LEE CAMP: Yes. I feel that comedy can inform. I don’t know that you can make a comedic argument and have someone leave the room going ‘okay, now I’ve changed my mind’. However, comedy can inform people in a way that other things can’t because they’ll pay attention. So a lot of my jokes have information in them that a person may just laugh at, but after they leave the room they can’t un-know those facts. They leave with new information. That’s kind of my goal.

For example, surrounded by jokes in my death penalty piece, is the fact that in equal death penalty cases, the number one determinant is the race of the victim. Basically, our racist system has made it so that if you kill a black person, it’s not a big a deal as if you kill a white person. And so even though someone may disagree with my take on the death penalty, they leave that room and still know that fact. That’s where I feel comedy really comes into play – it’s able to get information out there in a novel and interesting way.

Dom Romeo: Imagine that comedy could change everything. You’ve changed everyone’s minds by performing to them and there were no points left to make – you just have to be funny. What would you do?

LEE CAMP: I think you’re right – I would love to see the day when there’s nothing left to fix, but I don’t think that day’s coming any time soon. It’s an excellent question in this sense: if the world was utopia and everything was fixed, and there was no more hardship and pain, I don’t know if there would be comedy. Because a lot of comedy comes from pain. Even the stuff that doesn’t have a message has some kind of pain or tragedy or hardship behind it. So maybe comedy would be dead if the world was perfect.

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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!”


Rob Brown: Throwing Punch Lines

Rob Brown’s at the Laugh Garage Comedy Club this week…

Rob Brown

“How do you reconcile the fact that you don’t sound like a thug, but you look a bit like one?” you’d think twice before asking Queensland comic Rob Brown.

Rob’s a comedian who’s been around for a good eight years but prior to making comedy his full-time occupation he’d worked within the prison system, trained police in Iraq and security forces in Afghanistan. Which is an interesting proposition for comedy. He looks as though he could pretty much quash a prison insurrection or deploy troops single-handedly. So even though you’ve thought twice, when you’re safely interstate, on the other end of a phone line, you might even have the courage to ask him.

“I don’t know,” Rob laughs. “There are not a lot of gifts in looking like everyone who’s ever appeared on Australia’s Most Wanted,” he admits. “I did a degree in criminology, and I am educated, and I can read, and I can write and I can think. It does conflict with the way I look. But thankfully, I can punch on as well. It’s a gift.”

At 41, Rob says, a smack in the mouth might leave him bedridden for a couple of days. So it’s good he can “punch on”, I reckon. “Well,” he reasons, “it can’t hurt, can it.” Only the other guy, I’m guessing. But—isn’t that at odds with the comedy career? Shouldn’t a comedian be more of a peacemaker?

“Oh, look,” he explains, adopting a kind of ‘there really is a simple explanation to this’ tone of voice: “I think there are plenty of peacemakers out there, mate; I was there for the cash. I wasn’t there for any individual, nor was I there to steal oil. I was there because employers were paying me incredibly large sums of money.”

Well, you can’t argue with Rob’s logic. Or honesty. At the time, he adds, he was also “on the back end of a divorce”, so behaved in the manner of men confronted with such a situation: “We do become a little distressed and angry, and thankfully for me, I was given an opportunity where I could go away, earn good money, and get away from the situation.”

What Rob did to earn good money, while getting away from the failed marriage situation, was spend 18 months training 22,000 national policemen in Iraq before spending another four training static security teams (the ones that guard buildings and the like) in Afghanistan.

As for the ten years he spent working in prisons prior to that, he assures me that “prisons are far more violent and aggressive on TV than they ever are in real life”. Most people in prison, he says, are there to sentence and then go home. “They’re not overly interested in prison officers. They’re not overly interested in anything, really. They just want to do their time, get on with it, and move on. And most of us can respect that; society doesn't care what they do, really, as long as they don’t get out…” Still, Rob did serve on the riot response team; I’d hate to have been the riot requiring his response.

So how did someone who – let’s continue being blunt – looks like he would have been the carnival strong man last century, end up being a modern-day clown?

“I think it’s fair to say I’ve been an idiot all my life,” Rob insists. “I have extracted great joy making people laugh ever since I was a child – sometimes to my own detriment, mind you. It hasn’t always been pleasant for me. But I’ve enjoyed making my friends laugh, my family laugh… sometimes complete strangers! It’s what I do.” One such friend insisted Rob “had to get on stage”.

“I’ll tell you what,” Rob told him, assuming he’d never hear about it again: “you organise me a gig, I’ll go do it”. Two weeks later, Rob had a gig. And the kind of fear you get if you’ve never been on stage in front of an audience that actually expects you to be funny. “I almost soiled myself,” Rob admits. “It was terrible.” The thought of it, that is. Because Rob Brown’s quelled prison riots and deployed security forces in the Middle East. He not only coped – he had an awesome gig.

“I’ve ever really had a bad gig, actually” Rob confesses. “Well,” he considers. “There was a corporate gig where they said, ‘We don’t have a microphone. Or a stage. Or lights. And the audience will be standing around you.’” Turns out Rob Brown was one of the country’s best-paid buskers that night. But only the people standing closest to him knew he was also the funniest. People three rows back, and beyond, who could hear the people laughing down the front, were constantly asking, “What did he say?”

“You know what?” Rob assures me. “You’ll find I’m a lot funnier if you can actually hear me.”


 Driven to comedy

For Rob, one of the driving factors was the desire never to work again. “That's why I do comedy: ‘If you do what you love, you never have to work a day in your life.’ That’s very, very true. I have a friend who loves heroin and never worked a day in his life. He lives in a dumpster.” While some people are very, very good at working, Rob isn’t one of them. But given that there was a time before comedy (B.C.) when he had to work, did his comedic disposition ever get in the way? Or did being the big, muscular guy mean he was allowed to get away with being the clown when he mood took him? I mean, what exactly is the boss gonna do to a guy who’s six-foot-three and built like the proverbial brick sh*t house when he’s caught goofing off?

“That's the premise I worked on,” Rob laughs. “That works for me.” Most people, he reasons, enjoy a laugh. And it’s a matter of being tactful and respectful. Although, he admits, he has lost a job because of his sense of humour.

“I was working for a friend who owned a fish and chip shop. I was only there casually. He said, ‘I need you to help me out, but I need you to be serious because this is my livelihood.’ I said, ‘Mate, I’m not an idiot’.” That afternoon, a customer came in – “quite a snobby woman with a small dog in a bag under her arm” – and said, “can you tell me a fish that has absolutely no bones?” Rob's answer: “Yep. Jellyfish. What’d I win?” For that bit of foolishness, Rob’s mate sacked him. Well, says Rob, he was sacked either for being funny, or for giving the wrong answer. “I think what the woman wanted was cuttlefish!” he explains.“Harsh. Harsh but fair. I was asked a question and I obviously got the answer wrong.”

Indeed. But look at the bright side – getting the answer right, might’ve ensured that he’d still be frying fish and chips and having to be nice to snobby women with dogs in handbags. Instead of travelling the country and the world, doing comedy. As it turns out, Rob’s performed in seven countries this year: Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, England, Ireland, US, New Zealand… “And I love the fact that I can come home and tell stories about my travels,” he says. “I don’t know that it’s made me a better comic, but it has made me a better performer.”


Seriously funny

Part of what being Australian is all about, Rob reckons – and it sounds like he was reminded of this on his travels – is being able to take the piss, with a great deal of compassion. And he’s right. There’s no doubt we’re a nation of piss-takers and, generally speaking, Australians do pathos better than most other nationalities. We can be sad and funny.

“I’m caring for a friend of mine who’s dying of cancer,” Rob says. “She only has probably three or four weeks left to live. I’ve known her since primary school, and I love her dearly. She said to me the other day, while she was getting all these negative reports back from the doctor of how the cancer is now in her liver and her lymph nodes and her… she goes, ‘I just wish someone could give me some good news!’ I said to her, ‘Well look at it this way: you can now buy yogurt with a lifetime guarantee’. She thought that was hilarious. Now, admittedly, the rest of her family fell over, but she thought it was hilarious. That's all that matters.”

Before we know it, we’ve hit the ‘heavy’ stuff. But we’re here now, so why not make the most of it, I reckon.

“Can comedy change anything?” I ask.

“Comedy can change everything,” Rob insists. “It doesn’t matter what the subject is, you’ve got to be able to laugh at it. And it’s a matter of laughing at it respectfully; it’s not a matter of laughing at a person; you’re laughing at a situation. And there’s a world of difference between the two.”

So, essentially, nothing’s off-limits if you know how to deal with it. “As long as you’re funny, as long as people laugh, you’ve gotten away with it.”

Good point. Because audiences differ. The good comic can gauge the audience and know how to get it to a point where the outrageous ‘truth’, in form of a humorous punchline, can broach an important topic and get a new, unusual or unpopular message across – even if it is only to be considered for the time it takes to lead to laughter. But if a comic can’t get the audience to go with them – for whatever reason (lack of experience on the part of the comic; lack of experience on the part of the audience) – it’s time to abandon that joke and try another.

“Exactly. Material is material. Some materials are really good to wear; some are good to have on furniture. There are some things you can say to certain audiences, and some things you can’t.”

I reckon Rob could pretty much say whatever he wants to whomever he chooses. After all: the big don’t argue. But that wouldn’t necessarily make him funny. Part of what does make him funny, an instant ‘likeability’, is that disjunction between the way he looks and the way he talks. We expect intelligent guys to be weeds, and tough guys to be meat-heads.

“There’s a huge dichotomy there,” Rob concurs. “Usually, if someone can lift heavy things, you expect them to be retarded; if they can actually read a book from start to finish and not fall asleep or fall over or lose the plot, then they’re not going to be very strong.”

Although, he lets me in on a little secret: the only reason Rob continues to maintain his musclebound exterior is because all of his friends his age have gotten to the point in life where everything hurts. “They’re always telling me: this hurts and that hurts and my back hurts and my shoulders hurt… I’m frightened to stop going, in case I fall apart.”

 


Garage-er than life…

A couple of months back, when Nikki Lynn Katt and Sam Tripoli were headlining at The Laugh Garage, I was invited to stay back and watch Darren Sanders, Paul Warnes, Garry Who, Ally Pinnock, Danny Grozdich, Sam and Nikki partake in a pilot for The Garage. It’s a sitcom set in a comedy club, with comedians playing themselves. Their live performances consist of actual live performances. Heck, they even let me have a cameo (as an annoying comedy nerd. Not much of a stretch there!) I hope there are plenty more eps soon.


Who’s a funny boy then

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dom Romeo: Are you still involved?

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


A cellarful of joys

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It’s kinda sorta like a almost a decade since the Laugh Garage came into being, and the next two weeks feature a total of six massive nights of Gala shows with heaps of comedians on each night. The Laugh Garage is a purpose-built comedy venue in Sydney’s CBD (there’s another one operating out of Parramatta, too) that feels like a comedy club ought to: dark room down a set of stairs on a city corner, with a bar at one end. Not at all a theatre or a room in a pub – not to take away from any of Sydney’s great comedy venues that take on that configuration. Over the years, I’ve interviewed the comic who founded and still runs the Laugh Garage, Darren Sanders, and here is a compilation of those conversations, compiled to commemorate this spate of all-star gigs. If you’re interested, I'm on the first night. But it’s the Laugh Garage; like a number of other cool, supportive Sydney venues, I get stage time there quite frequently – you can see me any time. Come to see all of the other great comics on!

 

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“At the moment, everyone wants to be a ‘rock star’,” Darren Sanders insists. “If you want to be a DJ or a radio star, go to radio school.” Darren is referring to the way in which comedy newbies imagine they’re going to become overnight celebrities by getting on stage and ‘telling jokes’. I use inverted commas because few people manage to actually tell jokes the first time they get on stage – usually they say the most outrageous things they can think of, imagining that the laughter of discomfort is automatically proof that an audience has been entertained. This was never the case for Darren Sanders, whose first choice was to be an actor.

Darren Sanders is one of those talents from Adelaide who felt, at least as he was coming through, he needed to be elsewhere in order to make it anywhere. To be fair, Darren is a comedian, and like prophets, comedians are rarely successful in their own towns – they have to travel elsewhere to spread the word. So this isn’t really a blatant exercise in Adelaide-bashing. Point is, by 1990 Darren had headed overseas and landed in the States.

“I was living in America and studying acting in LA, at the Theatre of Arts,” he says. He was making ends meet by selling tickets for the Los Angeles comedy venue the Laugh Factory. It was the fact that he’d use most of tickets himself to go see shows that led to him becoming a comic.  “I used to watch the audience more than the guys performing, to see them laugh. I’d think, ‘How are they making them do that?’ That’s what started my interest in it, seeing that stuff.”

Rest assured, Darren saw “a lot of duds” get up on stage, in his time. People like Eric Douglas, brother of Michael. “It was a shocker; talking about having dinner with Sparticus, all of those sorts of routines…” They’re not comedy routines if they’re not actually funny, so Darren corrects himself and goes with “anecdotes”.

When Darren returned to Australia, he made the realisation – after a week in Adelaide – “I can’t live here!” That was, of course, long before the Adelaide Fringe Festival had become an annual event and its comedy scene had become so strong. Back then, it made more sense to relocate to Sydney, and by that time, Darren had well and truly gotten the comedy bug, written down quite a lot of his experiences as a traveller, and figured they’d work on stage. A ‘debut gig’ as his brother’s best man – telling piss-funny stories over the slide show – convinced him that he had no fear of getting up in front of an audience (he had trained as an actor, after all), so he might as well give it a go somewhere else. ‘Somewhere else’ was Sydney’s own Comedy Store – at the time, located in Bay Street, Glebe.

“I remember hearing laughter, but having no control over it,” Darren says of his first proper stand-up gig. “Some woman said something in the crowd, but I had to keep moving, keep doing the routine. I didn’t have the freedom of talking back or having the comebacks.” Indeed, it was a while before he’d have the confidence to ‘go off-script’. “I remember thinking ‘How the hell am I going to remember a five-minute routine, let alone half an hour or more?’ Once you have the confidence in your material you know it works, then you have the liberty to think ‘Maybe I could stray outside of that…’”

While Darren’s time in the United States served him well – there was a polish and sophistication that spoke ‘showbiz’ that set him apart from other comics coming through with him – he’d been preparing for a life as a comic… although he didn’t necessarily recognise it at the time. “It wasn’t actually mapped out,” he says, “but I can see how I got here from what’s happened”. His school report cards, for example, always read, he says, like the type of quotes you’d want to put on your posters: “Darren’s mind goes at a million miles an hour… He’s a clever, organised thinker…” As far as Darren’s concerned, he first started learning the craft at family barbecues, where his dad and his dad’s mates would forever be telling jokes and doing celebrity impressions. “It was thirty years ago, so it was people like John Wayne, Columbo, that sort of stuff…”

Truth is, you learn the most, and the best, about comedy when you’re actually doing it. “I’ve gone through old notes from when I started doing comedy, and I rediscover gags that didn’t work back then. Now I have the experience to say, it didn’t work back then because I didn’t lead into it properly, or the audience couldn’t tell where I was going with it.” With experience, you learn to set up the joke better, how to make a punch line more powerful. You also learn when it’s time to quit the day-job. For Darren, it was when too much of his energy was being diverted from comedy. “I realised that if I really wanted to make money, then I should put all my energy into my stand-up. When I did, I ended up doing four television appearances on In Melbourne Tonight – which helped me in Melbourne. I’d go down to Melbourne about five times a year and do a week of gigs each time. After appearing on IMT at the start of the week, I could advertise the whole week’s gigs. But it felt weird coming back to Sydney after that, because you’d just had this publicity, a bit of a tour, and then you come back here and nobody knew anything about it; it’s back to getting on the phone and calling around for this gig, or that gig…”

Darren eventually got sick of having to ring around in Sydney to try and maintain the momentum of Melbourne success, which is why he decided to open his own comedy venue. “I wanted to be a professional comedian, and have somewhere professional to work,” he says.

Funnily enough, I remember that event vividly. Well, not the actual event… I’d been to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2001 and happened to be sitting in the Peter Cook Bar in Melbourne Town Hall during a lull, when I got into a discussion about how healthy the Sydney comedy circuit was. I was sitting with someone who used to manage the Comedy Store and was then managing comedians. We’d gotten to a list of 14 venues when someone said, “You forgot one.” What? Which one? “There’s that room Darren Sanders is opening in the CBD.” I’d heard nothing about it at that point. And then, a week later I returned to Sydney to discover my answering machine winking and beeping like a highly strung tourette’s sufferer, and most of the messages were Darren’s, telling me about his new venue, ‘The Laugh Garage’, opening soon in the city. It was time to get in touch again.

At the time, the question was, did Sydney really needed another comedy venue? Darren’s response was that the other rooms mostly catered to local trade (people who lived within “staggering” distance), and usually operated one night a week. “At the moment, the Comedy Store is the only full time comedy venue in Sydney,” he pointed out. “This is the only other full-time venue.”

Nearly a decade later, there are no longer 14 weekly venues in Sydney but the Laugh Garage continues to be one of the couple operating full time. In honour of a great room that supports and in turn is supported by great comics, the Laugh Garage is celebrating with two weeks of ‘Gala’ shows: a stack of great comics each night, three nights a week with major names headlining (this just after shows headlined by international acts and special guest appearances by the likes of Achmed Achmed, out here to promote Iron Man 2).

“Everyone does benefits nowadays,” Darren offers. Radio stations do it, bands do it, “comics are probably the only ones who don’t…”  In the same way that live music venues are cyclical, comedy venues are, too, and at a time when Sydney’s  just lost a couple of decent rooms – one is only temporarily closed, for the winter, the other, an ideal Sunday evening gig, sadly gone for good – Darren’s taking this opportunity to remind punters of the great comedy room he runs. Although Darren has a bit of a theory as to some of the contributing factors to the comedy cycle. “We haven’t had good, big, locally-produced comedy on television in many years,” he says, referring to the type of program that grabs everyone, the way Master Chef does, and the way things like Comedy Company – broadcast on a Sunday evening as the kind of show the whole family would sit around and watchand Fast Forward used to.

“There’s a lot of crime shows on telly now, and there are a lot of crimes being committed; you’d think someone would wake up to that,” he says. “When Comedy Company started, it blitzed 60 Minutes, because people were a bit sick of all that. Now is a perfect time to do it.” Of course, Darren says, adopting a position many a talented comic should, when a station does make a comedy, rather than hiring comedians, they tend to employ actors. “Maybe they don’t trust comics,” he says. As someone running a comedy room and having to depend on comics, he laughs, “I’ve learned not to trust them either”.

The vibe of the Laugh Garage reminds me of all great comedy rooms – places comics like to hang out even when they’re not performing; where you can learn watching other people at work. “That’s the way the Harold Park used to be,” Darren says, remembering the days of one of Sydney’s most important comedy venues. The Comedy Store offered the same ‘family’ atmosphere. And if a venue doesn’t make comedians – irrespective of their style – feel at home, it may just come down to the attitude of comics.

“At the time, it seemed like that was the way you did comedy,” Darren explains. “You’ve got to do the hard yards. Comedy is its own art form.” When it comes down to it, Darren insists he has “all the time in the world” for people who are “serious” about doing stand-up – people who want to learn the craft. They’re the kind of comics who do come to hang out. “Unfortunately, there are too many people who don’t want to put in the hard yards – maybe that’s a sign of the times, but I still prefer to get on a plane with a pilot who’s already flown a few times…”

 

If you want to be taken on some of the funniest flights of fancy by some of the best local comics who have had plenty of flying time, The Laugh Garage is the place to do it: Thurs 24, Fri 25, Sat 26 June and Thurs 1, Fri 2, Sat 3 July. For more information check out the Laugh Garage website.

 

 


Shady Sam Tripoli

*Warning*

There are some ‘adult concepts’ in this interview – if you’re likely to be offended by a great comedian’s honesty, please check out other entries on this blog that don’t carry this warning.  

Still with me? Excellent. Sam Tripoli is a comedian I’d not heard of before The Laugh Garage had him on posters as an up-coming double-header with Nikki Lynn Katt. I was pleased to discover him to be not only hilariously clever, but a pleasure to chat to after the gig – he’s so naturally funny off stage and generous with feedback for other comics. I hope this is the first of many visits to Australia, because as I write this, his residency at The Laugh Garage is nearly over and not enough people – comics and punters – will have had the opportunity to see him.


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Don’t know him from Adam

“I get all the Adams,” Sam Tripoli explains: “Adam Corolla, Adam Sandler, Adam Goldberg…”

We’re discussing doppelgangers, because I reckon this American comic has a touch of the John Turturros, particularly about the eyes and cheeks, but also around the mouth. And his American accent, to my ears, carries a similar Italian-American tinge. But you can’t draw an eyes-and-cheeks-based comparison to John Turturro without also including Al Pacino in the mix.

“I get that too,” Sam concedes. “A little bit of young– I hope still young! – Al Pacino.”

This line of discussion started because, having the pleasure of doing a five-minute spot before Sam’s hilarious headline performance at the Laugh Garage, I touched on ‘doppelgangers’. I say ‘touched on’ – I took a wrong turn and wasn’t able to make it back to my favourite bit about one of my doppelgangers…

“I do that all the time,” Sam confesses. “I go up on stage and forget the whole thing. I just gotta take it slow and it all comes to me and I hope I piece it together naturally…”

I’ve got to be honest. I’ve just seen Sam slay an audience. And not a particularly easy one, I would have thought, consisting mostly of city insurance brokers (not that there’s anything wrong with them, their laughter’s as good as anyone’s; just harder to solicit in the middle of the week) and some very silent men-in-black types (more keen to observe than actually laugh). And from the MC through to the newbies and especially to awesome support , all the acts grabbed the audience. Sam had ’em eating out of his hand the whole time, even when spinning the darkest of scenarios.

What I’m saying is, it sounds as though Sam’s being disingeniously modest for my benefit. Onstage he looks too in control to ever be out of control.

“I never go ‘A to Z’,” he says, continuing to explain his onstage modus operandi. “I just do whatever pops into my head, and try to make it work.”

Rest assured, it works. And that's probably the best way to do it – the comic letting the bits come as they will, delivering them as they arrive, seeing where they take him. Rather than following a map through every letter from A to Z, it is better to start at A and get to Z knowing what all the major intersections are along the way. If audience interaction feels like the show’s taken a wrong turn, with a great comic, it’s not a wrong turn, it’s just a detour that throws up interesting new material on the way to the next intersection. And it may turn out that there are much better places to pass through on the way Z after all.

Case in point was the night a member of a very boisterous audience indeed posed an unexpected question during a bit Sam does about a guy who died in the process of trying to have sex with a horse. The laughter had started to die down after Sam’s punchline, but before he could move on, someone yelled out, “how was the horse?”

“How was the horse?” Sam echoed the question – seemingly in disbelief, but it might have been more a case of, ‘Thank you, comedy gods, for dropping this in my lap’ than, ‘Why would you even ask that?’ “The horse was fine,” he improvised, “bragging to all its friends, ‘you know those people who jump on our backs and ride us around? I f*cked one of them. To death. High hoof! High hoof!’” And then as the laughter started to subside again, he was able to move on to the next bit. Of course, you’d only know there was a ‘next bit’ to move on to if you’d already seen him perform without an audience member posing that question.

Ultimately, Sam concludes, this approach to comedy constitutes “the better way to work” because “you can’t get buried”. There’s no wrong turn when you’re a great comic; the audience relaxes in the knowledge that you know where you’re going; they’re there to be taken on the ride, enjoying all the sharp turns, tight corners and even the odd spot of road rage if it takes place!

 

Long road to get here 

The reason Sam Tripoli is such an excellent driver is because he’s trained for it all his life. “I wanted to be a stand-up since the day I can remember consciousness,” he says. “The moment I realised I was a being, I wanted to tell jokes.” Friends remember him in first grade doing just that: getting on top of his desk to perform. He is, he says, the only guy who ever went into high school with the one goal, to be class clown. “I dedicated the next six years to achieving that. Everything I’ve done was with the hopes of becoming a stand-up comic at some point.”

It can’t have been easy, surely. Especially since Sam is the son of a Sicilian Italian dad and an Armenian mum. Usually the pressure’s on for a second generation immigrant to work hard and be successful, given that parents have sacrificed much to start a new life in a new country. Showbiz, they usually reason, is all very well, but it comes later – you need an education, a degree ‘to fall back on’.

“You know what, man?” Sam sets me straight. “The fact I’m not pumping gas for a living – my family’s fine with what I’m doing.” Admittedly, Sam does tell us as part of his routine that his dad’s a bit of a gambler – a former ‘special ed’ teacher who got into trouble not so much for educating the kids about odds and probability by teaching them how to play poker, as cleaning them out in the process. His mother, on the other hand, is “a bit of a celebrity” in their home town.  Irrespective, Sam’s folks were “really supportive, right out of the gate”. Rather than asking him when he’d get a real job, they just accepted that this was the one. And perhaps that has something to do with coming from Cortland, 30 miles out of Syracuse in upstate New York. It’s the so-called ‘crown city’ because it is the city with the highest altitude in New York.

“I didn’t realise how redneck and hick it was until I left,” Sam offers. “I remember being a kid, this older guy Bobby Gambetta had a mullet. I remember thinking how cool that was, and I wanted a mullet, so I grew a mullet. I had a mullet when I was really young.”


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Getting LA’d

The ‘wog mullet’ isn’t unheard of – although, let’s face it, it’s usually embarrassingly frizzy. But such issues of identity didn’t impinge on Sam until he left  Cortland for the ‘big smoke’.

“I thought I was white until I moved to Los Angeles,” Sam reports. “Then I became Armenian. Cos that’s what the town does – it makes you fit into a box, and that determines what goes on from there.”

So what other criteria must you adhere to, once put into the ‘Armenian’ box in LA?

“In Los Angeles, an Armenian is angry, drives a taxi, says ‘bru’ a lot; the Armenian suit is a sweatsuit with dress shoes…” The last one is the inversion of the suit-with-hightops look – so I’m safely as un-Armenian as possible. If you’re not familiar with Armenian stereotypes, you are not alone.

“If it wasn’t for the Kardashians, nobody would even know who the Armenians are,” Sam says, referring to the reality show ‘celebutante’ offspring of attorney Robert Kardashian, who was a personal friend and lawyer of OJ Simpson. “They’re great. I love ’em. Because up until that point, nobody knew who Armenians were unless you watched The Shield. Then we were just running money trains all the time; we were criminals.” Not that Sam Tripoli has a problem with that stereotype. No. His problem is, every time he went to audition for the role of an Armenian crim in LA, it’d be his Palestinian friend who’d get it. Or his Italian friend.  Even though, in every other aspect of Los Angelean life, Sam had turned from being just some American kid into, obviously, an Armenian, when it came to playing one on screen he could “never get booked as an Armenian because they thought I was too white”.

But that doesn’t open up any non-Armenian roles. According to the people who cast for film and television, he’s “not American enough” to play the other roles, apparently. “I can’t win! I’m like, what do you want me to wear? A gridiron helmet and sweatpants? Eat chicken nuggets shouting, ‘LET’S START A WAR! LET’S DO THIS!’”

What it comes down to is that while everyone else in LA is a model or aspires to be one, he’s “a fetish! A niche!” Sam’s niche is “women who are attracted to Armenian drug dealers”. That, he says, is his niche, because he has a “shady look” in Los Angeles.


Simply shady…           

‘Shady’ is an interesting concept. Sam’s material deals with a lot of ‘shady’ topics. He’s even dedicated a web page to it. He translates it as ‘troublesome’, for our benefit, the night I see him, but I think ‘creepy’ would be closer…

“The whole bit comes from watching the news and just seeing some man ‘Arrested! Committing horrible crimes!’ And then they show him, and it’s like, ‘How did you not know that guy was up to no good? He looks shady!’ That’s where it came from.”

Sam’s list of things that are shady include “white girls with dreadlocks – SHADY! Lawyers with ponytails – SHADY! Anybody who owns a sword – SHADY! Anybody who drives a taxi – SHADY! Anybody who drives an icecream truck – SHADY! White guys who always wear khaki pants – SHADY! Anybody with a gold tooth – SHADY! Anybody with a tattoo on their face – SHADY!”

Some of them don’t translate as well, like “anybody who wears an Oaklands jersey”. According to Sam, the jersey of the Oakland gridiron team is, essentially, “the gangbanger’s business suit”. Some of them, on the other hand, are universal, like the ‘cool mum’ (or ‘yummy mummy’, or ‘MILF’). “In LA, you always see some hot Latina – she’ll have high heels, her g-string jacked up like overalls – pushing a baby stroller. That’s some shady shit. I mean, I’d still hit it, but it’s shady as shit! Know what I’m saying?”

Sure, shady cool mum is hittable. But there is some shady shit Sam knows to steer well clear of. Like hitchhikers.

“Anybody who hitchhikes is a shady f*ck,” he insists, “cos that means you don’t have anyone in your life who likes you enough to give you a ride. And because I know the signs of shady, I’ll never end up being the victim of some mass murderer or psycho killer like Jason Vorhees or Mike Myers because I’ve watched enough horror flicks to know that shits about to go bad. Like pickin’ up a hitchhiker. Every movie where someone’s pickin’ up a hitchhiker, it’s like, ‘Hey, Captain Creepy, you need a ride? Awesome. Jump in. Let me drive you to where you’re gonna dump my body. That’ll be sweet.’”

Indeed, Sam Tripoli has a wealth of wisdom, gleaned from cinema. “If you’re ever in the forest and your friends are missing,” he advises, “shout for them three times. If you don’t hear from them, assume their dead, get out of there. If they update their Facebook, then you know they made it back.”

But there’s more:

“Never go camping with a supermodel. That’s the number one rule. If you ever go camping with a supermodel, you will die. She will get raped and you will get killed. It’s guaranteed even money. So I never go camping with supermodels.”



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Cinematic truth

Clearly, Sam grew up loving films. But, he says, he never wanted to be “a huge film star”. In fact, he doesn’t even want to be famous because, he says, he has too many vices. “I love too much freaky shit. I like weird shit and I want to enjoy those vices.” Sam harks back to the kind of fame enjoyed by the likes of Frank Sinatra, “where celebrities were respected: you went to a back room and and you enjoyed your vices. Girls knew you either zip it, or your take a dirt nap.” Yeah. Fame was different then. Back when celebrity was bestowed mostly upon the genuinely talented. “These girls now are taking pictures and it’s tattle-taling. I hate it. Fame sucks now.”

I’m not a tattle-taling girl taking pictures, and this is a public blog, but I’m kinda curious what some of Sam’s vices are. The ones he’s willing to admit to, anyway. He has got a predilection for porn, I notice, given his so-called Naughty Comedy Show (visit www.thenaughtycomedyshow.com).

“You know what’s interesting?” Sam asks. Initially it feels like a diversion. “Everybody talks about ‘truth’, but it’s the truth that people want to hear. People like ‘truth’ when it’s something they agree with.” It is in fact a preamble for the following.

“I’ve always been known as a dirty comic because that’s who I am. I am who I am onstage. I’m friends with porn stars. I have porn stars who are friends of mine and I’m fine with that. I trust them more than politicians and religious figures, because they put on a façade that doesn’t exist. They don’t give in to human desire. Whereas a porn star, if she told you some weird shit, you’d be like, ‘well, yeah, you’re a porn star’. You can trust them. There’s no shock, like, ‘I can’t believe that!’”

Clean break

Perhaps ‘the dirty comic’ is who Sam always was, but it seems he hadn’t totally given in to his ‘shady’ side more recently. He admits he used to be a “very political” comic – until he realised, after the 2004 United States Pesidential Election, that it no longer mattered.

“I saw George Carlin on Real Time with Bill Maher,” Sam recalls. “They kept asking him about politics and he kept saying, ‘I don’t care’ and it didn’t play well. But I got it. ‘It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter.’ I realised that, after this guy committed all his war crimes and they re-elected him. ‘Why am I up here preaching about this shit when they don’t even give a f*ck?’ So all my stories on stage now are real stories from my real life. That’s what I’m working on right now.”

Real stories. About real life. In Sam’s case, that does mean, at the very least, ‘shady'. And we have strong elements of it in the local comedy scene, he’s pleased to note. “That's something I’ve really liked about working with the up-and-comers out here,” he says of his Australian visit. “They’re smart and there’s some dirtiness. In LA they’re either one or the other: they’re either intellectually trying to jerk themselves off, or they’re actually jerking off on stage.”


Sam’s Legacy

The other truth Sam is embracing is the fact that, by a certain age, men have started to wonder what their “legacy” will be. “What are we gonna be remembered for?” he asks, pointing out that men are remembered for three things, essentially: “creating something great, achieving something great, or going on an amazing crime spree”. I’ll give you three guesses which of those things shady Sam Tripoli most wants to be remembered for. But you’ll only need one.

“I’m not violent,” he says. “I’d never hurt anyone, but I just want to go on a great crime spree.”

What? What sort of crime spree can you go on that doesn’t hurt someone at some level?

“I want to go on a crime spree of awesomeness where people go, ‘that’s the shit!’ That’s where I’m at. That’s the kind of person I am. I wanna be the Robin Hood of sex, laughs and bad decisions. I wanna steal from the rich and give it to the girls who want to party. That’s all I wanna do.”


Sam Tripoli is at headlining at the Laugh Garage with Nikki Lynn Katt this week. Book online.

  Samnaughty


The Katt Came Back

*Warning*

This interview contains adult concepts. Please visit other pages of this blog if you don’t like hearing or reading about sexually explicit comedy.

  5

Does Humour Belong In Music?

“It all started with ‘The F*ck You Song’.” Nikky assures me. “I didn’t know that I was a comedian. I had to have several friends and loved ones – including my grandfather – tell me, before I decided to start singing my songs in comedy clubs. Although my grandfather would lose it if he heard the content of the current songs…”

Nikki Lynn Katt is a gorgeous American woman who sings songs that are rude, clever and – best of all – funny, in the sweetest voice you can imagine. Indeed, that is part of how and why her humour works, at least to begin with: the ‘Sarah Silverman’ effect, if you will. The disjunction of those words coming out of that face (and, if I’m to be honest, on top of that body…) with that voice.

But, as she explains, Nikki didn’t start her career as a singer of ribald songs. That’s a destination you can only arrive at, really, via an interesting detour, having set out for somewhere else entirely. Music was always her first love, of course, and that’s why Nikki attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she set out to be “a regular songwriter”. But the ‘regular’ songs she wrote proved to be “super-sad”.

“If they’re not dirty, silly, funny songs about sex, they’re all songs that would make you want to slit your wrists. Nobody wants to hear sad songs, so they’re just for me. I used to record and perform the sad songs but now I stick to making people laugh.”

Sad songs and funny songs have a similar origin – it’s just a matter of how the songwriter choses to document the inspirational event. Consider, again, ‘The F*ck You Song’, written when Nikki was still a singer/songwriter rather than a comedian. The lyrics are something like,

This is my big f*cking ‘f*ck you’ song to you
You f*cking bastard, and your little slut, too.

“It was sung really sweet and pretty,” Nikki says. A hate song done up as a love song is the perfect source of comedy and proved to be everyone’s favourite whenever she included it in her set. “People started to tell me to write more stuff like that because that’s what people like to hear. That’s how it started.”

Rest assured, Nikki’s path to comedy was “a little awkward” to begin with. Doing ‘The F*ck You Song’ as part of her set at the Hotel Café in Los Angeles – “probably the premiere place for a singer/songwriter to perform” – wouldn’t always prove popular. “Sometimes people was it as a breath of fresh air in an environment where you’d just hear sad songs all the time. But some people thought it was totally out of place. They’re the ones who directed me to comedy clubs.”

The humourless singer/songwriting milieu’s loss is comedy’s gain, clearly. Although the comedy songwriter has to work harder.

“When you hear a great song you say, ‘that song was so great, I want to hear that again’. When someone tells a great joke, you don’t say, ‘I want to hear that joke again’. To write a great song, you have to repeat something memorable, but in order to tell a great joke, you can’t repeat that thing because they already know it. I’ve learned over the years that anything you can do to repeat a hook in a song with some kind of variation that makes it new, is the way to keep it going.”



Nikki’s Record

This is true of two songs that immediately come to mind: ‘When I’m With You’, and ‘Don’t Forget About The Balls’, both available on Hello, My Name Is Nikki Lynn Katt, Nikki’s recently released EP (for sale at gigs, on Nikki’s website and via iTunes). The former song is a not-quite-able-to-break-up ballad, the latter, a song of instruction aimed to better educate young people about sexual health.

Well, that’s not quite how Nikki introduces ‘Don’t Forget About The Balls’ on stage. She says she wrote it as a form of sexual health instruction for a school audience, but she wasn’t allowed to perform it in front of said audience. It’s clear why: ‘Don’t Forget The Balls’ gives kids more information than they’d really need or want – which makes it all the funnier. But that’s not the only time Nikki’s provided perhaps more information than the audience requires. Straddling music and comedy as she does, Nikki can still occasionally find herself placed, if not on the ‘wrong’ bill, certainly a ‘bad’ one. Like the time she opened for a Christian artist.

“I didn’t know,” Nikki insists. “I opened with a song called ‘Jewish Girls Don’t Do Anal’. I was experimenting with survey-taking. I passed out an anal sex survey, and all of these Christian people who had come to see the Christian artist were horrified.”

How could anyone stuff up by booking Nikki and a god-botherer on the same bill?

“LA is different in the sense that club promoters don’t actually promote shows. They find musicians who will play a show for free and invite all of their friends. The promoter of that show just put a random bunch of artists on the same bill with no thought how those artists would mesh.”

The result?

“People definitely were upset and they left.” Pause. “The anal sex survey didn’t go very well, either.”

Although ‘Jewish Girls Don’t Do Anal’ isn’t on the Hello, My Name Is Nikki Lynn Katt EP, the other songs are as full-on in lyrical content. Nikki describes the collection as “a bunch of recordings done over the years” and though it’s mostly voice-and-guitar recordings made in friends’ bedrooms and living rooms, it sounds much more cohesive and professional. Probably because some of the numbers, like ‘The Sock Song’, were recorded in a “proper studio” with a full band and “proper production”. It also has a video clip that’s had 10,000 hits on YouTube.

“Everything in ‘The Sock Song’ is factual,” Nikki says. “My neighbour who was my very good friend slept with my boyfriend and I had to live next door to her for four-and-a-half years and share a parking space with her and share a laundry with her, and I totally just hated her but I had to be nice to her or else it would have sucked to live next to her.

“One day we were both doing laundry and her sock ended up with my clothes. The song literally came out of me thinking what horrible things I could do to her sock to repay her.” Rest assured, Nikki didn’t actually have her friends pleasure themselves into the sock. But if she had, that wouldn’t constitute nearly as good revenge as the song does. Nikki agrees.

“What I would really like to happen is a friend tell her, ‘Dude, did you see this song by Nikki Lynn Katt?’ and for her to say, ‘Oh, that girl’s my ex-neighbour’, and look at it, and see what it’s about.”

We can only hope.

  L_23d2895dd99582f68f194feef3cd44c1

While ‘Heartbroken Vagina’ is about “losing your mojo after a break-up” and “not being interested in the things you used to be interested in”, ‘This Halloween’ is another band recording. Essentially, it’s about how Halloween is the night to dress sluttily despite the discomfort, or risk being ignored.

“I hate being uncomfortable for any reason whatsoever,” Nikki explains, “and Halloween is one of those nights: it’s the last day of October so it’s really, really cold and you’re kind of required to wear these skimpy outfits…”. In the video, Nikki is dressed in “a dorky pumpkin piñada” which is warmer and hardly slutty at all, but comes with consequences, as Nikki explains: “If you go as that girl, you’re just gonna be the girl in the corner on your own the whole night because the rest of the party is a parade of cleavage and upper thigh… So that song was basically about embracing the fact that you’re gonna be uncomfortable but when it comes down to it you have one night to let your inner whore come out. It’s a night that gives you a free pass.”

The clip of the song has proven popular, even Downunder. “I was very surprised when I got notes from people who had heard the song or seen the video in Australia,” Nikki says, “because my understanding was that it wasn’t a very big holiday in Australia. It’s interesting to know that it’s growing.”

It is growing – few people went ‘trick-or-treating’ when I was a kid. Lots of kids do it now. I’m in favour of it, I tell Nikki, not just because it is the universal ‘night of the casual whore’, but also because it was Frank Zappa’s favourite holiday.

Good call,” she approves.

One track that does stand out on the EP is ‘Elements Of The Ridiculous’, a ‘throw-back’ to Nikki’s earlier work as a singer/songwriter of beautiful sad songs. “I guess I just wanted to show that I have more than one face,” Nikki initially says of the song’s inclusion. “No, that’s not what I wanted to show…”

I think it is exactly what Nikki wanted to show – that she’s not just some one-trick pony. Although the trick – clearly not her only one – is pretty impressive, I suspect a part of her still wants to be known for the serious stuff as well as the funny stuff.

“That’s exactly what it was,” Nikki agrees. “I’m trying to show that I’m not a one-trick pony. In my fantasy land, I get to play all the different kinds of songs that I play in one place.” She toys with the idea of making a record that embraces both styles, the happy and the sad, which she’d call Bipolar. She quickly points out she’s not seeking to ridicule or annoy people who suffer from bipolar affective disorder. Although it would appear on the surface that the sad songs and the comedy songs are poles apart, the fact is they are two sides of the same coin. The ‘sad clown’ is a universal archetype. “I hadn’t thought about it like that,” Nikki says. “Yeah, I am the sad clown.”

  8


Novelty Downunder

This isn’t Nikki’s first visit to Australia. She visited a year ago, she tells us, while MCing an open mic night at the Laugh Garage. The process that brought her here then, and has led to her return, began late one night in Los Angeles, as she lay in bed watching Jimmy Fallon.

“Andy Samberg came on and he was talking about his song ‘Jizz in my Pants’ and said that it was a number one hit in Australia…”

Indeed it was – despite being banned from radio play by most stations, it was, for a time, the number one download on iTunes.

My ears perked up and I did a little bit of research and found out that comedy records are the biggest selling records of all time in Australia.”

Again, indeed they are. I can’t be bothered working out which, but the top spot must be heavily contested by the likes of Austen Tayshus’s ‘Australiana’, Joe Dolce’s ‘Shaddap You Face’ and Chris Franklin’s ‘Bloke’. Point is, as far as Nikki Lynn Katt is concerned, her ambition is to make a “proper comedy record” with a “proper label” and “proper marketing”. So, she says, she decided to take the risk and come to Australia on her own and try to make some connections.

“I came out, played some open mic rooms, met Julie Lawless…” – manager of the Darren Sanders-owned Laugh Garage – “…who is now a lifelong friend and booked my whole tour for me. I also came out to take a meeting with a record label. That label and I are still in talks, but it’s maybe not the right fit, so I’m still looking for someone to help me put out my record.”

  9

Does Humour in Musical Sex Education?

While a comedy record is a goal, Nikki Lynn Katt’s greater project is ‘musical sex education’. “I do songs about STDs and safe sex practices,” she explains. “I’d really like to do a college tour where I combine songs about herpes and urinary tract infections and songs like ‘Don’t Forget About The Balls’ – sex-related health education.”

I can’t help myself. The question has to be asked. “Where does this burning desire…”

I stop myself.

“‘Burning’ is obviously the wrong word…”

Nikki laughs.

What I ask is, what happened during Nikki’s formative years that made her decide to essentially write a musical about sexual health? Is she from a background where all of this stuff was taboo?

According to Nikki, at age 25 she found herself “doing a little soul-searching”, thinking about all the world’s problems, trying to determine what the biggest ones were and how they might be solved. “It seemed to me that the root issue is that there are too many unwanted children. The world would be a much better place if people only had children when it was on purpose – that they came together and went, ‘I want to bring another human being into the world and raise it’.” Her solution to how to ensure there are less unwanted children is to talk to kids, acknowledge that they’re “going to do what they’re going to do” in terms of their behaviour, “and if they’re going to do those things, help them figure out how be safe and responsible about it.”

To that end, Nikki applied to become a high school outreach speaker through a US public health organisation, and after completing the training courses, was sent out to high schools  “to talk to kids about safe sex and birth control and STDs and the whole nine yards”. This instilled within her a desire to communicate to people the message of being safe and responsible. Her favourite slogan that sums it all up is: “Love carefully”.

And here I was thinking the introduction sto ‘Don’t Forget The Balls’ – that it was written for a school audience, in order to educate them about sexual health, but that she was no allowed to perform it to school kids – was a joke. “No,” Nikki assures me, “it’s true”. And now it’s even funnier!

A noble undertaking, educating kids to take responsibility for their actions. Using comedy for a purpose other than merely being funny begs the inevitable question: can comedy change anything?

“Comedy can change a lot of things,” Nikki says. “People laugh at something when they relate to it. So if you can get someone to laugh about something, you’ve gotten them to understand it.” And it's as true on a personal level for Nikki Lynn Katt, as she cites her “boring day job at a law firm”. Asked to explain why she worked so much overtime, Nikki “drew up an outline called ‘The Top 7 Reasons It Takes Nikki Longer Than Everyone Else To Her Job’” and included jokes. By the end of reading the outline, she’d managed to communicate to them in a non-confrontational and fun way the issues that have an effect on her work. “That’s just a small way that comedy can make differences in every-day life,” Nikki says. “And when comedians are sent to entertain troops overseas, that’s a way in which comedy’s making a big difference.”


Nikki Lynn Katt is at headlining at the Laugh Garage with Sam Tripoli this week. Book online.