Dedicated comedy showcase featuring live stand-up, interviews, a weekly gig guide and classic comedy clips. Hosted by Dom Romeo and a different guest comedian each week. Some episodes have been transcribed. Show ceased production at the end of 2006, replaced by Stand & Deliver.
Songs of a Misspent Youth
From Beginning To End The first real Psychedelic Spew song… originally perpetrated on a Sharp three-in-one hifi stereo system whose pause button was miraculously in perfect alignment with the record and erase heads; that mastertape is long gone. This time round, I [mis]used ProTools.
No Wucken Furries Theme to a derivative, undergraduate, university sketch comedy show, some of which was actually video taped...
Max Cavalera* Tiny snippet of an interview with the Sepultura/Soulfly guitarist that appeared in full in an issue of Live to Ride. (Quite recently, if you’re reading this blurb before I wrote it and put it online…)
Trends will always be apparent in comedy, especially within the work of comics who are socially (and otherwise) close. I can remember a time when a handful of comics – Charlie Pickering and others who shared management, peer groups and a love of hiphop – were constantly 'fer shizzling' their 'nizzle'. They also seemed to make frequent references to Weekend at Bernie's.
I'd never heard the term 'wooji booj' (sp?) until Gatesy and Scod from Tripod bestowed it as an attribute – and name – upon the newly born son of Yon from Tripod. Soon after I recall Corinne Grant referred to someone's 'wooji booji cheeks' on The Glasshouse.
No surprises really: you expect it from a close-knit community with much in common, particularly when the friendships are fostered over hours spent travelling to and from gigs.
But it also happens among comics with less in common.
Daniel Townes sagely pointed it out to me once: no matter what original idea you come up with, once you've come up with it, someone else will have an angle on it. Nobody's done material about Lego (I think was his example) and suddenly lots of people have a bit on Lego. (Or 'lay-go' if they're from Adelaide.) And Townes knows a thing or two about comedy and comedians.
It's as though someone's brought something to the foreground and you notice it, even if you don't notice you've noticed it. And of course, there are times when it's more calculated: you do notice you've noticed, but you know you have a different experience of it that resonates more strongly - your own joke about that topic. And sometimes it's just a coincidence.
For example, Axis of Awesome's 'Ode to KFC' refers to the 'dirty bird' as 'Kentucky Frizzle Chizzle'. Clearly a result of the hiphop stylings the trio uses in the song, rather than inspiration and influence of Pickering and co from half a decade ago. However, when I make use of the 'izzle' device in a routine of mine (about my gangsta nephew who's the son of a god-botherer, therefore having to get down on his knizzles to praise Jizzle Chrizzle every Sunday), I know I'm ripping off paying homage to Axis's 'Ode…'.
A related topic would be the whole issue of 'hacky' topics. You know, 'the difference between cats and dogs', 'the difference between men and women'… Just as there are no hacky topics, only hacky comics, there are no novel topics, just novel approaches. And something called 'side-writing', when someone else's bit inspires you to write your own version of that bit. The side-writing hopefully leads to awesome, original material. It does if you're an awesome, original comic. But this isn't the point I set out to make.
Really, this is about how you notice trends at Festival time. You see more comedy than you normally see in a short period of time, and suddenly you notice interesting and unusual coincidences.
There was a Melbourne International Comedy Festival many years ago where monkeys kept cropping up. Ross Noble had a bit; Wil Anderson had a bit. More recently, there was a festival when a lot of comics were using a 'Thingy McThingThing' line: someone was "coming over 'all Judgy McJudgeJudge'; someone else was 'all Bitchy McBitchFace'. (The memory's less clear, but I can just about make out Daniel Moore and Andrew McLelland as the respective comics – perhaps Alison Bice was Moore's 'Bitchy McBitchFace'; not sure.)
Another year, Arj Barker told of the workplace meeting of the heavenly bodies where Pluto, failing to pull its weight in the solar system, was being down-graded: it was no longer a planet. That same year Dave Thornton had a similar workplace meeting bit, this time of the months of the year (or maybe it was the days of the week – it was a few years ago now) ganging up on the one that wasn't pulling its weight. An interesting coincidence.
More interesting was the coincidence of 'cum guzzling sluts' at the 2008 Melbourne Comedy Festival. (No, wait, don't go - hear me out...). Geraldine Hickey's show, Miss Guided, about the Girl Guides, included a puppet show in which one sock puppet accused another of being said 'cum guzzling slut'.
It happened to be the same year that Sammy J, lost in his Forest Of Dreams, ended up also consorting with a losely moraled puppet tarred with the same epithet. (I have not censored 'cum guzzling sluts' in order to ensure Googling perves end up here by accident!)
Though a blog post for later, it's worth noting a phenomenon that is not so much a comedic trend as a rite of passage: the comic posing with a globe. Because you haven't really done enough festival shows until one of them has involved you posing with the earth in your hands. Wil Anderson. Adam Hills. Mat Kenneally. Ben Darsow. Jacques Barrett. And the rest whose images I have yet to locate…
The reason I bring it up is because I was recently browsing the website of the the 2012 Melbourne Inernational Comedy Festival and couldn't help noticing comics in checkered shirts. Work your way through all 500-odd shows on the website and you'll start noticing. Them. ALL.
There's Seamus McAlary, making his MICF debut with Eponymous. It’ll be a great show, no doubt; a pity he didn't call it 'Ubiquitous', however, as there'd be an easy gag to make here about the ubiquity of the comedian's checkered shirt.
Anthony Salame with his show Straight Up, opting for a stylish blue number that is more the traditional flanno. But these guys really are just the tip of the iceberg. An iceberg from which a huge section seems to have broken off and floated into the 'comedians called Dave in red' section.
Have a look:
Is the first one Dave Gorman? That's pretty exciting. I remember seeing him first in Are You Dave Gorman?, a show that involved a trek around the world located people with the same name as him. His next show was called Googlewhack Adventure - another journey round the world, based on locating people through Googlewhacks. A Googlewhack occurs when you google two words – without inverted commas – and only one page comes up as a result. I'm no poindexter – well, I am, but the wrong kind – but I suspect googlewhacks are impossible nowadays. I can't tell you the science – or marketing – behind it though.
Dave's back with a show about powerpoint - which comes as no surprise, really. He started out a high-falutin' mathematics dude. The first time I saw him live was in a Gala, in which he talked about 'friendly' numbers. Afterwards, I suggested he should team up with the other high-falutin' mathematics dude in comedy, Adam Spencer, and call their show Numb and Number. I also told Adam, who eventually used the title for a live show he did with Dr Karl Kruszelnicki. (Credit where it's due, though, the idea actually came via Adam, albeit indirectly. Some years previous, he'd told me the most cryptic of cryptic crossword clues that had stumped him was 'a number of men'. I'd offered every possible word that might describe a bunch of guys, including 'band', 'troop', 'troupe', 'decade' etc etc. Turned out the answer was 'anaesthetist'!)
[Power]Point is, if anyone can make powerpoint presentations funny, Dave Gorman will. I'll be surprised if the format didn't require round-the-world travel, however.
And if Dave ever reads this, he'll be disappointed that I didn't include a Venn Diagram of where the Daves, not-Daves, checkered shirts and red shirts all intersect. And a graph that shows Daves versus red checks over time.
But speaking of Dave being back, Dave Hughes is presenting his Comeback Tour. The 2011 Melbourne International Comedy Festival was the first one bereft of Hughesie since 1996. There are no more details than that. Nor should you need them, really. It's Hughesie. He's had a year off from the festival. You can bet he's got a couple of years' worth of stuff to talk about, despite being funny on air virtually every day of his life.
Finally, Dave O'Neil's got a show about fatherhood and comedy called You Don't Really Have A Job Do You Dad? I'm a big fan of Dave's, having enjoyed him live in earlier festivals and especially as Matt Hardy's sidekick back in the day on The Big Schmooze, a regular - and hilarious - guest on Spicks and Specks. Which no doubt led to his being the 'roving reporter' dude on Hillsy's In Gordon Street Tonight.
But if these red chequered Daves aren't enough for you (and they shouldn't be; it's a festival – you should be seeing a lot more than just three shows, and I'm not just setting this up to plug my own show, Stand-Up Sit-Down…) you might start by considering Daniel Connell.
Cos 'Daniel' is almost 'Dave', having three of the same letters.
Though not as much as 'Damian' is almos 'Dave'. And 'Callinan' can almost be 'Callan'. Which seems irrelevent, but there was a time when two different Dave Callans and Damian Callinan enabled utter confusion to reign. Admittedly, mostly among people who didn't quite know much about local comedy and some of us (me) resorted to distinguishing between 'Hairy' Dave Callan and Dave Callan. Dave Callan (ie not-'Hairy' Dave Callan) understands the confusion and plays the game well. His Facebook page lists him as David Callan. And the address of his Facebook page declares him 'the one and only David Callan'. But still.
More than 'Daniel' being almost 'Dave', though: Daniel Connell is wearing another red chequered shirt. You should check him out. He was in Comedy Zone last year – the showcase of the best up-and-comers. You'll probably like him. He's likeable. Well, Likeable Enough.
Before I leave you to browse the 2012 MICF website in your own time, I'd just like to point out that if you took a close look at Charlie Pickering's photo on the page for his show One Giant Leap, you'd note he's almost certainly wearing a checkered shirt.
While neither of them have wooji booji (sp?) cheeks, note that in the arty, stylised, photo with Gatesy with Bob Franklin, Steven Gates is indeed wearing a checkered shirt. Their show happens to also feature a throw-back to festivals past. It's called Stubborn Monkey Disorder.
And what's that Daniel Townes is wearing in his photo?
Turns out… it's not a checkered shirt. Even more unlikely: a suit. Which is weird. But before you come over all Judgey McJudge-Judge (or Bitchy McBitchFace) be aware, his show is called Judge Me Schmudge Me.
Okay, that's it for now. Except, let me tell you, I'm also doing a show this year: Stand-Up Sit-Down: Comics in Conversation. And I'm wearing the t-shirt from David Bowie's 2003 'Reality' world tour (speaking of which, see what Bowie was wearing at the Sydney press conference for said 'Reality' tour…). Meanwhile, I've yet to purchase a checkered shirt. Or a globe. Or change my name to Dave.
In 2000, the year the Mighty Boosh brought Autoboosh to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, I got to interview them in their hotel room. They were just ‘The Boosh’ then, I’m pretty sure.
I pointed out that I recognised their pre-show warm-up music, 'Help I'm A Rock' - by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, from their first album Freak Out.
“You're a fan,” Noel acknowledged. During the the interview, he sketched freehand on a piece of paper. When the interview was over, he handed it to me. It was a portrait of Frank Zappa.
I’ve been searching for it for at least the last 8 years, thinking I’d filed it, but not knowing where. Then my girlfriend located it as girlfriends do, just casually rifling through some folders. Joy of joys.
Zappa – captured in the bowler hat in which he was frequently photographed during his 1968 English tour – is uttering ‘Help I’m A Rock’. Noel has inscribed it, ‘Cheers for interviewing us and viewing our wears. – Noel Boosh’.
You enjoy looking at it while I go purchase a frame to ensure I don’t lose it for another decade!
And enjoy listening to this interview snippet from several years later.
Registration for Melbourne International Comedy Festival has opened.
People will be registering shows under titles that will mean next to nothing once they actually get around to finishing writing the material – if indeed they get around to writing their material. At least the people who haven't already given their show a run at Melbourne Fringe or Sydney Fringe.
Collaborations will be entered into. Some of which may last beyond application for the ideal venue and remain right up and into the festival season.
There will be a flurry of information shooting between comics – those who have a few seasons under their belt and those who are making their maiden festival voyage. Who offers the best printing deals? How many flyers should I get done? Who can write my press releases? How do I fill out my budget sheets? How soon do I organise PR? Whom do I hire?
Why have a photographed a bunch of stickers on a wall?
Take a closer look: they’re not just any stickers. One, bearing the business letterhead of Veitch – manufacturer of ‘Quality stainless steel products’ – outlines the customer details of a a certain item known as a hinge grate urinal, sized at 1500 (I’m assuming centimetres), for an entity known as Tradelink St Kilda. So far, so what?
The sticker next to it seems to offer a water rating for – we can only assume – said hinge grate urinal. Its rating is 1.9, and as I am not a connoisseur of any aquatic devices, let alone urinals (hinge grate or otherwise) I cannot tell you what a 1.9 signifies in the greater scheme of things. However, it gets one out of a possible five stars, so it can’t be that good.
The sticker below actually names the model as a ‘hinge grate deluxe model’, and provides diagrams and perhaps details of how it should be installed and operated. Does the fact that it is the deluxe model suggest that the - ahem – bog-standard model receives an even lower, no-star water rating?
I saw these stickers in a room in a building during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year. The building, for the duration of the festival, operates as ‘Tuxedo Cat’, one of the other artier, edgier, more interesting independent venues during MICF. The room – if you haven’t guessed – was in fact ‘the smallest room in the house’, and the stickers weren’t attached to a wall – they were stuck to said hinge grate urinal.
Why did I photograph the hinge grate urinal in the dunny of the Tuxedo Cat during the 2011 Melbourne International Comedy Festival?
A better question would be, Why would you install a urinal leaving these stickers still attached to it?
I assume it’s because of sticker number three, with the diagram and instructions of installation and operation. Most intelligent place to have them while the unit is being installed.
Best question of all: Why are those stickers still attached?
Do you really need an answer?
If you leave them on during installation and fail to remove them after installation and they are still on during operation and usage – well, they're definitely staying on. Who wants the job of taking them off?
Or perhaps it’s a test a manhood – to see how long they take to get pissed off. The added challenge being, they are attached with some kind of adhesive, and they’re above groin level. It’s not like pissing a sh*t stain off the bowl…
Of course, the other obvious reason would be the same reason most toilet cubicles in pubs have ads on the doors now. Captive audience. Place writing in front of them, they’re more than likely to read it. Although – if you were going to start renting urinals as billboard space, surely you’d want to advertise more than just other urinals. The urinal market’s got to be pretty limited. Surely the last people to need a urinal are the ones already using one. I think you'll find they have one at hand.
And what of those fine purveyors of quality stainless steel products?
I can’t help wondering if the Veitch behind the company is related to Michael Veitch. Remember him? Originally of D-Generationfame, followed by a long stint on Fast Forward, and now fronting the ABC arts program he used to take the piss out of back in his sketch comedy days. That'd be an awesome irony, if there was a connection between taking a piss in an arty, interesting comedy venue and an arty, former piss-taking comedian.
Which leads me to my last artful piss-taking photo.
You’ve no reason to recognise this, necessarily, but they are a pair of cubicles in the men’s loo at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. And I think you might have guessed that anyway if you’d thought about it: it had to be somewhere frequented by the sort of gentlemen with enough refinement that, should they suffer performance anxiety and be otherwise unable to line up at a urinal, they still have the decency to LIFT THE SEAT RATHER THAN PISS ALL OVER IT! Heck, they probably even did that other most rare of lavatory activities – wash their hands afterwards.
GENTLEMEN LIFT THE SEAT
What exactly does this mean? Is it a sociological description, a definition of a gentleman which I can either take or leave?
I’d been seeing Sarah Quinn around comedy festivals long enough to have been on nodding and smiling terms, sometimes going as far as to say hello. I assumed she was a comedian of some kind, but not one from Australia, otherwise we’d also be nodding, smiling, and sometimes saying hello on the circuit during non-festival. Discovering, through the Facebook ‘friend-of-a-friend’ network, I discovered she was based in Canada and was grateful I’d never spoke to her long enough to mistakenly refer to an American heritage. But the assumption that she’s Canadian is also inaccurate, it turns out. She’s an Aussie. Not that any of this really matters. Except that she’s currently portraying various characters in the show Other People’s Problems (at Melbourne International Comedy Festival and Sydney Comedy Festival) so having difficulty pinning down her real life identity is apt.
Dom Romeo: For some reason I assumed you were a Canadian visiting Australia, rather than an Aussie who is now based in Montreal. What took you to Canada?
Sarah Quinn: I am indeed an Aussie based in Montreal. I went there originally on a post-grad study exchange. I didn't really apply myself, just between you and me. I chose Montreal because it sounded exotic, diverse, inspiring and fun. Turns out, it is all those things and more. It is a very... distracting city. In the very best way.
Dom Romeo: Is there a difference between the acting scene here in Australia, and there? And if so, how do they differ?
Sarah Quinn: Yes. Very much so. Firstly, there is a lot more gender equality in the arts in general, and as far as I can tell, they don't need to sit down and have forums about it, it’s just the way it is because there is no rational reason it should be any other way. When you grow up seeing that all around you, it is very powerful. You aren’t hard-wired to believe that, for instance, Directing is a man’s job and Arts Administration is a woman’s job (not that I'm pulling specific examples here or anything). That is, as far as I can tell, a very specific load of outdated bullshit we Australians can be proud to call our own.
The first language in Quebec is French, and so the dominant culture is French culture. The English language theatre scene in Montreal is sort of like operating in a small town within a big city. Anglophones make up only about a quarter of the population, so as you can imagine, the theatre scene is a quarter of the size, and so are the audiences. Personally I find that I see a bit more programming risk being taken here, at least on bigger stages, and that shows often have much higher production values, but I think that is a scale issue. There is also a whole world of French theatre that I haven’t yet got into because je ne comprehend pas enough French. Having said that, the fringe arts scene in Montreal is outstanding, because it is a cheap place to live, and is full of creative souls. There is a lot of really edgy fantastic stuff happening in tiny venues and warehouses. The fact that it is such a small scene means it is very supportive, welcoming, and it doesn't take long til you know almost everyone. Living there gave me the confidence and freedom and inspiration to get back into performing, and for that (and many other reasons) it will always have a very special place in my heart. It is difficult to make money, but people aren’t money-driven there, so it doesn't matter. We're all blissfully poor. It is a singularly unique and authentic city.
Dom Romeo: You seem to return frequently to perform here. Are you bringing shows that you’ve done back in Montreal, or do you find you create different work depending on where you are?
Sarah Quinn: What I have been doing the past couple of years is coming here with a show first, using the Adelaide Fringe as a sort of jumping off point. Generally I will preview the show once in front of a very soft crowd of people I trust in Montreal, then bring it to the Fringe and other fringey venues in Melbourne and Sydney, and then take it back to do a full season in Montreal. This has worked quite well. This year I decided to fight my drive to keep starting something new (which is strong in this one), by going back to my 2009 show and making it better. It can be beneficial to revisit work that way because no matter how successful it was, it is amazing how much you can always be tweaking and improving it. Also, I decided that this year I wanted to reach a wider audience, so having the energy to put into promotion and presentation, instead of just creation and development, is necessary for that. It is a show I really believe in and have a lot of fun performing, and I always felt it had more potential than just a one-off fringe thing.
I create more work in Montreal just because that is where I live most of the year. I also run a monthly new-work salon called “Happenglad's New Hat”, where the rule is that all the performers need to be trying out brand new acts or bits. It is fantastic fun, and always exciting for that reason. I've seen some amazing stuff come out of that show, and as a performing artist you need that kind of forum to be able to try out new ideas. I've written a handful of new solo sketches and characters purely because the show was on the following night (or the same day) and I HAD to write something. I promised myself I would get up every time, and even though I came close to piking out several times, I always ending up pulling it out of somewhere. And most of those tiny sketches of sketches have now become full-blown ideas for characters, or web clips, or radio plays.
Dom Romeo: Tell me about how you came to be acting. Was it your first career choice? How did you realise it was what you had to be doing? (I’m assuming I saw an earlier photo of you on your Facebook – black and white, school girlish looking one – an early production?)
Sarah Quinn: Are you talking about the photo of Jane Fonda from LIFE Magazine??
Dom Romeo: Um… yeah… that one… Clearly the LIFE watermark was not obvious enough to me…
Sarah Quinn: I love that photo because that is how I feel when I am developing and rehearsing my solo work – sort of alone, and urgent. I love that she looks as though there could be a million things racing through her mind, or nothing at all. I know that zone.
I got bit by the bug when I was in my first play in primary school. Even though the whole process of auditioning and rehearsing in front of my peers scared me to death, once I was on stage it all went away. I remember really liking that phenomenon. Then I was part of a small group who fought tooth and nail to have a drama class brought in at my academia-and-sports-focused selective high school, and after that I trained in acting at university. So you could say it was what I always wanted to do, although I feel I lost my way once I left drama school. I think I had a lot of insecurities and misgivings about the industry (not all unfounded), and misconceptions about the kinds of people that made it as actors. I always loved performing, but for me it’s the communication, the connection with the audience, the expression of something deep and human that attracts me to it. I thought you had to be a bit of a show off, a precocious child who always loved the spotlight, and very fame-driven, to succeed in the industry. It’s not true, and it turns out I enjoy it too much to do anything else. I’ve tried to do other things, but nothing feels as right or as fun or as important to me as this. I just don't care this much about anything else. Except maybe food. I care a lot about that.
Dom Romeo: You appear to be an actor edging further into stand-up comedy. Is that an accurate observation? Why and how has your performing career pursued that trajectory?
Sarah Quinn: I get called a comedian sometimes and it makes me very uncomfortable. (That said, I do very much like the French term for actress, “comedienne”. ) I am absolutely not heading into stand-up, and that is not something I am desirous of. I certainly have gravitated toward comedy, and love performing comedy – almost everything I write tends to turn out to be satire – but it is always in character, and while it is (hopefully) funny, it is not really “jokes”. I love stand-up, I see what those guys do first hand, and I’m very admiring of it, but it is not for me. I have no drive toward that format and no inclination toward writing jokes. Although I do end up being a sounding board quite a bit. When you live with a comic, (or see a lot of comedy), before long you start thinking in premises and tags, and I have always always loved to laugh. Humour is very important to me, I was brought up in a family that valued a good sense of humour very highly. Watching so much stand-up has cemented and enlivened my sense that anything can be funny, and that we need humour to face every situation.
Dom Romeo: Tell me about Other People’s Problems.
Sarah Quinn: Other People's Problems is a satirical response to the ever-expanding self-improvement industry. It is three short plays written by three different authors – DeAnne Smith, Samuel Booth, and me. I perform them all. It delves into the world of self help, and the often unhinged characters that inhabit it. It is a dark comedy, at times tragic, frequently absurd, but also very touching. I had an idea for a teenage video-blogger character who doles out really questionable advice on the internet, and then gets sucked into a commodified world she is too naive to deal with. I knew DeAnne was throwing around ideas for a motivational speaker, and then Sam and I came up with another character – an uptight woman listening to a sexuality self help tape – which he then went away and wrote. I rehearsed them up and workshopped them over several months, with DeAnne providing an occasional outside eye.
Since the original run, I have added new production elements, and a few little audiovisual transition pieces, which tie it all together more than the original. This also meant I got to explore a few new ideas and write some new material. It feels more like a solid whole now, rather than three short plays.
Dom Romeo: Is each character that you play the creation of the respective author, as opposed to people writing material for ‘pre-established’ characters? Which was the easiest to play? Do you approach someone else’s words differently to your own?
Sarah Quinn: Yes, each character was the creation of a different writer. (I snuck two into mine, ’cos I didn’t know any better.) At first, I absolutely approached my own words differently. I felt them very silly, and clearly less accomplished as writing than the others (who both have lots of writing under their belts; this was my first) and I doubted anyone would be interested in hearing them. Then something strange began to happen, the more I did it, and the more people responded positively, the less the words felt like my own, and the less the character felt like my creation. She had a life of her own and it felt just as real and valid as the others. I think this was just my confidence growing, and I went from declaring painfully, “I will never write again!!” to being really quite addicted to the satisfaction of expressing something of my own and having people connect with it. Now they are all equally special to me, and neither is easier or more difficult. They all take work and I inhabit them each with genuine relish every time.
Dom Romeo: Push comes to shove, what do you prefer, live performance or film/television work? And why?
Sarah Quinn: This is impossible. But if you held me at gunpoint and forced me to choose (what kind of an asshole are you anyway?), then I would have to choose live theatre, because it is my first love, and the ritual of live performance is like religion to me. That said, I have been well and truly seduced by the movies, and am now a faithful theatre devotee with a very meaningful lover on the side. (The lover is film, by the way.) Movies are awesome, and I love shooting them. I love that people come and powder your face and when you are done the director says “That’s a wrap!”, just like in the movies.
Dom Romeo: Does anyone see your name and assume you are Tegan’s sister?
Sarah Quinn: Funny you should ask. Yes, I believe they do, because back when MySpace was a thing (remember back in the mid-late noughties? Simpler times...) I used to get friend requested by girls with such monikers as “MRSTEGANQUIN”, and “T&S4EVA<3”, even though our names are spelled completely differently. In fairness, I did used to have short asymmetrical hair. Sara Quin actually lives in Montreal as well, which doesn’t help matters. Nowadays there are so many fake Facebook pages for her that they don’t make it down to friend requesting me, thankfully. I’ve never met her, but I think we have several mutual friends and am sure we would get along swimmingly.
If you’re not familiar with the comic or his work, it’s your loss – Daniel’s one of the truly awesome blokes of comedy. If you ask his opinion, he’ll give it honestly. If you ask his advice, he’ll give it sincerely. But none of that matters if you’re in the audience watching him perform. If Daniel Townes is on stage, talking, you’re pissing yourself laughing.
Daniel’s a kind of contemporary urban philosopher, his stories, anecdotes and observations reminding you how people are and life is, but without any of the high-falutin’ bull – just heaps of deftly delivered punchlines. If you don’t already know this, you just haven’t been paying any attention: Daniel hit the scene in 2003 as a hot comedy prospects and didn’t waste any time taking his gags global, establishing himself as one of Australia’s youngest international comedians by making them laugh in Singapore, Germany, Spain, Ireland, South Africa, Canada, Holland and all over the UK. It wasn’t long before he became a regular on the local and international comedy festival circuit – Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney and Edinburgh, as you’d expect, as well as Montreal’s prestigious invitation-only Just For Laughs Comedy Festival.
Even if you don’t get out much, you must have seen him on Good News Week or the Cracker Comedy Festival Gala or Stand Up Australia or The NRL Footy Show or Good News Week… but fact is, you should get out more often.
So how about this Sunday, 7pm? If you get in touch with the Comedy Store, you might discover there’s the odd ticket left!
But if you’re too late, don’t fret – he was recording a DVD, remember. You get to see it in your own loungeroom soon enough (or whatever other room you take your laptop into… yeah, whatever, I don’t wanna know, ya sicko!)
Many years ago I encountered a story-telling comic who was excellent to watch in action. He knew how to spin a yarn and be hilarious in the process.
At the time, I felt compelled to ask him if he’d ever heard Woody Allen’s stand-up (settle down, it was during the pre-YouTube/Facebook/MySpace age, you actually needed to read stuff or know people who read stuff to know about stuff back then). Cos this comic’s story-telling style – reminded me of Woody Allen’s stand-up.
Of course the comic knew Woody Allen’s stand-up; the comic was one of those people who actually read stuff and knew people who read stuff. That comic was – and continues to be – Justin Hamilton, a brilliant writer and stand-up comic. (Of course he’d know stuff; being a brilliant writer, he’d also have to be a brilliant reader; you can’t be good at writing if you’re not also good at reading.)
Furthermore, for his 2011 festival show Circular, Hammo has a pretty impressive poster. How impressive? The only reason this blog exists is to give me an excuse to publish it.
“I’m definitely not a musical comic,” DeAnne Smith assures me, but not with the kind of vehemence a President of the United States might employ to deny shagging an intern, nor even the type St Peter might use to thrice deny knowing Christ as a prologue to bitter weeping. It’s merely a statement of fact, provided because I seem to ‘recall’ – erroneously, it turns out – DeAnne being a musical comic. In my head, I picture her wielding a ukulele. It’s an image wedded to the first memory I have of the slight, svelte, well-dressed (collar and tie, sometimes even a jacket) androgynous pixie in glasses, performing in the line-up of Ali McGregor’s late night variety show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival some years ago.
More recently, I’ve seen DeAnne at story-teller nights where the point has been to spin a narrative more than get laughs – although DeAnne does both rather readily. Point is, in my head, she started out as a musician whose between-song patter has grown to be the main feature. You know, like Billy Connolly – if you’ve been following him since his folkie days as a member of the Humblebums.
“I have only just started playing the ukulele this year,” DeAnne informs me. “I have literally three songs that I do. Maybe four. But it’s all so very new. I’ll probably play some songs in one-hour show, and if I’m doing a spot – like, say, half an hour, I’ll punctuate the performance with a song. But it’s not where I started, or where I’m coming from.”
Ah, now that’s the other thing I seem intent on being vague about: DeAnne’s origins. I’d almost certainly sign a statutory declaration stating my belief that she is Canadian, though very little supports that contention. In those more recent ‘story-telling’ gigs, she's told of having lived in Mexico - but that's not where she's from either.
So where did DeAnne Smith start? How did she start? Where is she coming from?
“I don’t know where I’m coming from,” DeAnne laughs. Stylistically, she says, her approach to comedy is “from a kind of ‘writerly’ place”. Geographically, however, she’s all over the place, having grown up – and studied – upstate New York.
“After university, I lived in Baltimore for about a year and a half, and worked at a publishing company and on a street outreach team,” she recalls, “which was kind of fun.” It’s more fun nowadays, when DeAnne’s out in the street, accosting passers-by in order to distribute pamphlets advertising her show – the fine art of ‘flyering’. “People say, ‘Wow that takes a lot of guts, approaching strangers to come to your show’,” she explains. “I used to approach strangers all the time on the streets of Baltimore, asking them if they needed condoms or clean needles. To give someone a flyer for a comedy show feels like nothing.”
DeAnne almost hit the stand-up stage in Baltimore. She got as far as going to an open-mic venue, but the night was cancelled:
“There weren’t enough people. I just never went back. I guess I didn’t have the guts or the desire. But it was something that had been in the back of my mind for a while.”
From Baltimore, Deanne “hopped to Mexico”, where she lived for the next five or six years. “I moved to Mexico for no real reason. I was just young and I wanted to do something different. I think I went for a bit of a lark, to do something different, and it was how my life became: I’d go to the beach, I’d teach English…”
While teaching English, DeAnne started writing humorous columns for online publications. And in time, she realised, “it would just be easier to get up and say this stuff, rather than taking so much care of my vocabulary choice and syntax.” Thus, when DeAnne Smith finally did start doing comedy, “it was definitely from a writing point of view than a performance point of view”.
DeAnne’s first foray into open-mic comedy didn’t come in Mexico, either, although she says that’s where she “got bit by the bug”. It began with a CD DeAnne’s girlfriend, an engingeer working on a project for Sirius Satellite Radio, burned for her, featuring comics and material from one of the station’s shows. She didn’t know DeAnne had any interest in comedy. Nor did DeAnne. “Listening to it awakened all this desire in me,” she explains. “It didn’t make me happy and relaxed, it made me feel jealous and angry. I could feel this clenching in myself: ‘I wanna do this. This is what I should be doing.’ So I did that.”
Not directly, mind. It still took another step before DeAnne got to the stage. “My girlfriend wanted to go to Mime School. In Montreal. There’s a mime school in Montreal!” (A very good one, it seems: l’Ecole de Mime, Montreal.) “I went, ‘Okay, I’ll go with you.’ Very whimsical. So basically I moved to Montreal to be with a mime.”
DeAnne also made study plans for her new life in Montreal. She applied, and was accepted, into a masters degree at a writing school. “I deferred the writing thing for a year and started doing stand-up at open mic rooms, and decided that’s what I wanted to do.”
Makes perfect sense, then, DeAnne Smith’s writerly approach to stand-up comedy. “So many people get into it with a theatre background or an acting background,” she says. “I just threw myself into it. I feel like I’ve been catching up with the performance aspect of things. But I think it works for me because I’m very much myself on stage – there’s not a lot of pretense there.”
The origins as a writer and the lack of pretense – along with the cute pixie androgyny – contribute to whatever it is that sets DeAnne apart. And something certainly does, stylistically. I just can't quite verbalise it. And although DeAnne agrees that something does, she can't - or won't - name it either. “That sort of thing is not for me to say. I don’t like to get involved. I probably should – I’d be better at promoting myself if I knew how to better articulate what I do and what I’m like…”
Probably better this way. Let other people - fans and critics - come up with descriptions. It's only when she finds one she likes that she should adopt it as her own, I tell her. “Good,” she agrees.
So back to that CD that inspired DeAnne to pursue stand-up in earnest. Who was on it? And were some of them – whisper it – a bit sh*t, in order to inspire the clenching response?
“That was part of it,” DeAnne confirms, unwilling to name the comics who seemed to solicit more approval from the audience than perhaps they deserved. “Hearing the audience’s response made me feel I oughta give it a try!”
One comic who did stand out for being brilliant was Maria Bamford. “She was amazing. I was like ‘Who is this person?’ I guess that was the immediate instigator to get me going. I started doing open mic and I never looked back.”
It wasn’t too long before DeAnne was visiting Australia for the first time – here for the 2008 comedy festival season. “It was fun. It went well and I met a lot of people. I wasn’t really thinking about making it an annual thing, but when all the deadlines for the 2009 festivals rolled around again, I realised I should come back again because I’d done a bit of groundwork. There was a tiny bit of buzz, so it would be silly to not come back the next year, and to come back in two years when everyone’s forgotten about me.”
It was when she was back in 2009 that DeAnne made her debut on Good News Week. “That was really good for me – it helped people know who I am.”
It’s also the reason we assume this American comic is Canadian.
When DeAnne first came to Australia and had to register for the Adelaide Fringe, she “didn’t know anything about anything”, she says. “George Bush was president and I hadn’t lived in the States in about eight years. I had to choose a ‘country of origin’ so I just put ‘Canada’ because that was where I started comedy and that’s where I lived.”
When she appeared on Good News Week, she would have been known as the comic from Montreal who had performed on the Australian festival circuit the year before. “They were talking to me a lot about Canada, and I just kind of went with it, and I regretted it – I lied to the nation! Unfortunately, my little lie has been reinforced because I meet a lot of people who say, ‘I know you were Canadian; you don’t seem like an American; those Americans…’ – and they start trash talking to me about America.”
Subsequently, DeAnne has spoken of her American origins on stage and on her website. Most people are hip. “I don’t pretend that I’m not from New York. But I hadn’t lived there for a while. During the George Bush years, I was like ‘I had nothing to do with that!’”
Currently, Montreal is still home to the comic, although she spends a lot of her year travelling, performing in Australia and the southern part of the United States. “I think the way I approach it is to make everywhere home, and any audience you’re performing for, that’s who you want to reach. I’ve been on Roadshow with Melbourne International Comedy Festival and played some really out-of-the-way rural towns and I’ve maybe looked out into the audience and thought, ‘Oh gosh, I’m not gonna connect with these people; we’ve nothing in common…’ and then go out there and do the show and everyone has a really great time. It’s hard to know where something will work better than somewhere else.”
There are, of course, subtle changes a seasoned comic can make to cater to different audiences. “If I’m in front of a rural crowd of middle-aged to older people,” DeAnne explains, “I might play up the ‘sweet, innocent’ angle a bit more just to get away with the things I want to say. And then, if I’m at the Feast Festival, in front of a group of lesbians, say, I might play up a slightly more aggressive or hard-edged angle. It’s just knowing what you can get away with in front of different crowds. It comes from experience and also instinct. You start to adjust onstage.”
Again, part of what helps DeAnne do that, is her image. People do assume she’s younger than she actually is. Which she readily acknowledges. She puts it down not just to her looks, but also to her spirit. “I have a brother and sister who are quite older than me – my brother is 11 years older than me and my sister is 7 years older. I had this revelation the other day: I’m in my 30s but I have this ‘kid sister’ energy. I keep waiting to outgrow it, but it just doesn’t happen.”
It might happen. In time. Perhaps it should have already. Perhaps that's why her next festival show is called About Freakin' Time. “It’s about time in general, and nerdy aspects like time travel, the concept of ‘forever’ and the passage of time, that sort of thing.”
If you haven't seen DeAnne Smith live yet, you really should this time round. It's About Freakin' Time.