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Frankenstein on the Beach?

The heading’s a Philip Glass reference and it won’t make any difference whether you get it or not – although your cultural and intellectual life would be that much more enriched if you were familiar with his work, particularly the bits that swirl, orchestrally, while choirs chant ‘Who?! Huh?! Who?! Huh?! Who?! Huh?! Who?! Huh?! Haaaaa! Haaaaaa! Haaaaaa! Who?! Huh?! Who?! Huh?! Who?! Huh?! Haaaaa! Haaaaaa! Haaaaaa!’ over images o traffic congestion, teeming hordes of pedestrians and other elements of modernity running amok.

Now imagine those same images in the back streets of those suburbs just north or Manly, where Harbord meets Freshwater, a block or two from the beach. Impossible to conceive of it – moreso if you know the area. Quiet, sleepy seaside suburb.

I wonder if there are any suburban goths in this area, so close to the sea. Cos you never really see goths on the beach.

But if they were in any of these beachy Many Warringah suburbs, I know where they’d be: somewhere they could find the stuff that turns them on.

Not the quiet, leafy streets within earshot of the calming, crashing waves, surely.

Well, maybe one street.

In fact, one corner in particular. One corner, at the other end of the block that leads to the parking area just in front of Freshwater Beach. It has gore.

Not just a modicum of gore, mind. Not just any amount of gore.

A considerable amount of gore.

More gore, if you will, than any other – that doesn’t prove to be the address of an abotoir or some hitherto unknown abode of a serial killer.


NSW – State of Despair


It took me a while to work out just who Kristina Keneally reminded me of. It wasn’t until the ‘Minister’s Unlawful Act’ Sydney Morning Herald headline on Monday Oct 19, with the photo that accompanied it.

I know there’s a big difference between acting unlawfully and being corrupt – isn’t there? – and I’m not suggesting anyone in the party is corrupt. But I do remember a certain premier whose mention in the media, in nebulous or dubious contexts, always seemed to coincide with ‘Aboriginal unrest’ in Redfern so that the ‘race riots’ would always be the leading item on that night’s evening news. (How did the citizens of that Sydney ghetto know when to ‘riot’? Did increased police presence result in arrests for activities to which said police normally turn a blind eye, or which that self-same presence incited?) Then, as now, as any time since the Rum Rebellion, it’s best to fall back on that classic escape clause: “it’s the whole system that’s corrupt; has been from the beginning – ever since the Rum Rebellion!”

But I’m in no position to suggest there could be a better way to govern the state of New South Wales, with – say – better transport and healthcare. The reason I’m blogging about this is because Keneally can sound chirpy and enthusiastic in radio interviews. And she looks anything but, in the photo that accompanies the article, declaring that her ‘unlawful act’ happened to “scupper” some “7200” homes that were to be built in the Hunter Valley. Is she sad because she couldn’t build the homes? Shouldn’t she be sad that she couldn’t also provide the infrastructure to those homes? Lack of infrastructure is a major problem in New South Wales.

I know people my age who grew up in the Western Suburbs of Sydney who have lost significant numbers of friends in their teens and 20s, mostly to drink driving. Not me. I’m from the Northern Beaches, the insular peninsular. Most of the people in my graduating year of high school survived – because when we did young people things, we had public transport to bring us home in the early hours. We were also closer to better equipped hospitals. While the degradation of the healthcare system has levelled the playing field, mediocrity should never be the equaliser to strive for. Nor should 7200 new homes full of motorists – particularly in a time when wars are fought for oil. Wasn’t it interesting that Australia finally went in to bat for East Timor when the other option was allowing a Muslim country to control that nation’s oil. Admittedly, we don’t seem to care that we’re spilling into the ocean and causing untold damage to vital resources. (Our oceans are over fished, often illegally; in some poorer countries, precious fresh water sources are artificially salinated in order to farm prawns for western consumption.)

What I find interesting about the photo of Kristina Keneally is that she looks as glum for the houses she couldn’t build, as Morris Iemma often did for any number of reasons – mostly because he was given the reins of a party that was expected to lose the next electiion, so nobody really needed to follow this particular leader. Iemma resigned from office when his party wouldn’t allow him to sell off the state’s electricity in order to fund transport infrastructure to all those houses that were never scuppered – lawfulness of the action of having development passed, notwithstanding.

Will Kristina still sound chipper on air? Eyes glazed like a 9-to-5 drone who has to spend two hours either end of the work day commuting, smile banished like unwanted children who can’t bear to admit to unloving parents that they don’t want to be babysat by creepy Uncle Touchy… If she doesn’t quite look dead inside yet,  she’s certainly well on the way there – as though she’s realised her idealism and optimism have not only already begun their inevitable deterioration, but that significant and irreparable erosion has already taken place. Like it has in the souls of the people who have to live in the homes that weren’t scuppered. Like it has in the state’s transport and healthcare that continue to fail not only the underserviced inhabitants of unscuppered house, but most of the citizens of New South Wales.


Some Kinda Wise Guy


Ah, the more things change, the more they stay the same; and furthermore, another cliché, about things ending where they began.

The first time I got my mug on the telly, I was a little tacker – well, a bigger little tacker – selected for my token woggishness, more or less.

Some months ago, Dan Ilic – the guy in the green shirt in the photo above, and one of the multitude of funny folk I’m Facebook friends with – posted a notice asking, more or less, for non-Anglo Australians to serve as extras in a sketch for a show he was a part of. I can’t remember how he worded it, but I replied enquiring if I was woggy enough for his purposes, and I was. Can you believe it? (Which one am I? I'm the wog in black... Okay. I’m the ‘fully sick fat wog, eh bro?’ And – omigod – note presence of Tahir Bilgic in the centre.)


The sketch happened to be about how racial offense, like beauty, is mostly in the eye of the beholder. Sure, some people take offense no matter how it is intended, and some people can only acknowledge difference as grounds for fear and abuse, but the sketch was clever and was one I found myself agreeing with. It was also fun being in it.

Turned out the sketch was to be part of a show called Hungry Beast, devised by Andrew Denton’s company Zapruder’s Other Films, to help unearth and develop new, young talent. All good so far.

But who knew that prior to this particular sketch being aired in a show by new, young talent, a show teeming with older talent would be reprised, using humour that, depending on your age and enlightenment, is either still funny, no longer funny, was never funny, is possibly offensive, is a little bit offensive, is totally offensive or the fact that you would even take offense is a bit offensive? (Yes, I’m talking about the Jackson Jive sketch on Hey, Hey It’s Had Its Day. No, I’m not going to embed it here or link to it; not unless I had something significant to say about it. It’s everywhere else, being commented upon by clever people and stupid people alike.Some of them are reacting intellectually, others, emotionally. I still say that racism is often in the eye of the beholder.)


Anyway, point is, Dan's sketch went to air and it worked a treat. It's not of the most solid intellectual content. It will still offend as many as it appeases, and be ignored by the same amount again who are indifferent. But that's because (whisper it) what constitutes racism is still subjective. Which is the point of the sketch. If it's said in fun, it's meant in fun. There's a difference between 'you can't say that!' and 'you really shouldn't say that!' and 'who cares if that's said!' - but even th difference between those depends on who is saying it and who it is being said to.

The shoot was a hoot. When I arrived  I was taken up to the costume department where two fellow Italians – on loan from the mail office – were changing out of jeans and t-shirts, into suits and collared shirts. The other member of our ‘wog possé’ – not Italian – was a smartly dressed professional. Who still needed to be ‘wogged up’. He and the others even got fake bling. And he got a hat!

Me? In black trousers, my ‘best’ pair of high tops, the ubiquitous ‘Stand & Deliver!’ t-shirt and a black coat, what did the costume department have for me to be more ‘plausible’ as a stereotypical wog? Apparently I dress myself that way more-or-less every day for all that was issued to me was a black jumper to wear over my t-shirt. (Hunched shoulders, arms bent at the elbows, palms upturned: “whaddayagonnado?”)

We were taken down to a studio, stood on our ‘mark’, and told what was going to happen. It took a number of takes. In between, we stayed in character by Italian-Americaning it up in Sopranos accents. The best moment was when another wog possé member appeared out of nowhere. His suit appeared to be shinier, newer and quite swish, just that much better than the other ones out of the costume department. What was really strange was that he was flanked by uniformed security guards. He had a walkie-talkie on his belt. I waved at him because he seemed intent to walk past without joining us. He didn’t actually notice us. Turned out he was in fact the Head of Security at the ABC and just happened to be passing through the studio. But he so would have fitted into our bit.

So did you see it? Never mind, there’s still time to see it on ABC iView. And failing that, I’ve embedded the YouTube clip of the sketch.

Shop (s)talk


“Don’t you remember?” My mother reminded me. “There was that teacher who was caught taking ‘up-skirt’ photos with his camera in a shopping bag…”

I don’t care what anyone says – no guy’s upbringing is so liberal that it isn’t even ever-so-slightly weird to hear your mother casually use the phrase ‘up-skirt’. In context. Over dinner.

Before I could double-take or mug to the non-existent camera and deliver a sorely needed bon mot in the style of Groucho Marx – (“you think that’s bizarre, get a load o’ this insertion…”) – my sister added that “there was a more recent case – a guy standing at the bottom of the escalators, photographing women above…”

This discussion had begun when I happened to mention that our local shopping centre had banned photography. I had discovered this a mere few hours earlier. At our local shopping centre.

Here’s what happened:

I had just taken a photo on my phone. I was on my way to the bank, but before I got there, a shopfront had caught my eye – a fairly new one, I guessed, because I’d never noticed it before – and I decided I needed a photo of it. So I took a photo, and as I was putting my phone back into my pocket, the figure of a white-shirted security guard, rapidly bearing down upon me, caught my eye.

“Sir, did you just take a photo?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied, for I had, and I’d been none too surreptitious about it: no camera concealed in a loaf of bread; no hiding behind bushes or a pylon; no newspaper with the eyes cut out of the front page photo of somebody else’s face. I’d brazenly and boldly pulled the phone out and taken the photo. I suspected it might be out-of-focus, but it would suffice.

“This shopping centre no longer allows the taking of photographs,” the security guard informed me.

“Oh, really?” I asked, genuinely surprised to learn this. I knew you weren’t allowed to photograph train stations, but I didn’t know other public places were also banning photography now.

“May I ask what you took a photograph of?” the security guard asked.

“Um…” I said.

I’ll often stop and snap a quick photo if something I see sparks a thought, particularly if it’s something I might want to blog about. But this wasn’t one of those things.

“This is actually a bit embarrassing to admit,” I said. “I recently made friends with someone called Louise. Her nickname’s Lou Lou. She happens to be a lesbian. I wanted to photograph the name of that shop and send it to her. I thought she’d get a laugh out of it…”

Whether or not Louise was going to get a laugh out of it, the security guard certainly did. “You’re alright, mate,” he said, shaking his head at me. “Off you go.”

“Cheers,” I said, and headed to the bank.

“What was the name of the shop?” my sister asked.

I told her. Everyone laughed. And I realised this was now one of those things I was going to blog about.


Jamie Kilstein and Challenging Intellectuals

Man, this always happens: interview someone you’re kind of indifferent to, and it’s easy to tell the story. Interview someone you like, and you talk for an hour and as much of a pleasure as it is to transcribe, no narrative article will do the conversation justice. So here is my hour-long chat with Jamie Kilstein. We talk a heap of politics, a lot of process, but hardly any piss-funny. Yet, if you don’t mind being challenged to sometimes think about the stuff you’re laughing at, if you like seeing good comics because of the opportunity it provides to see the world from their point of view, if  you want to see an American who understands irony and sarcasm, see Jamie Kilstein this week at the Comedy Store.

Jamie hat

Dom Romeo: In your current show you talk about the internet and modern technology, and how it’s making it a lot easier to interact and communicate a lot less. I’m a little bit disappointed by it all. There was a time when the  internet gave a voice to people with an alternate point of view. Now everyone seems to have a voice, but they don’t have to be saying anything interesting.

JAMIE KILSTEIN: I think it’s like anything that big, where for as much good as it does, you’re going to get an equal amount of shit. Unfortunately, I think it’s up to people who use it to do research, to find out what’s a viable source and what’s bullshit. And I don’t think it’s necessarily bad that people who may be uncredible or crazy can have their voice heard – they need to have it heard somewhere. I still think it does more good than bad.

Like television: for every Two and a Half Men, there’s a Simpsons; for every hack CNN ‘Meet the Press’ news show, there’s a Bill Maher or real investigative journalism. You’re always gonna have the good with the bad, and it’s not like people who watch Big Brother on TV are going to go on the internet looking for Chomsky. They’re gonna go look for they’re dumbed down shit on the internet, just like they look for it on TV, just like they look for it in their comedy, just like they look for it in their radio… I think it does more good for people who actually care about critical thinking because if you really do have an inquisitive kind of mind and you want to learn and educate yourself, there’s a lot of stuff on the internet that you can’t find anywhere else, that you can’t find on TV, that your’e not gonna see…

I’ve interviewed Chomsky three times and I’ve never seen him once on TV. But clearly, he’s available, because he did my podcast when it was nothing, so it’s not like he’s not around. And he’s totally willing to debate on TV, but you’re not gonna hear voices like that on TV because he threatens the corporate status quo. So the internet’s more important to have a place where you can hear these great intellectuals who are being censored, but yeah, just like anything, there’s gonna be a done of shit which is just unfortunate. But in a perfect world – it may take a while – but this shit will get weeded out and discredited and then we’ll have social Darwinism on the internet.

Dom Romeo: We can only hope! You also mention radio as a dying medium. That’s what I’m fearing: that the internet will go the way of radio. That someone powerful will own the outlets and you’ll have to fight to hear the good stuff.

JAMIE KILSTEIN: That’s the only time I would get scared. Luckily, something called ‘Net Neutrality’ passed in America. It was being threatened under the Bush Administration, which was going to let companies take over big chunks of the internet and charge for it. So you’d have to pay a phone company like ATNT for service. And then they could block out sites they wanted. They were indighted for illegal wire tapping under George Bush – so if you wanted to find articles about that through their webservice, you probably wouldn’t. ATNT probably wouldn’t publish articles about ATNT illegally spying on American citizens. So then it would be an issue.

Already you’ve got Rupert Murdoch who owns MySpace – we’re kind of getting there. But at the same time, I don’t think it’s going to be a threat until businesses come in, because that’s the problem with the news. We have a station called MSNBC, and that’s supposedly the liberal Fox News, but it’s not, because it’s owned by General Electric, and General Electric makes weapons and they sell weapons that we use in Iraq, and so it’s not in their corporate interest to report both sides of the war, because as long as war’s going on, they profit. So I like your point, but if businesses like GE got into the internet, then we’d be in trouble.

And as for radio, back home, it’s all owned by the same companies and those companies have certain interests in certain record labels, and those record labels aren’t interested in promoting new, independent music, so they will just repeat the same recycled trite garbage over and over again. And actually, the internet right now is sort of a solution to that: my show, Citizen Radio, is on something called Breakthru Radio – – and it’s totally free and they have all these different stations with totally different genres, and they pay their DJs to pick out independent, unsigned music. There’ll be like a jazz/fusion channel and an indie rock channel and whatever, and you just listen to it all day, and they never censored our content. We’re the first comedy/political show on there and it’s amazing. That’s kind of the ‘fuck you’ to radio: the internet is coming in and filling a really big gap, and there’s no commercials and we don’t have to appease anyone like corporate sponsors.

How long that’ll last, I don’t know. Radio used to be that. And then radio sold out. If the internet sells out, then we’ll have to find something else.

Dom Romeo: Campfire songs!

JAMIE KILSTEIN: You know what? God I hope so! I really do hope so. Because I do think that’s a problem with the internet. I mean, the whole Facebook and MySpace – and I’m guilty about this – it really breeds this kind of narcisism. Especially Twitter – everyone needs to know precisely what I’m doing right now – I’m eating breakfast; I’m doing this. You paint yourself into a Truman Show, where the whole world is watching me and it all revolves around me. We’ve turned into this ‘reality TV’ culture, where we just always imagine that we have cameras on ourselves and there’s a soundtrack. If you break up with a girl and you’re driving, you have to find that perfect song…

Dom Romeo: I know what the song is!

JAMIE KILSTEIN: What’s yours?

Dom Romeo: ‘Broken Hearts Are For *ssh*les’ by Frank Zappa.

JAMIE KILSTEIN: Oh, that’s a good one. That’s far cooler than me. I find, like, the cheesiest, most like abominable one… no, that was actually a cool one.

So Facebook and Twitter really does encourage that. But the good is, I’ve hooked up with activists all over the world through the internet radio show, and I’m really open through all the emails and stuff. We have people listening to the show, like 16-year-old gay kids from Texas, who’ll email us and say, ‘I thought I was crazy!’ and we can talk to them. Or there are people who are like, ‘I live in Montana, what do I do?’ and we can be like, ‘go protest this!’ It really has been great for activists and for left-wingers – especially the literate ones. The internet’s really good to communicate and to organise. Left-wing people, our biggest problem is organising so we really need that place where we can all get together and whatnot… I don’t remember what the question was.

Dom Romeo: Neither do I, but I’m enjoying the conversation! One thing I want to bring up – GE used to own the Bertelsmenn Music Group, or BMG, which is now part of Sony/BMG; it’s also a finance company in this country that sponsors the news…

JAMIE KILSTEIN: I don’t think a lot of people realise how tangled a lot of these corporations are. A lot of times, left-wing people are given a bad rap and you hear the word ‘corporation’ and you automatically think that it’s a conspiracy because you hear the one crazy dude that the news always shows when they cover a protest. They won’t show the tens of thousands of Jews who are marching against the war crims in Gaza, they won’t show the outcry against the war in Iraq, but they’ll find the one crazy hippie who’s having a weed-in to protest whatever. So a lot of times, when you hear these key words like ‘corporation’, it just sounds very conspiratorial because you’re used to hearing ‘the corporations were behind 9/11, they’re all on an island…’ or whatever. But the reality is, there are something like under 20 giant corporations that own almost everything. You think of Rupert Murdoch just with Fox News, but he also owns giant publishers and tons of newspapers and MySpace; and he’s slowly chipping away at the BBC, trying to get less public funding for it because that’s a threat to him.

There was a time when the news wasn’t supposed to just be a soundboard for the government; it was supposed to be a check on the government. And if you have these giant corporations that profit when the government f*cks over the poor, they’re not going to investigate or call the government out. They’re gonna use their newspapers, they’re gonna use their books, they’re gonna use their social networking sites, they’re gonna use their music labels, they’re gonna use everything they have to come out against it. That’s what Rupert Murdoch’s doing right now in the UK against the BBC. He’s publishing all these anti-BBC articles that are factually inaccurate. Seventy to 80% of people in the UK love the BBC and say they would pay more for it out of their tax dollars, and and he’s having all of his newspapers run this giant propaganda smear against them, and that’s the kind of power they have. And yes, GE, if they’re selling weapons to the war effort, all of their other media outlets are going to promote what makes them money.

Dom Romeo: So are you suggesting that the man who runs the media in the three big western countries that came out in favour of going to war with Iraq, that he might have had some influence in getting certain parties to power in the lead-up to the war?

JAMIE KILSTEIN: The billionaire who profits from the war? He may have done something about it. I mean, see what’s happening right now with Iran – these same stations are having the same people on, who were wrong about Iraq, who were wrong about Afghanistan, and they’re having these “experts” come back onto these news shows and say the exact same thing about Iran that they said about Iraq. And that’s okay? Those people should be fucken shamed. Over a million Iraqis are dead. We killed more Americans than Osama did on September 11 – so he won. If anyone’s wondering who won out of Osama and America, Bin Laden won. And they’re having these same f*ckin assholes who have never served in the military, whose families have enver served in the military, come back on to pedal these wars because wars are profitable. That’s what’s scary: it all comes down to class war; it all comes down to profit. Not giving people health care in America is profitable. War is profitable. That’s the problem with the free market and that’s the problem with capitalism: you can’t have life-or-death situations lead to profit. When people make money off sick people or off weapons that murder people, it’s a f*cked system.

By the way, we should mention: I am a comedian!

Dom Romeo: Good point. But I’m enjoying this discussion, and these are important political issues; how do you make them funny?


I don’t know, man. Me and Glenn Wool were talking about this on the radio the other day. It’s not like when I see something bad happen, I look for the joke. You’re like one of the – may the only journalist – most journalists will be like ‘Jamie, as a comedian, is there part of you that misses George Bush? Not as a person; that’d be retarded. But as a comedian, don’t you wish Sarah Palin was Vice President, and then John McCain died from heart failure, and then Sarah Palin became president… as a comedian, do you wish for that to happen?’ And I always have to be like, ‘what sort of f*cken monster do you think I am? That I can only write jokes when there are war crimes being committed, or any time a wedding’s being bombed in Afghanistan, I’m like, ‘honey, bring me my funny pen and hilarious pad!’ It’s not like that. Here’s the honest answer, which unfortunately also isn’t funny.

The honest answer is, the reason I’m a comedian, like all comedians, I had a f*cked up childhood, and comedy happened to be my defence mechanism. Some people’s defense mechanism is drugs or alcohol, and mine happened to be that. So when something really bad happened with my parents, me and my little brothers would run upstairs and would be in our bedroom. It would be really awkward, and we’d be scared and sad and we wouldn’t know what to say, and then once somebody made that first joke – and it would always be inappropriate because the situations were so bad that there was nothing polite that could have been said, so it would be some really heartbreaking joke – that’s when all of us snapped back into it, and not only did we laugh and not only did it break the ice and not only did it cut the tension, but it also just broke us out of that kind of trance, and then we were like, ‘okay, what can we do, how the f*ck do we fix this? Let’s go, let’s figure it out’. And I always thought that was really cool, that humour could diffuse the situation enough that you could finally talk about it.

I have conversations with dudes after every show who disagree with me, and we find out we have more in common than we thought we did, and the media won’t have you believe that. The media just has the right-wing guy and the left-wing guy just scream at each other. And you’re not taught to have conversations, you’re taught to just yell at the opposition. I think humour is one of the tools you can use to get someone on your side just to chill the f*ck out long enough to start a conversation. So that said, I don’t see something terrible happen and then write a joke, I see something terrible happen and I write because I’m angry, and once I start writing, my go-to when I’m angry, subconsciously, is humour. It just kind of comes out that way. And then I’ll start yelling about it on stage and see what gets the laughs, and then start chipping away that way.

Dom Romeo: Sometimes you remind me of when I discovered Jello Biafra’s spoken word albums. Only, he’s not as funny. You’re a comedian, whereas he’s talking politics to a punk rock audience.

Yeah. I wish I had his audience. His audience is awesome. I totally stand for what he did. There’s a book coming out soon and I haven’t read it yet, but we’re in the same book, called Sataristas. Paul Provenza, the dude who made The Aristocrats. It’s one of Carlin’s last interviews, and Colbert’s in there, and Jello’s in there and I’m in there. I’m so excited to read it; it’s all about people who like political satire and came out and spoke like that.

I love that culture and I wish that I could figure out how to find that culture. Because it’s not really happening for me with comedy clubs and two-drink minimums. It’s much better here, in Australia, at the Comedy Store – it’s much less corporate than the places I played in the States. But just to be mentioned in the same breath as him is cool.

Dom Romeo: That’s interesting because there’s stuff I saw you do at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival earlier this year that I didn’t find as funny as when I saw you do it now. Did it evolve for the Australian psyche? Do you know what makes it funnier here, on your second visit, than elsewhere?

You’re giving me much more credit than you should be. Probably subconsciously I do. I wish I sat down and figured it out more, but I do that on stage.

Here’s what I don’t do: I don’t change anything from place to place. So the jokes you saw last night are the same way that I did them the week before in New York, and the month before that I did them in Edinburgh. So when I go place to place, I don’t go, ‘let’s tailor it for the Australians’. It’s the same.

Dom Romeo: Okay. I have another theory then. Maybe I’m better attuned to you now, having seen you once before. Maybe I’m getting better at appreciating you.

JAMIE KILSTEIN: Maybe. I’m not denying that the jokes have changed.  They probably have, but they haven’t changed in the sense that, I’m not good enough to have different sets for different audiences. There are some people who have a different set for every different audience – they have a club set, they have a corporate set…

Dom Romeo: (I wasn’t fast enough to interject with ‘they have a television set’!)

JAMIE KILSTEIN: … I have the same set, and it’s either going to work really well or it’s going to go down in flames. There’s no ‘Plan B’. When I started, I had a ‘Plan B’ – I had a bunch of stuff on the war on drugs, which I still think is an important issue, drug prohibition. But a lot of dumber crowds could just see them as ‘weed jokes’, and I stopped doing that. But those were always the jokes I did if the political jokes weren’t working.

Dom Romeo: I love the fact that, because you’re a lefty intellectual, your ‘weed jokes’ are the ‘dick jokes’.

JAMIE KILSTEIN: Exactly! ‘I guess I can do jokes about the prison-industrial complex and how we lock away minorities on drug charges while we let white collar criminals get away…’. Yeah, that was my dick joke! But now I don’t have that. Now it’s like, ‘well, if they don’t like the abortion joke, I guess I can do the war crime joke’. There really is no ‘Plan B’, which is kind of cool. But I’m f*cked. I’m stuck. If I’m obligated to do an hour, and 20 minutes in, they hate me, I know that it’s just gonna get worse. But it is interesting, trying to win over audiences and trying to re-work the set around, doing stuff in a different order or whatever.

But place to place, I really don’t change anything. The jokes have probably changed, and the jokes have probably have gotten funnier because I’ve had time with those jokes, but they’ve changed for me, they haven’t changed for any audience.

If I came over here and did a different set than I did in America, it would be like, ‘here’s me in another country, getting away with making fun of America’. Which is why I don’t do that. And I think, so many of the issues are global. Like religion: here it’s easier because it’s a much bigger chunk of people who are openly secular. But at the same time, I still have people walk out. People still walked out during my Jesus joke at the Opera House. People still get pissed, people are still homophobic. Just because your politicians aren’t as openly homophobic, doesn’t mean you don’t still have the f*cken douche-bag guys who are threatened by their own masculinity and they still have to call everyone a faggot, or they still have to call everyone gay. It still exists here, it still exists in the UK.

Yeah, we started the war, and that’s bad, but people went from Australia, Tony Blair was just as bad as George Bush, Howard was bad. These are definitely issues that effect everyone and I almost think that it needs to be talked about here a lot too, because it’s so easy to point at America as the ultimate bad guy – which we are – but I don’t think that scape-goating America is an excuse to be apathetic in other parts of the world.

Dom Romeo: Having the ability to make these important thoughts funny is brilliant, and you’ve explained how that process began for you, but getting into comedy and the comedy circuit, a lot of people start with autobiography and self-deprecation – that’s how a lot of people start out. Did you have to go through that? Did you have to go through the ‘popular topics’ before you found your voice and found the way to do the stuff that matters to you that you do so well?

JAMIE KILSTEIN: I have a friend who’s an amazing journalist and he wanted to do stand-up. He sent me some stuff and it was exactly what you said: it was self-deprecating and it was personal. Which is weird, because when he writes about politics he’s hilarious.

Yeah, there are people who just assume they can’t talk about that stuff on stage, so they start with self-deprecation and whatnot.

With me, it was much sadder than that. I wasn’t into politics when I started in comedy. I didn’t know anything about it. I knew that my gay friends shouldn’t be discriminated against, I knew that we probably shouldn’t be killing people all over the world, but I couldn’t tell you where in the world we were killing people, and I couldn’t tell you why, legally, my gay friends were being discriminated against, or which clause in the Constitution was being violated. I just didn’t know about any of that stuff.

I started when I was 17. I dropped out of high school. I was a young *ssh*le. I was high all the time. I probably started writing about the drug material, but not because I thought the war on drugs adversely affected minorities, but because I wanted to get high. So I was like, ‘fuck that!’ I just wrote about what I knew, which was nothing!

What ended up happening was, when I dropped out of high school and ended up living in the real world and not in White Middle Class Land, I started becoming friends with more poor people, and friends with minorities, and friends with more gay people, and talking to more people and finding out how badly they were being f*cked. I met this guy in America called Cornell West. Cornell West is a huge black intellectual, probably the biggest black intellectual of our generation, and he’s a professor at Princeton University. You’d recognise him: big afro, he’s always on Real Time with Bill Maher and every news show. He’s awesome.

I met him, and we had a really long conversation at this book store about Richard Pryor and Bill Hicks and comics. I told him I was thinking about being a writer, and asked him what advice he had, and he said, ‘read voraciously’. That was the only advice.

Dom Romeo: Good on him! Nobody tells kids that anymore. You can’t be a good writer unless you’re a good reader, and people don’t read anymore. So they’re not gonna write.

Absolutely right. I had a complex after dropping out of high school, where I just thought I was really dumb, because the stuff in high school I was given to read, I just didn’t give a sh*t about. So up until I was 25, I literally thought I couldn’t read. It’s so funny. I would read the pages, and I knew what the words were, and I could sound out the words, but then I would get through a page and go, I don’t know what the fuck that was! So I was convinced I couldn’t read.

So Cornell tells me to start reading, and I start reading stuff I actually cared about, and I remember looking at my girlfriend one day and saying, ‘I can read!’ She was like, ‘You’re 25, of course you can read!’ It was great. That just started informing me.

And it’s hard at first, and I think even a lot of people who didn’t drop out of high school will have that same problem. You watch the news, and the news is geared towards rich white people, and you read newspapers and they’re geared towards people who already have a grasp on current affairs.

I knew more about war crimes that were committed in East Timor than I knew what the three branches of government are in the US because I was so stoned out of my mind through high school that I missed a lot of the basics. So how am I supposed to learn about foreign policy if I don’t know about the basics? But it just takes time. You start reading and becoming more informed and that gives you more information and more things to be angry about and I think it’s really good, because a lot of passionate liberal – or ‘left wing’ people, here – are disenfranchised and feel dumb, or feel there’s nothing they can do, and that’s what the opposition wants you to feel. They want you to feel helpless. The more you arm yourself with that information, the more seriously people will take you and the more outraged you’ll become, and you’ll find that it’s much more important to go out there and protest than go to the pub and just drink and bitch about how fucked up the government is.

Conservatives are out there every day with their crazy signs and their ‘Obama’s Hitler’ and calling people socialist and telling them they’re ‘being gay’ or saying ‘you’ll go to hell’. They’re crazy, but they’re organised. I’m like, ‘we’re right, but we’re high’ and that’s why they’re the ones who get all the media coverage, and we can just sit at home and be pretentious and self-satisfied and be, like, ‘those idiots!’ But those idiots are in the street and they’re actually doing stuff. I started going to the gym again because I found out that Condalisa Rice would wake up at four in the morning to go to the gym and read all the newspapers before she went and took on her Secretary of State duties. I’m like, ‘if they’re up at four in the morning, I need to be up at four in the morning!’ Me and my girlfriend Allison started going to the gym, and any time we’d get tired on the treadmill, Allison would be like, ‘I’m coming for ya, Condie!’ That was our motivation. I hate to say this, but I think a lot of lefties don’t have that republican drive. Because we’re right, so why the f*ck should we have to? But we do.

Dom Romeo: When you’re on stage saying that you’re family hates you because you never went to university, I’m sitting there going, ‘that’s hard to believe, that you don’t have a tertiary education’. But now you’re saying you got your knowledge by  reading, that’s education for education’s sake; that’s more important than, nowadays, going to a tertiary institution funded by a corporation looking for their next tier of employment…

JAMIE KILSTEIN: I think it’s a matter of ‘find what you love, and study that like it’s your job’. I think that that’s not given enough credit.

It’s sad. Two of the smartest dudes that I knew, who were the best musicians I knew, were talked out of playing in bands because ‘that’s not what you do’. So one of them joined the military right before the Iraq war, so he could get money for college, and came back with a drinking problem, came back a mess. The other one went to business school, and let’s face it, they have their own war going on right now, and I was the outcast, I was the one who was shit on for dropping out of high school.

This isn’t a ‘go me, I made the right decision’ because at the time it was dumb, but there is certainly something to be said for – ah, don’t say ‘following your dreams’ – but, following your dreams. Everything else is just as risky.

Dom Romeo: I forget the name of the new-wave psychologist, but ‘finding your bliss’ is how he expressed it.

Yeah, that’s a much better way of putting it.

The world will make you feel dumb if you don’t believe their bullshit. It’s not fair. I felt dumb for so f*cken long. But it’s just because I didn’t have access to the right people, or to people I believed in, or to people who shared my ideals. And I think once you find that, I think so many people will be amazed at how much they can do and how many of their thoughts that they thought were crazy will be validated and how much new information they’ll learn.

I can’t say it enough: you’ve got to just find what you care about and if you’re learning about something in school and you disagree with it and the teacher says you’re supposed to agree with it, it doesn’t mean you’re stupid or wrong, it just means you disagree with this one guy. It means you should go find the counter-argument to that and study that, or whatever. That’s what schooling’s supposed to teach you. It’s not supposed to teach you to memorise what circle to fill in for standardised tests, it’s supposed to teach you how to think critically and how to question authority.


Dude, Calvin & Hobbes – do you remember that comic strip? I learned more from that than I did from any text book. That was constantly teaching you. It taught you about the environment, it taught you to question religion, it taught you to question your education system, it taught you about love, it taught you about friendship, it taught you about music, it taught you about nature, about taking care of the earth. And it was a f*cken comic strip about a dude and his imaginary tiger. That was more educational to me than most of the sh*t I was pedalled in high school. Does that make me an idiot, because I read comics?

I also just got this really big Calvin & Hobbes tattoo on my calf and so I was researching Bill Waterson, just because I got reall nostalgic just thinking about it. Bill Waterson, author of Calvin & Hobbes, the only dude who never sold merchandising rights. They never made t-shirts, they never made Hobbes tiger dolls. He completely refused to sell out. His publishers were furious. They just did this piece on him on BBC, where he got very reclusive. He didn’t do interviews, he just disappeared and it’s awesome. That’s so bad-ass. That’s a hero. He could have been a billionaire, if he sold the merchandising rights, and he didn’t. That, to me is so much heroic…

…I don’t know where I’m going. I’ve gotten lost in Crazy Digression Land. Oh, here, I can make that make sense.

With that said, I’m not telling everyone to drop out of high school. My best teacher in high school actually convinced me to drop out, which he would have gotten fired for. But he took me aside and said, ‘you’re really smart. You’ve a 14 in this class.’ To get an F was a 50 or below. I had a 14. He just kind of told me that school’s not for everybody. ‘If this isn’t what you love and you know what you want to do, bail. But don’t stop learning.’

I think the mistake lots of people make is, once they drop out or decide not to go to university, they kind of just wait for opportunities to come to them. I think you need to finding what you love – some guitar player will be reading this and going, ‘Done! Easy!’ – but the hard part is treating that like a ‘job’. And I use the word ‘job’ loosely. Because if it’s what you love, technically it’s a job, but it’s f*cken easy.

Dom Romeo: That feels like an ending, but I’ve got a couple more questions. Do you mind if we keep going?


Dom Romeo: At some point, someone who’s writing about comedy is going to ask you this question. I’m sure you’ve answered it a number of times, and I’m certain I know what the answer is. But I want to know what your answer is.

I hope I’m right!

Dom Romeo: Can comedy change anything?


Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

And so many people say ‘no’. Comics I really admire, who wouldn’t consider themselves political comics, but have some really hard-hitting stuff about politics, they always say, ‘if I could write dick jokes, I would write dick jokes, I just happen to like politics and it doesn’t influence anybody, and comedy comes before the message, and blah blah blah’, but no. I’m the complete opposite. I know I’m supposed to say that comedy comes first, and I’ve been screamed at by managers and whatnot, but it is one hundred percent my agenda first. Because it does work.

It’s like I was saying before: dudes come up to me after shows I do in the South, in America, and they’ll be like, ‘I disagree with everything you said, but you were really funny,’ or ‘I’m a Conservative… but you were really funny,’ and instead of me saying, ‘oh, thanks buddy, see you later’, I will say, ‘why are you a conservative?’ And they go, ‘well, you know, the gay rights thing doesn’t bother me that much, that’s more like old school; I have a gay friend and he’s pretty cool’. And I’m like, ‘all right, but what if someone comes back from the war in Iraq and they need government help and they don’t have any money and they have post-traumatic stress syndrome?’ and they go, ‘oh, well the government should totally help then’. And you start going through all these issues and by the end of it you’re like, ‘so why are you conservative?’ and they’re like, ‘my dad is!’ That’s really it.

I’ve had conversations where they’ve emailed me after – I have the evidence saved on my Facebook – where they have changed their mind on an issue. I did this show in Indiana and these three giant white dudes in fatigues, one wearing a crucifix, were sitting in the front row. I was like, ‘I’m gonna have to fight them’, and I did the drug stuff first and it went really well and they really liked me for that, and they really liked the stuff on the war and the stuff on religion, and they stayed with it, because they were cool kids. So we stayed after the show, and they had beer and I had my water, and we started talking and it was right during the election, and they said they were going to vote for McCain still, and I said, ‘why are you going to vote for McCain?’ It was really sad and sweet. They go, ‘well, he was the only one who came to visit us in Iraq, and he was a soldier; he fought in Viet Nam.’

What they didn’t know, because they weren’t told this while they were overseas, was that literally that week – and I got lucky that it was that week – John McCain was one of the only people who voted against the new GI Bill. And the new GI Bill was similar to what happened in World War II, which was, if you serve for four years, you get a free ride to college. That’s part of the reason there was this economic boom after the war, because these people came back and they could get an education and they could get great jobs.

And John McCain, whose campaign was based on ‘I love the troops’ – he said, ‘I served, Barrack Obama didn’t serve, blah blah blah blah’, he voted against it. That seemed crazy, particularly since it had been passed by an overwhelming bipartisan support, too. So most Republicans voted for it, but McCain didn’t. And the reason McCain didn’t vote for it was he put his own bill forward, that said, if you serve for 12 years – 12 might not have been the number, but it was more than 4 – you can get a free ride. People go, ‘why would you do that?’ and the reason is, if John McCain was president, John McCain was planning on a lot more war, so he didn’t want to lose good soldiers leaving after four years because then the military becomes depleted, and if you’re fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, possibly Pakistan, possibly Iran, you need all of the soldiers you can get.

So I told them that and offered to send them whatever they needed, to prove it to them. And then one of them goes, ‘f*ck that guy!’ and I go, ‘yep, f*ck that guy!’ And that was it. His vote changed. All he needed was the information. Now, I’m not saying I’m this genius, the only one who can give you the information, but I am saying, comedy disarmed him enough to talk to a giant lefty like me, and then I told him a fact that he didn’t hear on the news because the news didn’t want report on that because you can’t question John McCain’s patriotism because John McCain got kidnapped like an *ssh*l* and so that was it.

Every journalist should have reported on that. Every journalist should have said, ‘how can you say that, and then you’re not going to fund their schooling?’ They should have run on that, but they didn’t because they’re all in the pockets and they just want access to the Whitehouse.

Another piece of evidence I can point to, of comedy changing somebody – I hate bringing this up; it makes me more uncomfortable than anything else on the planet, but I don’t see how I can possibly not bring this up or not mention it and make this point, which I think is more important.

A lot of reviews of my work have mentioned Hicks. I don’t agree with it at all, and I think it’s weird. But they have. So a lot of people will subsequently ask me if I was influenced comedically by Bill Hicks. I’m so used to that question that I’ve just sort of tuned it out. But for some reason, somebody asked me in Edinburgh, when I was doing press, and I actually had this moment where I stopped to think about it. And the answer is ‘no’. We talk about the same issues, but comedically, we’re very different. In the sense of religion, I’m an atheist and I think that people aren’t living their lives to the fullest. Whereas Hicks believed in god, believed in a higher power and saw all of these extremists destroying the thing that he believed in the most; that’s where his outrage came from. Which I can actually see being angrier in his sense. It’s like when Barrack Obama f*cks over progressives – I’m more mad at Obama than I was at Bush because I’m like, ‘you say you f*cken represent me, but you f*cked over my friends’.

Dom Romeo: And his friends, one would have thought…

I know, totally. ‘You grew up as a community organiser and now you’re f*cking over the poor while appeasing Wall Street?’ Awful. But what I realised about Hicks: he didn’t influence me comedically; I had all of his albums when I was 16, I listened to them, but I never sounded like Hicks. Although lots of comedians have this thing where instead of writing prolifically like Hicks, what they’ll do is they’ll just get up and yell at the audience before even trying to joke. They’re like, ‘yeah, I’m like Hicks!’ Really? That’s what he did? He just yelled at audiences? Hicks put a f*ckload of work into the jokes, and then when they didn’t get the jokes, he was so outraged comedically and politically; that’s what would make him snap. These people are forgetting the essential middleman: the joke! You write the jokes first, and try to make the jokes work, and then you yell at the audience.

I probably had that phase when I was 18: you’d bomb, and be like, ‘Hicks bombed; I’m like Hicks’. It’s like, ‘you *ssh*le!That’s what Hicks wanted to do: he just wanted to bomb every night.

I listened to him a lot before I did comedy, and my comedy never sounded like him. But I must have been influenced somehow. And here’s the really neat realisation that I made: when I listen to him now, I don’t even laugh. I kind of nod along. But what my girl friend and I realised when we weren’t laughing was that he didn’t influence me comedically, he influenced me to care about politics. When I wanted to care about politics, I’d listen to the news and think, ‘this is boring’ or ‘this is bullshit’; but then I listened to Hicks, and how he talked about the war and how he talked about religion, and I thought, this makes me care about politics. He didn’t make me wanna do comedy, he made me care about politics. So I can say absolutely, from firsthand experience, that comedy can change you. Because it can phrase things in a way and a language that I understood.

Even a crowd that mostly agrees with you: if I got up and was pretentious or just yelled my beliefs, they would’t give a shit. It’d just be boring. Because as much as those people agreed with me on the war, on torture, on gay rights, maybe ten of them are active, so they don’t have to be preached at, necessarily. I at least hope I taught somebody something. People will talk about ‘coming to Australia and preaching to the choir’. I think Penn Gillette said, ‘sometimes the choir needs preaching to’, and you have to rile them up a bit.

Dom Romeo: But then there’s the aspect of comedy where people only go to relax and unwind and laugh without having to think.

Those people are always disappointed when they see me.

Dom Romeo: But the ‘trick’ that a good comic gets to play, and I say ‘trick’ in inverted commas, is that you do make them relax and entertain them, and you just happen to make them think. It’s almost a sleight-of-hand when you’re a good comic who’s got something to say.

I got really lucky with that. I think I found out, when I was younger and I was trying to be the angry comic, it never worked. And then I realised it was because I wasn’t being myself. Which is weird. You spend your first 10 years of comedy not being yourself, and then you realise that all you had to do was just be you – you try to manufacture this character, not purposefully, you just assume that this person you happen to be offstage has to be different.

But it’s also a way of learning how to relax enough to capture whatever it is that they have when they’re just being themselves, to present it on stage. Some of the funniest people I know, who happen to be comics, are hilarious on Facebook and Twitter, but haven’t managed to learn how to be that funny person on stage. They don’t know how to make that person that they are, when they’re relaxed and in their element, come out in front of an audience when they’re on stage.

One of my best friends is the best writer, and he makes me laugh harder than anyone, but he just hasn’t figured out how to put it on stage. It’ll happen.

It was weird for me, because I was yelling at the audience, and I realised I don’t yell in real life. I am kind of shy and nerdy. If you can combine your flaws as a person with your passionate thoughts on stage, it’s this really cool juxtaposition, where they see the humility and you as a person and they see that you’re still thinking stuff and still questioning things and still not sure of yourself, and that you have strong convictions, which I also think they admire. If I walked up there all cocky, it wouldn’t work.

And here’s the thing, man: a lot of people disagree with me. They disagree with me on the subjects, not because they’re idiots, but because they’re scared, or because they’ve been given the wrong information. There probably are a lot of people who just want to kill brown people, but a lot of people who supported the war were really scared and they were tricked that they were gonna be nuked or that they were gonna be attacked, or that there’s this Islamic revolution coming, like New York. I understand that. I’m so protective of my girlfriend – not that she needs it – that I can see if you had children, you’d vote out of fear.

On the news, people say torture works. So if people say torture works, and you think, either we torture that guy or my kid might die, I can understand where people are coming from.

Dom Romeo: But torture doesn’t work. Torture makes people say what they think you want to hear, once you’ve broken them.

And that’s the key. Finding those arguments that appeal to selfishness. That’s what I’ve been trying to do recently. If I find someone who’s pro-torture, there’s no point going, ‘we’re better than that as human beings’. They don’t give a shit. That answer, ‘not only does it not work, but it produces false information that then takes away time for pursuing the actual evidence – so you’re actually putting yourself in more danger pursuing these false leads when you could be spending that time actually find the bad guys or whatever…’ that’s what you have to do. Once you realise we’re all selfish, you have to appeal to a person’s selfishness to convince them the other way. Those are the arguments I’ve started to look for.

Dom Romeo: You’ve finally found the antidote to Murdoch: you have to appeal to a different selfishness than he does, to undo his work.

Yeah. And I think it’s honesty. I think a lot of left-wing people think we’re better than we are, and that’s because they’re not honest with themselves. People are selfish. Lots of people are selfish. And you have to fight being selfish. And it’s not a good thing. You shouldn’t just accept it. But once you realise that, you can realise how to appeal to other people. Maybe.

Dom Romeo: Was there a comedian who influenced you? Because you appear kind of sui generis.

It was other people’s stories. There are comedians now who I see, who blow me away. Glenn Wool’s bit about going after the bankers. That blew me away. But that doesn’t man I’m going to go write about bankers. I see that and I think he did that perfect. Other comedians who are nothing like me… Daniel Kitson’s made me cry three times during his stand-up set. As an artist, I can watch that an appreciate it.

You don’t want to be inspired by it. That’s probably why I don’t watch as much comedy as I probably should, because then you run the risk of emulating it. I really try to find comedy in other things. I’m inspired by musicians, I’m inspired by artists, I’m inspired by Calvin & Hobbes. I’m inspired by people who listen to our radio show and email us their stories of how they stood up for themselves against a teacher, or a police officer or a military recruiter.

That shit inspires me, and that’s what moulded me and that’s what got me into comedy: just telling stories with my friends. Quoting from The Simpsons. You know, The Simpsons inspired me more than any comedian inspired me.

Dom Romeo: Do you ever want to be able to make a television show? An animation or something that gets the message across through a different medium?

Yeah! I would totally do that. I wouldn’t be in someone else’s show or sitcom or commercial or anything like that, but we’re actually working on an animation right now that we’re gonna start pitching to networks when I go home. There are a lot of ways to do it and I think it’s cool to attack from all sorts of mediums… – that sounded militant! – but I’m working on stuff. And there’s the radio show – radio really is an under-appreciated medium and it’s really intimate and great.

Me and Allison started Citizen Radio for fun, and then it blew up and we’ve got this global audience and it’s great. We’ve had Chomsky on three times, and Howard Zinn’s doing it, and we had Garofalo on a bunch. Just really cool people. And what we do, like with Chomsky, we tell him our audience is young and new to politics, so we had Chomsky talk about drugs, and talk about religion, and then that’ll get people into Chomsky and they’ll start reading Chomsky, and next time we had him on, we had him talk about South America and headier topics. And our audience just went with it. That’s something I could not do on the stand-up stage, but I can do it through radio. So now it’s ‘what can I do on television that I can’t do on radio?’ And if it’s nothing, if it’s just for a paycheque, I’m not gonna do it. But if there’s stuff that we can do – an animation that can be really subversive, then we’re gonna do it. If we pitch it to a network and they do what networks do, which is say, ‘we love everything about it, now let’s change it’, then we’re gonna walk away, and stay underground on the radio show.

Unless we get fired from BreakThru, we’re gonna keep it there. We’ve had meetings with CNN, we’ve had meetings elsewhere, but we’re not gonna do it. We’re gonna stay underground. It’s worked, only because of word of mouth. Only because our fans are really cool and will burn CDs for each other and whatnot.

But any medium that lets us stay true to ourselves, we’ll do.

CD cover

Dom Romeo: You’ve got a great CD out called Zombie Jesus. Tell me about the great cover art.

The artwork is Jesus, holding a flaming brain. It’s a zombie Jesus, but not in a cute way; it’s a decaying corpse. It is so filthy.

Dom Romeo: But it’s classic parody, because it’s based on the Catholic iconography of the ‘Secred Heart of Jesus’, where instead of a flaming heart, it’s a flaming brain.

It sure is. It’s one of my favourite things ever, and kudos to the people at Stand-Up Records for doing that. I like the cover too, because I didn’t realise how offensive this CD was until I listened to it.
I gave it to Germaine Greer, and I realised, there’s the anti-war stuff, and the anti-religion stuff, that she loved, but oh my god, I think I advocate for political assassination and it opens with ‘abortion’ and ‘c*nt’; it’s so f*cken filthy that I don’t think I can get away with giving it to any more intellectuals. I also trash a bunch of comedians on there, so it’s just going to hurt me more in America, so it’s just ridiculous.

Dom Romeo: Intellectuals are allowed to be challenged, too, though. And by stuff they consider is beneath them.

That’s actually a f*cken great point! Let’s roll with that. That makes me feel better. That’s a very good call!

Comedy Duos – Twice the Fun?


I’m on ABC Local Radio Overnights tomorrow (Sunday) morning across Australia. As Rod Quinn’s guest, I’ll be bringing in a bunch of samples as we discuss comedy duos. I’m on from around 4 am EST (which I think is 2am in Western Australia and somewhere in between, when you’re somewhere in between the eastern states and WA). Since I’m doing it live, and there’ll be talkback, if you’re an insomniac do listen and phone in. Don’t make the questions too hard – I’m working off the top of my head.

My playlist will be drawn from the following:

1. ‘The Cuckoo Song’ - Laurel & Hardy (sort of)

A logical place to start: Laurel & Hardy are a – perhaps the – seminal comedy team and this ditty – which existed independent of them – became their signature tune.

2. ‘Smokers’ – Fry & Laurie

Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie were Cambridge students who graduated to Edinburgh Fringe shows as part of the Footlights (the student club that gave members of Monty Python and The Goodies there start along with so many others I shan’t get caught up listing here), like so many university revue-educated wits before them. They first came to prominence in episodes of Black Adder before landing their own excellent sketch show, A Bit of Fry & Laurie, which is where this sketch originated. Nowadays Fry continues to write books and make documentary series while serving as Twitter’s biggest celebrity user, while Laurie enjoys massive success as the main character in the US medical drama series House.

3. ‘Pregnant Women Are Smug’ – Garfunkel & Oates

How’s this for a ‘comedy duo’? Their name itself is a joke on ‘duos’, referring to the ‘lesser sidemen’ in music duos. The point, in comedy, is that even if it looks like only one comedian in the duo is doing the work, the other one is still necessary for the comedy to work: it’s all about the dynamic. (“What was it that Dudley Moore used to do?” the question has been posed. “He made Peter Cook look funny” is the standard answer. He did much more than that – without him as a foil, Cook was more-or-less lost; his work never shone as brightly after cuddly Dudley made it in his own right in Holywood.)

Garfunkel & Oates are two young Californian actors, Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci – Kate’s a regular in later episodes of Scrubs. Their sideline are these cute satirical songs. I’m hoping they become popular enough to visit some Aussie comedy festivals, in time.

4. ‘Six of the Best’ – Peter Cook & Dudley Moore

I could bang on about the genius of Peter Cook & Dudley Moore for days. Suffice to say, as a duo, what they did on stage was magic, and in many ways I see Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt of The Mighty Boosh as their present-day equivalent. For its time, groundbreaking social commentary, since Moore plays the elderly schoolmaster, Cook, the arrogant and disrespectful student, reversing the power structure just as the young generation appeared to be taking control – or at least becoming the dominant element in popular culture – in the ’60s. It’s funny because it was revealing the unspoken truth. Of course a lad on the threshold of manhood could intimidate an elderly schoolmaster, but respect for age, experience, intellect, class and position prevented it from taking place. It’s less funny now that the scenario being enacted is one that more-or-less takes place in schools all the time now.

5. ‘Chocolate’ – The Smothers Brothers

The Smothers Brothers – Tom and Dicky – illustrate why the comic song works so well within the parameters of ‘comedy duo’. The ‘straight man’/‘funny man’ dichotomy creates humour through the straight guy trying to deliver the song as it should be performed, while the clown continues to subvert expectations. Within this song, many of the traditional elements of the folk song are turned on their head.

6. ‘Bob Geldof’ – Mel Smith & Grif Rhys Jones

After working on the sketch show Not The Nine O’Clock News with Pamela Stephenson and Rowan Atkinson, Smith & Jones continued to work with each other on the sketch show Alas Smith & Jones (the title’s a piss-take of the early ’70s cowboy series Alias Smith & Jones). One aspect of their work together were their ‘chats’, naturalistic dialogues derived, no doubt, from initital improvisations, not unlike the work  Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in ‘Pete ’n’ Dud’ mode – two old mates talking bollocks over beer.

7. ‘Sarah Jackman’ – Allan Sherman

Allan Sherman was mostly a solo act, coming out of a Jewish television/showbiz background (the titles of many of his albums began with the words, ‘My Son…’ like My Son The Nut and My Son The Folk Singer – as though his parents were still disapproving). He was a producer of the classic Tonight Show ever so briefly – but not good enough at it. After he was sacked, he returned as a performer, doing what he did best: song parodies. Indeed, the first time you watch the Walt Disney animated masterpiece Fantasia, you may think yourself a little crazy when you realise the melody of Ponchielli’s ‘The Dance of Hours’ (ostriches doing ballet) sounds almost exactly like ‘Hello Muddah, Hello Fuddah’; that’s because Sherman took ‘The Dance of Hours’ melody and wedded new lyrics to it. And he did it well – every syllable is where it should be.

For the duration of this song  – a parody of the French children’s song, ‘Frère Jacques’ – Sherman’s part of a duo with Christine Nelson. The song takes the form of a ‘catch-up’ phone call, one imagines by someone who has grown up and left the old neighbourhood, catching up with all the comings-and-goings. There’s a good deal of social commentary from its time – the early ’60s – with cousin Shirley ‘married early’, brother Bentley ‘feeling better mentally’, cousin Ida a ‘freedom rider’ and – my favourite – Sonja’s daughter Rita, now a ‘regular Lolita’!

8. ‘Who’s On First’ – Abbott & Costello

One of the seminal pieces of comedy from a classic comedy duo. Essentially the Abbott & Costello signature piece, it was recorded a number of times – in various films and on radio and television shows. This is an excerpt.

9. ‘Hawk Hawkins’ – Smart Casual

Ben and Nick Mattick are Roger David and Fletcher Jones (I may have the charaters in the wrong order), AKA Smart Casual. They first appeared on the Sydney comedy scene a few years ago, getting to the national final of the Raw Comedy competition on the strength of songs that had the good sense to be more than one gag repeated ad infinitem accompanied by 12-bar blues, or all of their jokes, delivered to opened-ended chordal vamping – which is how so much ‘musical comedy’ is unfortunately presented. (See what I’m saying, comedy n00bs? The tokenistic inclusion of music will fool the masses as easily as any other comedy corners you may find a way to cut. But people who ‘know about’ music and ‘know about’ comedy won’t be be impressed.)

Part of what makes Smart Casual’s material work is something that Garfunkel & Oates also know full well: if the joke is a quickie, so too must be the song. This year Smart Casual featured in Comedy Zone – the show the Melbourne International Comedy Festival puts together from the best new talent around Australia. ‘Hawk Hawkins’ was their Raw Comedy finale and has served them well. I suspect they’ll soon be ‘resting’ it as they move on to new material.

10. ‘Happy Darling?’ – Eleanor Bron and John Fortune

Eleanor Bron and John Fortune came to the fore as part of England’s so-called ’60s satire boom. Bron went to Cambridge University and was a contemporary of Peter Cook’s. She also has a major role in the Beatles film Help! – among other things, she’s the woman being sung to in the clip for ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’. During the 70s Bron and Fortune developed a series of sketches about relationships under the title Is Your Marriage Strictly Necessary? which John Cleese cites as one of the inspirations for Fawlty Towers.

11. ‘The Phonebook Song’ – Scared Weird Little Guys

The Scared Weird Little Guys are another two-guys-and-a-guitar comedy duo specialising in genre pardies and clever-silly songs. They comprise Rusty Berther and John Fleming, who met in a capella groups, having cut their teeth in barbershop quartets and the like. (Their first shared project was a five-piece a capella combo, ‘The Phones’.) ‘The Phonebook Song’ is a classic live number that demonstrates vocal prowess. At the very end, it refers to another novelty song built around clever rapid-fire syllables.

12. ‘Sweet Fanny Adams Part 2’ – Mel & Sue

Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins were (and possibly still are) an English comedy duo who, earlier this century, were likened – and perhaps burdened by the comparison – to ‘French & Saunders’. The BBC Radio 4 show, The Mel & Sue Thing, and subsequent Edinburgh Fringe shows, demonstrated a clever, funny approach to sketch comedy. ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’ was a regular feature of the show – the serialisation of Jane Austen’s last – and lost – novella, the perfect antidote to the costumed period dramas that still occupy BBC television broadcast schedules. Part of their ‘Mel & Sue’ persona sees them share a bed in their pyjamas in a very ‘Morecambe & Wise’ manner. Mel pops up in a Vicar of Dibley Christmas special.

13. ‘Bring Me Sunshine’ – Morecambe & Wise

Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise met as kids in a touring vaudeville troupe and perfected their comedy in partnership very early on. Being in the right place at the right time, they were the ones who made the transition from the vaudeville stage to television most successfully, becoming the most watched comedians of their age as they broke viewing records, particularly for their Christmas specials, in which regular non-comedic television personalities – news readers and the like – would appear in guest roles. ‘Bring Me Sunshine’ was, by the end of their long career, established as their signature tune.

Doling out laughs on queue


“It started with an advance payment from Centrelink,” Rohan says. “I had to use one of my dole payments just to cover the registration for the show.”

Adelaide comic Rohan Harry is explaining the origins of Centrelink the Musical, a show enjoying its third festival season, this time at Melbourne Fringe. It’s sold out its first two seasons – both in Adelaide – and from the descriptions, it sounds foolish and clever and, most of all, funny.

If I’m to be honest, that’s also my impression of Rohan, who I’ve been aware of for a few years now, having first encountered him as part of that big comedian migration to MySpace in 2006. Perhaps I did meet him in real life first, around the streets of Adelaide during Fringe Festival, or hanging out at that ‘bench of shame’ in front of Melbourne’s Town Hall during the International Comedy Festival. But he was most unavoidable online, popping up in comment threads of mutual friends’ MySpace blogs.

You’d have just made an insightful killer comment on the blog post of some glamour you’d never even met in real life, hoping to create some kind of impression, refreshing your screen at regular intervals in anticipation of the LOL or ROFL surely to follow, only to discover that someone else’s witty rejoinder had blown you out of the water. More often than not, it was Rohan’s. And there’d be a photo – an image of a swarthy lad with a touch of ‘Terry Gilliam animation’ around the eyes, or a somewhat disturbing image of him camping it up as a boy scout. Invention, character, and a visual aspect, were all clearly evident in the man’s comedy, even at this superficial level.

Rohan boyscout

“It’s partly because I have that artistic bent,” Rohan says, acknowledging a predilection towards character comedy. “Characterisation expresses a lot of humour by itself in the sense that you can be funny and not even have to say anything.” If he seems interested in exploring different kinds of comedy, as he seems interested in exploring different roles within it, comedy itself as vocation involved finding a different role. Rohan was interested in the arts, and started indulging pretty much after high school, but mostly as an antidote to the vocation he’d somehow found himself pursuing in error – art.

“I was studying industrial design at art school for about five or six years,” Rohan explains. “My high school guidance counsellor suggested from the subjects that I studied that that would be the way forward for me.” Although he knew himself to be creative and talented, high academic achievement meant that tertiary education was the go. But thankfully, he realised he “didn’t want to design kettles” for a living, and so had started writing scripts and making short films on the side. “I also did some acting courses – got into that caper for a while. Did an opening for a student film and I sat down and thought, ‘That was a bit of fun!’”

An advertisement for a comedy course caught his eye. Opinions vary about the usefulness of comedy courses. Can you teach someone to be funny? Well you can teach someone to act, you can teach them to play an instrument. You can only assume that they have to have the spark in order for it to work, and then there has to be inherent talent in order for it to become a viable way of life. For many a funny person who has yet to take the stage, a comedy course provides the initial step. “It gave me confidence, it gave me courage. And it gave me stage time,” Rohan confirms. “It was a vehicle for me and it got the ball rolling. People have mixed opinions about that sort of thing, but at the end of the day, you go through the door that opens.”

Cutting his chops on Adelaide’s local circuit, Rohan entered Raw Comedy and made it to the South Australian State Final. “The positive thing about comedy competitions for people starting out is that anyone can do them, so you’re automatically guaranteed a sell-out night, and you’ve got that stage time,” he points out. By that stage, Rohan had developed a passion and just kept writing.

However, the life of a fledgling comic can be tough – finding paid work is harder than finding punchlines that work. There was a point where Rohan found himself “in a really unhappy place with Adelaide” and so had fled to Sydney where he “spent a couple of nights unaccommodated, wandering the streets with my pack,” trying to land gigs. And that’s pretty much when the idea for Centrelink the Musical struck. “I’d been long-term unemployed for six or seven years and just based it on that one image in the movie The Full Monty – where the guys are having a bit of a jig in the dole queue. I thought, ‘let’s embrace that concept and go further’. At the time it was trendy to do musicals – there was High School Musical and Hairspray the Musical.”

According to Rohan, the title ‘Centrelink The Musical’ “totally struck a chord” with the people of Adelaide: tickets for that first season sold out before the show had been fully written. “A lot of the ticket sales went to Centrelink Offices and Job Network Providers,” he explains.

The beauty of Centrelink the Musical is its “raw simplicity”, which keeps it true-to-life: “I’m just playing myself,” Rohan insists. “There’s no acting involved whatsoever.” That’s not true of the rest of the cast, though – they all studied performing arts. “I got my friend Adam Willson to write the show around them,” Rohan says. While Rohan ‘created’ the show and appears in it as “Tim” (who has been unemployed for “only 23 months”), writer Adam plays the character Gary who has been unemployed for nearly two decades.

“There’s another comic in there,” Rohan reports. Dale Elliott – a Raw Comedy contestant who made the National Final a few years ago, plays the ‘Centrelink Virgin’, Ed. In real life, Deal is a paraplegic who “does a lot of motivational speaking and stuff”, and, like Rohan, his character in this production is very close to his own. “He’s a guy who can’t actually walk and has to justify that he’s a paraplegic to the system, having to look for work because they’re claiming he’s not eligible for compensation…”

Kate Jarvis, who “comes from a music background” and “has done a lot of school theatre” plays the single mum with a daughter and a bun in the oven.

Janine, the Centrelink Officer, is played by Anna Cheney Holmes, who also has a history of school theatre. And, says Rohan, “she’s done some film and TV stuff”: since the first season of Centrelink the Musical she appeared in episodes of McCloud’s Daughters (credited as ‘Anna Cheney’). 

The music was written by singer-songwriter Nathan Leigh Jones (or “NLJ”, as he’s also known). When Rohan Harry was wandering the streets of Sydney, having decided to flee Adelaide for the Harbour City’s stand-up scene, it was fellow Adelaide emigre Jones’s floor upon which he ultimately sought to crash. “I proposed the idea of Centrelink the Musical to him,” Rohan recalls, “and he just died laughing. He said, ‘I want to do the music for this’.”

NLJ has solid ‘Youth Alive’ Christian music behind him and had just returned from New York where he’d been hustling (so to speak!) for his record label, so was keen to just work on something fun. “He wrote the music and I pretty much got a team of guys together who were willing to do a Fringe show. We pretty much pulled it out of our arse in the ‘last few minutes’…” Apparently there was no “wanky audition process”, merely the question “Do you want to be involved?” If you answered ‘yes’, you were in.

Centrelink the Musical was choreographed by Julian Jaensch, another mate. Currently the artistic director of Triple A Theatre Company for Autism SA, he kept the dance moves simple enough for someone like Rohan, who hadn’t danced since he wa s a kid. “It’s done in a way that’s not taking away the humour, but it’s still got that element where we’re taking the piss,” he explains. “Same with our voices: we’re not all professional singers, but at the same time we bellow the tunes out for as long as it’s getting laughs. We stay in character. That’s why it works.”

The team is directed by Ross Vosvotekas, AKA Ross Voss, a veteran of Adelaide Fringe comedy shows and a recipiant of award nominations for them. The show opens in the dole queue with an up-beat opening number “to bring you in the mood with a lot of dancing” before revealing the reality of the situation: the five characters – the four unemployed and the public servant – are dissatisfied with where they are in their lives. As they interact, each one in turn gets to deliver a power ballad telling their side of the story. “They break into dream-like sequences that constantly move into song-and-dance and then cut back to reality,” says Rohan. “That’s where the main humour from the show comes from.”

Perhaps, if you were cynical, your first response to the concept of Centrelink the Musical would be to write it off – it is about the experience of trying to subsist on the government’s dole payment, after all. So, you might assume, you’d have to queue for four hours just to see it, and once in the theatre, you’d be surrounded by bogans in ugg boots and on crystal meth. And of course, the show would only be about half as long as you initially assumed it would be…

“We just went with the flow," Rohan insists. “Instead of it being an attack on the system, we made it more ‘okay, let’s have a bit of a laugh about the crazy people that come in, let’s see it from their point of view as well, and let’s entertain these people that represent Centrelink itself’.”

Truth is, in addition to selling out its first two seasons, Centrelink the Musical turned a healthy profit. Or would have, had the proceeds not been divided equally between all the participants. As it was, Rohan earned just enough… to no longer qualify for the dole. “I wasn’t rich out of it,” he insists.

Which is kind of unfair. If everyone on the dole had to produce a creative endeavour that turned a profit, the country as a whole would be doing so much better culturally and financially. They should have been rewarded with more money – in order to take their ideas further, and to come up with new ones. I almost think that should be the message of the show. But Rohan insists there is no message in Centrelink the Musical. “There is no real message in it whatsoever,” he says. “There’s stuff you can take from it, but in the end, it’s just a bit of fun.”


Preview show Tue Oct 6, playing Trades Hall New Ballroom until Sat Oct 10. Buy tickets.

Rohan eyes

Rockin’ Rollin’ Ridin’


For those of you who like to read about rock, in addition to saluting you, may I point out that I have a couple of interviews in this month’s (the October) issue of Live To Ride:


• Dez Fafara, lead vocalist of DevilDriver.


• John Campbell, bass player of Lamb of God.

Thanks to Johnny March for making them look so good on the page. And if you’re into your metal – or my writing – there’s also one with Kris Coombs-Roberts, guitarist and backing vocalist of Funeral for a Friend.

NRL 2009 Grand Final:
Go The Mighty Boosh!

Hard to believe, I know, but the Australian NRL Grand Final is of international importance. So much so that one of the most phenomenal acts in contemporary comedy, The Mighty Boosh, has weighed in with an opinion.

And why not? The 2009 Grand Final is between the Melbourne Storm and the Parramatta Eels. Parramatta is – we keep being reminded – the geographical and demographical centre of Sydney. This stoush really is tapping into that age-old rivalry of the two cities (a rivalry that one city keeps buying into, and that the other city seems not to actually care about).

So which team would The Mighty Boosh come out in favour of? The Boosh are equal parts intellectual and whimsical – very clever, very creative and of course, very funny. “Whimsical and clever?” you’re thinking. “That could only mean ‘Melbourne’. So The Boosh must be into the Melbourne Storm!”

Nope. Sorry. Check the clip out yourself: it’s definitely the Eels.