One of my favourite spectacles used to be watching a young audience less familiar with live stand-up comedy in Australia regard the appearance of Garry Who, as their headline act of the night, with a degree of disappointment. Perhaps they didnât recognise the name, but they certainly recognised the face: from a primetime Aussie comedy. Surely this guy wasnât gonna make them laugh, armed only with a microphone. Not long into the performance, theyâd be loving it. That was almost my own initial response. Oh, Iâd known he was a stand-up comic, I knew his name, but I hadnât seen him before. Iâd stumbled on his comedy album in one of my favourite second-hand shops that, back in the day, always had a well-stocked comedy section. But at the time of finding the record, Iâd thought, âThat guy?! That guyâs a real comic?â Yes he is. And heâs a good one. See him. This week at the Laugh Garage. Meanwhile, also read this interview I did with him ages and ages ago.
âIâm not gonna be relaxed until I get a cappuccino,â Garry Who explains, adding that he assumes from my âvibeâ that I must want to get this interview over with. If I am unsettled it is because I need to make a confession: my first knowledge of Garry Who was during his incarnation as Dougie, John Englishâs faithful roadie in the Channel Nine sitcom All Together Now. I had become aware of his career as a stand-up comedian later, through the discovery of a live album. But Dougie still looms large in Garry Whoâs legend. This confession of course leads to essential questions that revolve around the gorgeous blonde female co-star of that sitcom, Rebecca Gibney. Although hindsight casts her as a precursor to the âNanny named Franâ archetype, she was a major prime time recipient of unbridled lounge room lust across Australia.
âIâll tell you two things about Rebecca Gibney,â Garry thankfully anticipates before I have to pose the question. âShe was gorgeous. And no, I didnât.â A pause. âOh, one more thing,â he adds, throwing in an answer to a question I didnât think to ask: âshe wouldnât let me.â
All Together Now was fun to make, Garry acknowledges. Heâd do that sort of work again if the right project came up, but he wants to concentrate on his stand-up now. Despite having been Ray Martinâs resident comic on The Midday Show for two years, and having been a stand-up comic prior to his television work, Garry tells me that âa lot of peopleâ still think of him as âDougieâ. âAnd thatâs fair enough,â he adds. âIt was great exposure. It opened up doors to other things. But I want to concentrate on my stand-up now. I want to get that exposed.â
Whoâs own first exposure to stand-up comedy when he was a young apprentice sign writer. Fresh out of school, a lack of sufficient grades prevented him from following his desired vocation of commercial art. âI wasnât good at maths, which really has fuck-all to do with it as far as Iâm concerned, but I didnât pass so I couldnât get a job as a commercial artist,â he explains. Garry opted for sign writing, the next best thing. He âdugâ it, he says, until the realisation dawned that sign writing âis only art when itâs a little ten by eight work, when itâs something in front of you or something you can get to. Itâs not art when youâre up on a wall in the blazing hot sun, splashing out with a big paintbrush. When you get up on those big wall signs, youâre no longer sign writing, youâre painting a building.â
Despite the admission that he had âalways been the class clown, like everybody else,â (thatâll account for your lack of grades, Gazza), Garry claims that when friends, amused by his antics and anecdotes, advised him that he ought to be a comic, he had no real idea what they meant. âIâd never, ever seen a comic,â he says. That all changed when he attended an âall-mens nightâ in a club above the Rex Hotel in Kings Cross. There, amidâ¦ things they showed only to men in clubs in Kings Cross in the early- to mid-1980s on all-men nights, Garry Who saw his first comic. âHe was a guy by the name of Barney Coombs, who was an American club comedian working out here. He had an American accent. It blew me away. I thought, âWow!â That was what really inspired me.â
Garry had, by this stage, come to loathe the boss to whom heâd been apprenticed. While scouring the Herald one morning, in search of another sign writing job, he came across a âreally weird adâ which, he claims, said ââcomedians and script writers wanted, phone this number.â I thought, âGee thatâs how they get to do that for a living; itâs an actual jobâ. Iâd never thought of it as a job; I thought people were just in show business.â
Rang the number. Visited the offices on Oxford Street, near Taylorâs Square. Paid the guy for some courses. âThe guy ripped me off,â Garry insists, âbut he gave me some very good notes. He got me into talent quests. If it hadnât have been for him I wouldnât have known how to go about it. So he kind of started me. I didnât really get ripped of.â
Within two years Garry was doing the pub and club circuit. âI was very young. I was twenty one or something. I had hair down my back, I just didnât suit the crowd. They didnât understand me. You could only do old gags.â When the Comedy Store opened soon after, Garry had the opportunity to do more than just old gags. âI always look upon the Comedy Store as my beginning,â he says. Film and television work allowing, he has been a regular on the comedy circuit ever since.
Garry acknowledges the difference between a âparty comicâ and a âstand-up comicâ being that âthe party comic says things funnyâ while âthe stand-up comic tells things funnyâ. He also acknowledges that stand-up comedy and sitcom acting âhave nothing to do with each otherâ, that they are âdifferent worldsâ. However, he amends this by pointing out that stand-up, ultimately, is acting. âNo matter what sort of comedy youâre doing, youâre still acting. Youâre saying, âa funny thing happened to me on the way over here tonightâ when it didnât. How far you want to take the acting depends on the style of comedy that youâre doing. Just doing one-liners, you donât have to act particularly well; you only have to deliver in the word or the phrase.â The comedy of Garry Who involves telling stories, and so, one assumes, there is a bit more acting involved. But a difference certainly does exist between audiences of today and those Garry played to when he started out. Audience awareness has grown, comedy has become freer and as result of both, it is more sophisticated.
âThe only thing thatâs different today is that youâve got things like The Comedy Channel, so you can actually do shit on telly. It doesnât pay or anything, but itâs experience.â In the not-too-distant past, a comicâs only option was signing with a network, and if you didnât, you werenât on telly unless you could land on the ABC. âNow thereâs a chance for people with their ideasâ¦â
However, the scope for ideas appears to be somewhat limited at this stage of the game. While I have never had cable access, Garry got rid of his. âToo much repeating,â he says. âIâd see the monthâs movies in two nights; I come home from a gig and by six oâclock in the morning, Iâd have watched all the movies for that month. Iâve got to go to the video store anyway, so I didnât see the point. Discovery Channel: What I discovered was that nothing changes on that channel. Just repeats.â
This does not preclude Garry Who from appearing on the Comedy Channel. His recently filmed guest spot on âHeadlinersâ will beâ¦ re-broadcast with regularity, because itâs the Comedy Channel. But keep an eye out for a new telemovie he is in, called Close Contact:
âI donât know when itâs coming out,â Garry explains. âSome time between now and the end of the year. Kimberley Davies is in it.â
âOo-er,â I venture, contemplating the gorgeous blonde. âWhat was it like working with Kimberley Davies? Same three things as Rebecca Gibney?â
âYep,â Garry confirms. âSame three things.â