McGinlay follows Maron - WTF?
You probably know Danny McGinlay - perhaps as Australia's only Three Michelin Star Comedian, the ‘Food Dude’ who’s presented a dedicated menu of cuisine-related festival shows over the years. Maybe you’ve seen him on The Circle; or as the warm-up guy for The Circle and other television shows. Possibly you read his soccer blog, or have seen him as an extra in a film. At the very least, you should know him as a solid headliner that can turn even the coldest, reticent room into a den of happy punters, howling with laughter.
Even though I know him as the first guy I ever saw make a Harry Potter reference - long before it was de riguour to make those references – like a lot of comics I never got to see coming through the Sydney open mic scene, my first awareness of Danny McGinlay was via a recommendation from another mate of mine who is a stand-up comedian: Julia Wilson. She’d gigged with him in the UK and one day assured me if I ever met him that I should say g’day cos he’s a good comic and a good bloke. When that opportunity arose I did indeed say g’day, and discovered Danny to be both the good comic and good bloke that Wilson described him to be.
“Wilson’s ‘Good Bloke’ police?” Danny asks, laughing, when I tell him. We’re sitting in my kitchen, about to go to a gig at the Old Manly Boatshed, chowing down on a homemade pie (courtesy of my girlfriend) before we leave.
Turns out Wilson had recommended me to him as well. He was staying at her place while playing in Sydney, and one of his gigs was a Raw Comedy heat I was judging at the Comedy Store back when I used to judge Raw Comedy heats at the Comedy Store. Danny McGinlay was the feature act who entertained the crowds during the judges’ deliberation.
“I was panicking about how I’d find my way back to Wilson’s place,” Danny recalls, “around the corner from you. She said, ‘Dom Romeo’s a judge; you’ll give him a lift home; he’ll direct you. You’ll be best friends forever’.”
That’s more-or-less the case. And why not? Danny’s that perfect mixture of good comic and good bloke. He’s pretty down-to-earth. Take, for instance, the time he followed Marc Maron on stage at HiFi an MICF ago or so.
“I gigged with him, not knowing who he was,” Danny recalls, “and I think that helped.”
Speaking to him briefly before the gig, Marc “seemed like a bit of an angry bastard,” no different to so many other comics. So rather than awe – the universal response of every comic and comedy lover who has heard Maron’s legendary comedy-deconstructing WTF podcast and actually recognises him when they encounter him - Danny approached Maron with the polite indifference of the ignorant, concentrating on the gig at hand. “I followed him on and afterwards people said, ‘oh my god – you just got as many, if not more, laughs than Marc Maron’. I was like, ‘yeah, so? He’s just an international…’
Danny McGinlay started gigging in London at 23 – an age I consider quite young when you’ve not actually grown up and started doing comedy in England. But he puts it in perspective for me. “I started very young. I was the first of the ‘underage’ comedians!”
Apart from earlier school concert spots – consisting of the sort of jokes you rip off from joke books – Danny made his open mic debut at the ripe old age of 16 at St Kilda’s legendary Esplanade Hotel – aka ‘The Espy’. Still a full time school kid, Danny couldn’t hit the comedy scene “properly”, instead being forced to “sneak into a few places underage”. It wasn’t until he’d finished high school that Danny could “dive into the open mic scene”. Which is exactly what he did.
Rather than waste time pursuing one of those ‘careers to fall back on’, so beloved of parents, Danny gave uni a miss. “All I wanted to do was be a stand-up comedian, so I didn’t go to uni. I didn’t even apply for anything. I just wanted to do comedy.” The fact that he was an intelligent but seemingly under-achieving kid – “I’d get Cs and Bs, and comments like, ‘you’re correct, but you haven’t structured this essay properly’” – suggested that Danny would always be a better talker than a writer. So making his case humorously, on stage, had to win out.
While it’s not uncommon for Aussie comics, particularly of a certain (youthful) age, to make their foray into the UK scene – there’s always a bunch of ’em – Danny didn’t head over for the comedy. It was for a girl. “Who I’m now marrying,” he assures me, “so it’s fine”.
Danny’s fiancée did go to uni, and furthermore, after completing her degree, “did the whole ‘finished uni so I’m going off overseas for a couple of years’ thing”.
What chasing a girl to England means is, whereas there should have been some research and organising and a five-year plan to get somewhere in the stand-up world, Danny went more on a whim. And happened to get a bit of work while he was there.
“I certainly didn’t set the comedy world on fire,” he says of his time in Ol’ Blighty. “And that’s fine with me, because I have no desire to live in England. Every other aspect of life is better here in Australia.” To prove it, he invites me to pick something at random. But I don’t need to. I wasn’t long in England before I quickly realised how much I take the quality of fresh food for granted in Australia.
“F*ck yeah! You know exactly what you’re talking about,” Danny says, before adopting the instantly recogniseable voice of a surly pommy git: “Nup! You can’t ’ave that!”
Not that living in the UK doesn’t have advantages: the US and Europe are much easier to get to. And the comedy scene is awesome. But occupying a three-bedroom sharehouse with eight other people is much less so. Particularly when you’re the only one who has English as a first language.
Hang on, does not compute: didn’t Danny chase a lady to England? Yep. And her English is perfect. But, being of Ukrainian descent, Ukrainian was her first language. Turns out Danny’s true love was initially “the weird kid in prep school with funny-smelling lunches who couldn’t speak English…”
Danny insists life “wasn’t great” in the UK – cramped living conditions, virtually broke all the time. “The only thing you can do there is drink, because that’s cheap,” he says. But it did lead to his developing a love of soccer – “because all I could afford to do was have a few pints watching all the matches that were on in the pub” – and becoming a better comic – “I was doing three or four gigs per week, most of them paid, though only about 40 quid to MC”.
Turns out one of the flaws of the English comedy scene is that MCing isn’t so highly regarded, with the least experienced person made to MC. Really, the MC is the second most important person on the bill, after the headliner: a good MC paces the room to ensure every act has the opportunity to ‘kill’ – rather than ‘die’ – thus ensuring the audience gets the most laughs. They may have come only to see the headline act (or support their buddy the open mic-er) but if the night is run badly, they may not manage to stay to see the headline act, or may be burnt out by the time the headliner comes on. The MC has to ‘re-set’ the room after each act so the next one has the optimum opportunity to entertain the crowd.
“Only in London’s Comedy Store – in my opinion, the best comedy club in the world – does the really good comic MC,” Danny says. “And they get paid better than everybody else.”
Despite the excellent opportunity the UK offers comics – this isn’t cultural cringe, the truth is the comedy scene is far more developed and more generously rewarding for the truly talented – Danny returned to Australia in 2006. Ask him what brought him back to Australia and he’ll be adamant in his response:
“Everything! I want to spend my days off in a flat that’s not the size of a table. I wanna see my friends. I want to eat good food. I want to go out and not have all the pubs close at the exact same time, so that everyone who’s drunk and just sculled three pints cos it was ‘last drinks’ is now out together on crammed tubes –I’ve no idea how they think that prevents violence…” On that subject, he adds, “If you had 24-hour drinking in London, for the first three months, nothing would get done. But after that, the whole culture would change and there’d be less violence.”
Believe it or not
Culture of violence is an interesting tangent to pursue with Danny. He’s proper Irish Catholic, and has what he describes as “a very controversial position” on religion: “I think religion ultimately does more good than harm. But you can’t really say that to someone in the very sectarian arts world, where not being an atheist is as bad as being an atheist in Alabama.”
At the same time, Danny says, he probably would not identify himself as ‘Catholic’ were it not so important to his grandparents that they call themselves ‘Catholic’. It looms large in his heritage. “They had to fight, and were spat on, for being Catholic,” he says.
I know Danny’s proper Irish Catholic, with overtones of ‘The Troubles’, from the time I posted a YouTube clip of Paul McCartney and Wings playing their first single, ‘Give Ireland Back To The Irish’. Unlike everyone else who had a go because it is, essentially, a lousy song, Danny had a go because I referred to the ruthless suppression of a protest that inspired it (and John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s ‘Luck of the Irish’ and U2’s ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’) as a massacre that took place “in Londonderry”. Danny assured me the place is called ‘Derry’.
“But that place is called ‘Derry’,” he reiterates. “My family is from the north of Ireland, both the Republic and the ‘Occupied Counties’. I correct ‘Londonderry’ because it’s still a big factor; whether you call it ‘Derry’ or ‘Londonderry’ shows where you’re from.” And indeed, your politico-religious leanings. Or in my case, ignorance.
In settling in Australia, Danny’s father has tried to ensure piece would reign for subsequent generations. But when visiting the homeland, Danny says, “of course the relatives are still angry and talk about it.” Furthermore, he says, “half the family’s from Glasgow, so it’s ‘Belfast’ on a larger scale. They never had the bullets – they punch each other instead.”
The cousins in Glasgow still refuse to consider themselves ‘Scottish’, even despite being born there – of parents also born in Scotland. “They’ve barely been to Ireland – but they’re still Irish!”
Sounds like a future show…
Before London, Danny spent time as an on-air radio personality – again, proof of his early over-achieving. In 2002 he appeared in Comedy Zone – the show the Melbourne International Comedy Festival puts together from that year’s batch of best up-and-comers.
“I was head-hunted from that to be on the Fox Brekky Team,” Danny confesses. “Which lasted all of six weeks.” The powers-that-were at FOX FM decided to add Danny to ‘Tracy & Matt’ – the on-air team that consisted of Tracy Bartram and Matt Tilly. Only, they hadn’t really informed Tracy and Matt. “They got told on a Friday that there’d be a new guy on Monday.”
And how was that Monday? Well, all of Danny’s radio experience thus far was “not much community radio”, so he was always going to be “nervous as f*ck”, as he so descriptively puts it.
“I was 19. I’d never had a real job. Suddenly I’m on Fox FM Breakfast. I don’t know what I’m doing. The atmosphere was tense, but I figured that was just my perception, on account of my nervousness.”
Luckily, Tracy & Matt were able to send young Danny out in the field. The Osbournes was the big reality television show that everyone was talking about, so FOX FM started a competition to find Melbourne’s weirdest family, ‘The Melbournes’. Danny lasted “a good month” by going out to families’ houses in the morning, and interviewing them. “That was my segment. They’d cross back to me a few times. It was pretty awful.”
Knowing not to make that mistake again, Danny says, FOX FM had the good sense to introduce the next new team member as a writer, just one day a week. And then two days a week. Get him in softly before giving him his own segment. “Within six months he was part of the team and I’d been shafted to Black Thunder driver,” Danny says. “I got the arse.”
Who was that other new guy, I wonder? Did he go on to bigger and better things?
“He’s a guy who’s done nothing with it subsequently,” Danny says. “Don’t know if you’ve heard of him: Hamish Blake.”
Ah yes. That underachiever. Who’s done nothing subsequently. Apart from just about everything. Including winning a Gold Logie. “You lost your job to Hamish Blake?!” I demand, Admittedly, a tad too insensitively. Still, it was ten years ago now.
“I was the first guy who was ever sacked for Hamish Blake,” Danny concurs. Adding: “Twice.”
What? Danny McGinlay lost his job to Hamish Blake twice?
Oh yes. Turns out Danny was doing late nights by the time Hamish & Andy got their own radio show. And, he says, “I got shafted for that!” So Danny McGinlay has lost his job to Hamish Blake twice… “before he was even famous!”
Although it wasn’t immediate and total. At first, Hamish & Andy were only on one night a week. So Danny – hired as a comic, demoted to Black Thunder driver, ended up just another jock doing late nights. And as it was commercial radio, there was no end of directives instructing him how to be better at it.
“They’d say things like, ‘We hired you as a comedian on air, so why don’t you be funnier?’ So I’d try to do stuff. And then I’d get calls from above saying, ‘Why are you talking for so long? People just want to hear the music, not your opinions or your banter with callers. Get to the point or get off the microphone!”
In the end, Danny was doing the graveyard shift on Triple M in Sydney, from Melbourne. “By that time I knew I didn’t want to be a jock anymore so I had fun with it,” he recalls. It was that period of broadcasting when everyone had to have a nickname, and one of Danny’s best afternoons was the one he spent devising his own nickname. “I was trying to come up with stuff that was really nerdy but didn’t sound nerdy. Like…” – adopting commercial radio ‘jock’ voice – “…‘Hey, it’s the Raven Claw!’” (One of the Houses at Hogwarts in Harry Potter, Danny thinks he ought to explain to me. I am a half-generation older than him. “Or ‘It’s Slayer here’, as in ‘vampire slayer’.”
Despite spending an hour compiling an extensive – and extensively nerdy – list, the first suggestion on it was ‘The Wookie’, so the email came back almost immediately: “Wookie. Great. That’s who you are.” Danny’s certain they never even read beyond the first item.
“And what was your response?” I demand, but don’t give him time to reply before adding: “Do it!” Danny complies, offering an excellent Chewbacca impression.
“I was doing graveyard shifts on Triple M Sydney: ‘It’s the Wookie…’” – does the sound effect – “‘…here’s Khe San’.”
Since it was midnight to dawn shift on commercial radio, Danny was certain nobody was listening until the last half hour – between 5am and 6am, in the lead-up to the breakfast crew. “That’s when you’d have to be quite good – which was always the hardest because you’d be exhausted. But you’d have to go to a news break and you knew that people were starting to listen.”
This is when ‘The Cage’ was Triple M’s highly-rating breakfast crew, so Danny often had to announce, “The cage is on in 20 minutes” and throw to a highlights package. One time he extemporised a little with, “Tell you what – today’s episode of The Cage is the best. Ever. If you miss a second of it, you will kick yourself. It’s just going to be absolutely fantastic. Anyway. Here’s some stuff they did last week…” before cuing the highlights package. At which point a call came through from Triple J’s program director, who also happened to be the anchor for The Cage:
“Mate. What are you doin’?”
“I’m plugging The Cage.”
“Sayin’ it’s the best show ever?”
“What if it’s not? Why are you putting pressure on us? What if it’s not? Why would you do that? Now people are gonna turn it off if it’s not.”
Ah, the pressures of breakfast radio.
“What I wanted to say was, ‘if you get off the phone and do some research and prep, maybe it will be the best show ever!’” Danny relates. “I got in trouble for over-selling the show!”
Sounds like Danny McGinlay was just about ready to disappear overseas…
Danny established himself as the ‘food’ comic more-or-less out of the blocks. His first ever solo festival show was a cooking show entitled Monumental Cook-Up. “It was on at 10:45pm, down an alleyway. It got reviewed on its first night really positively by Helen Razer before there were star ratings in reviews, but I reckon it would have been a four-star review. I got a lot of ticket sales from that, but being on at 10:45pm down an alleyway, the season fizzled out.”
Though not all Danny’s shows have beena bout cooking, many have been. This, he insists, is mostly out of practicality: “When I procrastinate, I cook. This was a way of using procrastination to my advantage.” But apart from that, and also out of practicality, being the ‘Food Dude’ meant that Danny had a theme that set his shows apart. “It meant I was doing something that nobody else was doing,” he says.
Although, when you see headlining at a club or pub gig, you’re not gonna see Danny cook, and there’s a practical reason for that, too: “When you’re cooking and telling jokes, you’re splitting the audience’s focus.” It’s too difficult to listen and laugh if you’re concentrating on the food prep – which is borne out by reviews saying the same thing: “It’s a very funny show, but it’s more interesting than funny”. That’s “fair enough”, he says: “I’d be creating things with my hands, and even though I’d throw funny jokes out there, often they were too engrossed in what I was doing to pay attention to what I was saying.”
Of course, Danny’s a clever enough comic to overcome this issue, devising the perfect method to avoid splitting audience attention with his last foodie show, Recipes for Disaster: he included pre-recorded sketches.
“People would be watching the sketches on screen while I did the involved things, so by the time we would finish showing the sketch, the food would be ready to serve.”
In addition to standing out from the festival pack by doing shows about food, the food ensures Danny can stand out from the pack in his poster art – which is essential, because so many comics are, to the less comedy-savvy, pretty much alike. “What can you do?” Danny says. “We do all look the same – white males…” So Danny’s always got a food prop to ensure he looks different. “One year there was the wooden spoon – another year I had a chef’s hat. Last year I was zapping the chicken with jumper leads…”
In my opinion, so many comics look alike on their posters because they go to the same handful of photographers for their images. James Penlidis is popular in Melbourne. (I’m fond of the work of Photobat – who took great photos of me a couple of years and several kilos ago; nowadays I use my mate Tony’s photos…)
Danny swears by Penlidis. And in addition to wielding props, Danny also has the good sense to get his images done a little later, always asking what colours everyone else has been using in order to ensure he stands out.
“Penlidis always makes you feel like a rock star when you use him,” Danny says. “He makes you look good. You go to his studio and it’s just awesome: you go through his books and see every celebrity you’ve ever heard of; he’s taken photos of them.”
And, for the comedy nerd in me, Danny adds a further factoid: Penlidis was the body in publicity photos of chart-topping prank-caller Guido Hatzis. “He’s got two kids now but he still looks good. If I was drunk he could… maybe… turn me. Because he’s so lovely… And buff… And Greek… Reminds me of school…”
As it happens, having devised food shows and posters to stand out from the crowd, and systemic methods to get around technical difficulties of those food shows, Danny’s decided to get away from food shows altogether this year.
“I didn’t want to do any props or gimmicks or anything this time around,” Danny explains. “I just wanted to do stand-up. But of course, a gimmick show has organically formed.”
The show is called Danny McGinlay Learns Ukrainian – instead of cooking utensils, on this poster he carries a massive Ukrainian flag. The show is all about his relationship with the girl he chased to England. “I’m still with her,” he says. “We will be ten yeas together in January. We’re getting married June 9.”
The initial idea was a stand-up show loosely based around the story of Danny taking Ukranian lessons. However, Danny says, working with script consultant – and former Rove writer – Declan Fay led somehow to the greater development of “the actual… ‘gimmickry’, I suppose…” of learning Ukrainian. Between the two, they’ve fleshed out a show that’s 90 percent about the learning Ukrainian with only a few side forays into other stand-up. “So it’s become another personal story, with a flip chart showing Ukrainian words,” Danny says. He didn’t want to end up using a flip chart, but he knows full well that “not doing something for the sake of not doing it is just as bad as doing it for the sake of doing it!”
And rest assured, hints of Danny’s erstwhile Food Dudery persists, particularly on the poster, which bears the line, “How far would you go for a chick in Kiev?” That great pun is the work of Taswegian comic Gavin Baskerville – who, it turns out, came up with the title of Danny’s 2011 show, Recipes for Disaster. In fact, Gavin came up with the goods for Monumental Cook-Up as well, delivering the line “Jamie Oliver with be turning in his gravy!” And of course, good guy that Danny is, he’ll express his gratitude with a slab for Gav the next time he plays a gig in Hobart.
Soccer to 'em
When Danny procrastinates, he doesn’t always just cook and come up with food-based festival shows. His procrastination has also given rise to a soccer blog, Danny's Football Bluff: “Because when I’m procrastinating, I also go into football forums and see what people have to say…”
I wanna see what Danny has to say about this: Is it ‘football’ or ‘soccer’? A fair question to put to an Australian lover of the round-ball sport.
“It’s both,” Danny insists. “And anyone who argues over it is a f*ckwit.”
He elaborates: “Why does it matter? I will say ‘soccer’ most of the time, because people don’t question it then. Whereas ‘football’ in Australia can mean rugby league, Aussie rules, soccer, rugby union…”
That’s a good point. But I’m a half-generation older than Danny. When I went to school, ‘football’, or ‘footy’, never ever meant ‘wogball’. The two were very different.
“Yeah, I don’t feel comfortable calling it that,” Danny says, not for reason of political correctness, rather because he’s setting up a well-placed gag: “I’d call it anything except ‘wogball’ – mostly because the Greeks aren’t very good at it!”
Back to the issue of the name, I’m proud to know the origins of ‘soccer’ and ‘football’ originate with the sport’s proper name: ‘association football’. Why we grabbed a syllable from the ‘association’ part to create the hypocorism ‘soccer’, while others chose to go with ‘football’ or the hypocorism ‘footy’ is a factoid that still eludes me. Danny has his own interesting factoid:
“Aussie Rules is older than soccer. Not really, but officially. The rules of Australian Rules football were written down first. People were playing soccer for longer than that, but it wasn’t official. So really, AFL is ‘football’, and soccer is ‘soccer’. But in my head, soccer is ‘football’ and AFL is ‘footy’.”
Still, he says, “it’s detrimental when you’re trying to have a discussion about the round-ball game and someone says…” – adopting a ‘spaz’ voice - ‘It’s football!’ Come on. We’ve got something in common here, and it’s a sport that a lot of people disdain – so let’s have a united front and not worry about the pathetic little things.”
With such a good attitude to the sport, I’m wondering why Danny isn’t more of a sporting jock comic.
“I am! Aren’t I? Yeah I am. I talk about sports…”
Danny explains that he cut his teeth in that arena, having started out at the Espy, playing Armidale, the Star & Garter and the like: “It was all bogan comics that I saw, so I started pretty bogan.”
Yeah, perhaps. But despite bogan origins, Danny was still the first person I saw making Harry Potter references early on – before it became de rigour particularly fro younger, more fey comics. Which was funny because Danny is, let’s face it, built like a jock. And he doesn’t deny it.
“I was a jock at school. I was in the popular group. I know it’s not cool to say that anymore – you’re supposed to say you were bullied. But I wasn’t – I was in the ‘cool people’ group, I went to the right parties, had a hot girlfriend, and did some bullying as well…”
No, hang on – Danny didn’t beat the shit out of wimps because he could – not that kind of ‘bullying’. He explains: “there were socially inept nerds and I had a pretty quick mind so I made fun of them. I never physically hurt anybody.” Pause. “But I probably scarred them a bit.”
So does being the jock-who-cooks and makes Harry Potter references make up for that? Is the career some kind of karmic penance?
“I don’t know. I’m not doing the Billy Madison thing where I phone them and they cross me off a list of people to kill. But I didn’t make anyone cry. As far as I know. I can’t guarantee that I made an impact on anyone’s life, but I know I got some pretty good zingers out there during little lunch. And that was my way into being in the cool group: I was on the footy team and I was funnier than most of the guys – and that put me in high esteem in high school.”
Again, let’s put this into perspective: Danny the Food Dude comic is still good mates with the captain of his high school football team. They still hang out. And go watch the footy. But – and this is a beauty – “he’s about to move to Munich to be a sculptor.”
This last bit results in an audible double-take on my part, because Danny adds, “it was a very odd school; you had the potheads, the Greeks, and me and him were a bit weird because we were artsy guys who played football.”
For a moment a rare throwback vaudeville gene takes control. “Are Greek potheads Grecian Urns? What’s a Grecian earn?” I can’t hold back from demanding. Danny doesn’t quite shake his head at me, instead donning the accent of a second generation Aussie for whom Greek is spoken at home. “I dunno, but it’s cash, mate; it’s cash…”
One of the comedy occupations Danny undertakes is that of warm-up: getting a live studio audience into the zone to be receptive and ready to laugh when the cameras of a live taping roll. I’ve always thought it was a particular kind of stand-up hell – though fact is, it’s audience hell, particularly when you’re in the audience of a Comedy Festival Gala, say, and all you want is for the show to start, but you have to sit through the same routines each time.
“When the alarm rings at 6:30am to get up and go into The Circle, it’s hell,” Danny says. “The whole reason I became a comedian was so that I could sleep in.”
Even though Danny first appeared as a guest on The Circle – in Food Dude mode – and he still appears as a guest from time to time, nowadays he, Harley Breen and Kynan Barker – “the go-to guy of warm-ups” – share warm-up duties. Danny has also warmed up Spicks & Specks, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, The Project and Adam Hills in Gordon Street Tonight audiences.
It was Ross Noble who proved warm-up can be a necessary evil that leads to good things, rather than hell: his ability to perpetually improvise, extemporising on random themes that he bring back to tie together at the end of two hours, having been developed in the stop-start nature of the studio taping, when you never know how long you’re going to have to talk to the audience.
“You can’t really do stand-up,” Danny explains. “It’s all just stuff about the show. I just chat to people.” This means his ‘crowd work’ has gotten much better.” While he is sometimes able to take them on weird flights of fancy, it all depends on the audience. On The Circle, for example, where he and the audience sit through the live advertorials before he takes over during the ad breaks, Danny has “set routines for the Genie Bra ad, the Ab Circle Pro ad, the Pet Insurance ad”. And since The Circle’s audience is often “old dears”, as long as he’s “a nice boy”, they like him. “Occasionally you get crowds who aren’t into it. And that’s where you get blamed – there isn’t much you can do about it.”
On the other hand, shooting Who Wants To Be A Millionaire can take some six hours. “By the last episode, you’ve chatted to them all, you know where they’re from, they’re tired, you’re tired. We just talk cr*p.” Danny’s got “two magic tricks” he saves for the very end, when all else has failed. “That’s how desperate you get.”
One of Danny’s best Millionaire stories involves a particularly stupid contestant indeed. During the warm up, while explaining to the audience how they have to be utterly silent until Eddy says ‘correct’, he used a pretend question with someone in the crowd, so they could practice.
“I just asked a question about something that was in the news that day – about Harry Kewl coming to Melbourne Victory. I said, ‘Which Socceroo has just signed to Melbourne Victory? Is it a) Kewl; b) David Beckham; c) Pelle; or d) Pinocchio.”
Later during the taping, a contestant was asked that question.
“And you know what’s even better?” Danny says. “He still got it wrong!”
Thankfully the audience did as it has been instructed, and kept quiet until the contestant had answered, and then reacted appropriately to the game, rather than the contestant’s stupidity.
“They didn’t laugh,” Danny says, “but they were all just looking at me as if to say, ‘you’re gonna get in trouble!’” But of course, Danny didn’t get into trouble. “No-one’s listening to what I’m doing during the warm-up; the producers are talking about camera angles; Ed’s in his dressing room.”
Later, while killing time between episodes, someone in the audience asked Danny if he’d done it deliberately. “I was like, ‘F*cken no! Thank you for not reacting!’”
The important point Danny has learnt is to unify the audience as a team; they get through the boring bits better, knowing they’re all in this together. And the ‘team game’ mentality helps with all aspects of comedy, especially MCing. It’s something you’ll notice Adam Hills do if you watch him carefully during a performance: he’ll do a lot of crowd work, ultimately to get them onside and ready to laugh.
“Hillsy’s great,” Danny concurs, having recently been reminded of this once again, at a gig at the Melbourne comedy room Softbelly. “I was MCing and feeling pretty good,” Danny says. “To best explain it, I was feeling like Harry Potter: creating magic out of the things the audience was giving me. Hillsy came on, spoke to the exact same members of the crowd, didn’t do any ‘material’ and got so much more out of them. It showed why he is Dumbledore. It was quite humbling, but at same time very inspiring.”
Talk turns to other aspects of performance: one of Danny’s points early on was that “nerves are your friend”, so it’s better to have them, before a gig, than dull them with alcohol. He reiterates now with some advice someone else gave him recently:
“Take the stage with equal parts fear and confidence; too much nerves will get in the way of the performance; too much confidence will alienate the audience. Too much of one or the other and the gig will go badly. Have it exactly equal and it’s perfect.”
One last little factoid, Danny attributes to Billy Connolly. “I think he’s said that if he’s not nervous before a gig, he’ll scull a litre of water so he’ll suddenly get jumpy and worried he’ll need to pee during the show. That gets him nervous.”
On that note, we both have a big glass of water head off to the gig.
Fine PrintDanny McGinlay Learns Ukrainian 7:45pm Upstairs @ Hairy Little Sista until the end of the 2012 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.