Danny McGinlay a la carte
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
McGinlay follows Maron - WTF?
You probably know Danny McGinlay - perhaps as Australia's only Three Michelin Star Comedian, the âFood Dudeâ whoâs presented a dedicated menu of cuisine-related festival shows over the years. Maybe youâve 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 â 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. Sheâd gigged with him in the UK and one day assured me if I ever met him that I should say gâday cos heâs a good comic and a good bloke. When that opportunity arose I did indeed say gâday, and discovered Danny to be both the good comic and good bloke that Wilson described him to be.
âWilsonâs âGood Blokeâ police?â Danny asks, laughing, when I tell him. Weâre 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 judgesâ deliberation.
âI was panicking about how Iâd find my way back to Wilsonâs place,â Danny recalls, âaround the corner from you. She said, âDom Romeoâs a judge; youâll give him a lift home; heâll direct you. Youâll be best friends foreverâ.â
Thatâs more-or-less the case. And why not? Dannyâs that perfect mixture of good comic and good bloke. Heâs pretty down-to-earth. Take, for instance, the time he followed Marc Maron on stage at HiFi an MICF ago or so.
âI gigged with him, not knowing who he was,â Danny recalls, âand I think that helped.â
Speaking to him briefly before the gig, Marc âseemed like a bit of an angry bastard,â no different to so many other comics. So rather than awe â the universal response of every comic and comedy lover who has heard Maronâs 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. âI followed him on and afterwards people said, âoh my god â you just got as many, if not more, laughs than Marc Maronâ. I was like, âyeah, so? Heâs just an internationalâ¦â
Danny McGinlay started gigging in London at 23 â an age I consider quite young when youâve not actually grown up and started doing comedy in England. But he puts it in perspective for me. âI started very young. I was the first of the âunderageâ comedians!â
Apart from earlier school concert spots â consisting of the sort of jokes you rip off from joke books â Danny made his open mic debut at the ripe old age of 16 at St Kildaâs legendary Esplanade Hotel â aka âThe Espyâ. Still a full time school kid, Danny couldnât hit the comedy scene âproperlyâ, instead being forced to âsneak into a few places underageâ. It wasnât until heâd finished high school that Danny could âdive into the open mic sceneâ. Which is exactly what he did.
Rather than waste time pursuing one of those âcareers to fall back onâ, so beloved of parents, Danny gave uni a miss. âAll I wanted to do was be a stand-up comedian, so I didnât go to uni. I didnât even apply for anything. I just wanted to do comedy.â The fact that he was an intelligent but seemingly under-achieving kid â âIâd get Cs and Bs, and comments like, âyouâre correct, but you havenât structured this essay properlyââ â suggested that Danny would always be a better talker than a writer. So making his case humorously, on stage, had to win out.
While itâs not uncommon for Aussie comics, particularly of a certain (youthful) age, to make their foray into the UK scene â thereâs always a bunch of âem â Danny didnât head over for the comedy. It was for a girl. âWho Iâm now marrying,â he assures me, âso itâs fineâ.
Dannyâs fiancÃ©e did go to uni, and furthermore, after completing her degree, âdid the whole âfinished uni so Iâm going off overseas for a couple of yearsâ thingâ.
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.
âI certainly didnât set the comedy world on fire,â he says of his time in Olâ Blighty. âAnd thatâs fine with me, because I have no desire to live in England. Every other aspect of life is better here in Australia.â To prove it, he invites me to pick something at random. But I donât need to. I wasnât long in England before I quickly realised how much I take the quality of fresh food for granted in Australia.
âF*ck yeah! You know exactly what youâre talking about,â Danny says, before adopting the instantly recogniseable voice of a surly pommy git: âNup! You canât âave that!â
Not that living in the UK doesnât 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 youâre the only one who has English as a first language.
Hang on, does not compute: didnât Danny chase a lady to England? Yep. And her English is perfect. But, being of Ukrainian descent, Ukrainian was her first language. Turns out Dannyâs true love was initially âthe weird kid in prep school with funny-smelling lunches who couldnât speak Englishâ¦â
Danny insists life âwasnât greatâ in the UK â cramped living conditions, virtually broke all the time. âThe only thing you can do there is drink, because thatâs cheap,â he says. But it did lead to his developing a love of soccer â âbecause all I could afford to do was have a few pints watching all the matches that were on in the pubâ â and becoming a better comic â âI was doing three or four gigs per week, most of them paid, though only about 40 quid to MCâ.
Turns out one of the flaws of the English comedy scene is that MCing isnât 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 âkillâ â rather than âdieâ â 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 âre-setâ the room after each act so the next one has the optimum opportunity to entertain the crowd.
âOnly in Londonâs Comedy Store â in my opinion, the best comedy club in the world â does the really good comic MC,â Danny says. âAnd they get paid better than everybody else.â
Despite the excellent opportunity the UK offers comics â this isnât cultural cringe, the truth is the comedy scene is far more developed and more generously rewarding for the truly talented â Danny returned to Australia in 2006. Ask him what brought him back to Australia and heâll be adamant in his response:
âEverything! I want to spend my days off in a flat thatâs 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 whoâs drunk and just sculled three pints cos it was âlast drinksâ is now out together on crammed tubes âIâve no idea how they think that prevents violenceâ¦â On that subject, he adds, âIf 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 thereâd be less violence.â
Believe it or not
Culture of violence is an interesting tangent to pursue with Danny. Heâs proper Irish Catholic, and has what he describes as âa very controversial positionâ on religion: âI think religion ultimately does more good than harm. But you canât 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.â
At the same time, Danny says, he probably would not identify himself as âCatholicâ were it not so important to his grandparents that they call themselves âCatholicâ. It looms large in his heritage. âThey had to fight, and were spat on, for being Catholic,â he says.
I know Dannyâs proper Irish Catholic, with overtones of âThe Troublesâ, from the time I posted a YouTube clip of Paul McCartney and Wings playing their first single, âGive Ireland Back To The Irishâ. 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 Onoâs âLuck of the Irishâ and U2âs âSunday Bloody Sundayâ) as a massacre that took place âin Londonderryâ. Danny assured me the place is called âDerryâ.
âBut that place is called âDerryâ,â he reiterates. âMy family is from the north of Ireland, both the Republic and the âOccupied Countiesâ. I correct âLondonderryâ because itâs still a big factor; whether you call it âDerryâ or âLondonderryâ shows where youâre from.â And indeed, your politico-religious leanings. Or in my case, ignorance.
In settling in Australia, Dannyâs father has tried to ensure piece would reign for subsequent generations. But when visiting the homeland, Danny says, âof course the relatives are still angry and talk about it.â Furthermore, he says, âhalf the familyâs from Glasgow, so itâs âBelfastâ on a larger scale. They never had the bullets â they punch each other instead.â
The cousins in Glasgow still refuse to consider themselves âScottishâ, even despite being born there â of parents also born in Scotland. âTheyâve barely been to Ireland â but theyâre still Irish!â
Sounds like a future showâ¦
Before London, Danny spent time as an on-air radio personality â again, proof of his early over-achieving. In 2002 he appeared in Comedy Zone â the show the Melbourne International Comedy Festival puts together from that yearâs batch of best up-and-comers.
âI was head-hunted from that to be on the Fox Brekky Team,â Danny confesses. âWhich lasted all of six weeks.â The powers-that-were at FOX FM decided to add Danny to âTracy & Mattâ â the on-air team that consisted of Tracy Bartram and Matt Tilly. Only, they hadnât really informed Tracy and Matt. âThey got told on a Friday that thereâd be a new guy on Monday.â
And how was that Monday? Well, all of Dannyâs radio experience thus far was ânot much community radioâ, so he was always going to be ânervous as f*ckâ, as he so descriptively puts it.
âI was 19. Iâd never had a real job. Suddenly Iâm on Fox FM Breakfast. I donât know what Iâm doing. The atmosphere was tense, but I figured that was just my perception, on account of my nervousness.â
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 Melbourneâs weirdest family, âThe Melbournesâ. Danny lasted âa good monthâ by going out to familiesâ houses in the morning, and interviewing them. âThat was my segment. Theyâd cross back to me a few times. It was pretty awful.â
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. âWithin six months he was part of the team and Iâd been shafted to Black Thunder driver,â Danny says. âI got the arse.â
Who was that other new guy, I wonder? Did he go on to bigger and better things?
âHeâs a guy whoâs done nothing with it subsequently,â Danny says. âDonât know if youâve heard of him: Hamish Blake.â
Ah yes. That underachiever. Whoâs done nothing subsequently. Apart from just about everything. Including winning a Gold Logie. âYou lost your job to Hamish Blake?!â I demand, Admittedly, a tad too insensitively. Still, it was ten years ago now.
âI was the first guy who was ever sacked for Hamish Blake,â Danny concurs. Adding: âTwice.â
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, âI got shafted for that!â So Danny McGinlay has lost his job to Hamish Blake twiceâ¦ âbefore he was even famous!â
Although it wasnât immediate and total. At first, Hamish & Andy were only on one night a week. So Danny â 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.
âTheyâd say things like, âWe hired you as a comedian on air, so why donât you be funnier?â So Iâd try to do stuff. And then Iâd get calls from above saying, âWhy 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!â
In the end, Danny was doing the graveyard shift on Triple M in Sydney, from Melbourne. âBy that time I knew I didnât want to be a jock anymore so I had fun with it,â he recalls. It was that period of broadcasting when everyone had to have a nickname, and one of Dannyâs best afternoons was the one he spent devising his own nickname. âI was trying to come up with stuff that was really nerdy but didnât sound nerdy. Likeâ¦â â adopting commercial radio âjockâ voice â ââ¦âHey, itâs the Raven Claw!ââ (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. âOr âItâs Slayer hereâ, as in âvampire slayerâ.â
Despite spending an hour compiling an extensive â and extensively nerdy â list, the first suggestion on it was âThe Wookieâ, so the email came back almost immediately: âWookie. Great. Thatâs who you are.â Dannyâs certain they never even read beyond the first item.
âAnd what was your response?â I demand, but donât give him time to reply before adding: âDo it!â Danny complies, offering an excellent Chewbacca impression.
âI was doing graveyard shifts on Triple M Sydney: âItâs the Wookieâ¦ââ â does the sound effect â âââ¦hereâs Khe Sanâ.â
Since it was midnight to dawn shift on commercial radio, Danny was certain nobody was listening until the last half hour â between 5am and 6am, in the lead-up to the breakfast crew. âThatâs when youâd have to be quite good â which was always the hardest because youâd be exhausted. But youâd have to go to a news break and you knew that people were starting to listen.â
This is when âThe Cageâ was Triple Mâs highly-rating breakfast crew, so Danny often had to announce, âThe cage is on in 20 minutesâ and throw to a highlights package. One time he extemporised a little with, âTell you what â todayâs episode of The Cage is the best. Ever. If you miss a second of it, you will kick yourself. Itâs just going to be absolutely fantastic. Anyway. Hereâs some stuff they did last weekâ¦â before cuing the highlights package. At which point a call came through from Triple Jâs program director, who also happened to be the anchor for The Cage:
âMate. What are you doinâ?â
âIâm plugging The Cage.â
âSayinâ itâs the best show ever?â
âWhat if itâs not? Why are you putting pressure on us? What if itâs not? Why would you do that? Now people are gonna turn it off if itâs not.â
Ah, the pressures of breakfast radio.
âWhat I wanted to say was, âif you get off the phone and do some research and prep, maybe it will be the best show ever!ââ Danny relates. âI got in trouble for over-selling the show!â
Sounds like Danny McGinlay was just about ready to disappear overseasâ¦
Danny established himself as the âfoodâ comic more-or-less out of the blocks. His first ever solo festival show was a cooking show entitled Monumental Cook-Up. âIt 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.â
Though not all Dannyâs shows have beena bout cooking, many have been. This, he insists, is mostly out of practicality: âWhen I procrastinate, I cook. This was a way of using procrastination to my advantage.â But apart from that, and also out of practicality, being the âFood Dudeâ meant that Danny had a theme that set his shows apart. âIt meant I was doing something that nobody else was doing,â he says.
Although, when you see headlining at a club or pub gig, youâre not gonna see Danny cook, and thereâs a practical reason for that, too: âWhen youâre cooking and telling jokes, youâre splitting the audienceâs focus.â Itâs too difficult to listen and laugh if youâre concentrating on the food prep â which is borne out by reviews saying the same thing: âItâs a very funny show, but itâs more interesting than funnyâ. Thatâs âfair enoughâ, he says: âIâd be creating things with my hands, and even though Iâd throw funny jokes out there, often they were too engrossed in what I was doing to pay attention to what I was saying.â
Of course, Dannyâs 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.
âPeople 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.â
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 â which is essential, because so many comics are, to the less comedy-savvy, pretty much alike. âWhat can you do?â Danny says. âWe do all look the same â white malesâ¦â So Dannyâs always got a food prop to ensure he looks different. âOne year there was the wooden spoon â another year I had a chefâs hat. Last year I was zapping the chicken with jumper leadsâ¦â
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. (Iâm fond of the work of Photobat â who took great photos of me a couple of years and several kilos ago; nowadays I use my mate Tonyâs photosâ¦)
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.
âPenlidis always makes you feel like a rock star when you use him,â Danny says. âHe makes you look good. You go to his studio and itâs just awesome: you go through his books and see every celebrity youâve ever heard of; heâs taken photos of them.â
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. âHeâs got two kids now but he still looks good. If I was drunk he couldâ¦ maybeâ¦ turn me. Because heâs so lovelyâ¦ And buffâ¦ And Greekâ¦ Reminds me of schoolâ¦â
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, Dannyâs decided to get away from food shows altogether this year.
âI didnât want to do any props or gimmicks or anything this time around,â Danny explains. âI just wanted to do stand-up. But of course, a gimmick show has organically formed.â
The show is called Danny McGinlay Learns Ukrainian â 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. âIâm still with her,â he says. âWe will be ten yeas together in January. Weâre getting married June 9.â
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 â and former Rove writer â Declan Fay led somehow to the greater development of âthe actualâ¦ âgimmickryâ, I supposeâ¦â of learning Ukrainian. Between the two, theyâve fleshed out a show thatâs 90 percent about the learning Ukrainian with only a few side forays into other stand-up. âSo itâs become another personal story, with a flip chart showing Ukrainian words,â Danny says. He didnât want to end up using a flip chart, but he knows full well that ânot doing something for the sake of not doing it is just as bad as doing it for the sake of doing it!â
And rest assured, hints of Dannyâs erstwhile Food Dudery persists, particularly on the poster, which bears the line, âHow far would you go for a chick in Kiev?â That great pun is the work of Taswegian comic Gavin Baskerville â who, it turns out, came up with the title of Dannyâs 2011 show, Recipes for Disaster. In fact, Gavin came up with the goods for Monumental Cook-Up as well, delivering the line âJamie Oliver with be turning in his gravy!â And of course, good guy that Danny is, heâll express his gratitude with a slab for Gav the next time he plays a gig in Hobart.
Soccer to 'em
When Danny procrastinates, he doesnât 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: âBecause when Iâm procrastinating, I also go into football forums and see what people have to sayâ¦â
I wanna see what Danny has to say about this: Is it âfootballâ or âsoccerâ? A fair question to put to an Australian lover of the round-ball sport.
âItâs both,â Danny insists. âAnd anyone who argues over it is a f*ckwit.â
He elaborates: âWhy does it matter? I will say âsoccerâ most of the time, because people donât question it then. Whereas âfootballâ in Australia can mean rugby league, Aussie rules, soccer, rugby unionâ¦â
Thatâs a good point. But Iâm a half-generation older than Danny. When I went to school, âfootballâ, or âfootyâ, never ever meant âwogballâ. The two were very different.
âYeah, I donât feel comfortable calling it that,â Danny says, not for reason of political correctness, rather because heâs setting up a well-placed gag: âIâd call it anything except âwogballâ â mostly because the Greeks arenât very good at it!â
Back to the issue of the name, Iâm proud to know the origins of âsoccerâ and âfootballâ originate with the sportâs proper name: âassociation footballâ. Why we grabbed a syllable from the âassociationâ part to create the hypocorism âsoccerâ, while others chose to go with âfootballâ or the hypocorism âfootyâ is a factoid that still eludes me. Danny has his own interesting factoid:
âAussie 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 wasnât official. So really, AFL is âfootballâ, and soccer is âsoccerâ. But in my head, soccer is âfootballâ and AFL is âfootyâ.â
Still, he says, âitâs detrimental when youâre trying to have a discussion about the round-ball game and someone saysâ¦â â adopting a âspazâ voice - âItâs football!â Come on. Weâve got something in common here, and itâs a sport that a lot of people disdain â so letâs have a united front and not worry about the pathetic little things.â
With such a good attitude to the sport, Iâm wondering why Danny isnât more of a sporting jock comic.
âI am! Arenât I? Yeah I am. I talk about sportsâ¦â
Danny explains that he cut his teeth in that arena, having started out at the Espy, playing Armidale, the Star & Garter and the like: âIt was all bogan comics that I saw, so I started pretty bogan.â
Yeah, perhaps. But despite bogan origins, Danny was still the first person I saw making Harry Potter references early on â before it became de rigour particularly fro younger, more fey comics. Which was funny because Danny is, letâs face it, built like a jock. And he doesnât deny it.
âI was a jock at school. I was in the popular group. I know itâs not cool to say that anymore â youâre supposed to say you were bullied. But I wasnât â I was in the âcool peopleâ group, I went to the right parties, had a hot girlfriend, and did some bullying as wellâ¦â
No, hang on â Danny didnât beat the shit out of wimps because he could â not that kind of âbullyingâ. He explains: âthere were socially inept nerds and I had a pretty quick mind so I made fun of them. I never physically hurt anybody.â Pause. âBut I probably scarred them a bit.â
So does being the jock-who-cooks and makes Harry Potter references make up for that? Is the career some kind of karmic penance?
âI donât know. Iâm not doing the Billy Madison thing where I phone them and they cross me off a list of people to kill. But I didnât make anyone cry. As far as I know. I canât guarantee that I made an impact on anyoneâs 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 â and that put me in high esteem in high school.â
Again, letâs 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 â and this is a beauty â âheâs about to move to Munich to be a sculptor.â
This last bit results in an audible double-take on my part, because Danny adds, âit 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.â
For a moment a rare throwback vaudeville gene takes control. âAre Greek potheads Grecian Urns? Whatâs a Grecian earn?â I canât hold back from demanding. Danny doesnât quite shake his head at me, instead donning the accent of a second generation Aussie for whom Greek is spoken at home. âI dunno, but itâs cash, mate; itâs cashâ¦â
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. Iâve always thought it was a particular kind of stand-up hell â though fact is, itâs audience hell, particularly when youâre 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.
âWhen the alarm rings at 6:30am to get up and go into The Circle, itâs hell,â Danny says. âThe whole reason I became a comedian was so that I could sleep in.â
Even though Danny first appeared as a guest on The Circle â in Food Dude mode â and he still appears as a guest from time to time, nowadays he, Harley Breen and Kynan Barker â âthe go-to guy of warm-upsâ â 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 youâre going to have to talk to the audience.
âYou canât really do stand-up,â Danny explains. âItâs all just stuff about the show. I just chat to people.â This means his âcrowd workâ has gotten much better.â 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 âset routines for the Genie Bra ad, the Ab Circle Pro ad, the Pet Insurance adâ. And since The Circleâs audience is often âold dearsâ, as long as heâs âa nice boyâ, they like him. âOccasionally you get crowds who arenât into it. And thatâs where you get blamed â there isnât much you can do about it.â
On the other hand, shooting Who Wants To Be A Millionaire can take some six hours. âBy the last episode, youâve chatted to them all, you know where theyâre from, theyâre tired, youâre tired. We just talk cr*p.â Dannyâs got âtwo magic tricksâ he saves for the very end, when all else has failed. âThatâs how desperate you get.â
One of Dannyâs 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 âcorrectâ, he used a pretend question with someone in the crowd, so they could practice.
âI just asked a question about something that was in the news that day â about Harry Kewl coming to Melbourne Victory. I said, âWhich Socceroo has just signed to Melbourne Victory? Is it a) Kewl; b) David Beckham; c) Pelle; or d) Pinocchio.â
Later during the taping, a contestant was asked that question.
âAnd you know whatâs even better?â Danny says. âHe still got it wrong!â
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 contestantâs stupidity.
âThey didnât laugh,â Danny says, âbut they were all just looking at me as if to say, âyouâre gonna get in trouble!ââ But of course, Danny didnât get into trouble. âNo-oneâs listening to what Iâm doing during the warm-up; the producers are talking about camera angles; Edâs in his dressing room.â
Later, while killing time between episodes, someone in the audience asked Danny if heâd done it deliberately. âI was like, âF*cken no! Thank you for not reacting!ââ
The important point Danny has learnt is to unify the audience as a team; they get through the boring bits better, knowing theyâre all in this together. And the âteam gameâ mentality helps with all aspects of comedy, especially MCing. Itâs something youâll notice Adam Hills do if you watch him carefully during a performance: heâll do a lot of crowd work, ultimately to get them onside and ready to laugh.
âHillsyâs great,â Danny concurs, having recently been reminded of this once again, at a gig at the Melbourne comedy room Softbelly. âI was MCing and feeling pretty good,â Danny says. âTo 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, didnât do any âmaterialâ and got so much more out of them. It showed why he is Dumbledore. It was quite humbling, but at same time very inspiring.â
Talk turns to other aspects of performance: one of Dannyâs points early on was that ânerves are your friendâ, so itâs better to have them, before a gig, than dull them with alcohol. He reiterates now with some advice someone else gave him recently:
âTake 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 itâs perfect.â
One last little factoid, Danny attributes to Billy Connolly. âI think heâs said that if heâs not nervous before a gig, heâll scull a litre of water so heâll suddenly get jumpy and worried heâll need to pee during the show. That gets him nervous.â
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.