Not a political slogan, just good advice.
Although, 'keep lefter; keep even more left; keep ALL the leftâ¦' seems necessary for some drivers. True story!
Not a political slogan, just good advice.
Although, 'keep lefter; keep even more left; keep ALL the leftâ¦' seems necessary for some drivers. True story!
âAck hghr lkjg alkhg,â offers Ben Mattick, the clean-shaven guitarist of the group.
Iâve phoned him at the appointed time on a Thursday afternoon, on the appointed number, in the hope of getting a quick interview with him. But Benâs currently in the Seymour Centre Sound Lounge, below street level, so the mobile signal keeps breaking up.
When he moves closer to the door (I assume), he explains that he and brother Nick â aka Roger David and Fletcher Jones aka Smart Casual â are going through the tech run for their show Broken Dreams, the Sydney Comedy Festival run of which will be opening later that evening.
âI can call back later,â I suggest. âWhenâs the best timeâ¦?â
âActually, now would be best,â says Ben. He hands the phone over to brother Nick, the hairy vocalist, who pops upstairs where reception is much better, and weâre off.
This yearâs show, Broken Dreams, is about just that: Nick and Benâs broken dreams in showbiz. âItâs about us selling out,â Nick confesses, âand wanting to move to Poland to start afresh.â
Poland? Why Poland? Is it because it sounds exotic, or do Nick and Ben actually have some links to that country?
âWeâre under the illusion that musical comedy is getting really big there,â Nick says. âItâs very important to us, in the course of the show.â
Given Nickâs failure to elaborate further, I can only assume all will be revealed in the course of the show. But, Iâm wondering, is âMattickâ â the boysâ surname â of Polish origin?
âIt can beâ¦â Nick offers.
It can be! I love it. As ever, the world Nick and Ben offer is fluid with possibilities.
One of the things Iâve always liked about Smart Casual â and it may be the secret to their success â is their ability to ensure the song lasts as long as the joke. Itâs one of the things that sets good musical comics apart from other comics who bung a song in. According to Nick, however, itâs common sense:
âWe thought thatâs important because if we're bored of something then the audience is probably very bored of it!â
Fair call. But â after five-odd years of success as a musical comedy duo â is it still important? Does a long-term audience, or the fact that youâve been at it so long somehow meanyou can maintain interest in other ways and it isnât so imperative to crack the gag and get out, as it were?
Actually, it does â because you learn ways to maintain interest. But Smart Casual have always known how to do that. They have a few âbuildersâ, according to Nick, referring to devices that enable a song to last longer because they continue to add something that âbuidsâ upon the initial idea. âSomething has to happen, if you know what I mean: there has to be a twist or a change-up,â Nick says.
A perfect example is Smart Casualâs first big hit, âThe Hawkâ: each verse develops the idea. Someone has to push The Hawk. On the catwalk. And, even after the verses have ended, things continue to happen: Nick keeps building with his shrieky 'CAW!' noise â the cry of a hawk â while he flaps his wings.
The 'origin story' of Smart Casual is simple enough. Brothers Nick and Ben wanted to do acting and music, respectively, but having set out on their chosen vocations, neither seemed to be doing particularly well just yet. According to Nick, âwe met in the middle, I guess, and it just seemed to work.â
âJust seemed to workâ is an understatement. As a comedy duo, the brothers complemented each other perfectly, each bringing something the other lacked to form a classic gestalt, where the whole is worth more than the sum of the parts.
They competed in the Triple J/Melbourne International Comedy Festival Raw Comedy competition of 2008 where, making it to the national final, they proved a crowd favourite. They were subsequently selected for 2009âs Comedy Zone, the show the Melbourne Comedy Festival puts together from the best up-and-comers.
âRaw Comedy opened a lot of doors, especially in Melbourne,â Nick recalls. âWe got success really early and we thought it was easy, easy, easy. Then we hit a wall with our first full-length show.â
Iâm not sure what exactly Nick means. Their first full-length show, technically, was Art vs Smart Casual, which took place at the Melbourne Fringe Festival of 2009. The show saw the pair line up the multitude of art forms â acting, dancing, painting, et cetera â against musical comedy to see which held more merit (âit was a drawâ). Among the reviews garnered was a particular favourite, the verbal feedback of a punter: âyou guys are shit-hotâ. The Age considered them âimmediately likeableâ, opining that âAussie laconic humour is alive and wellâ, while Buzzcuts recognised their work as âexceptionally clever and well executedâ, predicting the duo to be âdestined for big thingsâ.
2010 saw them deliver the show Same Mother, Different Fathers at festivals around Australia.
âIs that true?â I ask, a little sheepishly, about the title. After all, Nick and Ben do look quite different. âEsau is an hairy man, while Jacob is a smooth man,â to borrow from Alan Bennettâs paraphrasing of Genesis 27:11. If I hadnât been told theyâre brothers, they look different enough that I wouldnât have guessed it.
âNo, thatâs bullshit,â Nick says. âItâs just that Iâm âFletcher Jonesâ and heâs âRoger Davidâ and weâre brothers; thatâs the way we worked that out. In our shows, if it helps us being full brothers, weâre full brothers; if it helps us being halvies, weâre halvies. The truth doesnât matter!â
Well, thatâs one bit of the folklore dealt with. There was another story that did the rounds a little while ago, that both brothers were working as teachersâ aids until some of their material was deemed perhaps a little unsuitable. Maybe, at some level, there was a conflict of interest having both careers running concurrently.
âBen still is a teacherâs aid,â Nick reports, but sets me straight on the story: Smart Casual have a song about autism. Nick worked in a class with autistic kids. One of the kidsâ parents went to see the show.
âI didnât know she was coming, but she loved it, so it was okay,â Nick says. âThey seemed to not mind it. But then it got out that we did thatâ¦â
So thatâs the story: a non-offensive song that didnât cause offense, that through a process of âChinese whispersâ enraged someone at a distance who probably neither saw the show nor is attached to a child with autism, who got offended on the behalf of others. Isnât that always the way!
âI think itâs important to note that the joke is about the misconceptions of autism,â Nick says, ârather than having a laugh at someoneâs expense. I think that if the jokeâs good enough, and in the right place, you can laugh at almost anything.â
Definitely. Given the right context and enough talent (the greater the talent, the less necessary the context) than anything can be funny. The comedianâs job, always, is to say the unsayable. But thatâs not whatâll turn an audience, necessarily.
2011âs The Story of Captain EntrÃ©e marked a departure from the duoâs earlier work. âIt was narrative, which I liked, but if we didnât get the audience early, they were gone,â Nick explains.
It would be disingenuous â or just plain wrong â to think Smart Casualâs audience prefers a program of funny songs with no linking story over a program of less funny songs; or that Smart Casual have done away with the narrative form. If you had trouble lasting the entire voyage of Captain EntrÃ©e without threatening mutiny, rest assured, Broken Dreams will satisfy you. But it still contains a connecting narrative. Still, Nick advises, âitâs more of a variety hour. Itâs got everything: dance, song, a bit of art, filmâ¦â
My immediate thought is that it thus also harks back to Art vs Smart Casual, the difference being intervening years of experience and development, and a lot more sophistication in its execution. And rather than merely talking about those other artforms, Smart Casual are actually physically executing them and incorporating them in the show. Hence the need to complete a tech run before opening night in Sydney, despite having spent a month doing the show in Melbourne.
And then my subsequent thought is that, if Smart Casual are presenting a multimedia variety show on stage, surely their own television show or Smart Casual: The Movie canât be too far away.
However, whatâs actually happening is that, having performed Broken Dreams some 50 times this year already, theyâre able to pull it off every night, and spend their days writing their next show.
âBut weâre definitely looking toward the future,â Nick assures me. âWeâve done a lot of filmed stuff that weâll throw onto YouTube after this run finishes, and weâre gonna do more of that kind of stuff. Itâs really fun to do that.â
Which begs the question: does Smart Casual have a DVD out yet?
âNo, we donât have a DVD,â Nick says. âWe have a very old CD. We probably need to get a new one of those, as well.â
All in good time. Right now, itâs all about the Sydney Comedy Festival run of Broken Dreams.
âThis is the best thing weâve done, this show,â Nick says. âIt has taken us four or five years to get here, so itâs a solid hour. Itâs very fun to do and itâs very fun to watch.â
See Smart Casualâs Broken Dreams Sydney Comedy Festival run at Seymour Centre Sound Lounge at 9:30pm until Sat 28 April.
âI really want to be in musical theatre, but I canât sing,â insists stand-up comic Joel Creasey. âBut I only want the leading lady roles, because theyâre better roles. So even if I could sing, I still wouldnât be able to play the roles I wanted. I want to be Miss Saigon; I want to be Elphaba in Wicked. Unless I have a sex change, I donât think thatâs going to happen.â
Iâm talking to Joel not long after his touching down in Sydney on a Tuesday afternoon, in that brief respite between the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, which has just ended, and the Sydney Comedy Festival, whose opening gala will be taking place in a matter of hours. Joelâs show Naked is featuring at both festivals this year. According to Joel, the Melbourne run was âdefinitely my favourite season so farâ.
âI really like the show,â he says. âNormally, by this stage, Iâd be sick of it. But Iâm not â Iâm still enjoying it.â
At the ripe old age of 21, Joel Creasey is a veteran of two Raw Comedy competitions â âI made the State Final two years in a row in Perth but then lost two years in a rowâ â and three festival shows, with Naked marking a clear progression in the comicâs development.
âItâs definitely a better show and a better structured show,â he insists. âAnd it has more to it than my other shows have had.â Part of what gives it more substance is the fact that Naked is all about Joel, whereas his first show, Joel Creaseyâs Slumber Party â earning him a nomination for âBest Newcomerâ at the 2010 Melbourne Comedy Festival â dealt with celebrities. And the subsequent yearâs Party Animals was about politics.
The reason the focus of his scathing wit has been turned inwards, Joel says, is because âIâve bagged out a lot of other people and I figured it was my turn.â
Joelâs first forays into self-expressive arts were theatrical, tinged with comedy. Over time, the theatricality has fallen away to the point where itâs the pure stand-up of a comic not even making observations about the stuff around him, but about his own life experiences. And it may seem a bit premature to be doing that at age 21, but you have to remember, Joelâs been doing this since he was 17. Though comedy wasnât the grand plan, so much as it was an escape route:
âI couldnât be bothered studying and realised you donât have to study for comedy, so I thought, âIâll just do that!ââ
But itâs not as clear-cut as that. Because after finishing high school, there was a cursory attempt at tertiary education â a good three months pursuing a degree in political science. âI pulled out because I was hating that and loving comedy,â Joel insists.
At school, Joelâs major passion â and strongest subject â was drama. Indeed, having gone to drama school, Joel reckons he would have stayed in theatre had comedy not âcome alongâ. But I doubt that, because even when he was doing theatre, he could never stay in it without turning to comedy.
Consider Joelâs final Grade 12 drama piece: he was one of the few Year 12 drama students in his state â or perhaps the country â who opted to deliver a comedic piece. âGrade 12 kids arenât funny,â he argues. âTheir pieces are always serious â about suicide or something heavy like that.â Not Joelâs. He chose to write a funny piece about a character of his own invention â flight attendant Glen SuavÃ©, âhell-bent on taking over the worldâ.
The character was disgusting, racist, offensive, and â according to Joel â âbased on many Qantas flight attendants Iâve had the joy of meetingâ. Naturally, Joelâs peers failed to understand what Joel was doing. Thankfully, his examiners did.
âI got amazing marks!â says Joel. âThat was the thing that got me through Grade 12; it evened out my bad marks in maths and science and every other subject.â
It was also the thing that got Joel into stand-up comedy â since that monologue formed the basis of his first routine. âI was actually doing character comedy when I started,â Joel admits. âNow, obviously, I wouldnât touch that, but I spent my first six months doing characters.â
Character comedy isnât for everyone. As with all the various comedic subgenres, there are the truly talented who do characters very well. And chances are, had he stuck with it, Joel would have become such a comic. Instead, he found himself jealous of other comics who could âjust get up and chat about their livesâ. Realising that was the sort of comedy he wanted to be able to do, he soon realised he had to âdrop the characterâ.
Which is why Naked serves as a marker in Joelâs career trajectory: heâs gone from being a character to being himself talking about other people, to being himself talking about himself. But itâs not as easy as it sounds. Particularly in the first year after Joel jettisoned the character, there was the fear that nobody particularly wants to hear about his life. âAnd still, sometimes Iâll get halfway through a story and think, âoh god, do people really want to know about me?ââ
Clearly, they do. Particularly when Joel can make it sound so funny. But right now, I mostly want to know about his relationship with his parents. Clearly, theyâre cool about his career choice in showbiz, if they had sent him to drama school!
âMy parents are actors themselves, so theyâre cool,â Joel confirms. Now that heâs based in Melbourne, Joelâs folks travel from Perth every year to check out the show. âTheyâre pretty into it. Theyâve never tried to dissuade me in any way.â How could they? As Joel points out, having started at age 17, he actually needed his parents to attend all of his performances as they took place in pubs.
âI had to go with them to get in. That was fun! Iâm sure that thatâs how all the big-name comics do itâ¦â
So Joel didnât have the usual comedianâs story of âmy parents disowned me when I started doing comedyâ; perhaps he might have has a âmy parents disowned me when I started doing musical theatre taking on the leading lady rolesâ but thatâs just as unlikely. However, he still has the basic tale of overcoming adversity that so many comics have. The disbelievers, against whom every one of Joelâs successes is a victory, are âeveryone I went to school with!â
âThey were horrible to me because I was the Drama Captain â Surprise! There were just so many arseholes I went to school with. I just want to stick it in their face.â
Consider it stuck. One of my fonder moments in Melbourne took place in the shopping centre, Melbourne Central. On one level, every pillar is a poster board, meaning that on that level, literally hundreds of posters are Blu-Tacked to be viewed by the multitude of passing shoppers. I regret not having taken a photograph of the poster for Joelâs Naked, in which heâs depicted pretty much as the title suggests. Because someone had gone to the trouble of fashioning a cock-and-balls and adorning his poster with it.
âIâm hoping they used a lot of Blu-Tack,â Joel says.
Iâm not in a position to confirm the anatomical accuracy of it, but anyone can graffiti a poster with texta, and Joel concurs that it is âa very impressive effortâ that someone has gone to. âIâm very proud of that,â he says. âThat took time and effort. Iâm flattered. I hope they bought a ticket to the show as wellâ¦â
Speaking of the show, itâs worth chasing down what it is actually about.
âPeople say Naked is a âgay showâ,â Joel says, âbut itâs not. Itâs relatable to everyone. Itâs just that Iâm so camp, people are always going to assume that. Which sometimes annoys me, because reviewers come to my show and call me âreally gayâ, and I donât think they would go and see a woman comic and call her âreally feminineâ.â
That Joelâs camp persona is larger than life should come as no surprise. Thatâs what a camp persona essentially is. And while it will always be part of Joelâs comedic style â âI have very limp wrists throughout the entire performance, and my gay nasal twang is out in full forceâ â it doesnât dictate the substance of the material. Party Animal, for example, was more âgayâ, insofar as, since it was dealing with politics, it had to address the issue of single-sex marriage.
Naked â a title devised âyears agoâ â is all about Joel. It consists of stories stretching from primary school to high school and involves âgetting drunk and things that everyone does, not just gay guys.â Although, he adds, âwe probably do get drunk more than most peopleâ¦â
Furthermore, in the more pat description, Naked is âall about fears, secrets, nudity and Xena the Warrior Princessâ. Since one of the secrets is that Joelâs âa mad fan of Xena the Warrior Princess â and not ashamed!â itâs easy to see why some reviewers will consider the show a bit âgayâ.
Thing is, as with many gay comics, the audience, paradoxically, will consist mostly of âstraightsâ. Forgive the generalisation â or at least, hear me out first â but it seems that gay men usually have such a biting sense of humour that, usually, nobody else can be as funny as them and their mates, or at least, systematically amuse them as much as their mates. So they donât go out and see comedy as readily as âstraightâ audiences. And itâs the straight audiences who dig the gay comics most, because theyâre getting access to insights and observations they wouldnât usually hear.
Donât freak out at the last paragraph. Particularly, donât freak out just because it contains the adjectives âgayâ and âstraightâ. Itâs just a more specific example of the greater truism, that comics are like prophets: appreciated less in their own land, they have to go off and preach to other people who have not been brought up in the same environment/class/belief system.
âWe are very good at taking people apart, piece-by-piece,â says Joel, agreeing initially that he doesnât have âa massively gay audienceâ. Then he corrects himself:
âI do: I would have more of a gay audience than, say, Dave Hughes.â
However, he says, his âdream audienceâ are the ones found in regional towns and ârough clubsâ because of the challenge they pose: âyou can win them over; theyâre easier to shock. Whereas, while gay guys generally seem to have a great sense of humour, theyâre very hard to shock. Thereâs always that weird element of competition there.â
But there are a lot of gay people in his audience, Joel realises, because when he was playing in Melbourne, the women playing in the venue before him noticed how fabulously attired his audience was. âThey said they loved walking out and seeing my crowd queuing to come in because theyâd all be so well dressed. Theyâd see what sort of looks were in season and take notes!â
The major demographic a good looking, young gay guy naturally plays to is present and accounted for in significant numbers in Joelâs audiences: teeny-bopper girls.
âI love them because they are great laughers,â Joel says. âBut sometimes they bring their parents, and I think, âOh god, you donât know what youâre in forâ¦ââ Not that there are awkward moments during the show, so much. More likely, there are âmany awkward car rides homeâ.
This is particularly true given some of the fears Joel addresses in Naked. One of them is, indeed, of being naked. Hence the showâs title. And poster.
âThe showâs about me getting my kit of metaphorically,â Joel says. âAnd physicallyâ¦â
There is a point in the show when the comic strips.
âSo, yeah, when the young girls bring their parents itâs like, âoh godâ¦ Iâve got to take my clothes off at some pointâ¦â
In addition to his fear of being naked, Joel also has podophobia: âa weird fear of feetâ.
âIâve never liked them,â he says. âI hate them. They freak me outâ¦â
Although he can deal with his own, Joel loathes other peopleâs. âI just donât want to see feet. I hate thongs and sandals and crocs and things like that.â
Initially, Joelâs foot fear was not part of this show. Not until he happened to mention it to fellow comic Adam Richard while at a dinner party.
Adamâs immediate reaction?
âHe put his feet in my potato salad, of course!â
The following day, Adam told his multitude of Twitter followers that Joel Creasey has a foot fetish, asking people to send Joel pictures of their feet.
âIt was awful!â Joel says. âHeâs got ten thousand followers, so I got a lot of pictures of feet.â And, being âvery OCDâ, Joel was forced to open every single attachment, âjust in case one of them was a gift voucher for a million dollars.â
Oh, that reminds me of a horrible photo I saw online, of someone who had been shot in the foot.
âIf I can find the image, Iâll send it to you,â I promise.
âPlease donât,â Joel says. âThatâll haunt me!â
See Joel Creasey's Naked at the Sydney Comedy Festival at Seymour Centre Sound Lounge at 7:30pm, Thurs 26 April to Sat 28 April.
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.
âSorry I was a bit late,â the founding â ahem â member of Puppetry of the Penis, Simon Morley, apologises from his end of the phone line. âIâve been baby wrangling.â And unless Simonâs added âcotâ or âcradleâ to the impressive list of items he can imitate with his wedding tackle, there are no dick tricks involved in that. âAbsolutely none,â Simon confirms. âApart from the conception, maybe.â
Two dicks come out at a bar
Simon and his mate Friendy (David Friend; neither of whom are pictured above) were the two who originally took to the stage clad only in capes in order to present the art of genital origami: in which theyâd manipulate their manhood into various shapes. Like âThe Pelicanâ (in which the penis and scrotum are impressively stretched out to resemble the animalâs long upper beak, and long and deep lower beak). And âThe Skateboardâ (in which the penis is lain across the scrotum so that the balls become wheels). And âThe Propellerâ (Iâm not going to ruin all of them for you).
That was back in 1998, and it occurred with much furor, initially, all of it unwarranted. Because, after about the first fifteen minutes, youâd pretty much acclimatise to the fact that there are two nude dudes pulling at their respective (not each otherâs!) cock-and-balls on stage, and as it wasnât in the more traditionally prurient manner of tugging yer tackle, you may as well have been looking at their elbows.
In time they were playing the West End and Broadway, getting written up in the likes of The Guardian and The New Yorker. And after taking dick tricks around the world, and taking the world by storm, they started producing shows in which other dick tricksters took the stage all over the world, manipulating their respective manhood. Now, nearly a decade-and-a-half later, theyâre launching a live 3-D version of the show. In which neither Simon, nor his penis, will be appearing, because, he says, penis puppetry is âa young man's gameâ.
âIâm 45 now. Iâve got myself a bit of a belly. I havenât seen my penis in about three years.â
Instead, Simonâs been working on pulling the 3-D technology together. The show is âtechnically a lot more advancedâ than any of the previous Puppetry of the Penis endeavors. He developed it in the UK, and is presenting it here in Australia, premiering in the final week of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Thus, in his own words, Simonâs role is âdirecting. And pimping. Iâm the âglobal pimpâ.â
Puppetry of the Penis in 3-D
Zen and the art of dick tricks
If you havenât seen Puppetry of the Penis live (or on DVD) before, it essentially works as follows: the two 'puppeteers' make shapes out of their nether regions, accompanied by banter. A camera presents close-ups on a screen. So the new 3-D show, you can easily imagine, would be that, but with the technology (and glasses!) to ensure what you see is coming at you (so to speak) out of the screen. However, thereâs still more to it than that.
âWeâre using CGIâ - computer generated imagery - âso that when the guys perform, say, âThe Pelicanâ on stage, the camera is 3-D, the screen is 3-D, but all of a sudden, weâll put âThe Pelicanâ into a pelicanâs body.â
Thatâs really cool. And a little bit scary.
Another â far more elaborate â example of the CGI involves âThe Propellerâ. âIn a tribute to North by Northwest, we put âThe Propellerâ in a biplane that comes out at the audience. The guys have to leap off stage to avoid itâ¦â
Excellent spectacle though dick tricks are, whoâd have thought you could breath such new life into them? According to Simon, the constant question has always been, âWhat are you going to do with the show? Where are you going to take it next?â And the'd always answer â jokingly â that next itâd be in 3-D: the penises would jump off the screen.
âThen,â Simon says, âI began to realise that the technology was very soon going to be with us.â Thus the new show is groundbreaking and interesting as well as fun. âI just hope people enjoy it,â says Simon.
My conversation with Simon Morley happens to be taking place not too long after my own Melbourne Comedy Festival show, Stand-Up Sit-Down, has ended. Stand-Up Sit-Down consisted of interviews with comedy practitioners. In the final show, guest Andrew Denton spoke of his show David Tench Tonight, in which the main character David Tench was a CGI character animated in real time, interviewing celebrities. The drawbacks were that CGI technology was not quite up to the task at the time, and the animation was too human â an animal or some other object may have proven more disarming for interview subjects.
So the essential questions now are, is the CGI working for Puppetry of the Penis? And might there be a time when dick-based CGI creations (of which, it may be argued, David Tench was one) successfully interview celebrities?
âIâm sure itâs not gonna be too far off,â Simon insists. âI hadnât thought about getting them to interview celebrities live, but they certainly could. Iâve got âem singing songs!â
Denton and Dom discuss benefits of CGI interview technique
Historically, the rendering of dick tricks began in hotel rooms while on tour.
Simon initially managed pubs, running comedy nights in bars he managed. In time he started touring the comedians he initially booked, and in the early post-show hours on tour, when much alcohol had been consumed, the dick-trickery began. âAt the end of the night, Iâd be dropping my pants and amusing the comics,â Simon recalls. One such comic was Jimeoin, whom Morley toured after television success meant he was too big for the pub circuit. Itâs whispered that Jimeoin has been known to turn a few tricks of a dickular nature himself. Thatâs right: Jimeoin is a secret dick-tricker.
âI wouldnât even say âsecretâ,â Simon assures me. âHe loves it! If weâre in Europe or the States, he regularly joins us on stage. Heâs very proud!â
And heâs not the only comic who has the talent. Turns out Greg Fleet has a couple of tricks up his dacks.
âI saw Fleety once do a not very politically correct impression, shortly after the Space Shuttle disaster: he had a cigarette flying out of it, jumping off a balcony into a swimming pool. He was doing âThe Space Shuttle Disasterâ.â
Tim Smith is another comic who has indulged in pleasures of the flash. More or less. He may not have been demonstrating them to people, according to Simon, but âhe was certainly work-shopping them for quite some time!â
Paul Hester, the original, and now sadly departed, drummer of Crowded House, was also adept at a dick trick. And although it never went to air, Simon and Friendy appeared as Puppetry of the Penis on Hesterâs ABC variety show, Hessieâs Shed (some of the footage wound up on the Mick Molloy-produced cocumentary, Tackle Happy).
Jim Rose, of Circus fame, used to do them with Simon and Jimeoin in Edinburgh, in the Gilded Balloon toilets, back in 1992. Canât get more Fringe than that, surely! âJim Rose took the hamburger and ran with it! He still does it on stage, occasionally.â
David has a hamburger!
Amazing. Dick tricks, the way comedians amused each other late at night in 1992, became a stage act all their own in 1998, taking the world by storm shortly thereafter. But the origins lie further back. âMy brothers and I came up with most of the tricks, as sibling rivalry, back in the 1980s,â Simon reports.
I guess the real question is, has Simon encountered Ron Jeremy in his travels and seen if Ron can do any of them, or indeed, has any tricks to add to the catalogue.
âI have met Ron Jeremy but I didnât really want to have a âdick-offâ with him,â Simon confesses. I think I know what he means. âWe met in a bar, and heâd heard of my work, and Iâd certainly heard of his work, and there was a bit of mutual respect, but we were on very different sides of the fence, me and Ron! It was a bit like Van Gogh meeting Leunigâ¦â
Not quite sure which oneâs Van Gogh and which oneâs Leunig, but the point is taken. And it has resonance. Say what you will about two blokes on stage manipulating their genitalia â serious publications approached the show seriously once it left Australian shores. Which Simon anticipated all along.
âI knew this was going to generate some serious debate. It was very confronting.â While it was âharmless funâ to Simon and Friendy â âItâs a piece of skin; get over it!â â for a lot of people, particularly in the media, it was challenging, even down to the basic debate of whether or not it could be shown on television. âCan we show male genitalia in a non-sexual light? Whatâs wrong with it, given we see so much female genitalia?â According to Simon, âit posed a lot of good questions, and Iâm always happy when the debate starts around us. Itâs important that we just stay focused; we just want to make shapes out of our dicks!â
Not wishing to enter any debate, my most pressing question right now is, given Simonâs not about to appear in this show, how does the Director and Global Pimp go about selecting his cast? How do you audition would-be dick tricksters?
âBasically, we get boys to come along, we talk them through and tell them what the job entails.Then we ask them all to kick their pants off. We do a little workshop, and then we get them to show us any tricks that theyâve got of their own, reproduce the ones we just taught them, and we look for them to be naturally funny. We say, âRight. Deliver your tricks!ââ
What Simonâs looking for, essentially, in a would-be dick trickster is a special quality: âIf there were couple of old ladies in the audience, weâd want them to have the most confronting and hilarious night of their lives, but weâd want them to turn to each other and go, âoh, but theyâre such nice boys!â So theyâve got to have a certain charm about them as well.â
And donât think for an instant that you necessarily have to be hung like a Clydesdale to do these tricks: âIâve actually said ânoâ to a lot of guys who were too big,â Simon insists. âYouâve got to be able to manipulate it. Youâve got to be able to bend it. Weâre looking for a certain proportion in the size of the penis to the testicles: the wheels on âThe Skateboardâ canât be too big. Thereâs also a lot of stretchiness of skin: youâve got to be able to put a sail on your âWindsurferâ.â
Ultimately, says Simon, when it comes to dick tricks, âeveryone can do some of them; not everyone can do all of them.â
Simon (seated) and Friendy, AKA Puppetry of the Penis
Coque du Soleil
I remember hearing â probably from the lads themselves â that the Umbilical Brothers were approached by Cirque du Soleil. However, joining the troupe would have meant giving up a lot of what they already had, and losing some identity. Has there been some sort of Coque du Soleil offer?
âActually,â Simon says, âthere has beenâ¦â
Turns out, in numerous trips to Montreal for the Just for Laughs comedy festival, Simon had encountered the Cirque du Soleil creators, who frequently used to joke that Puppetry of the Penis should become part of the show. And then it was no longer a joke: Cirque were âputting together an adult show for Vegasâ.
It came to nothing, of course. For the same reason every attempt by Puppetry of the Penis to get to Vegas has also been stymied: a law that prohibits live sex acts. The wording applies to Puppetry of the Penis, even though it isnât a sex act:
âThere's an old licensing law that says you can be naked on stage, but you canât touch your genitals. Unfortunately, we get caught up in this. Because all these shows are in billion dollar casinos, none of them are going to go, âwell, thatâs a stupid lawâ¦â. Nobodyâs prepared to take that chance with a billion dollar license.â
But, Simonâs adamant: itâs only a matter of time. âWeâll play Vegas one day. Weâll get in there!â
Not so cocky
So hereâs the thing. Youâve read this far. Youâve giggled at bits. But if you havenât seen Puppetry of the Penis live, would you? The point I made earlier â which was Simonâs point, back in 1998 â which Iâve found to be true, deserves reiteration: watching two naked guys do silly things with their cocks is unnerving. At first. But after the initial shock, it is just funny silliness. And you may as well be looking at their elbows.
Admittedly, the times Iâve seen it, Iâve felt the need to take female friends with me. And they all react the same way: âYouâre taking me to see WHAT?â (Or, as one quoted their mother to me, âHeâs taking you to seeâ¦ that PENIS show?!â) But by the end of it theyâve laughed so much that theyâre talking about it at work the next day and organising a girlsâ night out before the end of the season.
Simon likens it to jumping out of an aeroplane: âIt defies all your natural instincts. You DONâT jump out of aeroplanes; itâs madness; itâs stupid. And as soon as you get out of the plane and youâve let go of everything and youâre freefalling, itâs the best feeling in the world.â
Okay, seeing Puppetry of the Penis may not be âthe best feeling in the worldâ but Simon assures that âitâs quite harmless once you get over the initial shock of it all; youâve just got to strap yourself in and hang on; itâll be fine. Youâre not gonna get hurt.â
Not gonna get hurt, indeed. Reminds me of the urban legend surrounding film pioneers, the Lumiere brothers, and their 50-second silent film Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station. Apparently, the first audience to see it â never having seen film projection before â freaked out at the shot of the train coming towards them. Youâll have your 3-D glasses on; youâll be watching live theatre with close-ups coming at you live, on screen. But rest assured: those three-dimensional dick tricks coming at you pose no danger, just silly fun.
Puppetry of the Penis in 3-D opens Tuesday 17 April at the Athaneum Theatre in Melbourne.
The Sydney season starts May 5 at the Enmore Theatre.
I had Nazeem Hussain and Aamer Rahman of Fear of a Brown Planet in on Saturday, and DeAnne Smith on Sunday, as my Stand-Up Sit-Down guests.
I'm technically probably not allowed to tell you who I have in on Tuesday. But here's a clue: it's Sammy J. Find out more about the show (the wheres and whens, etc) and buy tickets at the door, or prebook.