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.