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Some idea…

I know this looks as though my blog is developing not so much a theme as an obsession, but judge for yourself:

Here are two items grabbed off the interwebs.

The first is a photo from a piece about Pink's Sydney home being egged, as it appeared online on the New Idea website:

Pink performing

Did the caption writer mean 'infamous'? Or 'notorious'? Or merely 'unknown'? I would have replaced one of the words begining with 'perform'. Perhaps 'most recent tour' would have better served than 'her most recent performance'. But how many acrobatic acts is she performing in the photograph?  Just the one, is my guess, because the photo captures her in what seems like an instant, a period whose duration is nowhere near long enough to complete more than one acrobatic act. So there is no need for the plural 'acts'.

Here's the second item, an ad for a position vacant. At New Idea…

New idea ad

How connected do you think these two items are?

Comedy Young [g]’uns


“I graduated on Thursday, so no more school forever!” Nina informs me, which comes as a surprise. Not for the reason you might think.

First time I saw Nina Oyama perform, she was in her school uniform, school bag in tow, evidently having come directly to the gig from school.

“Actually,” she says, “I’d come via work. It was a choice between the work uniform and the school uniform.” The work was Maccas, and Nina had already gigged in the Maccas uniform; clever and dedicated from the beginning, she was keen to see whether the same material got a different response with a different uniform…

Next thing I hear, Nina had dropped out of school. And was hanging out with that Phuklub crowd. Suddenly I’m acting even older than I am, since an old man rant build. Because – not that it was any of my business – to me, that’s clearly a mistake.

Not just ditching school for a life of comedy (cos that’s likely to be extremely lucrative!), but ditching it for a life of comedy where, as a newbie, you’re plunging headlong into the world of alternative-and-not-necessarily-funny comedy. (I’m not having a go; the Phuklub comedians are hilarious and what they’re doing is important – see my write-up.)

I’m just saying: breaking all the rules in comedy is all very well. It’s certainly better than breaking all the rules in school – more advantageous dropping out if that’s the case – but as in all art, in comedy, it’s better to have learnt the rules before you break them, because then you know what you’re doing. Even if you don’t quite know where you’re going, you can have the faith that you’ll come back safely, and the audience are aware of that even if they don’t realise it, so they go with you, and everybody has a fun adventure.

Consider, for example, the discordant notes that Mike Garson plays in David Bowie’s ‘Aladdin Sane’: they work as music despite being all over the place rhythmically, melodically and harmonically because there is form and technique to the mess. As opposed to someone just hitting random notes heavy-handedly. Those years of learning scales and technique pay off.

Aladdin sane excerpt

I’d say the same is essentially true in comedy.

Except, perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps learning stagecraft while being polite and predictable is less valuable than learning how to fly blind, to jump and hope the net will appear.

But there’s no need to deploy the old man rant. Not just because Nina has been sensible enough to spend as much time in more traditional comedy rooms as she has in experimental variety, honing her craft to a great degree for such a short time at it. Also because, as she puts it, she “went back to school, tail between my legs, and completed Year 12 successfully”. Oh, she’s still got to sit the Higher School Certificate examinations, rest assured. Which means buckling down and studying almost immediately. But not before one spectacular ‘last hurrah’. Which is why we’re talking. Before she hits the books with a vengence, Nina’s performing in a show she put together for the Sydney Fringe Festival, featuring a bunch of fellow kid comedians.

“It’s called Barely Legal – The Best Young Comedians,” Nina says, and it consists of some of the NSW-based shining lights of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s Class Clowns program. (Class Clowns brings stand-up comedy to schools and some of the people it has unearthed include wunderkind Jack Druce, a Brisbane dancer-cum-comic called Sarah McCreanor, currently dancing around the world as a castmember of How To Train Your Dragon, and of course, everybody’s favourite comedian, Josh Thomas.)

“I wanted to do a Fringe show but I didn’t think I was able to do it by myself,” Nina reckons. Having made the Class Clowns final this year, she figured, “man, there is just so much talent and people who are young have so much cred,” so she put a show together around some of her Class Clown peers.

Well, I say ‘peers’; at the ripe old age of 19, Nina is the senior member of the group. They’re already being noticed by people who matter in the industry, but what’s most important is that they’re funny. I’ll let them speak for themselves through their own press bios.


Neel Kolhatkar (18) – With titles under his belt such as Winner of Class Clowns 2009 and a performance at the Melbourne International Teen Gala 2011, Neel is definitely one to watch. A master of impressions, reviewers have described his stand up as warm, casual and current. Neel’s other passion is gangster rap, which he writes and performs. Neel has never been to jail but considers his tight knit Indian family a ‘gang’.

Jordan Sharp (16) – Student, skater and self-confessed serial masturbator, Jordan’s stand up encompasses what it truly means to be a teenager. Based in the Central Coast of NSW, Jordan’s laid back storytelling style lead him to become one of the youngest Class Clowns National Finalists in 2012.

Nina Oyama (19) – When she was seven, Nina ate bugs as a dare and secretly liked it. Ten years later, she tried stand up comedy as a dare and secretly liked that too. Finding it easier to make people laugh, Nina gave up her dream of becoming a professional bug eater. A Class Clowns State Finalist 2012, her act combines both music and traditional stand up. Nina has entertained both locally and interstate. She was recently selected to perform at The Sydney Comedy Store as part of the Sydney Comedy Festival Showcase. She also writes for the Australian comedy website (I'd link to this, but it defaults to the 'Gourmet Explorer' homepage - Dom)

Aaron Chen (17) – Breathing heavily and pacing nervously across the stage, Aaron doesn’t feel comfortable until he knows what toothpaste the audience uses. At the precocious young age of 16, Aaron became one of the youngest paid performers in Sydney. Aaron’s killer punch lines and savage wit have earned him the accolades of Class Clowns State Finalist 2011, Winner of Class Clowns 2012 and Quest for the Best Finalist 2011. Most recently Aaron was given the opportunity to perform at The Sydney Comedy Store in the Best in Live Comedy Winter Showcase.

Madeleine Stewart (18) – Despite growing up in the notoriously rough outer suburbs, Madeleine is one classy young lady, complete with a sharp dress sense and a penchant for opera singing. Her clean-cut one-liners and political stylings have had her talked about everywhere, most notably on Wil Anderson’s podcast, TOFOP. Madeleine was a Class Clowns National Finalist in 2011 and State Finalist in 2012. She also only has one arm; her mother was forced to keep her because the hospital had a ‘you break it, you bought it’ policy.



Fine print:

Barely Legal is playing Thurs 27 to Saturday 29 September from 18.30 to 19.30 at the Laugh Garage Comedy Club, Cnr of Park and Elizabeth Street Sydney 2000 (Ph 9264 1161).

Registration for Class Clowns 2013 opens October 5.

Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story

It would appear that Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story is about to be or just has been broadcast on TV in the UK (and certainly will be again) because the blog's getting hits. I interviewed filmmaker Sarah Townsend for FilmInk back when it was released on DVD. I reckon you can have the whole thing here now.

Eddie Izzard Believe

Photo credit: Eddie Izzard, courtesy of Getty Images/ Kevork Djansezian/


"Documentary," Sarah Townsend says, "is a very difficult form, especially if it's not your natural bent. It's like trying to learn to do math if you're a writer." And she should know. Townsend directed Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story, a fine doco - one that didn't so much begin life as a different documentary but almost ended up as one.

If you've seen Believe, you'll know Townsend from her ‘cameo'; part of the reason she ended up making the film - and has produced a number of Izzard's live performance DVDs - is because she's known Eddie since he began his career, when they were in a relationship. "Eddie's stuff was not political or cutting edge," she recalls. "Other people were much more obvious frontrunners. As time went on that very factor meant his comedy continued to be of interest." As demonstrated, in fine detail, in Believe.

It begins with the comedy process. The point of departure is a ridiculous UK tabloid beat-up of Eddie ‘conning' the public because his tour, promoted as an ‘all new show' by one venue, consisted of material the comic had already toured with in the US.

"It was bullshit, nothing to worry about," Townsend says, "but it got to Eddie because he's the guy who'd roll over his material faster than anybody. So the whole tour was about him trying to re-establish himself in his own head as the person he thought he was."

Presented parallel to Izzard's triumphant presentation, from scratch, of a totally new show, is his life story from infancy to worldwide success. But combining the strands of story was difficult. Sarah knew, dramatically, how it should be told but was stymied by editors insisting it was impossible.

"I'd think, ‘I bow to your greater technical knowledge' and end up with something that just wasn't going to work. So I'd be back to the drawing board yet again!" Eventually, the perfect collaborator, an "absolutely amazing editor" Angie Vargos appeared at the right time. "They always say ‘it takes years to find your team' with film. I went through something like eight editors before I found the right one for me."

They had their work cut out: despite amassing many hours of excellent material, some of it was in tiny fragments. "So much technical work went into making ten seconds here and there seem like a two-minute piece of footage. It was like making a jigsaw with only two pieces." Through it all, one essential piece of puzzle proved elusive.

According to Townsend, all documentary consists of manipulating material in order to create a "greater truth" from bits that, "strictly speaking, might not be true." But, sooner or later, you need to have the subject of the documentary acknowledge that truth, either admit or realise or "have the reality hit them in that moment." Without that element, there's "no proper journey."

Surprisingly - because they're old mates, and also because he seems so forthcoming in interviews - Eddie doesn't give much away. "On film, you can really tell when someone's not getting to the root of anything," Sarah says. "We did interviews for four years before we got anything that was genuinely truthful. There was no genuine revelation of the self in it, and ultimately, that's what we really want."

It was at the point where they were ready to relegate Believe to the ‘one-hour television special' that Eddie came through. "Suddenly we got the interviews that were the most revealing and formed the backbone at the end of the story."

The revelation? The truth Eddie reveals - as much to himself as to filmmakers and the audience - is that his entire career is predicated on his yearning for the approval and presence of his mother, who died when he was very young.

"That was an amazing moment," Sarah says. "A complete shock. We never thought we'd get there. We'd absolutely given up. And it was so real, so extraordinary. I remember us sitting in the room staring at each other afterwards not speaking, going ‘Oh my god!' That's the bit that made us able to turn it into a feature." Thus, Believe was equally a journey for Sarah.

"It was very interesting for me to discover, structurally, what we as humans require from a film in order to connect with it and believe in it and not feel that it's just something superficial."

Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story is available on DVD now (and showing on television in the UK some time).



I'm using the chicken to measure it…

After an adolescence of knowing about Zappa from the back pages of rock encyclopaedias and the odd reference encountered as a hardcore Beatles fan (John & Yoko jammed with him in the early ’70s, their collaboration forming the majority of record two of the Sometime In New York City album - later released as a section of Zappa's own Playground Psychotics; George Harrison referenced him in the lyrics of the song 'Blood From A Clone', on Somewhere in England; the album artwork to We're Only In It For The Money parodied Sgt Pepper) I started buying and enjoying his music.

I've previously blogged about how much of a mission being into Zappa was, in the late-’80s, when so little of his work was easily available in Australia at the time.

By the time of his death in 1993, almost all of his oeuvre had been reissued on CD and I more-or-less came to own it all - all the while acquiring whatever I could on the original vinyl as well.


An interesting item is the double album Uncle Meat. Its subtitle claims that it contains “MOST OF THE MUSIC FROM THE MOTHER’S MOVIE OF THE SAME NAME WHICH WE HAVEN'T GOT ENOUGH MONEY TO FINISH YET”. I realise now the apostrophe is in the wrong place. Never mind. Dig the artwork: a collage of photography, glass, teeth and who-knows-what.

It was the first album on the 'Bizarre' label - set up by Zappa and manager Herb Cohen, and distributed by Warner Brothers/Reprise. I've read that the name of the label, 'Bizarre', was inspired by the anthology of weird writing that Barry Humphries had compiled, entitled Bizarre. A journalist claims to have spotted it, during an interview, on Zappa’s shelf. (I think it was in a piece in Craig McGregor's 1973 anthology, Up Against The Wall, America.)


The name of the album, however, was inspired by the uncle of Zappa's childhood friend Don Van Vliet. According to Zappa's autobiography The Real Frank Zappa Book, Uncle Alan had a habit of exposing himself to Don's girlfriend Laurie. He's go to the bathroom and urinate with the door open, turning around to announce that "it's like a great big beef heart". That was Uncle Meat. The event was also the inspiration for Van Vliet's stage name, Captain Beefheart.

Uncle Meat is a distinctively quirky, mostly instrumental double album. On CD, it's quirkier still: a double disc set containing most of the album on disc 1. Disc 2 includes excerpts of soundtrack dialogue from what would have been the Uncle Meat movie - as well as a ridiculous new song called 'Tegno Na Minchia Tanta' (essentially, Italian for 'I have a big dick' - or, more literally, 'I am holding a dick this big'). Those tracks really break with the feel of the late-’60s album - and have come to be referred to as 'penalty tracks'. A frequent question for fans on the forum of the Zappa homepage regarding the recent re-issue of the entire catalogue, is whether Uncle Meat would be re-issued with the penalty tracks. It has been.

Thing is, the dialogue was the first signal that the Uncle Meat movie was finally being released. It was one of a number of VHS videos - including Amazing Mr. Bickford and The True Story of Frank Zappa's 200 Motels - that finally saw the light of day. Sadly, none of these titles are currently available - although bits of Bickford's work appear in Frank Zappa - Baby Snakes, which is available on DVD. 


Uncle Meat the movie - in its final release - was part documentary and part cheesy monster movie; like so much of Zappa's filmed work, it didn't know what genre it wanted to be and so attempted to be many things at once. Most obviously - having been completed many years after shooting had commenced - it was part documentary, part cheesy monster movie. Elements seemed to serve as a prequel to sequences that turned up in 200 Motels. And - trust me - make just as little sense, really. Perhaps even less.

A friend recalls me trying hard to make him and another buddy watch it - a good 20-odd years ago. "I remember it being very psychedelic," he says, and attributes to the other mate the phrase "Wow, that was doing my head in," but they appreciated my love of FZ - "like crack cocaine to you, I recall" - even if they didn't share it. I'm not sure if he's recalling the time I made them watch Uncle Meat the movie, the time I made them watch 200 Motels, or the time I made them watch The Amazing Mr Bickford. It doesn't matter. Our respective responses were the same each time, and I'm glad they indulged me. I probably only ever watched each one once - and yet if this were released on DVD or Bluray, I'd buy it the second it was available.

For now, someone has uploaded it, so I'm using Youtube to watch it, and that's pretty cool.

Enjoy. If you can.


Sub Editor/Proofreader required...


Newspapers are dying. As publications shrink in number - and size! - freelance sub editors and writers like me find themselves being more 'free' than 'lance'. I've even found myself, on occasion, competing with people who have served as my editor at magazines that have long-since ceased publication.

So it's good to know that occasionally, when civil unrest is rearing its ugly head in the form of protests-cum-rioting, and the global financial crisis continues to bite, the greater population may be kept docile with the bread-and-circus spectacle of sporting events. And, if promoted the right way, the entire process can lead to greater advertising revenue for publications.

See today's Manly Daily for example, with the Sea Eagles Special  8-page wrap-around. Nice big pictures as the team heads into the game that will decide whether they make the grand final. Heaps of ads for companies who want to be associated with the kind of good spirits that lead to people spending again.

Everything’s great, isn't it.

Except that such an undertaking means more work.

And the bigger workload means proofreaders and sub editors have to be more diligent.

Or they would be, if newspapers still had 'em. In many instances, they were the first line of cut-backs when print media began shrinking.

So there can be the potential of a publication - The Manly Daily, say - going to print unfinished, incomplete, with the placeholders - like the lorem ipsum text serving as the editorial - showing where actual content ought to go. That’s what happened with today’s editorial.




Likewise, the puff boxes designed to draw you to key content still remain empty, their summaries incomplete.



The best bit is the is the blurb just to the right, alerting readers to the online edition: “It’s all there,” it tells us. "Every page, every edition is online…”


It's all online


It most certainly is. Peruse this edition online (screen shot below) and you find these careless errors still intact:


Online edition

And while you’re looking, notice another howler in the subheading beneath the ‘College campus at Corso’ headline on page 3:


Panel passess


This situation is not ideal. There needs to be someone on the staff to ensure this doesn't happen.

Of course I've offered my services.

I keenly await a reply.

Sydney Hing Festival
The History of Everything that Ever Happened to Michael Hing. Ever.

Ray Gun

“Will this end with me beind date raped?” Michael Hing responds to my initial offer of an interview over a home-cooked meal. Instead, I make him the Mafia compromise: a meal he can’t refuse in a public place where neither of us has the clear advantage. Although I have slightly more, since it’s a pizza place in the shopping strip where I work. But as no firearm has, to our knowledge, been strapped behind the cistern, and neither of us comes out of the john with just our dick in our hand, it’s still clearly the right decision. (I’ll see your Gen Y ironic rape gag with a Gen X pop cultural reference, Hingers!)

“I’m a filthy vegetarian,” Michael warns, avoiding the option to share an entrée or split a family vegie supreme. “I don’t mind separate pizzas, whatever’s easiest for you. I don’t want to cause any trouble…” No trouble at all. Hing’s exquisite taste and tiny appetite means I get the best of both worlds. And our long conversation ensures I’ll need it.

Although it seems like he’s been around for a relatively short period of time, Michael Hing’s been involved in various modes of comedy for ages; he’s done just about everything, his disproportionate hunger for comedy seemingly outweighing any other need or desire in life. If there’s any interesting new movement or trend happening in comedy, chances are Michael will be somewhere close to the centre of it, since most if not all roads lead back to Hing. Particulary at this year’s Sydney Fringe Festival where Hingers seems to be producing or appearing in some 20-odd shows, making it very much a Sydney Hing Festival.

Stand-out elements of Michael’s comedy include his need to outline an informed socio-political position. He’ll rant, but the rant will be backed up by facts. On a personal level, however, he specialises in a line of self-conscious, nerdy absurdist self-deprecation – but the self-deprecation is never racially based. That, he eschews with an almost Richard Dawkins-like fervour. Which is where I most often want to take issue, because even if the so-called ‘wog comedy’ and Asian permutations thereof are unsophisticated, they still serve a purpose. Unsophisticated people deserve to enjoy a laugh, too. But we’ll get to that, and just about everything else, in good time.

  Hinger's Dreads


Raw Comedy

My first memory of Michael Hing was of that self-conscious Sydney Uni kid with the dreadlocks, giving Raw Comedy a go. Twice. Within weeks of each other. First as a solo stand-up, then as part of a kind-of-‘sketch’ double act with another Sydney Uni kid called Neal Downward. The double act was more memorable than the solo stand-up since it cleverly – perhaps too cleverly – deconstructed performance itself. Metacomedy. Earning Hing and his partner, Neal Downward, a bit of coverage in MX when they made the state semis. Next thing I know, Hing and Downward are producing a sketch troupe consisting of a whole mess of Sydney Uni kids, called ‘The Delusionists’, in their self-titled show for Sydney’s Big Laugh Festival and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.


The Delusionists, (l-r when they first appear): Ben Jenkins, Alex Lee, Steen Raskopoulos, Benita de Wit, Paul Michael Ayre


“That was all within the same six month period,” Michael acknowledges: “a pretty quick turn-around!”

What happened was, a year earlier Ben Jenkins – who would become one of the Delusionists – made it through to the Raw Comedy National Finals. Hing’s housemate, a high school buddy, was friends with Ben, so Hingers ended up seeing Jenkins in action and thought “I could probably do that” and gave it a go.

“I didn’t have the drive, performance ability, talent and experience Ben had,” Michael recalls. “And I was really, really new and Raw might have been the second time I’d done comedy.”

The result?

“I forgot most of my set that night, and stood in silence in the light.”

What was interesting was the night’s feature act – the professional comic who entertains the loyal audience as a kind of reward for having sat through a dozen newbie amateurs – was Nick Sun. And he more-or-less “did exactly the same thing, which is, come on into the light and be silent and not know his jokes.”

The difference?

“When Nick Sun did it, it was hilarious because it seemed like it was deliberate. When I did it, it was like, ‘what are you doing…?’”




The rise and rise of Michael Hing began with a couple of improv classes towards the end of 2005 – which makes complete sense since Theatresports and the tradition of improvised comedy have been strong at Sydney Uni just about forever. Peripheral involvement with that year’s Arts Faculty Revue whetted his appetite; Hing directed the Architecture Revue the following year. “I didn’t perform, but I wrote a lot for it,” he says, admitting that his early attempts at comedy are a little embarrassing now. “It was terrible. I was consciously trying to do stuff that was different to everybody else, but it was a case of ‘you have to learn all the rules before you can break them’.”

Hingers did try to be different: whereas the first commandment of University Revue seems to be ‘Thou Shalt Taketh the Piss Out of Other Faculties’, under Michael’s watch, rather than take on Engineering, Education, Science and Arts, the Architecture Revue sought to be “‘different’ and ‘crazy’ and ‘out there’ and ‘whoooooaaaah!’” Without sufficient experience the result, according to Michael, was “this weird mess of ideas” where, of the 90-minute show, “maybe 40 jokes were funny and 50 million jokes were terrible”.

To be fair, every sketch show is hit-and-miss unless it’s put together some five years into the participants’ careers, where they can draw from the best of everything they’ve done thus far. And even then, the best sketch shows are the British ones where there’ve been several series on Radio 4 before the best bits thus far are chosen for the debut television series. You don’t know that when you see that television series; it just looks like someone amazing has come out of nowhere to work comedy magic.

Be that as it may, John Pinder – Aussie comedy pioneer who’d helped found the Melbourne International Comedy Festival way back when and was still consulting for television producers and heading up one of Sydney’s numerous and disparate festivals (The Big Laugh Festival at the time) – happened to see the show.

“I don’t really understand what was going on,” Hingers says, “but for some reason, he liked it and gave me a bit of money to put together a sketch crew to be a part of that year’s Big Laugh Festival, and from that, do the Melbourne Comedy Festival’.”

Thus, The Delusionists came into being.

Remember, by this time Pinder and producer Chris McDonald had created a ‘best of the university revues’ live show called The Third Degree, which eventually became the Ronnie Johns television show.

“The Third Degree already had a format, so we came in at a time when the exact theatre that they were in – the Kaleide Theatre at RMIT – was free, and there was what John described as ‘a gap in the market’, which we filled,” Hing recalls. “People had heard of The Third Degree and wanted to be a part of that experience in terms of sketch and discovering new comedy, so in our first year, we had a lot of ticket sales that we didn’t really deserve.”

Undeserved perhaps, but definitely earned. When you go down to Melbourne with a sketch show, you have a mass of performers as well as crew – a small army that can cover all the bases when flyering  punters on the street in the hope they’ll come see your show. And it did seem they knew what they were doing, even if it was mostly front and bluster. But Hingers comes clean:

“That was mostly copied from the model these guys were running. They had all these rules and tips that they gave us, so we weren’t going down completely ‘fresh faced’, although, to all the people who didn’t know us, it was like, ‘who are these kids who have come down and sold 200 tickets?!’”

It’s not like they hadn’t done it before, really. They’d flyered strangers for their uni revue, and the had the likes of Dan Ilic and Jordan Raskopoulos – Third Degree and Ronnie Johns veterans – teaching them stuff. The result? A good first show that earned a three-and-a-half star review in The Age. They were overjoyed. “The Age! The paper! It came and saw our show!” Michael recalls.

At this stage of his not-quite-career, despite an initial foray into Raw Comedy, Michael Hing is sticking to writing and directing rather than performing. And having cool dreadlocks, I suggest. “Yeah, and just being a real weird dude,” he adds.



Return Season

The following year, of course, the Delusionists return to Melbourne with The History of Everything that Ever Happened. Ever and sell out some 23 of their 25 shows, despite being on at a ridiculously early timeslot. There are suggestions that TV is interested, though nothing immediately comes of it. Although, the major difference this time is “we get a two-star review from The Age, and they call us homophobic and racist and the rest.” According to Hing, “that really hurt” because they were all “crazy, left-wing, politically correct people” with “totally innocuous jokes” that “weren’t even about race or gender”. Indeed, Michael stresses, indignant, “it really hurt to be called homophobic when we’re the type of people who go on marches for this kind of stuff. We’re Sydney Uni students. Don’t you understand? We vote for the Greens!”

Ah yes. A half-decade or so earlier, they’d be rich kids who could afford, in time, to be ‘chardonnay socialists’. Understood loud and clear. But that doesn’t make them any less funny. Or politically incorrect necessarily (although, I resist pointing out, this interview did begin with a date rape gag, ‘ironic’ and/or ‘absurd’ as it may be). If the Delusionists were guilty of anything, it was of being a bit too clever-clever.

Still, it served as a lesson to Michael Hing in his formative years.

 â€œThat’s when I first started thinking about how careful you have to be with your comedy in terms of what you’re saying and what you’re doing. The onus isn’t on the audience to interpret it. The onus is on you to give them a message that they couldn’t possibly misinterpret. You dictate how they interpret you. It’s all on you.”

After that year, Hing quit the group to concentrate on solo comedy.

“I was too insecure to work in a group,” he says. “I’m not performing, so I’m thinking, I’m not the funny one; they’re getting all the laughs, I’m just writing jokes.” By this stage, the Delusionists were a strong troupe of performers, and as such, pretty much directed themselves. “I’m like, ‘you know what, I really want to do my own thing now. I want to go back to Uni and do drama and some other stuff, maybe finish my degree, I don’t know.’”




Back to Uni

That’s an interesting diversion at this point. What exactly was Michael studying? The plan out of high school was to follow Mama and Papa Hing into medicine, because Michael was a pretty smart kid.

“But then it turns out I’m not smart enough to do that,” Michael says, “so after six months of that I move to teaching for about three years.”

After teaching, Hingers tried his hand at counselling. “I go on a school counselling prac and I expect it to be ‘oh like, hey, talk about your feelings and stuff’ and on the first day it was, ‘my mum’s an alcoholic, my dad’s a heroin addict, what have you got for me?’ I was like, ‘this is out of my league!’ so I ditched that because there was no way that I could really help these kids.”

Six months of architecture ensued. And then an attempt at a philosophy degree.

“The point is,” Hing says, “I never graduated.”

Hang on, Hingers. You’re an Asian kid. You have an intellect. Both your folks are high achieving doctors. How do they feel that you need to be a clown?

“They are amazingly supportive of this unmitigated bullshit,” Michael says. Although his routine is littered with jokes about his parents disapproving of his life choices, “in reality,” he insists, “they are just amazing. For example…”

Before he launches into his example, Hingers falters and has a second thought.But then says, “Yeah, I’ll talk about this,” and carries on.

“I had an opportunity two years ago to audition for a television show which never got made. It was a sitcom. I got asked to audition for the part of this Asian character who spoke in a weird accent and did a lot of Asian jokes…”

If you know Michael Hing at all, or have seen him on stage, you will almost certainly know that this is anathema to him – playing the self-deprecating, comic-relief, cheap-laugh Asian. And yet – sitcom. Television work. Income. Perhaps fame.

“I was kind of not sure about what I wanted to do or whether I should do it, and my dad was like, ‘Michael, you didn’t do uni because you don’t want to have a real job; if you start doing stuff like this that you’re not passionate about and don’t believe in, that’s like having a real job. You need to do what you want in the way you want to do it.’”

Cool dad, huh!

“That is one of the biggest influences on what I am trying to do,” Hingers acknowledges. “My parents are super, super supportive. Ridiculously so. To the point where it is almost irresponsible. Now I’m doing fine and don’t need support, but if I ever did, I think they would help me out.”



Project 52

Moving on from The Delusionists while remaining friends with the cast and crew, Michael began to concentrate on his own comedy. He took another stab at Raw, making it to the state final. “That was when I realised stand-up was the thing I’m not terrible at,” he says. Still, his career trajectory was somewhat bound to the sketch comedy troupe.

“All the shows we’d done down in Melbourne, they were partially funded by the University of Sydney Union,” Hingers explains. For the uninitiated, the Union is the body that administers much of the cultural life of the student body, and one way in which it does so is by funding cultural undertakings. However, Michael says, after two years of financing a small army’s interstate incursion, the Union woke up to itself.

“They were kind of like, ‘Hey, you’re going down to Melbourne with thousands of our dollars and we’re not getting anything out of that’. So for 2009 when we wanted to do it, we said, ‘You know what, to prove to you that we’re doing something for culture on campus, we’ll start a comedy room on campus that’ll do a show every week and we’ll mix between doing stand-up and sketch and improv and story telling and musical comedy and plays and everything and we’ll literally do a different show every week’.”

And so, out of the need to fund a final Festival foray in 2009, Project 52 was born. “We didn’t realise that what would become Project 52 would be the greatest thing we’ve ever done and one of the coolest things that we’ve ever been involved in,” Michael says, quickly pointing out that he’s “not the only person” behind it. “I do a lot of the boring admin work for it, but it certainly is a five-way group who run it.” The team includes Ben Jenkins, Carlo Ritchie, Steen Raskopolous and Tom Walker. “Carlo and Tom are the people who probably make me laugh more than anyone else in the world. I understand their minds, and they still make me laugh all the time.”

It wasn’t an instant success, of course: some nights were packed out. Other nights the comics outnumbered the audience. “There were some grim times for us,” Hing acknowledges. “There’d be eleven people in the room, and ten comics, and it’s going to go forever and it’s gonna be terrible and I’ve got to tell some first year I’m really sorry, he can’t go on because there are too many comics. But by the end of the first year, a small crowd for us became 60 people.”

It certainly helped Michael develop as a comic, having to front up each week, often in front of largely the same group of punters. He had to have new material each time.

“It’s perfect when you’re young and you have a million ideas and you have to write them all down,” Michael reckons. “I say like I’m some old guy now…”

I am some old guy now, and I can say the one night I got to perform there, it was chockers. Admittedly, everyone apart from Hing – and me – was some undergraduate doing material about Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, but it was a great night. And then I couldn’t get another go, because word got out that it was the coolest room in Sydney and visiting international acts were climbing over each other to get some stage time. Although Michael has a far more touching story about Project 52’s growth in prominence.


In Memoriam, Jordan McClellan

Some time into the room’s second year, on the night of Sydney University’s Theathresports Grand Final, a student called Jordan McClellan, who “did a lot of improv stuff” with Hing and co, was tragically hit  and killed by a taxi on his way home. “It was really serious and really, really sad,” Michael recalls. “That affected a lot of people and changed the way we did comedy. It really changed a lot of stuff.”

One change was the renaming of the Theatsports Trophy. Steen Raskopoulos and Tom Walker, who run the Theatresports program, renamed it The Jordan McClellan Cup. But one of the “more offbeat things” to come out of it, according to Michael, occurred as a result of them googling Jordan McClellan’s name, to see how his death had been reported.

“We found this blog by someone called Sidney Critic who had been writing about us for 18 months. We had no idea. He reviewed all our shows. So there was this great memory of our friend who had passed away. That was really cool.”

Sidney Critic went on to name Project 52 the best comedy room in Sydney. “I think other comics must have read that blog or something, because when we started up in the second year, the people who wanted to get on weren’t just open mikers and friends, it was proper comedian people.”

But that’s just the stand-up night; there is far more to Project 52 than stand-up, which takes place on night a month. Steen Raskopoulos runs ‘The Impro Den’. “It is – and I say this  having watched a lot of impro – by several standard deviations the best improvised comedy you’ll see in Australia” – Michael insists.

‘Story Club’ is the story-telling night run by Ben Jenkins. “It’s part of a new trend that’s been happening for a couple of years,” Michael says, acknowledging story-telling rooms run by the likes of Kathryn Bendall (‘Tell Me A Story’) and Michael Brown (‘Campfire Collective’). The point of difference for Story Club, Hingers explains, is that people literally type a story and read it out of a giant book. “So there’s no performance element to it the way you would tell a stand-up story. It’s more of a writing and performing process, and they’re on a theme. It’s as really good way to break in, when people don’t feel confident in performing, they can just read.”

And, finally, there is a sketch night called Make Way For Ducklings. “It’s probably the funnest thing to ever do,” Michael insists.

In addition, Project 52 runs other themed nights where the comedy is about a specific – often nerdy – thing. “Like our Game of Thrones night. Recently we did a ‘would you rather’ discussion. It’s license to do whatever we want. We’re not locked into doing stand-up every week, like other rooms are.”

Makes me want to run away and join Michael Hing’s circus. They have the most supportive milieu. “It’s not even just students,” Michael insists. “It’s a specific kind of student.” The room has a capacity of 130-odd. “We don’t like turning people away,” he says, “but there are nights when we say, ‘There are people who shouldn’t be here, could they leave…’.” Such people, according to Michael, aren’t going to “get into the spirit” of the room’s comedy. He reckons they’re people “who want rape jokes and ‘edgy’ comedy” (said the man who suggested dinner-and-interview might serve as the prelude to unwanted foreplay. And afterplay).

MICF Poster

Going Solo

 2012 was the first year Michael Hing took his own hour-long show, An Open Letter to Rich White People Concerning Their Role in the Downfall of Civilisation, to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival “because that’s how the Australian comedy industry works,” he acknowledges. Whereas in America you develop five minutes of material, building it to 10 and then 15 and then twenty, on your way to an hour, in Australia you “do comedy for a bit and then you do an hour-long show at a Festival”. Though not necessarily ‘ready’ to take on the solo show, there were indications that it was time – “a bunch of weird things” starting to happen from the beginning of the year.

“I broke up with a girl who I had been dating for years. I started working at a university as an adult instead of as a student lay-about.” It was, he says, part of that coupla-year cycle where h panics a little and thinks he has to decide whether he should persevere with comedy or pack it all in and try to get a real job.

“I gave myself to the end of the year to decide,” he explains: “If I’m just doing one or two spots a week and only a couple of gigs a month are paid, then I’m going to focus on my career and do stand-up as a hobby. But if by the end of the year I’m doing stuff that I really like and I’m really proud of what I’m doing, then comedy is the thing I’m going to do.”

Focus on your ‘career’, Hingers? What, pray, tell, was the ‘career’ if it wasn’t comedy, midway through 2011?

“At the time I was booking bands and the Roundhouse, at the University of New South Wales,” Michael says. “I was like, ‘I can be a booker. And do comedy as a hobby’.” Of course, Michael gave that all away, and his non-comedy employment nowadays consists of teaching digital marketing and media at said university part time, “even thought I don’t have a degree and I’m not qualified at all”.

Aiding the transition from part time amateur comic to full time professional were the collaborative shows Michael had been creating for earlier Sydney Comedy Festivals with Patrick Magee. A founding member and stalwart of Comicide, the other sketch comedy troupe operating around the same time as The Delusionists, Magee was in many ways Hing’s perfect foil.

Their first show, 2010’s Illustrious Physicians of Romance, set out “to teach you everything you need to know about love in an hour”. A sample routine involved grabbing a punter from the audience and calling up their ex-girlfriend in order to try and win them back over the phone. The show arose out of Hing and Magee’s respective obsessions with women at the time. (What? And your long term relationship faltered, Michael? How? Why?)

Their second show, the following year’s Orientalism was a sustained “rallying cry against ethnic comedy” – one of Hing’s bugbears. Although Michael is still adamantly opposed to ethnic comedy, he can at least acknowledge that “60 minutes is a long time to be preachy about something”.

These shows weren’t necessarily good prep for Hing’s one-man show. “They were mostly improvised and they were more sketch than stand-up,” Michael explains. “They changed every night because Pat Magee has an inability to maintain focus on stuff, which is what makes him super funny a lot of the time. It also makes him highly emotionally volatile a lot of the time, as well. He is seriously one of the smartest, funniest, cleverest people I’ve ever met and worked with. If he ever bothered to commit to doing comedy forever, he’d be great.”

Given that Patrick’s currently in the UK pursuing comedy, chances are he’s well on his way to achieving that greatness. As for Michael, the process made him realise he had a number of stories he wanted to tell, and so it was time to do his own show. Its first incarnation was I’m Only Doing This Because They Won’t Let Me Be A Rapper at the 2011 Sydney Fringe Festival.


Sydney Fringe


Unqualified Success

Half a year on from the Melbourne Comedy Festival, Michael’s attitude to his season is telling.

“I came back from Melbourne with a good amount of money from doing comedy,” he says, “which felt really, really cool.”

So comedy as career instead of hobby, then. No need to get qualified to teach digital media and marketing after all.

“At the same time, there was stuff in my comedy that I didn’t feel very proud of. I was doing some jokes that I thought were lazy, and some easy gags. I felt a little bit guilty because I was using easy tricks – in about three or four parts of my show – to get laughs.”

Oh, Hingers, ever the purist. He sometimes got laughs not by telling a joke, but by using “just the rhythm of a joke, and the word ‘f*ck’.” What comic has never been guilty of that? Your job is to make them laugh. Did you make them laugh? Good. No problem. Unless you’re competing in a [Raw] comedy competition, in which case, be concerned that the jokes are below your judges’ standards, rather than your audiences’. But even then, it doesn’t matter: the point of doing comedy is to make the audience laugh, not to win competitions. And the point of doing comedy competitions is to make the audience laugh, not to win competitions.

Still, Michael makes a convincing argument:

“For the first three weeks, where I’m selling out some nights and getting great reviews, it feels great.”

Why wouldn’t it? That’s every Melbourne Comedy Festival debutante – and veteran – comic’s dream.

“And then Chortle comes to see my show.”

Uh-oh. Chortle is the über-comedy critic, the comedy critic sine qua non. And Hing confirms that Chortle essentially said, “‘Hey, dickhead, you’re a mad, lazy writer who should be trying harder, cos you’re cheap’.” Hing’s paraphrasing, of course; Chortle is far more articulate than that.

“I read that and I think, ‘He sees through everything, and it’s true’. And the reality is, any other achievement that I feel proud of, is meaningless. So I come back from Melbourne with money that I’m not uncomfortable to have, but think I should put it towards something cool.”

 Good man, Hingers. I think I speak for almost everyone when I say I’m never uncomfortable to have money, and I always think I should put it towards something cool. But I’m never as cool as Michael, who has put his money to the best possible use, producing fringe festival shows of several of his comedy peers.

But that’s the obvious, immediate penance – putting potentially ‘ill-gotten gains’ toward a greater good. Michael’s taking other initiatives as well:

“I don’t have a lot of strengths, but one thing I’m quite good at is learning. I flatter myself to think I can learn quite well, so if someone I respect, whose reviews I’ve read, says to me ‘this is a two-star show and you need to work harder and not be lazy’, then I can click onto that being a real thing.”

And so for Hingers, it’s once more into the fray: among the multitude of shows he’s involved with is the new hour of material, in development for the 2013 festival season.

Gen Fricker brekky


 All roads lead to Hingers

While ‘coasting comedian’s guilt’ goes some way to explaining why so many roads lead to Hing – the ‘Sydney Hing Festival’ part of it, anyway – there are still all the other undertakings he is and has been involved in.

For example, a couple of years ago one of the new hot young things of comedy was a svelte Sydney chanteuse called Gen Fricker whose sinister world view with conveyed via punk ballads sugar coated with a thin veneer of faux-naivete  bookended with some of the most hilarious off-the-cuff banter you’ll ever have served up at you. Another one of the many to arise out of the Sydney Uni milieu, Gen is clearly a world-class talent in her formative years. Suddenly, Hingers was hosting the breakfast shift with her on Radio FBi.

A couple of years previous, Jack Druce was the youngest Raw finalist ever (dubbed ‘an embryo’ at the time by one slightly older – and possibly slightly jealous comic). Now Hing is co-hosting one of the better comedian-fronted podcasts with him.

Cale Bain hosts an brilliant impro night on Tuesdays at the Roxbury Hotel (the second best in the known universe, according to Hingers – but he has a vested interest in the Impro Den, so it’s hard to call) and Hing is one of the regulars.

A bunch of brash alternate comics have a weekly package of performance anarchy called Phuklub – of which I’ve written at length. Guess who’s now a regular there, too…

And virtually any cool newbie you see who is or was at one time a student at Sydney University, rest assured, is a friend, was groomed by, appeared in a revue with, or let’s face it, will one day regret never having embarked upon a meaningful physical relationship with, Michael Hing.

There’s a reason why this is.

“If I want this to be my job,” Hing explains, “if I talk to my friends, most of whom are comics, and they’re doing a cool thing, I want to be a part of it. And I feel like I have a disparate amount of experience now that I can go into any place and try and fit in with what they’re doing.”

And, more than wanting the constant challenge of trying to apply his worldview and talents to each new comedic undertaking, there’s a far more fundamental and obvious reason.

“There’s no shortage of talented people in any comedy scene,” Hing says. “All that separates me or anyone from anyone else is the amount of work that you do. If I think I’m good and I’m gonna coast this out, there are any number of more naturally talented people who can take my place.”

One of the forces guiding Michael, particularly in the way he helps administer comedy to university campuses and beyond, taking newbies under his wing as he investigates new avenues for himself and others, is to provide the means of access that didn’t exist when he first hit the scene.

“When I was at uni and had a dream of doing stand-up, there was no way that I knew how to go to the Mic in Hand on a Thursday night. If you’re a student studying a science degree or whatever, you go, ‘oh, there are people at my uni putting a show on every Wednesday night, and they’ve done shows in Melbourne, and they’re doing gigs at the Comedy Store. If I hang around with them maybe I can learn how to do this – how to get it done’. That’s a really attractive thing to be able to offer young people. When I was in high school and at university I didn’t know how to be a comedian. Now, if I can offer anyone anything, it’s this: here is a night where you can get on and you can do comedy, and if you like comedy, I can tell you who to talk to and who can help you out. And now we get the people who run the Comedy Store coming by and checking out our night. That’s really cool for me.”

Thus, Michael is producing 20-odd shows at this year’s Sydney Fringe Festival because when he was at Uni he didn’t know how to do comedy, and now he has a bit of an idea. Not just of how to approach it, but of the different approaches you might choose to take. Indeed, Michael has several approaches of his own that he’s putting into practice all at once –  in a handful of shows.


One of them is a sketch show with Ben Jenkins, called Ben and Hing Do Sketches At You for the Better Part of an Hour. But don’t think, for an instant, that it’s another ‘Michael Hing and Patrick Magee’ show with Jenkins playing the role of Magee, even though Hing works as well with Ben as he does with Pat.

“Ben and I have been writing together for six years now, so we have a catalogue of 100 sketches. We’re gonna pick out 10 or 15 of them to call them a show.”

And of course, there’s the solo show, Occupy White People, that’ll be the prototype of his 2013 festival show.


But the most political and personal one, by far, is A Series of Young Asian Comedians not doing Asian Jokes, which features Jen Wong, Ronny Chieng (joint Best Newcomer at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year), Alex Lee, Jonathan Lee and Aaron Chen along with Hingers. “We all do 10 minutes each and no one mention race, no one mentions racism, no one mentions immigration, no one mentions being Asian, no one mentions stereotypes… nothing. It’s us doing jokes that have nothing to do with that.”


The stereotyped kid

Michael and I don’t quite agree on the ‘wog comedy’ issue. Being slightly older, and remembering what an amazing phenomenon Wogs Out Of Work was, I appreciate that self-deprecating humour was the first opportunity certain audiences – consisting of huge cross-sections of Australian society – got to see characters they could identify with on stage. Performers were talking to them about their particular experiences in ways that Ango Austalian comics and other stage and screen characters couldn’t. Furthermore, these non-Anglo Australian stereotypes weren’t merely the ‘low’ characters, the comic relief, the butt of the Anglo Australians’ jokes. They played the gamut of characters, and where they were the butt of the jokes, they were the butt of their own jokes: the humour was self-deprecating, so it wasn’t hurtful. Decades on, yes, that kind of humour is clearly less sophisticated; society has changed enough (we hope) that it’s unnecessary. We see non-Anglo Australians in the media representing more than the mere fact that they happen to be people of foreign extraction. But in less enlightened times, self-deprecating wog comedy was empowering.

“Yeah,” Hing replies, “but if the only way ethnic people can identify with a character on television in the 1980s is through Con the Fruiterer, that’s a damning indictment of television. It’s so rare, for example, to see a Chinese person on TV where their defining role isn’t merely being Chinese. It’s only now that you’re seeing hot Asian girls who are actually just ‘hot girls’, rather than ‘hot Asian girls’.”

Somewhere, a Gen X woman – who probably reviews for The Age – is reading this and being annoyed at the objectification of ‘hot’ and ‘girls’ when Hing clearly meant ‘women’; is it a bigger faux pas when special attention is being paid to the avoidance of racial generalisations? His point stands, however: if the person of a certain race appears in popular culture merely as a stereotypical representation of that race, there is a tendency for kids engaging with that culture to define themselves and others primarily by ethnicity. “And it is divisive,” Hing insists, “because, growing up, you are no longer the kid who happens to be Chinese or the kid who happens to be Italian. You are ‘the Chinese kid’. Or ‘the Italian kid’. And for some people that’s a really positive point of difference, but there is no reason that they have to be that. Why not ‘you are the smart kid’ or ‘you are the fast kid’?”

So then what happens, it seems, is ‘the Ethnic kid’ (feel free to insert the ethnicity you are most familiar with) who is funny and talented enough to take to the stage, becomes ‘the Ethnic comic’ and has to roll out all of the Ethnic clichés. If you’ve heard them all before, they stop being funny. For Hing, they can be downright offensive. Like when a comedian makes fun of his or her parents’ accents.

“A lot of Asian comedians do it: ‘My dad gets his Ls and his Rs mixed up. What’s up with that?’” Hing says, outlining why this line of humour fails.

“You’re making fun of your dad’s accent. Number one: it’s very well-trodden ground. You should be above that. If you’re holding a microphone, you should hold yourself to be above that. Number two: if your parents have a thick accent, chances are, they’re first generation emigrants. They probably made huge sacrifices to bring you here and bring you up in a country with opportunities where they can give you the best life possible. And you’re gonna get on stage and make fun of them because they don’t speak English properly and they have a funny accent? Go f*ck yourself. That f*cken annoys me. It enrages me.”

The rage has its origins during Hing’s own childhood.

“Growing up in the mid-90s in Australia, watching a comedian on television who looks like me,” he recalls, “I get excited, and then he says, ‘spring rolls… boogadah boogadah boogadah, what’s up with that…?” (The ‘boogadah boogadah boogadah’ is shorthand not unlike the Yiddish ‘yaddah yaddah yaddah’, serving here to dismiss facile observations.) “Everyone goes, ‘That’s amazing’ and they grow up thinking that’s okay to do, and you think that’s what you have to do as a Chinese guy doing comedy. I just want to prove to people that you don’t have to do that.”

What it feels like, I offer, is that Michael saw Hung Le on television, and irrespective of how funny or clever Hung’s observations were, later on at school narrow minded people repeated them, seeking to tease Hing. “Definitely,” he admits. “But this is what I’m talking about. People take away the message they want. It’s your job as a comedian to ensure that nobody leaves your show going, ‘I’m going to find the guy who that applies to and make him feel like sh*t’. You start a ripple effect where you’ve hurt some guy you don’t even know.”

I’m not sold on the argument. Part of me feels that Hing’s ‘bunging it on’ more than he actually feels it, in order to create the context for his particular brand of intellectually outraged stand-up to work. And mostly, it seems, it’s for the edification of less privileged ‘outsiders’. I mean, the open letter to rich white people has a different meaning coming from a rich non-white person, than it does from a poor non-white person. There’s nothing wrong with taking that position, it just takes more effort and more experience to make it feel less ‘bunged on’ and more relevant and sincere.

“I don’t feel disenfranchised,” Hing confirms. “I’m the Asian son of two doctors who grew up fine. I was bullied a little bit at school, but there are people who cop it much worse. But racial injustice angers me. And when I talk about racist stuff in my comedy, it’s because I genuinely think there is something funny to be said about it.”

But, Michael continues, the reason he finds “the vast majority of ethnic comedy” loathsome is because “when you’re in a position of power – and I think we can agree that having the microphone is being in that position of power” your target – the butt of the joke, and the level at which you pitch your jokes – has to be above your own level. This because, if you don’t, “if you’ve got a microphone and you’re screaming about someone who has less power than you and you’re aiming your anger and ridicule downwards, you’re just bullying someone. Whereas if you’re aiming it upwards –taking on the prime minister or people who are muscular and rascist or people who are smart and rich – they can defend themselves; they have a right of reply in a cultural capital.”

I agree with this philosophy. And I can see why it is such an interesting comedic path that Michael Hing treads. Coming from that privileged background, there aren’t many targets above him. And the bullying can’t have been so full-on from fellow privileged lads.

“I went to the local public primary school, but because it was in a reasonable area –Illawong, in the Shire – it wasn’t a rough school,” Michael confirms. “I was ‘the Chinese kid’. It totally influences my position. I hated being defined as ‘the Chinese kid’ because everyone else is pointing and laughing.” Perhaps, Michael considers, that’s where the comedy-as-defence-mechanism began because, he says, “I grabbed the mic at talent quests and stuff.”


Talking out of school

After primary school, Hingers wasn’t so keen to attend the local selective public high school. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so my parents sent me to Trinity Grammar. I got involved in some dicey stuff. I joined a gang.”

Dicey gang stuff at Trinity…? Apple in the chapel, I enquire, getting my posh private school scandals muddled.

“No, Trinity was ‘The Anaconda’,” Hingers reminds me, adding, “and no, a proper gang”.

This was the key story of Hing’s Open Letter… and since he’s performed it on stage, he doesn’t mind relating it to me now. “Through a series of events,” says Michael, he “ended up being friends with this guy whose older brother was in a gang at Cabramatta.” Lonely and in need of friends – often a characteristic looming early in a comedian’s life – Hingers ended up “doing jobs” for these people that included picking up packages from the guy’s place and delivering them to addresses in China Town.

“It’s hundreds of dollars every time that I do it, and I pretend I don’t know what’s going on, but I know: it’s drugs and weapons and stolen goods in my school bag.”

Dressing like the über-nerd he is – “top button done up, tie done up, socks pulled up even though I’m wearing long pants” – Michael is the perfect mule.

“I do this for between 12 and 18 months. Eventually my friend gets moved to Hong Kong, to live with a disciplinarian uncle. I eventually quit, and because I’m a nerd and they know I’m a coward, they don’t hurt me. They let me go.”

This is around 2000 when the ‘anaconda’ sex scandal took place, and suddenly the school’s systematically searching every student’s locker. “A lot of people I’m associated with are called to the principal’s office,” Hing reports. “Eventually, I’m called. I’m sitting there, crying and stuff. They tell me I’m not going to go to that school next year, and I think, ‘I’m f*cked!’ but it turns out that the reason I’m at the principal’s office isn’t because of that stuff; it’s because about 6 months earlier, being a super nerd, I made a website about my friend David calling him ‘gay’ because I was 14 and that’s what I found funny. They were like, ‘that’s unacceptible’ and I was like, ‘you’re right, it is, I need to leave the school; goodbye’.”

Hing ended up at Carringbah High, the selective high school he had been trying to avoid, where he met all his nerdy friends, was mocked, got angry, got to uni got into comedy and eventually ended up opposite me in a pizza place in Manly Vale, where I ate most of his vegie selection after finishing my own marinara, and after I swallow his last piece, I have to know: how the hell were the doctors Mama and Papa Hing about all this?

“Again, just stupidly supportive of everything,” Michael says. “That also contextualises what I’m doing now: sure, I’m not finishing my degree or getting a job, but I’m also not in a gang, which is a thing I came very close to doing for the rest of my life. It makes the choice of being a stand-up comic much, much easier.”


Much funnier by accident


When I tweeted it nearly a year ago.



Carrie Bickmore, by accident, the other evening on The Project:


Much funnier. Not least of all for the way Carrie does her best to carry on. And for the way Charlie Pickering reacts. Great telly.

Just sayin'.



Hang Our Heads

The 'celebrity', in happier times. (Image by Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer.)



Tell me where you can download that smartphone app that enables a clenched fist to come out of the screen and pummel the side of your head.

The reason I need one is because I keep reading about a torrent of Twitter abuse that put into hospital someone of whom I'd never before heard.

Someone called Charlotte Dawson.

Before a couple of days ago, the name 'Charlotte Dawson' might begin to stir memories of Dawson's Creek. Now, of course,  I understand she's a not-bad-looking 'celebrity' from some… reality show…? who retweets cyber-bullying messages, and in addition, blew the whistle on someone who tweeted without thinking. (Not to diminish the potential seriousness of the thoughtless tweet or the whistle-blowing.)

People who think rationally, can hold a conversation and discuss and even argue topics in a civilised manner use the internet. So do cretins. And so do people who think rationally but prefer to behave like cretins.

I know this from experience.

I fit into the 'people who think rationally' category. Some may argue I occasionally stray into the 'people who think rationally but prefer to behave like cretins' category - but they're bloody idiots who ought to hang themselves they'd be mistaken, because I don't. When I'm wrong, or I've crossed the line, I will acknowledge the fact. I will step back. I will apologise when necessary. I will even change my opinion when evidence resulting from discussion and argument renders my opinion untenable.

I will, essentially, 'take responsibility' for my words and actions. It's a pity that not everybody does. That's why society seems to require whistle-blowers to 'dob' on rational people who behave like cretins - a category that includes corrupt cops and politicians as well as crooked CEOs of multinational corporations. Few people seem to respect whistle-blowers, unfortunately. Lots more people respect rational people who prefer to behave like cretins, especially when they get away with cretinous and illegal behaviour. But that's almost by-the-by.

I try to behave responsibly, and that's perhaps why I've never received what might be considered a 'torrent of online abuse'. I'm also not a 'celebrity'. Not a real one, who's rightfully earned fame and fortune by doing something significant and noteworthy through application of talent, creativity and hard work. And not a pretend one, who's earned the same by appearing on the kind of television or radio show designed to placate and keep docile both cretins and rational people who prefer to behave like cretins.

Cretins and rational people who prefer to behave like cretins have a history of turning on both real and pretend celebrities - the talented people, and the untalented people they'd previously helped celebrate. It's sad, but it happens. Not to me, of course. Although, if it ever did, I think I'd cope.

If any online interaction took place that I was even slightly uncomfortable with, that could not be mended with an apology, a retraction, a deletion of as many tweets, emails, online contacts and friendships as required, I'd still cope.

I have the good sense to turn off my computer or phone and walk away.

Even so, I still fail to see how receiving a 'torrent of abuse' lands you in hospital. At least, not without the installation of the 'Pummel You In The Side Of Your Head'™ app, which instantly converts an abusive tweet into a punch.

There still has to be a step between the receipt of torrents of abuse, and the hospitalisation. There has to be a 'self-harm' stage, and a 'calling the ambulance' stage before the admission to hospital stage.

Except, that's the thing, isn't it: there doesn't have to be a 'calling the ambulance stage' unless there's a 'self-harm' stage. And there aren't any apps created to automate those processes, either.

So there doesn't have to be a self-harm stage.

Although, it's not clear if there was a self-harm stage in Charlotte's case. That won't be made clear until the 60 Minutes interview, if at all. But if there wasn't, why and how did the 'torrent of online abuse' lead to 'hospitalisation'? Was this an elaborate hypothetical 'see what can happen, cretins' exercise? If it wasn't, please don't think I'm making light of someone being tormented to the point of self-harm. I'm not. I'm making fun of someone clever enough to rise to the level of 'celebrity' despite not having the smarts to disengage from the blogosphere.

It particularly irks me because there is more talk of closer policing of the internet and twitter and the like. It's not that bad behaviour ought to go unpunished - just that some behaviour would be less detrimental if we engaged with it less. In the case of the torrential abuse of Charlotte, was tweeting the crime? What about retweeting? What about printing copies of the tweets and the retweets? At what point did any of it become criminal activity rather than merely bad behaviour? Or 'journalism' rather than 'sensationalism' (ie, merely bad behaviour')? If they were always criminal activity, why did it take the hospitalisation of a not-bad-looking 'celebrity' for it to become a police matter? Why do rational people have to be affected by the bad behaviour of cretins and rational people who choose to behave like cretins?

Before the age of smart phones and laptops and the internet in every home, and before the age of far too many reality television shows and wall-to-wall not-too-bad-looking 'celebrities', abuse was less torrential. It wasn't cyber-bullying, it was proper bullying, delivered firsthand. I assume we all experienced it at one time or another. I was an overweight Italian kid who read books on the bus, so clearly I was fair game as 'the fat wog'. It hurt, but it didn't result in hospitalisation.

That's because of the fundamental truth: sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.

It sounds corny, I know. More so, when chanted out loud at your would-be tormentor.

And even when, on the odd occasion, the verbal abuse escalated - via some shoving, no doubt - to fisticuffs, it still didn't result in hospitalisation. Is it because we were less molly-coddled back then? Was it because we knew what a punch felt like, having thrown and received them early on, that we learnt to avoid them soon after? Were we all just brought up better, by parents who automatically parented better? Maybe that's why the words hurt less than the sticks and stones, as well as why there were fewer sticks and stones. There were certainly fewer knifings and drive-by shootings, that's for sure.

Irrespective, the one place where torrents of abuse need not lead to hospitalisation is online. Because there is no 'Knife You Like A Coward While You're Trying To Talk Yourself Out Of A Fight'™ app, as surely as there is no 'Pummel You In The Side Of Your Head'™ app. Tweets don't hurt like sticks and stones, but when they become annoying, they can be avoided as surely as I can go through life avoiding reality television shows and the 'celebrities' they produce.

When it gets too much, turn the phone or the computer off, step away from the spotlight and talk to someone else about something else. (And by that, I don't mean 'sell your story to 60 Minutes'.) We all can take more responsibility for the stuff we do in life, on the television and online.


By all means, respond to this blog post if you must, but rest assured, I will not read your comments until after I've called the ambulance, been hospitalised, had my stomach pumped, been assured that downing a massive jar of Jelly Belly jelly beans is not fatal (hasn't been ever before, no reason for it to be now) and started to prepare for my 60 Minutes interview.

If you are truly troubled by things in life and talking to friends and family doesn't help, try health care alternatives. Start with your GP, Parish Priest, community leader or LifeLine. Meanwhile, don't send tweets like these: