To anyone who has followed Tom Gleesonâs comedic career, the Australian Fast Bowler comes as no surprise; not just because heâs always professed a love of Aussie (as well as British) sketch comedy, including vintage Paul Hogan (after whose multitude of comic characters the Australia Fast Bowler seems to take), but also because â along with longtime comedy collaborator Subby Valentine, Gleeson has long indulged in filming hilarious sketches. So his skitHOUSE work really shouldnât come as any surprise. Indeed, nowadays it is the stand-up that takes fans by surprise. Thankfully, it is something Tom continues to return to, and his Sydney Opera House Studio run of Ginger Ninja is an all-too-rare opportunity for Sydney-siders to catch him in his element. It also offers me an excuse to expunge the vaults once again. Here are a bunch of Tom Gleeson interviews from way back.
From the 12 March 2001 issue of Revolver:
Tom Gleeson purloins all the good gags for his new show Pirate Copy.
âItâs an illegal and inferior copy of other peopleâs Festival shows,â comedian Tom Gleeson offers as the concise explanation of what his 2001 Melbourne Comedy Festival Show, Pirate Copy, is about. âEverythingâs been pinched from somewhere,â he insists. When pressed, Tom does have another description: Pirate Copy consists of âall the funniest thingsâ he has ever thought of that he can âdo in an hourâ.
Many of the âfunniest thingsâ Tom Gleeson has ever thought of consist of hilarious short films and piss-funny sound gags conjured up with guitar effects pedals. The pedals are particularly special because the routines appear to be so simple. And yet they are so clever, so much so that other comics have expressed jealousy that they didnât make the discovery first. âThatâs one of the best things about comedy,â Tom admits, âwhen you can just spot the really obvious thought at the heart of everything else that no-one else can get.â
These âfunniest thingsâ of Gleesonâs actually date back to Tom and Subbyâs Video Sandwich, an ingenious show incorporating video, devised with longtime collaborator Subby Valentine, which premiered in Sydney last September. After a few Sydney performances, Tom and Subby took Video Sandwich to Melbourneâs Fringe Festival, always with an eye to getting it into that cityâs Inernational Comedy Festival (and onto television if the right producer would come to his or her senses). By the end of its Fringe run, at which audiences âlaughed from one end of the show to the other,â Tom and Subby had nipped and tucked Video Sandwich into a âpretty nifty showâ. However, even though Tom is heading down, Video Sandwich will not be returning to Melbourne just yetâ¦ and neither will Subby. Valentine is currently a father-to-be and the estimated time of arrival of Bubby Subby is smack in the middle of the Comedy Festival. Although initially trying to work out a way that Subby could perform the show and maintain his parental duties, the comics soon realised that such a scenario was neither âvery sensibleâ or âvery responsibleâ. Thus, Gleeson is going it alone with his Pirate Copy of the show. Pirate Copy then is clearly âan inferior and illegal versionâ of Video Sandwich. âThe showâs title is really a big disclaimer,â Tom confesses.
So what happens if a producer comes to his senses while Tom is doing Pirate Copy? Would it be a case of âFuck Subby!â? âYeah, essentially,â Tom laughs. He reckons that would be the scenario if he and Valentine were in each otherâs place. âIf he became a really successful father, would I get involved in any âbringing up the childâ sort of way? No.â
Truth is, the pair have been working closely for some time, their professional relationship beginning with collaborating on each otherâs stand-up material. Some of the punchlines Subby delivers are in fact Tomâs, and vice-versa. Yet there is no jealousy over who gets the laugh for whose gag. âWhoever started the idea gets the finished product,â Tom says. More importantly, the understanding is that whoever is the first to become successful, the other will be his ââBob Franklinââ¦ of âFrancis Greensladeââ¦ or whatever.â
Despite preparations for the Melbourne Comedy Festival, Tomâs going full-speed into his other solo work. He makes his âtelevision stand-up debutâ on Rove [Live] this week. (Other television appearances donât count, says Tom, because they were either performances of songs or sketches, or were performances taped in live venues. His spot on Recovery doesnât count because âthat was early in the morningâ and the audience was crap as ever.)
Meanwhile, Tom and Subby continue to forge ahead. Last week they taped an appearance for the Comedy Channelâs Headliners, to be broadcast some time in the future. âItâs to let the industry at large know that weâre doing a double act; we havenât really scratched the surface yet â weâve only been exposed in a minor fashion.â Although it was Video Sandwich without the videos â âa bit trickyâ according to Tom, because the videos afford a break in which to remember what bits of stand-up come next â it included the hilarious pedals. The pair are also currently pre-recording a series of Triple J Breakfast spots â one would hope in order to groom them for whatever âcomedy duoâ vacancy may arise when the void left by Merrick and Rossoâs departure is filled. And they continue to bask in the recent TropFest success of their video Rewind, which was shortlisted in the top sixty out of 580. A gorgeously self-referential, surreal film, Rewind originated in Video Sandwich. âAnd itâs in Pirate Copy,â Tom adds, âbecause, again, itâs among some of the funniest things that I have ever done.â
Tom hopes to start making videos again later this year. But he has a Melbourne International Comedy Festival season to complete first.
From the 4 September 2000 issue of Revolver:
(More than just another TV Dinner)
âI said to Subby, âI reckon Iâm gonna do something really, really dumb soon, I just know itâ,â Tom Gleeson offers. His friend and comedic collaborator, Subby Velentine, concurs: with a bit of time on their hands, Tom decided heâd purchase a video camera. âTwo hours later, he rang me and said, âI got it!ââ
Why is this significant? Well, the last time Tom found himself in the âdoing something foolishâ mindset, he went and recorded a humorous single. So if Tom Gleeson is finding himself hatching schemes, this time armed with a video camera, it is safe to assume that something good will come of it. In fact, something has: a live show â yes, âliveâ â that incorporates the fruits of Tom and Subbyâs labour: pre-recorded sketches. Or âclipsâ, rather, as the pair corrects me: âThese days, âsketchâ doesnât really mean anything to anyone,â Tom explains. âWhen you say âsketch showâ, people say, âso itâs going to be like Full Frontal, is it?â And you go, âNo!ââ Subby jumps in, covering himself karmically: âNot that thereâs anything wrong with Full Frontalâ¦â
Tom and Subby have a comedy-clip pedigree behind them. In the recent past, they both wrote and performed in James OâLoghlin on Saturday Night (Subby admits that Tom wrote; he merely âmucked aroundâ with and âruinedâ the finished scripts). Earlier on, Subby and Tom were one half of the live, sketch-based entity that went by the name of The Sketchy Sketch Show. It was later re-titled Larfapalooza and, with one eye on its television potential, was touted as âSydneyâs best sketch-based comedy showâ. That it was also pretty much Sydneyâs only sketch-based comedy show prevented any challenges to the veracity of that statement. Realising that they had everything required to go on television apart from âa camera, a director and a cameramanâ (and, of course, a contract) the pair set about rectifying the situation and started shooting âstuff that we found funnyâ.
They began with OâLoghlin left-overs â sketches that, for whatever reason, had been rejected. Learning as they went along, they themselves ended up ultimately rejecting all but one of these early attempts; subsequent clips were better executed, the writing, more multi-layered. âWe would shoot one thirty-second clip a week and probably spend half a day to one day filming,â Tom says, âworking really slowly â literally relaxed â so that we could get it all right.â
Having acquired good footage, they then turned to someone who could âput it together nicelyâ. That someone was Michael Castleman, an editor who currently works for Channel Seven and Channel Ten and who is himself no stranger to the world of stand-up comedy. While this project has âtelevision pilotâ written all over it, Subby admits that the idea to link the clips in a live show came pretty early on, when the pair realised that no matter how good the finished material was, immediate television sale was unlikely. Tom recalls that the best bits of their Larfapalooza work was when theyâd use pre-recorded footage on stage. It enabled breaks in pace and an opportunity for the audience and performers to catch their breath. He explains that this format is a major selling point of Video Sandwich: âTwo guys on stage, riffing; cut to a clip; come backâ¦ Thereâs no dead points to the show. Thereâs no costume change, thereâs no putting on a moustache andâ¦â â adopts a Homer Simpsonâtype âdisguised voiceâ â ââ¦âHello! Iâm someone else!ââ Interestingly, Subby adds that âthereâs very little character work going onâ in the clips, as well. âWe sort of vaguely take on different characters but weâre still âTom & Subbyâ.â
In order to tie all the material together, the pair aim to maintain a âvisualâ mode of performance, forever asking themselves, âwhat can we do live thatâs interesting to look at?â As Subby notes, âIf we want to talk, we can do stand-up. So itâs not just talkingâ¦â They are currently rehearsing vigorously in order to ensure that Video Sandwich runs smoothly. âIn Larfapalooza, there were always big shit-fights about learning the lines,â Tom admits. But Tom and Subby agree: once they get on stage, âall bets are off!â
âThatâs the whole point of having the live stuff,â Tom insists. âThe clips are tight enough to enable us to just improvise in between and thereâd be a really nice balance because thereâd be spontaneity as well.â
By this stage, Video Sandwich not only has âtelevision pilotâ written all over it, but the words are underlined in red as well. What if someone â one of Mr Packerâs lackeys, maybe â says âhereâs a large sum of money; give me thirty-three episodesâ?
âWe pour the money into writers, essentially,â says Tom, sure that the weakest link of any television comedy is the amount of material that has to be produced in a limited time.
And if Aunty says âhereâs a moderate sum of money; give me six episodesâ?
âThen,â Tom says, âweâre ready to go; weâve got some friends who can help with the writing.â
From the 5 June 2000 issue of Revolver :
Tom Gleeson talks a day in the life of a comedian.
A really scary moment took place when Tom Gleeson opened for James OâLoghlin at the Valhalla Theatre a couple of weeks ago. The audience were lapping Tom up, loving every minute of it, until he did his âchanging livesâ gag, in which he switches with Amanda Keller: âIâd get to find out what itâs like to be a high-paid television personality, and sheâd get to find out what itâs like to be funny,â he joked. There was a painful, palpable beat of silence, as though Gleeson had crossed the lineâ¦ until everyone, obviously concluding that, fuck it, itâs a joke, itâs funny, burst out laughing.
âIt began as a pretty average âChanging Roomsâ sketch for James OâLoghlin on Saturday Night Gleeson explains. âThe idea was changing rooms with the host and she fixes up your house while you fuck up hers. Then I tried to turn it into stand-up.â When Switching Lives began, the punchline was obvious. âI donât hate Amanda Keller,â Tom assures me, âbut I wish everyone else did a little bit because that would make the joke heaps funnier.â
Tom Gleesonâs first stab at stand-up took place at Sydney University. Beginning a pharmacy degree, Tom realised a couple of years into it that he wasnât having fun and transferred to science. âConsequently,â he explains, âI had no friends at uni because theyâd all graduated. I was open to new experiencesâ. At this stage, the still largely undiscovered Adam Spencer was hosting a stand-up comedy competition on campus every Thursday during lunchtime. Gleeson, who had been in a âweird experimental bandâ, had âa little bit of a reputation for being quite funny between songsâ. He decided to have a go. It was back then, long-time Gleeson watchers might be interested to know, that Tomâs original stage persona, âMalcolmâ, was born. However, when I bring this up, Tom insists that I âforget âMalcolmâ; let âMalcolmâ go.â
Gleesonâs justification for the character was that it acted as an escape clause. âIf the whole thing sucks, itâs the character that sucks. So then Iâll do another character, and if that sucks, do another, and keep going until I find my âCon the Fruitererâ. And then Iâll have hit paydirt!â A little further down the track, Tom came to his senses. âI thought, âwho do I like? I like The Goodies. What are their names? âGrahamâ, âTimâ, âBillâ. Iâm âTomâ. Weâll give that a go. Weâll exaggerate the best bits of me and run with that. Itâs easier to be consistent about your own character.â"
Although Tomâs first attempt at stand-up didnât get him into the final, it did allow him to develop a taste for laughs and applause. Gleeson subsequently âtrainedâ for the next Sydney Uni comedy competition at various open mic venues around Sydney. âI was a bit sneaky,â he admits. âThere was a heat, and then there was a final. I realised that the first person to have two killer five-minute routines was going to win. So I worked out two separate five-minute routines.â
Using the second-best routine for the heat, Tom easily made the final cut, and in the week leading up to the final, performed his best routine every night. Of course he won. During the subsequent year he honed his talent with more open mic nights and, interestingly, some work at the Comedy Channel. âThey got a bit excited and gave me stuff to do straight away,â he says.
Despite an obvious calling to stand-up, Tom has pursued other comedic opportunities. As well as putting together the quirky, feel-good band âThe Fantastic Leslieâ, for which he drums and chooses essential repertoire like âMoving Right Alongâ (Kermit and Fozzieâs duet from The Muppet Movie), Tom has written and performed sketch comedy for the stage and screen. âIâve always been one to jump at opportunities with both feet,â he explains, and when OâLoghlin asked him to submit some material, he was more than happy. And happier still when it was accepted. A defining moment was Gleesonâs parody âDemTelâ ad: âHi, my nameâs Tom and Iâve got absolutely nothing to sell. Thatâs right: zip, zero, zilch.â Using a thesaurus, he explains, he devised a âneat little âEric Idleâ sketchâ that he was certain would be selected for that weekâs show. When it was rejected owing to time constraints, Tom demanded a cameraman and half an hour, and the resulting sketch made the cut. It led to regular appearances in parody ads.
Well then, where to next?
âTV comedy is what I love,â says Tom, who has already referenced The Goodies and Monty Python. âI know a lot comics who think that stand-up is it, and all these other things are just distractions. To me, stand-up is kind of necessary evil to get out there. If I had my way Iâd be making television shows.â And the good news is, Gleesonâs bought a digital camera and is âhaving fun filming stuffâ with fellow comic and collaborator Subby Valentine. Watch out Tom, you may be changing lives with Amanda Keller yet!