“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.
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 BonVivant.com.au. (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.