Jim and Eddie TalkS hit

Ben Kochan, a tweep I follow, tweets me to say that Jim Jefferies and Eddie Ifft mentioned me in their podcast, Jim & Eddie TalkS hit. “That would excite me,” he says. “Maybe it excites you”.

Indeed it does. Jim Jefferies and Eddie Ifft are among my favourite comics. I’m hoping they say nice things. Maybe point people to interviews I’ve done with them. Talk up this blog. I’m already imagining my Twitter followers increasing by a good ten percent in a couple of days, like the time Stephen Fry gave me some link love way back when. (I made him LOL. I’m going to keep bragging about it. I don’t care whether you deal with it.)

But it’s better than that.

I go straight to their podcast homepage to access their latest episode, no. 133. It features Nick Thune. I begin listening.

I begin to get worried when they start talking about fat people. Well, not when they start. When they get to the bit about ‘fat people who don’t see themselves as fat’. I’m pretty sure that’s not me, I’m just hoping I don‘t fit into (so to speak) that category without knowing it. I don’t want to be talked about on their podcast in that context. Even though, truth be told, I’m not that way about my weight. I’m aware of it. However, I am that way about my age. I’m an old person with no idea how old I actually am, or appear. There are people younger than me who seem so much older than me. Mostly because they do grown up things like work hard, earn good money, own houses, drive cars, have kids, submit their Business Activity Statements on time, that sort of thing.

But the fat discussion comes and goes…

There are one or two other moments where the podcast goes to places I hope don’t actually involve me.

Towards the end, Nick mentions he’s coming to Australia in August. I’m guessing, in the last 30 seconds, they’re going to suggest he lets me interview him for this blog.

Nope. That doesn’t happen. That’s not it. And the episode’s over.

I go to iTunes to look at other recent episodes. I see Orny Adams was their guest in the previous episode. And I shudder.

See, I interviewed Orny Adams way back in 2006. Back when I was producing a podcast – a groundbreaking podcast called Radio Ha Ha,  dissecting comedy with comedians much as all the great podcasts do now. And not necessarily doing it any better than anyone does it now. But in a time when practically nobody was podcasting, it was important and groundbreaking.

We had an awesome conversation, Orny ’n’ me. It went for ages, we covered so much ground, we got on brilliantly. And then, when it was over, I realised I’d stuffed something up technically, and hadn’t actually secured a recording I could use. That hurt.

Not long after, I interviewed Eddie Ifft for the first time. I was aware of, and overcame, the technical difficulty early in that interiew, cause I was being extra careful so as not to repeat the heartbreak of an excellent conversation resulting in nothing. Once, with Orny, was all the times I ever wanted it to happen in my life.

So seeing that Orny was the guest of Episode 132,  I knew then and there precisely how I was going to feature in Jim & Eddie TalkS hit. Here is an excerpt, and transcript of the relevant part.


Jim Jeffries & Eddie Ifft TalkS hit Ep 132- Eskimo - excerp by standanddeliver


EDDIE IFFT: I do an interview in Australia, when I was there a long time ago. I’m doing my run through and, you know, you go do your series of interviews before the festival… I’m going to all these interviews. I go to this guy, and he interviews me: Dom Romeo. He’s the nicest guy in the world.

JIM JEFFERIES: That was the first interview I ever had in my whole career.

EDDIE IFFT: He interviews me for like two hours, and he’s such a good guy, and we had had some technical problems that he fixed. And he goes, ‘thanks man; I just interviewed Orny Adams a couple of months ago – I interviewed him for two hours and then found out that the recorder didn’t work.

ORNY ADAMS: Yeah, yeah, so the whole thing sounded like… [makes unintelligible whispering sound] I’m pouring my heart out… Why do you think I’m not trying today? Done!


So, if you’re interested, here’s the very first interview Jim Jefferies ever did with anyone.

Here’s the last one I did with him.

Here’s an interview with Eddie Ifft from a couple of years ago (not the Radio Ha Ha one).

There is no interview with Orny Adams for me to direct you to.


A Quick Chat with Hannah Gissane


“My best moments in life – the times where I feel like I’ve succeeded – are when I’ve been able to communicate a message or made a connection with someone,” says Hannah Gissane.

She offers an example: recently she had to struggle through a class in Civil Procedure, before submitting to an interview for a job.

“I totally bombed the job interview, and don’t know a thing about civil procedure, but I said one funny thing in class that had everyone laughing at the same time and so it felt like a good day. I felt like I’d made a connection with people.”

If you aren’t familiar with Hannah, let me tell you: she’s not one to sit around and do nothing. Having finished the communications part of of her Communications/Law degree, she's currently completing the Law subjects. While she serves on the Lake Macquarie City Council as a Green Councillor. Despite being quite young.

How young?

When I marvel at the role of Councillor, she acknowledges it with the words, “Yeah, I know – pretty random, eh!”

That young.

Having always received the impression that Hannah’s a bit of a leftie – “Big time!” she confirms – I’m impressed she’s put her money where her mouth is – only in a figurative sense, of course (see below about for a Hannah/money/mouth story) and is serving the cause actively.

“If ever you need help getting to sleep at night, I’ve got a blog called From the Chamber. It’s a daggy local government blog,” she assures me. That’s how serious she is about it. Thankfully, she’s not totally serious in every aspect of her life. Hannah still has the time to do the odd comedy gig.

Hannah had attended a performing arts high school, enjoying drama in particular. When she got to university, she missed the stage – which is why she turned to stand-up. “One of my favourite things is telling stories to friends,” she says. “That’s why I had that thirst to continue to perform after school, to tell those stories that I thought were humorous.”

Of couse, serving on a city council eats into your performing career, so apart from the Newcastle Raw Comedy heats, Hannah’s not gotten up as much in the last couple of years as she used to. “I’ve mostly been doing fundraising gigs for lefty groups, women’s groups, queer organisations and that sort of thing,” she says. It was after a “really bad” relationship break-up late last year that Hannah realised she “needed a hobby” and started getting back up more regularly.

That doesn’t mean that Hannah’s material is ‘political’, or ‘has a message’. Not that she doesn’t appreciate that sort of comedy – just that, if she was doing it, she’d have nothing new to add; she’d be repeating what other people are doing. Besides, she says, “I like to think the personal is the political; a lot of it is about being a young, queer woman who is a leftie, and that just finds its way into the comedy naturally. But there’s no real edge.”

That doesn’t mean she’s turned her back on the lefty fundraisers. In fact, Hannah’s set up one called Homophobia is a Scream. It’s a night of stand-up comedy and drag.

“This is my way of keeping in touch with stand-up comedy. I’ve always liked doing community-based gigs. We’ve organised it three times before: it’s to raise money for Newcastle’s LGBTQI community group Rainbow Visions.”

Like most community groups, Rainbow Visions is strapped for cash. So Hannah put her head together with  buddy Luke (he happens to be the drag queen Donna Kebab while Hannah is drag king Hannibal Licter, in case you didn’t know) to put together a night that features their talented and funny mates.

“It wasn’t just about picking people who have indentified themselves as funny,” Hannah says. The word ‘funny’ takes me by surprise; I was expecting at least some, if not all, of the words represented by ‘LGBTQI’ to follow ‘identified themselves as’.

What it was about, Hannah continues, was she and Luke encouraging friends who belong to the community, “either queer or queer-friendly”, who they know are funny but who perhaps don’t believe themselves to be funny – to have a go. For example, Hannah has one mate who would have a lifetime of material if she just printed out all of her Facebook status updates of the last three years or so, and read them out on stage.

“She doesn’t see herself as a comedian,” Hannah says. “Not enough people have told her how funny she is.” Part of the deal is, this woman is “totally straight, but some of the stories she tells of sex with men, I think the gay men will love and identify with.”

So it’s ‘queer’ in that it’s a totally open forum to be funny about that most fundamental human activity, sex[ual ineptitude].

“It’s not opprssive, it’s not just straight, male comedians talk about how successful they are with women; it’s really dynamic and different views of sex and sexuality and gender. Everything’s open an ready to be laughed at and with.”

It’s nice that there can be such a comedy night where nothing is off-limits, where no taboos are forbidden.

I’m hoping Hannah can be as open, and that no taboos are off-limits – because I know Hannah’s got a phobia that I’ve had a bit of fun with before.

A couple of Melbourne Comedy Festivals ago, Hannah was crashing in my apartment and during the course of conversation, managed to divulge that she has a phobia of 5-cent coins. So I made the most of it. Does she still have the phobia? You betcha!

“My wallet is just chockas with small change at the moment,” Hannah admits, “but I hate having to grab handfuls of it and count so much of it and go through it all and use it for tender. So that phobia is alive and well.”

Small coins themselves, however, are not the key fear. The true fear, says Hannah, is “that they may somehow end up near my mouth and I remember very, very distinctly that you put one in your mouth…”

The memory’s not that distinct – Hannah’s suppressed some of it.

See, during festival time, I tend to build up  a hoard of pocket shrapnel that’s too inconvenient to spend on coffees. So I end up with a top drawer full of coinage. When Hannah divulged her phobia,  I ducked into my room and grabbed a not inconsiderable handful of 5-cent coins and stuck them in my mouth. Then I turned to Hannah and demaned, “Give yer Uncle Dom a kiss!” before sticking my tongue out and allowing an unfeasibly large amount of coins to fall to the ground.

“These are what nightmares are made of!” Hannah says. “This is exactly what I was dreading. I thought these were the things I just create in my mind to scare myself, but you made them all come true.”

Hannah’s got a more precise fear, however. A mouthful of coins is scary, but not so scary as “a jarful of coins in the corner of a dusty shower in a beach changing room.” That’s so precise as to suggest some professional exploration of forogotten childhood events may be in order…

Nothing so sinister. Rather, Hannah has a school memory of Ryan and Shannon, a couple who were going out. Ryan, as a romantic gesture, bought Shannon a packet of Burger Men – or rather, financed it, giving Shannon the dollar-coin. When Shannon returned with the Burger Men, she handed Ryan the 20-cent-coin change. Ryan said, ‘don’t be silly’ but didn’t give the coin back; rather, he slipped it in the bag.

“I always remember that – and remember thinking, ‘Yuck! How many people have touched that coin, and now it’s mixed in with her food. And she might eat that instead of a Burger Man…’ I think that’s where it started.”

The 5-cent coin is worse: “it’s more unassuming”, according to Hannah. And it’s the coin – or its pre-decimal equivalent – grandparents will reminisce was secreted in Christmas puddings back in the good ol’ days. “It scares me that someone could put a small, unassuming coin in a pudding and it might end up in your digestive system! And it was meant to be a good thing…”

I do recall a story of an old person sneezing out a florin that had been lodged somewhere in ’em since their youth. “Oh! God! Damn it!” Hannah says when I tell her. “This is exactly what I fear, and I knew it wasn’t an irrational fear…”

Well, considering nobody considers 5 cents a worthy treasure to secret within a Christmas pudding anymore, and there have been no other stories of people sneezing up long-forgotten currency, if it gets in the way of counting, banking and spending money, it’s a bit irrational.

So I guess, buy your tickets for Homophobia It’s  A Scream online. And if you must hand over any currency to Hannah, use the bigger denomination: avoid small coins at all costs!


A Brief History of Tommy Dean



“Oh, where do you even begin?” Tommy Dean asks.

Where indeed? It’s as good a point of departure as any for an interview on the eve of his one and only 2012 Sydney Comedy Festival show.

I’ve known the long-haired American for a decade-and-a-half as a true comic genius: a man who seemingly can take anything you give him and fashion it into hilarious material. And when he watches other comedians – or, more to the point, wanna-be comedians and newbies – Tommy can point out weaknesses and suggest ways to make stronger the stuff they come up with by adhering to things like ‘truth in comedy’ and ‘answering comedy with comedy’. He's also as decent a guy as you’ll get to meet.

But Tommy’s questions are in fact answers to one of my own that comes much later, and more important ones that should come first are ones such as, why is such a brilliant comic comparatively so little known in Australia? Other brilliant comics – like Fred Lang, for instance – will describe him as ‘Australia’s best kept comedy secret’. But then, there are people who claim to love comedy who have never had the supreme pleasure of seeing Fred Lang in action either, so perhaps we should start somewhere else again.

Okay, how about this one: why is it that Tommy Dean only doing one Sydney Comedy Festival show?

“I guess I’m supposed to say, ‘I’ve been very busy, I’m obligated to a lot of other things, the schedule didn’t really come together, I’d love to do more but it didn’t really work out…’” Tommy offers.

All of which is true, as this interview will demonstrate.

What is patently not true, though, is that Tommy Dean's sole one-night-only performance is in fact his only show of the Festival. He’s already appeared in that brilliant Troy Conrad and Paul Provenza-produced Set List, in which an array of comics is given topics virtually on the way to the microphone, from which to construct their ten minute set pretty much as they’re delivering it. And he’s got a few Thank God It’s Friday obligations in the live Thank God It’s On Stage: the first, in Wollongong, has already taken place, but there’s still Saturday’s Seymour Centre show, and one at the Parramatta Riverside Theatre a week later. And Tommy’s also appeared in one of the [“lesser”] galas that have taken place.

So really, Tommy Dean is all over the Sydney Comedy Festival; but even if he weren’t, his ‘cover story’ sounds pretty convincing. And that’s because it’s pretty much true: Tommy does seem to be busier than ever. And, to be fair, there was a time when Tommy seemed less gung-ho about pursuing opportunities. If anything, he is a less well-kept secret, surely.

“I think that’s probably still fair,” Tommy says. “I mean, one night in the Sydney Comedy Festival is just another night in Sydney. I’m around all the time, so why should people come to this one night in Sydney when then can find me on any given night in Sydney?”

Good point. Of course, being part of something like the Sydney Comedy Festival does at least bring Tommy to the attention of the ‘special event’ comedy audience – the people who don’t go and see comedy every night of the week all year round. People, let’s face it, who may not even know you can see comedy regularly in venues around Sydney.

And the other point worth raising is, can you actually still see Tommy Dean in a comedy club any time you want to? Not as regularly as you used to, surely. I mean, nowadays, I see Tommy more often as the hilarious warm-up guy at the taping of a television show – (and note, not all warm-up guys are hilarious) – than I do as the killer headline act in a comedy room.

“Yes,” Tommy concurs, “that has become my main source of grocery buying at the moment. It takes precedence over club work. That ate up the front part of the year, this year.”

Some of the shows at which you’d have been warmed by Tommy Dean, had you been in the audience, include the Andrew Denton-produced  Gruen Planet and Randling.

“I love doing warm-up for Denton’s shows because the nature of the shows he produces makes it easy,” Tommy explains, although he prefers the term ‘focused’ to ‘warmed up’. “Most audiences come to a show wanting to have fun; Andrew Denton’s shows are fun, so I feel good about the product behind me. I’m not saying ‘Whoo, let’s be all excited about this’ knowing full well I’m about to hand them over to a pile of crap that I can’t justify.” For Tommy, it’s a matter of principal: he doesn’t want to be the entertainment equivalent of the snake-oil seller.

He also doesn’t want to be the guy desperate to ‘get laughs’; see – or hear – him as a guest on a panel show, and you won't see him hog the limelight or talk over people. “The nature of what I do, comedically, is share what I think is funny. It’s always about ‘sharing the laugh’, rather than ‘getting the laugh’.”

Having a Denton-produced program as the reason to focus an audience makes that sharing so much easier: able to remain relaxed and confident, Tommy essentially treats his sessions with audiences – getting them primed for the show, filling in the gaps if there are technical issues that halt proceedings – as ‘improv’. He’s playing games with them, talking to them, bouncing off them rather than delivering prepared material. “I like to share the show along with them, as though I’m just the audience member who talks more.”

Though not always much more – Randling, for example, has Denton up front and comedians and similarly quick-witted guests. If something did go wrong, there was always sufficient banter to ensure Tommy's presence out front was not required. “In fact," he says, "I can remember no moment during the entire time I was doing it where, once I said ‘here’s the show’, I had to come back out!” Watch any episode – Wednesday nights, 8:30pm, until some time in October – and you'll see why: hilarious television!

Thank God It's Live
Thank God It’s Backstage - Wollongong


Prophet margin

Tommy has a theory that comedians are like prophets: they’re loved more in lands other than those they were raised. “I still believe it, and therein lies the rub of why I’m not doing a full run in the Sydney Comedy Festival,” Tommy says with a chuckle. “I am of Sydney Town, so Sydney takes me for granted; there is no rush to go and see me. If I were playing Perth’s Wild West Festival, it’d be a case of, ‘this is the only time he here this year’ and there’d be a rush to go and see me.”

Yet, according to Tommy, even if a comedian is better loved away from home, the cruel irony is that the comic is also funniest in his or her own hometown, since they know it so intimately. “You should be at your most perceptive at that to which you have the most knowledge,” he insists. But he illustrates it with an example of the other extreme: 

“I was recently in Malaysia, where the entire audience was Malay, and I’ve never been more ‘not funny’. We just didn’t have a common ground.”

I’m a bit surprised by this – what about the whole ‘innocent abroad’ thing – where the outsider sees the place for what it really is, noticing stuff the locals don’t because they take it for granted?

“I would argue that that’s the case if you’re ‘of the background’,” Tommy says, essentially explaining that there has to be some common ground. There wasn’t any for him and his Malay audience. “I’ve never been to England, but I would expect to do well there, being more-or-less of the English ethos and presenting a view that would be easily understood to the English.”

None of that holds true when he visits Malaysia, and furthermore, Tommy says, Malaysia is a “very interesting case in point” because it feels as if it’s “very new” to comedy: “There’s a very interesting dynamic there, in the old guard of the oppressive government holding out, while the new internet-trained, westernised youth coming up through the system starting to rebel against it.” Stand-up, and having touchy subjects discussed out load, seems very new to them, so when an outsider starts “having a go”, the locals have trouble dealing with it. "It feels like a very fresh wound; they’re not sure if they can accept that.”

Really, it’s not unlike initial reactions to Tommy Dean when he first hit the stand-up scene in Australia. Some audiences resented the ‘Seppo’ telling them how things were. “In Malaysia, if you made any reference to corrupt police as an outsider, they were very, ‘oh, let’s be a little bit cool now, you’re judging Malaysia!’ But the locals could talk about corrupt cops and the audience would be all, ‘oh yeah, they’re corrupt!’ Generally speaking, the locals were better prepared to service the comedy needs of Malaysia than I was. And fair enough, too!”

In conclusion, however, Tommy still maintains: “You must go abroad to be at your funniest. Or at least, to be seen as being at your funniest.”



Pick a card/perception of doors

Another thing I recall Tommy mentioning in the past, is his process of delivering comedy. He likens it to constantly shuffling a deck of cards, knowing at any one time only the card he’s currently playing, and the one he’ll play next, but otherwise he is constantly going through the deck.

“That is so true,” Tommy insists: “Comedy is a game tactical manoeuvres, not strategy.” Because you can plan an entire set, but if something unexpected happens, you should be prepared to address the unexpected thing and veer ‘of piste’ as necessary, rather than stick to the script. It’s much funnier that way.

‘That’s exactly right,” Tommy says. “And I like the metaphor more now, because I’m thinking I probably only have about 52 cards. It’s not an endless deck.”

There was also a metaphor of ‘going through doors’: you’re constantly faced with options on stage – choices between different doors.

“It’s simply a re-visualisation of the cards metaphor, isn’t it?” Tommy reasons. “Same idea: you walk through a door, now you’re in this room; this room only has so many doors out of it.”

Perhaps, but at least with the doors, you can go back the way you came if you hit a dead end or a situation where you don’t want to go through any of the doors currently on offer…

“Yeah, I suppose, in a pure metaphorical sense, the door philosophy is probably better,” Tommy agrees. “But you could backtrack on the card play. I see no reason not too. Maybe you’d take the card metaphor kind of like a game of solitaire: you play the card, they only allow certain options, but eventually, because of card play on the right hand side, you suddenly now have access to move that shift back to the left side… ‘oh, finally, a red 8! Right, 9 – and we’re back in business on the left side!’”

Dom, Tommy and Fred Lang playing games for Collectors


Tommy’s game

The card metaphor is most telling; the best door to open when it comes to Tommy Dean, is the one that leads to the games room. See, Tommy loves games. Board games in particular. His collection of games has featured on the ABC show Collectors. Indeed, Tommy is a member of Board Games Australia, a body that exists to “promote gaming as a fun and educational tool”. Board Games Australia awards annual ‘best game’ in various categories, with Tommy on the panel for ‘Best International Game’.

Again, there’s nowhere to start with this one apart from the most basic and obvious place:

“Tell me about your love of games, Tommy.”

“Oh, where to begin? Where do you even begin?” Tommy replies. “This is my true, true passion. I absolutely adore it at so many levels.”

Tommy reckons he “spotted very early” the “glory” in sitting around the table with friends and family playing games. It was his favourite adolescent pastime: “While cooler kids were sneaking into keg parties and getting interested in drugs and alcohol, I found it much more satisfying to gather with a few friends and play cards all night.”

The father of one of those friends was “a high-rated chess master whose mental processes went to all things games” so the interest spread from card games to board games:

“It was hilarious fun, just at a social level,” Tommy explains, “and then at a tactical thought level, it became energizing and engaging, being able to deal with thought processes and results that you never had a chance to experience in real life. There’s something about playing for survival in a game where, on the board, you lose and the world is destroyed, but in real life, the world is fine.”

It sounds to me like Tommy’s describing ‘Risk’, a game that has come up time and again in his stand-up over the years. But suggesting as much makes me sound ignorant: “There are many, many other games that put the entire world at stake,” Tommy says. His favourite at the moment is ‘Twilight Struggle’, a two-player game based on the cold war; one player is the US, the other Russia, and game play is card-driven.

“You attempt to influence the various continents such that you score more points and prevent nuclear war. If things go wrong, the world gets lit up!”

It's not too much of a stretch to consider the decision-making and strategic – or rather, tactical manoeuvring – as good training for a leadership role. We seem to be a at somewhat of a loss with regards to the top job in this country right now. Any chance, Tommy?

“It’s not bad training,” Tommy says, but he’s a bit reticent to commit to that kind of responsibility, pointing out that winning the cold war by avoiding a nuclear apocalypse is not the same on the game board as it is in real life. “It’s the difference between playing poker for chips and playing poker for cash,” he says, explaining that “it’s one thing to go all in on a bluff when the only thing you lose is your pile of plastic. It’s a different thing when your house is there in the middle.”

After the briefest of pauses, Tommy adds: “By the way, I hate poker. Just so we’re clear on that. I like board games. Gambling games, not so much, for that reason right there: I like the stakes to be fantastical, as opposed to real.”

For Tommy, it's all about the tactical thought and the games themselves.

“I love the themes that come out of the games, I love tactically manoeuvring against the mechanics of a game – the concepts the game’s designer has given you to play with – manipulating those concepts to make happen whatever needs to happen in the game. And I do love pushing against the other players. There’s something amazingly telling about what you can learn about the other players over a board game.”



Games Mormons play

I’m vaguely aware of Tommy’s Mormon upbringing, and I’m wondering how formative it was of the young Tommy Dean. Was it particularly strict? Is that what led to his love of games over other adolescent pursuits? Is that what gave rise to his love of Coca-Cola, something that would have been denied a child in a strict Mormon household? And how did his love of comedy develop?

“We were a very religiously aware family, but I wouldn’t use the word ‘strict’,” Tommy advises. He was initially raised a Southern Baptist – in fact, had an uncle who was a preacher – which meant not just Sunday School, but also “Wednesday night pot luck”, entailing midweek “casserole and preaching”.

From 13 to 15 years of age, Tommy was indeed “embroiled in the Mormon faith”, which, he says, involved “playing a lot of games”. But even if the Mormon faith is “even more dedicated to itself” than other denominations, for Tommy and his family, it wasn't really a change at all. “Church is just what you did,” he says. “We just joined different churches. It wasn’t until much later that I even recognised a difference between religions. It was just ‘church’.”

Yeah, but still – Mormons are the ‘no caffeine’ denomination, aren’t they? It’s only an issue – potentially – because I notice Coke is Tommy’s tipple of choice, and the biggest sin is putting lemon in it…

“Absolutely,” Tommy says of his Coke imbibing. But as to Mormons eschewing caffeine, it’s “all down to how hard-line they take it”.

Turns out there is a major split in the Mormon faith, and it has something to do with The Doctrine and Covenants, the book upon which, along with The King James Holy Bible and The Book of Mormon, the Mormon faith is based. The Doctrine and Covenants is the Word of God as transcribed by the prophets to whom God spoke. “Those are where the basic rules of Mormonism are given and taken away,” Tommy explains, “and one of them, referred to as ‘The Word of Wisdom’, has a sort of health plan for Mormons. The key phrase is, ‘No hot drinks’.”

‘Hot drinks’ of the time were coffee and tea. “Now that we know what caffeine is, that’s probably what God was getting at,” Tommy says. “Because God, who also at the time should have known what caffeine was, wanted to be obscure.”

There was a backlash later on, when it was discovered that the Mormon Church held a lot of stock in the Pepsi company, apparently. It was seen by many to be hypocritical. Of course there is the stricter Reformed Church of Jesus Christ And Latter Day Saints branch of Mormonism who take a harder line still, according to Tommy: “I don’t think they even eat soup!” Well, he adds, not until it cools down. But then, the point at which ‘hot’ becomes ‘tepid’ becomes a point of issue. And ‘Jesus loves iced coffee!’ becomes a major heresy.

Tommy prays


The community that prays together…

“The reason we got into the Mormon Church,” Tommy says,“is the same reason we got into most churches: the neighbourhood responded in kind to our arrival.”

Tommy’s family moved around a lot, dictated mostly by his father’s work. Both parents were born to Maryland farmers, but Tommy’s dad chose not to live ‘off the land’, opting instead for “IT, before they called it IT”.

A project manager for various projects that  involved computers, he happened to be be managing a project for “the bank of Disney World, Sun Bank” that took the family to Florida for a couple of years. Later he worked for a company that sold mailing lists, as a kind of precursor to spam email. "That took us to Michigan. Then my mum had asthma and the Michigan climate didn’t suit her, so he took a job in Arizona and off we went to the Asthma State.”

Tommy’s family arrived in Arizona when he was 12 and the new neighbours “came around with casseroles and hellos and invited us to come to church with them.” Taken with the very social nature of the neighbours – who happened to be Mormons – Tommy’s mum decided to take up their offer.

“The reality is, the Mormon Church, for all of its odd philosophies and theologies, is – take away the religion – one of the greatest social co-ops,” Tommy says. “They do more to support their members than any other church I’ve ever been involved in. They’re very much community based, neighbourhood based”.

He also points out that churches in places of “heavy population” such as Arizona are like schools: “you don’t choose what church you go to; you live here, so you go to that church during that time period. And everyone you go to church with lives in your neighbourhood, the idea being to build giant community ties so when your parents are sick, your neighbourhood rallies to take care of you.”

In fact, he says, “every Sunday one of the meetings was the women’s group, and the main thing they discussed was who was on the casserole list that week. Almost everything the Mormon Church does is designed to keep Mormons hanging out with Mormons, helping Mormons, espousing Mormonism. That was also part of it: I played a lot of board games with those guys – softball leagues, basketball leagues and Wednesday night dances to keep the youth together.” That was until Tommy was 15. “Then I fell in with a group called ‘Concerned Christians’, which was really sort of ‘We Hate Mormons’.”

That must have just been a phase; Tommy doesn’t really seem to hate anyone, and unlike a lot of comics, isn’t hell-bent on pointing out – humorously – the logical flaws in belief systems. Not specifically. He loves pointing out logical flaws generally.

  Kampuchea republic tommy


Barréd from school

It was neither the religion nor the travel that was to inform the young Tommy Dean, wandering prophet of comedy. Rather, he says, his “main line of formation” resulted from childhood illness: Tommy contracted Gillain-Barré Syndrome at age 8. “I was paralysed for two years from the waste down and spent all that time out of school. There’s something about spending all that time out of the system at a time when you’re at your most malleable.”

Home-schooled for grades 2 and 3, Tommy Dean “spent two years out of the system, developing my own way of thinking” before returning to school for grade 4. At which point, after two years of paralysis, Tommy was “barely starting to walk again, in a very obvious and bully-drawing way.” He’s quick to point out, however, that “bullying” is a “big term”; in this instance, he means that people made fun of the way he walked at school. “So I think my sense of humour first develops around the defense of that. I was getting heckled for the way I walked, and I was quick to recognise that ‘yes, I do walk funny, but you guys have got your problems too, I notice…’”

Some of the ways in which people have reacted to Tommy’s distinct walk were quite amusing. He recalls a time at college when his gait mistaken for cockiness. “Somebody said to my best friend, ‘Hey, I see you’re friends with that guy Tommy – he sure seems to strut a lot! What’s his deal?’ ‘No, no, that’s just the way he stays upright’.”

The permanent effect of Guillain-Barré Syndrome on Tommy is a lack of muscle tissue in his legs. “I have about 85% muscle activity in my upper thighs, down to about 10-12% in my ankles. Normally people walk ‘heel to toe’, whereas, very much like an artificial limb, I swing my foot through and land it flat.”

That’s why Tommy’s classic stance on stage is to keep hold of the mic in the stand “in a classic left foot forward, right foot back pose”: he’s using the stand to help balance. “I have a really hard time standing up straight and still. If I take the mic off the stand, you’ll notice I’ll walk left to right a little more often than is necessitated by the dialogue, and that’s just me self balancing.” The worst scenario, of course, is when Tommy’s doing a corporate gig: wearing ‘corporate’ shoes – “which I’m completely uncomfortable in” – and they haven’t given him a mic stand.

“I’ve seen photos where I’ve ended up in this hilarious half-squat as I try desperately to stay upright in dress shoes! I’ve lost my balance and I’ve ended up in a half-kneeling position, but I’m halfway through a joke so I’m adjusting my posture, trying to stay upright and not lose the timing on the riff.”

I think about it, and yes, I’ve noticed Tommy’s tendency to balance with the mic stand, and pace. But it’s only now that he’s told me – I’m usually too interested in the comedy to notice the physicality. But I know that Tommy plays baseball. Doesn’t he?

“Yeah. Poorly. I play in an old man’s league, so even though I’m quite slow, compared to the other 50- and 60-year-old guys I run around with, I can keep up for a base or two.” Even as a kid, playing, Tommy says, the big joke was that he “had to hit the ball to the fence just to get to first base”. Back then, though, he played better, so he could hit it all the way to the fence in order to get to first. “The other big joke in baseball was to flash me the signal to steel second. That wasn’t gonna happen either!”



Game, Set List and match

If the first stage of Tommy’s comedic development as a comic was his homeschooling at a formative age, forcing him to devise his own world view, the second stage was his discovery of drama.

“The Mormon Church do a lot of ‘church plays’, and somebody said, ‘you seem to have a thing for this ‘church play’ business; when you get to high school, you ought to investigate the drama club’”

That’s exactly what Tommy did, and “that’s where stagecraft became the game.” Four years of drama at high school involved “the competitive element” known as Speech and Debate – the ‘Speech’ aspect of which consisted of monologues rather than public speaking. “They judged you on your ability to interpret 8 minutes of drama or poetry or comedy.” There was also a ‘two-hander’ option, known as ‘dual acting’. Tommy was State Champion in Dual Acting and State Finalist in Poetry Interpretation.

“The reason I got that was because I did a piece from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales that was quite funny,” Tommy says. I don’t doubt it. Tommy is hilarious. The night he did Set List – which, unfortunately, I missed – I bet he ‘hit it all the way to the fence’.

 â€œI don’t want to sound all braggy, but I pretty much did. I played the game exactly the way it was meant to be played, which I truly enjoyed.” Again, the game metaphor: seeing the rules and playing by them is clearly important to Tommy. So, with Set List, rather than see each topic and improvise free-standing bits, or throw the rules away in mock indignation of the ridiculousness of it – which can also be hilarious – Tommy went with the rules, justifying why each note existed on his set list and delivering a spontaneous set that carried the logical links, structure and – I’m guessing this last bit – call-backs that a polished set would carry. 

Tommy on his dad, on Thank God It's On Stage


Game plan

Given the ‘warm-up’ – sorry, ‘focusing’ – work, Thank God It’s Friday and appearances on [“lesser”] galas and things like Set List, even if it’s taking its time, Australia’s best-kept comedy secret is still getting out, slowly but surely.

“My schedule would suggest that’s the case,” Tommy agrees. I still think that I’m still the person with whom nobody can figure out what to do.”

Yes, there has always been that aspect to Tommy’s career. Clearly, he can do stuff. But what stuff should they get him to do? When his contemporaries were getting stabs at non-ratings period seasons of stuff, or being asked to audition for present jobs on game shows, it seemed like Tommy was still too much ‘the foreigner’ to be offered those gigs. I mean, how on earth could an American front a game show in Australia? I’d ask Bob Dyer if he were still alive…

“There does still seems to be a weird reticence,” Tommy acknowledges, describing his career so far as having been “defined by benevolent champions” such as “Richard Glover”. However, he is also aware that he himself would have a hard time finding the ideal category to place himself in:

“If someone said to me, ‘you could do any of these things, you choose,’ I’m not quite sure what show I would host. I’d like to think that I could do it.”

Again, Tommy turns to his gaming metaphor: “I define myself by the game I’m asked to play. I don’t know which game I want to play but I can play the game you ask.”

And, he says, it’s interesting to see “just how many games” he’s currently involved in: “there’s radio panelist guy” (Thank God It’s Friday); “warm-up guy” (Q & A and Andrew Denton’s shows); “corporate work” (either as the guest who “injects a bit of irreverence to your corporate setting” or the MC who “plays it straight but provides just enough irreverence to add a point of interest to your corporate gathering”).

But television’s the weirdest one. I watch Tommy focusing the audiences for shows he could easily be guesting on – be it Q & A or Randling. “It’s interesting that Spicks & Specks found me useful, but Good News Week didn’t,” Tommy says. “They strike me as the same game”.

And there, I think, is the way for it for the comic guided by game theory: he should be playing it far more obviously, and be writing his own rules. Rather than seeking the role of panelist or guest on a game show, he should be hosting a show. Perhaps about games. Or perhaps hosting the next television presentation of the Paralympic Games. Television would love that perfect fit. Point is, since he’s brilliant at ‘sharing the laugh’, Tommy would be a brilliant host, and one who’d be able to step in the moment anything comes off the rails.

Well. Tommy Dean fans live in hope.

For now, take the opportunity to see his festival show – the one that actually appears under his own name, for which he’s appearing up front rather than as an integral team member. It’s called Drop Off and Pick Up – most likely about him being a dedicated dad. But titles are almost irrelevant to Tommy’s festival shows – it’s always gonna be a bunch of his funniest stand-up, each routine hilarious and relevant to that very moment it’s being delivered.


Fine Print:

• Tommy Dean’s sole Sydney Festival show Drop Off and Pick Up is on 7:30pm, 4 May at the Factory Theatre.

• He’s appearing in Thank God It’s On Stage 8pm, 5 May at the Seymour Centre.

• He’s also in Thank God It’s On Stage 8pm, 12 May Parramatta Riverside Theatre.

• Board Games Australia’s Best Game Awards will be announced at the 2012 Sydney Toy and Game Expo taking place in Homebush June 9-11.

• Tommy’s appearing with Josh Earl, Kate McLennan, Kevin Kropinyeri and MC Dave Thornton at the Manning Entertainment Centre, Mid North Coast, as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow 15 July.

In(terviewing) The
Paul Michael Ayre Tonight


It’s 1989. Australia has a secret space mission that’ll put it up there with the world super powers who are leading the space race: to send a manned capsule further than any other country can. So they choose Pluto, the planet furthest from the sun. Two people are chosen for the mission, Jared, a ten-year-old genius, and 18-year-old called Xavier. They are about to embark on a 20-year journey to the furthest reaches of the solar system.

While state-of-the-art technology (for 1989) is provided for them, it is, as always implemented by humans who, even at their best, are subject to the human condition. So while the latest digital devices are at hand, the scientists working on the project are somewhat overstretched, the strain of the mission destroying their relationships. The result of bitter break-ups experienced by everyone is that the ‘favourite song’ each contributes to the mission ultimately amounts to ‘The Best of Phil Collins’.

Cut to 2006: Dylan and Penny, a pair of hackers, stumble onto information about this secret mission 17 years into it, when a symposium of astronomers have decided that Pluto is no longer the planet furthest from the sun in our solar system, because, they’ve decided, Pluto is no longer a planet at all. An embarrassed Australian government, wishing to avoid seeming “like a pack of idiots who went to the wrong planet”, therefore want nothing to do with this space mission. Worse than that, Jared and Xavier have been subjected to the Phil Collins back catalogue “approximately 117,000 times”.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is In The Air Tonight, a play currently enjoying a Sydney Comedy Festival run. Playwright Paul Michael Ayre, to whom I’m currently speaking, takes the role of Jared, while David Collins – more popularly known as the wavy-haired Umbilical Brother – plays Xavier.


“In The Air Tonight came about because of two significant things that happened in my life,” Paul explains.

The first involves the CD player in Paul’s car, which broke in such away to ensure the CD within it could not be removed, nor could the setting be changed to radio, but the disc itself would continue to play. The CD was, of course, a collection of greatest hits by Phil Collins.

“I was stuck listening to Phil Collins on repeat for the better part of four months, until I got it fixed,” Paul says.

What can you say to that? Nothing. Except maybe, “Oh Lord!” And perhaps, furthermore, “Oh Lord!”

The second event involved Paul’s friend trying to write a play set in outer space.

“He asked me to come up with a couple of synopses. I came up with ten.”

The tenth one happened to be the remarkably true-to-life scenario – for Paul – of being stranded in outer space with your Phil Collins CD stuck on repeat for eternity. Realising it was too good an idea to give away, Paul asked if he could keep that synopsis for himself. Hence In The Air Tonight.

This image (c) 2011 Alex Weltinger 

If you’re not familiar with Paul Michael Ayre and his work, you really must get acquainted. He’s an interesting, talented character. A couple of years ago, he started the website You Had To Be There, which documented live comedy.

“That came about, really as an example of ‘call my bluff’,” Paul says. For years, he reckoned, he could do something that would improve the local comedy scene or make it run better or at least make a major, positive contribution to it, if he put his mind to it. A core belief he kept in his head – and no doubt uttered out loud occasionally – while he pursued academia. Or “uni stuff”, as he calls it.

“I was doing ‘artificial intelligence’ for that, and it was absorbing my entire life, and then I finally decided to give it the old heave-ho and see if I actually can do something about comedy.”

He could. And so was born You Had To Be There, a repository of great comedy, which he set about helping film.

“That we did for about four months, free of charge, for the love of it. Then we joined with Ranko Markovic and Darrin Parker to do Rated Comedy”. Check out Rated Comedy – there is so much great talent producing clips for that site. (Sure, you have to keep sitting through the promo for Sacha Barron-Cohen’s new film at the beginning of every clip right now, but they have to pay for this awesome service somehow!)

After a year of dedicated work with Rated Comedy, which necessarily “took creative time away”, Paul stepped back in order to concentrate a little more on his own comedy pursuits, including sketch comedy.

One of the sketches just premiered in the LA Sketch Comedy Festival, and “killed it!” according to a mate who was in LA, attending. “We were stoked to be a part of that,” Paul says. “That was the most success we’ve had with a single sketch so far.”

While Paul’s intent on their compiling enough sketches to put a pitch together for a television show, currently, Paul is employed by A-List Entertainment, one of the big comedy management companies, to devise sitcoms for the comedians on their books. “I write a million different versions of a sitcom pilot until they’re happy with it, and then we get a crew together with Jeremy Brull…” – the director of In The Air Tonight and most of the sketches Paul appears in – “…and Craig Foster…” – another talented individual, who debuted his film at the recent Atheist Conference – “and shoot it and pitch it to the networks.”

But you probably are familiar with Paul Michael Ayre, particularly if you are a dedicated fan of the Umbilical Brothers, in which case you’ll know his face and his voice. Paul is one of the people who appear in the elaborate menus of the Umbies’ Don’t Explain DVD.

Turns out the Umbies had spotted Paul earlier, and liked his work. He was part of The Delusionists, a sketch comedy troupe that grew, more-or-less, out of uni revue, and enjoyed a couple of years of popular success at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. (Their alumni included great talents like Steen Raskopoulos, Susie Youssef, Alex Lee, Ben Jenkins, Benita De Wit, Michael Hing, Neal Downward and, no doubt, others I’ve failed to list; my apologies.)

On the strength of seeing him in the Delusionists, the Umbies asked Paul to provide The Voice of God in their show Heaven By Storm. It was this association that led Paul to send Dave the completed script of In The Air Tonight, for a critique. Dave’s feedback: “I want to be in it!’”


This current Sydney Comedy Festival season at the Sidetrack Theatre is its second. It premiered last year at the Old Fitzroy Hotel in Woolloomooloo. Through it all – the initial season, and those four months of CD player malfunction, Paul is – and remains – a fan of Phil Collins. After all, he did own a copy of the Greatest Hits CD in the first place. “It’s just that it gets tedious after a while,” he says. As anything repeated ad infinitem, would. Which means Phil’s not about to have a hissy fit about it, you’d suppose.

“We did try to get in touch with Phil Collins,” Paul assures me. “We got as far as his manager.”

See, what happened was, Daven Collins went on tour with Robin Williams; the tour manager of that jaunt happened to be close enough to Phil Collins to have attended his wedding. “He got as far as Phil Collins’ manager, but I think with all the hoopla of Phil Collins retiring this year, this was low on his priority list,” Paul explains. “So as far as he knows, it doesn’t exist.”

What? Phil doesn’t even know about it? I thought there was going to be some amazing ‘inside’ story about how Dave Collins is Phil’s distant cousin or something and said, ‘go for your life’, waiving the royalty fee and throwing in a couple of crates of Cadbury’s chocolate to boot…

“Not quite,” Paul laughs.

‘In The Air Tonight’ is clearly the perfect title for astronauts stuck in outer space. And in keeping with that theme, in addition to the music thematically underscoring the action, every single scene in the play is named after a Phil Collins song. Except one, Paul informs me. “The introduction is called ‘Genesis’.” Very cute. If Paul had also referenced The Artful Dodger or Oliver! – since Phil Collins the child actor appeared as the Artful Dodger in a production of Oliver! – he’d have pretty much sent me into orbit!

As stated, this is the second run of In The Air Tonight; the first one, Paul says, ended its season with sell-out performances, “which was excellent!” In the process, he discovered that a lot of the audience consisted of younger people coming in with the attitude, “I don’t know who Phil Collins is, but I like the idea of some old dude getting the piss taken out of him” and then realising not long after that they not only know who Phil Collins is, they also pretty much love his back catalogue.


If you’ve been paying attention to the Sydney Comedy Festival, you’d notice not only that Dave Collins is appearing in Paul’s play, but also that Shane Dundas, the other Umbilical Brother, stepped out in his own first solo show, Believe. Has Paul inadvertently - ahem - cut the cord and broken up the group? Is he Dave and Shane’s Yoko?

“No,” Paul insists. “It’s more of a love triangle…”

What it is, he explains, is that the Umbies’ own show is so physical that they can’t be doing just that all the time – they need to be exercising other muscles – comedic and physical – and giving the ones they’d otherwise use constantly a bit of a break. So expect to continue to see David Collins and Shane Dundas in other shows and doing other things. But they’ve not split, and the proof of that is in the strange dates the season of In The Air Tonight appears to be playing: opening 1st May then no show for couple of nights and then a handful of dates and then more gaps… Part of the reason for that is because Dave has some corporate gigs to play with Shane, as the Umbilical Brothers, on those other nights.

“The downside of having people from internationally successful acts in your show is that if they’re offered other work, they have to go do it,” Paul acknowledges. It may mean that people erroneously turn up hoping to buy tickets at the door for a show that’s just not running that night. “I’m probably going to go to the theatre every night, just in case someone does turn up expecting a show on a night when we’re not on, and apologise profusely.”

I think Paul’s quite possibly the luckiest person I know. I’m not discounting his talent in any way, just pointing out how good it is that he’s getting paid to use it by people who appreciate it!

“I know!” he agrees. “But it only just dawned on me recently. Just the stress of everything that was going on in the real world with writing and performing, I didn’t realise I had the best job in the world until a couple of months ago.”

Fine Print:

In The Air Tonight is on from 1st to 20th of May, but not every night. Check the Sydney Comedy Festival and the Sidetrack Theatre websites.


Smart Casual - If it ain't broke, don't dream it


“Ack hghr lkjg alkhg,” offers Ben Mattick, the clean-shaven guitarist of the group.

I’ve phoned him at the appointed time on a Thursday afternoon, on the appointed number, in the hope of getting a quick interview with him. But Ben’s currently in the Seymour Centre Sound Lounge, below street level, so the mobile signal keeps breaking up.

When he moves closer to the door (I assume), he explains that he and brother Nick – aka Roger David and Fletcher Jones aka Smart Casual – are going through the tech run for their show Broken Dreams, the Sydney Comedy Festival run of which will be opening later that evening.

“I can call back later,” I suggest. “When’s the best time…?”

“Actually, now would be best,” says Ben. He hands the phone over to brother Nick, the hairy vocalist, who pops upstairs where reception is much better, and we’re off.

This year’s show, Broken Dreams, is about just that: Nick and Ben’s broken dreams in showbiz. “It’s about us selling out,” Nick confesses, “and wanting to move to Poland to start afresh.”

Poland? Why Poland? Is it because it sounds exotic, or do Nick and Ben actually have some links to that country?

“We’re under the illusion that musical comedy is getting really big there,” Nick says. “It’s very important to us, in the course of the show.”

Given Nick’s failure to elaborate further, I can only assume all will be revealed in the course of the show. But, I’m wondering, is ‘Mattick’ – the boys’ surname – of Polish origin?

“It can be…” Nick offers.

It can be! I love it. As ever, the world Nick and Ben offer is fluid with possibilities.


One of the things I’ve always liked about Smart Casual – and it may be the secret to their success – is their ability to ensure the song lasts as long as the joke. It’s one of the things that sets good musical comics apart from other comics who bung a song in. According to Nick, however, it’s common sense:

“We thought that’s important because if we're bored of something then the audience is probably very bored of it!”

Fair call. But – after five-odd years of success as a musical comedy duo – is it still important? Does a long-term audience, or the fact that you’ve been at it so long somehow meanyou can maintain interest in other ways and it isn’t so imperative to crack the gag and get out, as it were?

Actually, it does – because you learn ways to maintain interest. But Smart Casual have always known how to do that. They have a few “builders”, according to Nick, referring to devices that enable a song to last longer because they continue to add something that ‘buids’ upon the initial idea. “Something has to happen, if you know what I mean: there has to be a twist or a change-up,” Nick says.

A perfect example is Smart Casual’s first big hit, ‘The Hawk’: each verse develops the idea. Someone has to push The Hawk. On the catwalk. And, even after the verses have ended, things continue to happen: Nick keeps building with his shrieky 'CAW!' noise – the cry of a hawk – while he flaps his wings.


The 'origin story' of Smart Casual is simple enough. Brothers Nick and Ben wanted to do acting and music, respectively, but having set out on their chosen vocations, neither seemed to be doing particularly well just yet. According to Nick, “we met in the middle, I guess, and it just seemed to work.”

‘Just seemed to work’ is an understatement. As a comedy duo, the brothers complemented each other perfectly, each bringing something the other lacked to form a classic gestalt, where the whole is worth more than the sum of the parts.

They competed in the Triple J/Melbourne International Comedy Festival Raw Comedy competition of 2008 where, making it to the national final, they proved a crowd favourite. They were subsequently selected for 2009’s Comedy Zone, the show the Melbourne Comedy Festival puts together from the best up-and-comers.

“Raw Comedy opened a lot of doors, especially in Melbourne,” Nick recalls. “We got success really early and we thought it was easy, easy, easy. Then we hit a wall with our first full-length show.”


I’m not sure what exactly Nick means. Their first full-length show, technically, was Art vs Smart Casual, which took place at the Melbourne Fringe Festival of 2009. The show saw the pair line up the multitude of art forms – acting, dancing, painting, et cetera – against musical comedy to see which held more merit (“it was a draw”). Among the reviews garnered was a particular favourite, the verbal feedback of a punter: “you guys are shit-hot”. The Age considered them “immediately likeable”, opining that “Aussie laconic humour is alive and well”, while Buzzcuts recognised their work as “exceptionally clever and well executed”, predicting the duo to be “destined for big things”.

2010 saw them deliver the show Same Mother, Different Fathers at festivals around Australia.

“Is that true?” I ask, a little sheepishly, about the title. After all, Nick and Ben do look quite different. “Esau is an hairy man, while Jacob is a smooth man,” to borrow from Alan Bennett’s paraphrasing of Genesis 27:11. If I hadn’t been told they’re brothers, they look different enough that I wouldn’t have guessed it.

“No, that’s bullshit,” Nick says. “It’s just that I’m ‘Fletcher Jones’ and he’s ‘Roger David’ and we’re brothers; that’s the way we worked that out. In our shows, if it helps us being full brothers, we’re full brothers; if it helps us being halvies, we’re halvies. The truth doesn’t matter!”

Well, that’s one bit of the folklore dealt with. There was another story that did the rounds a little while ago, that both brothers were working as teachers’ aids until some of their material was deemed perhaps a little unsuitable. Maybe, at some level, there was a conflict of interest having both careers running concurrently.

“Ben still is a teacher’s aid,” Nick reports, but sets me straight on the story: Smart Casual have a song about autism. Nick worked in a class with autistic kids. One of the kids’ parents went to see the show.

“I didn’t know she was coming, but she loved it, so it was okay,” Nick says. “They seemed to not mind it. But then it got out that we did that…”

So that’s the story: a non-offensive song that didn’t cause offense, that through a process of ‘Chinese whispers’ enraged someone at a distance who probably neither saw the show nor is attached to a child with autism, who got offended on the behalf of others. Isn’t that always the way!

“I think it’s important to note that the joke is about the misconceptions of autism,” Nick says, “rather than having a laugh at someone’s expense. I think that if the joke’s good enough, and in the right place, you can laugh at almost anything.”

Definitely. Given the right context and enough talent (the greater the talent, the less necessary the context) than anything can be funny. The comedian’s job, always, is to say the unsayable. But that’s not what’ll turn an audience, necessarily.


2011’s The Story of Captain Entrée marked a departure from the duo’s earlier work. “It was narrative, which I liked, but if we didn’t get the audience early, they were gone,” Nick explains.

It would be disingenuous – or just plain wrong – to think Smart Casual’s audience prefers a program of funny songs with no linking story over a program of less funny songs; or that Smart Casual have done away with the narrative form. If you had trouble lasting the entire voyage of Captain Entrée without threatening mutiny, rest assured, Broken Dreams will satisfy you. But it still contains a connecting narrative. Still, Nick advises, “it’s more of a variety hour. It’s got everything: dance, song, a bit of art, film…”

My immediate thought is that it thus also harks back to Art vs Smart Casual, the difference being intervening years of experience and development, and a lot more sophistication in its execution. And rather than merely talking about those other artforms, Smart Casual are actually physically executing them and incorporating them in the show. Hence the need to complete a tech run before opening night in Sydney, despite having spent a month doing the show in Melbourne.

And then my subsequent thought is that, if Smart Casual are presenting a multimedia variety show on stage, surely their own television show or Smart Casual: The Movie can’t be too far away.

However, what’s actually happening is that, having performed Broken Dreams some 50 times this year already, they’re able to pull it off every night, and spend their days writing their next show.

“But we’re definitely looking toward the future,” Nick assures me. “We’ve done a lot of filmed stuff that we’ll throw onto YouTube after this run finishes, and we’re gonna do more of that kind of stuff. It’s really fun to do that.”

Which begs the question: does Smart Casual have a DVD out yet?

“No, we don’t have a DVD,” Nick says. “We have a very old CD. We probably need to get a new one of those, as well.”

All in good time. Right now, it’s all about the Sydney Comedy Festival run of Broken Dreams.

“This is the best thing we’ve done, this show,” Nick says. “It has taken us four or five years to get here, so it’s a solid hour. It’s very fun to do and it’s very fun to watch.”


Fine Print:

See Smart Casual’s Broken Dreams Sydney Comedy Festival run at Seymour Centre Sound Lounge at 9:30pm until Sat 28 April.

Joel Creasey's dramatic feet


“I really want to be in musical theatre, but I can’t sing,” insists stand-up comic Joel Creasey. “But I only want the leading lady roles, because they’re better roles. So even if I could sing, I still wouldn’t be able to play the roles I wanted. I want to be Miss Saigon; I want to be Elphaba in Wicked. Unless I have a sex change, I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

I’m talking to Joel not long after his touching down in Sydney on a Tuesday afternoon, in that brief respite between the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, which has just ended, and the Sydney Comedy Festival, whose opening gala will be taking place in a matter of hours. Joel’s show Naked is featuring at both festivals this year. According to Joel, the Melbourne run was “definitely my favourite season so far”.

“I really like the show,” he says. “Normally, by this stage, I’d be sick of it. But I’m not – I’m still enjoying it.”

At the ripe old age of 21, Joel Creasey is a veteran of two Raw Comedy competitions – “I made the State Final two years in a row in Perth but then lost two years in a row” – and three festival shows, with Naked marking a clear progression in the comic’s development.

“It’s definitely a better show and a better structured show,” he insists. “And it has more to it than my other shows have had.” Part of what gives it more substance is the fact that Naked is all about Joel, whereas his first show, Joel Creasey’s Slumber Party – earning him a nomination for ‘Best Newcomer’ at the 2010 Melbourne Comedy Festival – dealt with celebrities. And the subsequent year’s Party Animals was about politics.

The reason the focus of his scathing wit has been turned inwards, Joel says, is because “I’ve bagged out a lot of other people and I figured it was my turn.”


Joel’s first forays into self-expressive arts were theatrical, tinged with comedy. Over time, the theatricality has fallen away to the point where it’s the pure stand-up of a comic not even making observations about the stuff around him, but about his own life experiences. And it may seem a bit premature to be doing that at age 21, but you have to remember, Joel’s been doing this since he was 17. Though comedy wasn’t the grand plan, so much as it was an escape route:

“I couldn’t be bothered studying and realised you don’t have to study for comedy, so I thought, ‘I’ll just do that!’”

But it’s not as clear-cut as that. Because after finishing high school, there was a cursory attempt at tertiary education – a good three months pursuing a degree in political science. “I pulled out because I was hating that and loving comedy,” Joel insists.

At school, Joel’s major passion – and strongest subject – was drama. Indeed, having gone to drama school, Joel reckons he would have stayed in theatre had comedy not “come along”. But I doubt that, because even when he was doing theatre, he could never stay in it without turning to comedy.

Consider Joel’s final Grade 12 drama piece: he was one of the few Year 12 drama students in his state – or perhaps the country – who opted to deliver a comedic piece. “Grade 12 kids aren’t funny,” he argues. “Their pieces are always serious – about suicide or something heavy like that.” Not Joel’s. He chose to write a funny piece about a character of his own invention – flight attendant Glen Suavé, “hell-bent on taking over the world”.

The character was disgusting, racist, offensive, and – according to Joel – “based on many Qantas flight attendants I’ve had the joy of meeting”. Naturally, Joel’s peers failed to understand what Joel was doing. Thankfully, his examiners did.

“I got amazing marks!” says Joel. “That was the thing that got me through Grade 12; it evened out my bad marks in maths and science and every other subject.”

It was also the thing that got Joel into stand-up comedy – since that monologue formed the basis of his first routine. “I was actually doing character comedy when I started,” Joel admits. “Now, obviously, I wouldn’t touch that, but I spent my first six months doing characters.”

Character comedy isn’t for everyone. As with all the various comedic subgenres, there are the truly talented who do characters very well. And chances are, had he stuck with it, Joel would have become such a comic. Instead, he found himself jealous of other comics who could “just get up and chat about their lives”. Realising that was the sort of comedy he wanted to be able to do, he soon realised he had to “drop the character”.

Which is why Naked serves as a marker in Joel’s career trajectory: he’s gone from being a character to being himself talking about other people, to being himself talking about himself. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. Particularly in the first year after Joel jettisoned the character, there was the fear that nobody particularly wants to hear about his life. “And still, sometimes I’ll get halfway through a story and think, ‘oh god, do people really want to know about me?’”

Clearly, they do. Particularly when Joel can make it sound so funny. But right now, I mostly want to know about his relationship with his parents. Clearly, they’re cool about his career choice in showbiz, if they had sent him to drama school!

“My parents are actors themselves, so they’re cool,” Joel confirms. Now that he’s based in Melbourne, Joel’s folks travel from Perth every year to check out the show. “They’re pretty into it. They’ve never tried to dissuade me in any way.” How could they? As Joel points out, having started at age 17, he actually needed his parents to attend all of his performances as they took place in pubs.

“I had to go with them to get in. That was fun! I’m sure that that’s how all the big-name comics do it…”

So Joel didn’t have the usual comedian’s story of “my parents disowned me when I started doing comedy”; perhaps he might have has a “my parents disowned me when I started doing musical theatre taking on the leading lady roles” but that’s just as unlikely. However, he still has the basic tale of overcoming adversity that so many comics have. The disbelievers, against whom every one of Joel’s successes is a victory, are “everyone I went to school with!”

“They were horrible to me because I was the Drama Captain – Surprise! There were just so many arseholes I went to school with. I just want to stick it in their face.”

Consider it stuck. One of my fonder moments in Melbourne took place in the shopping centre, Melbourne Central. On one level, every pillar is a poster board, meaning that on that level, literally hundreds of posters are Blu-Tacked to be viewed by the multitude of passing shoppers. I regret not having taken a photograph of the poster for Joel’s Naked, in which he’s depicted pretty much as the title suggests. Because someone had gone to the trouble of fashioning a cock-and-balls and adorning his poster with it.

“I’m hoping they used a lot of Blu-Tack,” Joel says.

I’m not in a position to confirm the anatomical accuracy of it, but anyone can graffiti a poster with texta, and Joel concurs that it is “a very impressive effort” that someone has gone to. “I’m very proud of that,” he says. “That took time and effort. I’m flattered. I hope they bought a ticket to the show as well…”


Speaking of the show, it’s worth chasing down what it is actually about.

“People say Naked is a ‘gay show’,” Joel says, “but it’s not. It’s relatable to everyone. It’s just that I’m so camp, people are always going to assume that. Which sometimes annoys me, because reviewers come to my show and call me ‘really gay’, and I don’t think they would go and see a woman comic and call her ‘really feminine’.”

That Joel’s camp persona is larger than life should come as no surprise. That’s what a camp persona essentially is. And while it will always be part of Joel’s comedic style – “I have very limp wrists throughout the entire performance, and my gay nasal twang is out in full force” – it doesn’t dictate the substance of the material. Party Animal, for example, was more ‘gay’, insofar as, since it was dealing with politics, it had to address the issue of single-sex marriage.

Naked – a title devised “years ago” – is all about Joel. It consists of stories stretching from primary school to high school and involves “getting drunk and things that everyone does, not just gay guys.” Although, he adds, “we probably do get drunk more than most people…”

Furthermore, in the more pat description, Naked is “all about fears, secrets, nudity and Xena the Warrior Princess”. Since one of the secrets is that Joel’s “a mad fan of Xena the Warrior Princess – and not ashamed!” it’s easy to see why some reviewers will consider the show a bit ‘gay’.

Thing is, as with many gay comics, the audience, paradoxically, will consist mostly of ‘straights’. Forgive the generalisation – or at least, hear me out first – but it seems that gay men usually have such a biting sense of humour that, usually, nobody else can be as funny as them and their mates, or at least, systematically amuse them as much as their mates. So they don’t go out and see comedy as readily as ‘straight’ audiences. And it’s the straight audiences who dig the gay comics most, because they’re getting access to insights and observations they wouldn’t usually hear.

Don’t freak out at the last paragraph. Particularly, don’t freak out just because it contains the adjectives ‘gay’ and ‘straight’. It’s just a more specific example of the greater truism, that comics are like prophets: appreciated less in their own land, they have to go off and preach to other people who have not been brought up in the same environment/class/belief system.

“We are very good at taking people apart, piece-by-piece,” says Joel, agreeing initially that he doesn’t have “a massively gay audience”. Then he corrects himself:

“I do: I would have more of a gay audience than, say, Dave Hughes.”

However, he says, his “dream audience” are the ones found in regional towns and “rough clubs” because of the challenge they pose: “you can win them over; they’re easier to shock. Whereas, while gay guys generally seem to have a great sense of humour, they’re very hard to shock. There’s always that weird element of competition there.”

But there are a lot of gay people in his audience, Joel realises, because when he was playing in Melbourne, the women playing in the venue before him noticed how fabulously attired his audience was. “They said they loved walking out and seeing my crowd queuing to come in because they’d all be so well dressed. They’d see what sort of looks were in season and take notes!”


The major demographic a good looking, young gay guy naturally plays to is present and accounted for in significant numbers in Joel’s audiences: teeny-bopper girls.

“I love them because they are great laughers,” Joel says. “But sometimes they bring their parents, and I think, ‘Oh god, you don’t know what you’re in for…’” Not that there are awkward moments during the show, so much. More likely, there are “many awkward car rides home”.

This is particularly true given some of the fears Joel addresses in Naked. One of them is, indeed, of being naked. Hence the show’s title. And poster.

 â€œThe show’s about me getting my kit of metaphorically,” Joel says. “And physically…”

There is a point in the show when the comic strips.

“So, yeah, when the young girls bring their parents it’s like, ‘oh god… I’ve got to take my clothes off at some point…”

In addition to his fear of being naked, Joel also has podophobia: “a weird fear of feet”.

“I’ve never liked them,” he says. “I hate them. They freak me out…”

Although he can deal with his own, Joel loathes other people’s. “I just don’t want to see feet. I hate thongs and sandals and crocs and things like that.”

Initially, Joel’s foot fear was not part of this show. Not until he happened to mention it to fellow comic Adam Richard while at a dinner party.

Adam’s immediate reaction?

“He put his feet in my potato salad, of course!”

The following day, Adam told his multitude of Twitter followers that Joel Creasey has a foot fetish, asking people to send Joel pictures of their feet.

“It was awful!” Joel says. “He’s got ten thousand followers, so I got a lot of pictures of feet.” And, being “very OCD”, Joel was forced to open every single attachment, “just in case one of them was a gift voucher for a million dollars.”

Oh, that reminds me of a horrible photo I saw online, of someone who had been shot in the foot.

“If I can find the image, I’ll send it to you,” I promise.

“Please don’t,” Joel says. “That’ll haunt me!”



Fine print:

See Joel Creasey's Naked at the Sydney Comedy Festival at Seymour Centre Sound Lounge at 7:30pm, Thurs 26 April to Sat 28 April.

Danny McGinlay a la carte

Danny McGinlay

McGinlay follows Maron - WTF?

You probably know Danny McGinlay - perhaps as Australia's only Three Michelin Star Comedian, the ‘Food Dude’ who’s presented a dedicated menu of cuisine-related festival shows over the years. Maybe you’ve seen him on The Circle; or as the warm-up guy for The Circle and other television shows. Possibly you read his soccer blog, or have seen him as an extra in a film. At the very least, you should know him as a solid headliner that can turn even the coldest, reticent room into a den of happy punters, howling with laughter.

Even though I know him as the first guy I ever saw make a Harry Potter reference - long before it was de riguour to make those references – like a lot of comics I never got to see coming through the Sydney open mic scene, my first awareness of Danny McGinlay was via a recommendation from another mate of mine who is a stand-up comedian: Julia Wilson. She’d gigged with him in the UK and one day assured me if I ever met him that I should say g’day cos he’s a good comic and a good bloke. When that opportunity arose I did indeed say g’day, and discovered Danny to be both the good comic and good bloke that Wilson described him to be.

“Wilson’s ‘Good Bloke’ police?” Danny asks, laughing, when I tell him. We’re sitting in my kitchen, about to go to a gig at the Old Manly Boatshed, chowing down on a homemade pie (courtesy of my girlfriend) before we leave.

Turns out Wilson had recommended me to him as well. He was staying at her place while playing in Sydney, and one of his gigs was a Raw Comedy heat I was judging at the Comedy Store back when I used to judge Raw Comedy heats at the Comedy Store. Danny McGinlay was the feature act who entertained the crowds during the judges’ deliberation.

“I was panicking about how I’d find my way back to Wilson’s place,” Danny recalls, “around the corner from you. She said, ‘Dom Romeo’s a judge; you’ll give him a lift home; he’ll direct you. You’ll be best friends forever’.”

That’s more-or-less the case. And why not? Danny’s that perfect mixture of good comic and good bloke. He’s pretty down-to-earth. Take, for instance, the time he followed Marc Maron on stage at HiFi an MICF ago or so.

“I gigged with him, not knowing who he was,” Danny recalls, “and I think that helped.”

Speaking to him briefly before the gig, Marc “seemed like a bit of an angry bastard,” no different to so many other comics. So rather than awe – the universal response of every comic and comedy lover who has heard Maron’s legendary comedy-deconstructing WTF podcast and actually recognises him when they encounter him - Danny approached Maron with the polite indifference of the ignorant, concentrating on the gig at hand. “I followed him on and afterwards people said, ‘oh my god – you just got as many, if not more, laughs than Marc Maron’. I was like, ‘yeah, so? He’s just an international…’

Danny McGinlay

Early Starter

Danny McGinlay started gigging in London at 23 – an age I consider quite young when you’ve not actually grown up and started doing comedy in England. But he puts it in perspective for me. “I started very young. I was the first of the ‘underage’ comedians!”

Apart from earlier school concert spots – consisting of the sort of jokes you rip off from joke books – Danny made his open mic debut at the ripe old age of 16 at St Kilda’s legendary Esplanade Hotel – aka ‘The Espy’. Still a full time school kid, Danny couldn’t hit the comedy scene “properly”, instead being forced to “sneak into a few places underage”. It wasn’t until he’d finished high school that Danny could “dive into the open mic scene”. Which is exactly what he did.

Rather than waste time pursuing one of those ‘careers to fall back on’, so beloved of parents, Danny gave uni a miss. “All I wanted to do was be a stand-up comedian, so I didn’t go to uni. I didn’t even apply for anything. I just wanted to do comedy.” The fact that he was an intelligent but seemingly under-achieving kid – “I’d get Cs and Bs, and comments like, ‘you’re correct, but you haven’t structured this essay properly’” – suggested that Danny would always be a better talker than a writer. So making his case humorously, on stage, had to win out.

While it’s not uncommon for Aussie comics, particularly of a certain (youthful) age, to make their foray into the UK scene – there’s always a bunch of ’em – Danny didn’t head over for the comedy. It was for a girl. “Who I’m now marrying,” he assures me, “so it’s fine”.

Danny’s fiancée did go to uni, and furthermore, after completing her degree, “did the whole ‘finished uni so I’m going off overseas for a couple of years’ thing”.

What chasing a girl to England means is, whereas there should have been some research and organising and a five-year plan to get somewhere in the stand-up world, Danny went more on a whim. And happened to get a bit of work while he was there.

Another temp

London then

“I certainly didn’t set the comedy world on fire,” he says of his time in Ol’ Blighty. “And that’s fine with me, because I have no desire to live in England. Every other aspect of life is better here in Australia.” To prove it, he invites me to pick something at random. But I don’t need to. I wasn’t long in England before I quickly realised how much I take the quality of fresh food for granted in Australia.

“F*ck yeah! You know exactly what you’re talking about,” Danny says, before adopting the instantly recogniseable voice of a surly pommy git: “Nup! You can’t ’ave that!”

Not that living in the UK doesn’t have advantages: the US and Europe are much easier to get to. And the comedy scene is awesome. But occupying a three-bedroom sharehouse with eight other people is much less so. Particularly when you’re the only one who has English as a first language.

Hang on, does not compute: didn’t Danny chase a lady to England? Yep. And her English is perfect. But, being of Ukrainian descent, Ukrainian was her first language. Turns out Danny’s true love was initially “the weird kid in prep school with funny-smelling lunches who couldn’t speak English…”

Danny insists life “wasn’t great” in the UK – cramped living conditions, virtually broke all the time. “The only thing you can do there is drink, because that’s cheap,” he says. But it did lead to his developing a love of soccer – “because all I could afford to do was have a few pints watching all the matches that were on in the pub” – and becoming a better comic – “I was doing three or four gigs per week, most of them paid, though only about 40 quid to MC”.

Turns out one of the flaws of the English comedy scene is that MCing isn’t so highly regarded, with the least experienced person made to MC. Really, the MC is the second most important person on the bill, after the headliner: a good MC paces the room to ensure every act has the opportunity to ‘kill’ – rather than ‘die’ – thus ensuring the audience gets the most laughs. They may have come only to see the headline act (or support their buddy the open mic-er) but if the night is run badly, they may not manage to stay to see the headline act, or may be burnt out by the time the headliner comes on. The MC has to ‘re-set’ the room after each act so the next one has the optimum opportunity to entertain the crowd.

“Only in London’s Comedy Store – in my opinion, the best comedy club in the world – does the really good comic MC,” Danny says. “And they get paid better than everybody else.”

Despite the excellent opportunity the UK offers comics – this isn’t cultural cringe, the truth is the comedy scene is far more developed and more generously rewarding for the truly talented – Danny returned to Australia in 2006. Ask him what brought him back to Australia and he’ll be adamant in his response:

“Everything! I want to spend my days off in a flat that’s not the size of a table. I wanna see my friends. I want to eat good food. I want to go out and not have all the pubs close at the exact same time, so that everyone who’s drunk and just sculled three pints cos it was ‘last drinks’ is now out together on crammed tubes –I’ve no idea how they think that prevents violence…” On that subject, he adds, “If you had 24-hour drinking in London, for the first three months, nothing would get done. But after that, the whole culture would change and there’d be less violence.”

Another temp

Believe it or not

Culture of violence is an interesting tangent to pursue with Danny. He’s proper Irish Catholic, and has what he describes as “a very controversial position” on religion: “I think religion ultimately does more good than harm. But you can’t really say that to someone in the very sectarian arts world, where not being an atheist is as bad as being an atheist in Alabama.”

At the same time, Danny says, he probably would not identify himself as ‘Catholic’ were it not so important to his grandparents that they call themselves ‘Catholic’. It looms large in his heritage. “They had to fight, and were spat on, for being Catholic,” he says.

I know Danny’s proper Irish Catholic, with overtones of ‘The Troubles’, from the time I posted a YouTube clip of Paul McCartney and Wings playing their first single, ‘Give Ireland Back To The Irish’. Unlike everyone else who had a go because it is, essentially, a lousy song, Danny had a go because I referred to the ruthless suppression of a protest that inspired it (and John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s ‘Luck of the Irish’ and U2’s ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’) as a massacre that took place “in Londonderry”. Danny assured me the place is called ‘Derry’.

“But that place is called ‘Derry’,” he reiterates. “My family is from the north of Ireland, both the Republic and the ‘Occupied Counties’. I correct ‘Londonderry’ because it’s still a big factor; whether you call it ‘Derry’ or ‘Londonderry’ shows where you’re from.” And indeed, your politico-religious leanings. Or in my case, ignorance.

In settling in Australia, Danny’s father has tried to ensure piece would reign for subsequent generations. But when visiting the homeland, Danny says, “of course the relatives are still angry and talk about it.” Furthermore, he says, “half the family’s from Glasgow, so it’s ‘Belfast’ on a larger scale. They never had the bullets – they punch each other instead.”

The cousins in Glasgow still refuse to consider themselves ‘Scottish’, even despite being born there – of parents also born in Scotland. “They’ve barely been to Ireland – but they’re still Irish!”

Sounds like a future show…

Another temp

Making waves

Before London, Danny spent time as an on-air radio personality – again, proof of his early over-achieving. In 2002 he appeared in Comedy Zone – the show the Melbourne International Comedy Festival puts together from that year’s batch of best up-and-comers.

“I was head-hunted from that to be on the Fox Brekky Team,” Danny confesses. “Which lasted all of six weeks.” The powers-that-were at FOX FM decided to add Danny to ‘Tracy & Matt’ – the on-air team that consisted of Tracy Bartram and Matt Tilly. Only, they hadn’t really informed Tracy and Matt. “They got told on a Friday that there’d be a new guy on Monday.”

And how was that Monday? Well, all of Danny’s radio experience thus far was “not much community radio”, so he was always going to be “nervous as f*ck”, as he so descriptively puts it.

“I was 19. I’d never had a real job. Suddenly I’m on Fox FM Breakfast. I don’t know what I’m doing. The atmosphere was tense, but I figured that was just my perception, on account of my nervousness.”

Luckily, Tracy & Matt were able to send young Danny out in the field. The Osbournes was the big reality television show that everyone was talking about, so FOX FM started a competition to find Melbourne’s weirdest family, ‘The Melbournes’. Danny lasted “a good month” by going out to families’ houses in the morning, and interviewing them. “That was my segment. They’d cross back to me a few times. It was pretty awful.”

Knowing not to make that mistake again, Danny says, FOX FM had the good sense to introduce the next new team member as a writer, just one day a week. And then two days a week. Get him in softly before giving him his own segment. “Within six months he was part of the team and I’d been shafted to Black Thunder driver,” Danny says. “I got the arse.”

Who was that other new guy, I wonder? Did he go on to bigger and better things?

“He’s a guy who’s done nothing with it subsequently,” Danny says. “Don’t know if you’ve heard of him: Hamish Blake.”

Ah yes. That underachiever. Who’s done nothing subsequently. Apart from just about everything. Including winning a Gold Logie. “You lost your job to Hamish Blake?!” I demand, Admittedly, a tad too insensitively. Still, it was ten years ago now.

“I was the first guy who was ever sacked for Hamish Blake,” Danny concurs. Adding: “Twice.”

What? Danny McGinlay lost his job to Hamish Blake twice?

Oh yes. Turns out Danny was doing late nights by the time Hamish & Andy got their own radio show. And, he says, “I got shafted for that!” So Danny McGinlay has lost his job to Hamish Blake twice… “before he was even famous!”

Although it wasn’t immediate and total. At first, Hamish & Andy were only on one night a week. So Danny – hired as a comic, demoted to Black Thunder driver, ended up just another jock doing late nights. And as it was commercial radio, there was no end of directives instructing him how to be better at it.

“They’d say things like, ‘We hired you as a comedian on air, so why don’t you be funnier?’ So I’d try to do stuff. And then I’d get calls from above saying, ‘Why are you talking for so long? People just want to hear the music, not your opinions or your banter with callers. Get to the point or get off the microphone!”

In the end, Danny was doing the graveyard shift on Triple M in Sydney, from Melbourne. “By that time I knew I didn’t want to be a jock anymore so I had fun with it,” he recalls. It was that period of broadcasting when everyone had to have a nickname, and one of Danny’s best afternoons was the one he spent devising his own nickname. “I was trying to come up with stuff that was really nerdy but didn’t sound nerdy. Like…” – adopting commercial radio ‘jock’ voice – “…‘Hey, it’s the Raven Claw!’” (One of the Houses at Hogwarts in Harry Potter, Danny thinks he ought to explain to me. I am a half-generation older than him. “Or ‘It’s Slayer here’, as in ‘vampire slayer’.”

Despite spending an hour compiling an extensive – and extensively nerdy – list, the first suggestion on it was ‘The Wookie’, so the email came back almost immediately: “Wookie. Great. That’s who you are.” Danny’s certain they never even read beyond the first item.

“And what was your response?” I demand, but don’t give him time to reply before adding: “Do it!” Danny complies, offering an excellent Chewbacca impression.

“I was doing graveyard shifts on Triple M Sydney: ‘It’s the Wookie…’” – does the sound effect – “‘…here’s Khe San’.”

Since it was midnight to dawn shift on commercial radio, Danny was certain nobody was listening until the last half hour – between 5am and 6am, in the lead-up to the breakfast crew. “That’s when you’d have to be quite good – which was always the hardest because you’d be exhausted. But you’d have to go to a news break and you knew that people were starting to listen.”

This is when ‘The Cage’ was Triple M’s highly-rating breakfast crew, so Danny often had to announce, “The cage is on in 20 minutes” and throw to a highlights package. One time he extemporised a little with, “Tell you what – today’s episode of The Cage is the best. Ever. If you miss a second of it, you will kick yourself. It’s just going to be absolutely fantastic. Anyway. Here’s some stuff they did last week…” before cuing the highlights package. At which point a call came through from Triple J’s program director, who also happened to be the anchor for The Cage:

“Mate. What are you doin’?”

“I’m plugging The Cage.”

“Sayin’ it’s the best show ever?”


“What if it’s not? Why are you putting pressure on us? What if it’s not? Why would you do that? Now people are gonna turn it off if it’s not.”

Ah, the pressures of breakfast radio.

“What I wanted to say was, ‘if you get off the phone and do some research and prep, maybe it will be the best show ever!’” Danny relates. “I got in trouble for over-selling the show!”

Sounds like Danny McGinlay was just about ready to disappear overseas…

Danny McGinlay

Food dudery

Danny established himself as the ‘food’ comic more-or-less out of the blocks. His first ever solo festival show was a cooking show entitled Monumental Cook-Up. “It was on at 10:45pm, down an alleyway. It got reviewed on its first night really positively by Helen Razer before there were star ratings in reviews, but I reckon it would have been a four-star review. I got a lot of ticket sales from that, but being on at 10:45pm down an alleyway, the season fizzled out.”

Though not all Danny’s shows have beena bout cooking, many have been. This, he insists, is mostly out of practicality: “When I procrastinate, I cook. This was a way of using procrastination to my advantage.” But apart from that, and also out of practicality, being the ‘Food Dude’ meant that Danny had a theme that set his shows apart. “It meant I was doing something that nobody else was doing,” he says.

Although, when you see headlining at a club or pub gig, you’re not gonna see Danny cook, and there’s a practical reason for that, too: “When you’re cooking and telling jokes, you’re splitting the audience’s focus.” It’s too difficult to listen and laugh if you’re concentrating on the food prep – which is borne out by reviews saying the same thing: “It’s a very funny show, but it’s more interesting than funny”. That’s “fair enough”, he says: “I’d be creating things with my hands, and even though I’d throw funny jokes out there, often they were too engrossed in what I was doing to pay attention to what I was saying.”

Of course, Danny’s a clever enough comic to overcome this issue, devising the perfect method to avoid splitting audience attention with his last foodie show, Recipes for Disaster: he included pre-recorded sketches.

“People would be watching the sketches on screen while I did the involved things, so by the time we would finish showing the sketch, the food would be ready to serve.”

In addition to standing out from the festival pack by doing shows about food, the food ensures Danny can stand out from the pack in his poster art – which is essential, because so many comics are, to the less comedy-savvy, pretty much alike. “What can you do?” Danny says. “We do all look the same – white males…” So Danny’s always got a food prop to ensure he looks different. “One year there was the wooden spoon – another year I had a chef’s hat. Last year I was zapping the chicken with jumper leads…”

Another temp

In my opinion, so many comics look alike on their posters because they go to the same handful of photographers for their images. James Penlidis is popular in Melbourne. (I’m fond of the work of Photobat – who took great photos of me a couple of years and several kilos ago; nowadays I use my mate Tony’s photos…)

Danny swears by Penlidis. And in addition to wielding props, Danny also has the good sense to get his images done a little later, always asking what colours everyone else has been using in order to ensure he stands out.

“Penlidis always makes you feel like a rock star when you use him,” Danny says. “He makes you look good. You go to his studio and it’s just awesome: you go through his books and see every celebrity you’ve ever heard of; he’s taken photos of them.”

And, for the comedy nerd in me, Danny adds a further factoid: Penlidis was the body in publicity photos of chart-topping prank-caller Guido Hatzis. “He’s got two kids now but he still looks good. If I was drunk he could… maybe… turn me. Because he’s so lovely… And buff… And Greek… Reminds me of school…”

Danny McGinlay

Bird wordery

As it happens, having devised food shows and posters to stand out from the crowd, and systemic methods to get around technical difficulties of those food shows, Danny’s decided to get away from food shows altogether this year.

“I didn’t want to do any props or gimmicks or anything this time around,” Danny explains. “I just wanted to do stand-up. But of course, a gimmick show has organically formed.”

The show is called Danny McGinlay Learns Ukrainian – instead of cooking utensils, on this poster he carries a massive Ukrainian flag. The show is all about his relationship with the girl he chased to England. “I’m still with her,” he says. “We will be ten yeas together in January. We’re getting married June 9.”

The initial idea was a stand-up show loosely based around the story of Danny taking Ukranian lessons. However, Danny says, working with script consultant – and former Rove writer – Declan Fay led somehow to the greater development of “the actual… ‘gimmickry’, I suppose…” of learning Ukrainian. Between the two, they’ve fleshed out a show that’s 90 percent about the learning Ukrainian with only a few side forays into other stand-up. “So it’s become another personal story, with a flip chart showing Ukrainian words,” Danny says. He didn’t want to end up using a flip chart, but he knows full well that “not doing something for the sake of not doing it is just as bad as doing it for the sake of doing it!”

And rest assured, hints of Danny’s erstwhile Food Dudery persists, particularly on the poster, which bears the line, “How far would you go for a chick in Kiev?” That great pun is the work of Taswegian comic Gavin Baskerville – who, it turns out, came up with the title of Danny’s 2011 show, Recipes for Disaster. In fact, Gavin came up with the goods for Monumental Cook-Up as well, delivering the line “Jamie Oliver with be turning in his gravy!” And of course, good guy that Danny is, he’ll express his gratitude with a slab for Gav the next time he plays a gig in Hobart.


Soccer to 'em

When Danny procrastinates, he doesn’t always just cook and come up with food-based festival shows. His procrastination has also given rise to a soccer blog, Danny's Football Bluff: “Because when I’m procrastinating, I also go into football forums and see what people have to say…”

I wanna see what Danny has to say about this: Is it ‘football’ or ‘soccer’? A fair question to put to an Australian lover of the round-ball sport.

“It’s both,” Danny insists. “And anyone who argues over it is a f*ckwit.”

He elaborates: “Why does it matter? I will say ‘soccer’ most of the time, because people don’t question it then. Whereas ‘football’ in Australia can mean rugby league, Aussie rules, soccer, rugby union…”

That’s a good point. But I’m a half-generation older than Danny. When I went to school, ‘football’, or ‘footy’, never ever meant ‘wogball’. The two were very different.

“Yeah, I don’t feel comfortable calling it that,” Danny says, not for reason of political correctness, rather because he’s setting up a well-placed gag: “I’d call it anything except ‘wogball’ – mostly because the Greeks aren’t very good at it!”

Back to the issue of the name, I’m proud to know the origins of ‘soccer’ and ‘football’ originate with the sport’s proper name: ‘association football’. Why we grabbed a syllable from the ‘association’ part to create the hypocorism ‘soccer’, while others chose to go with ‘football’ or the hypocorism ‘footy’ is a factoid that still eludes me. Danny has his own interesting factoid:

“Aussie Rules is older than soccer. Not really, but officially. The rules of Australian Rules football were written down first. People were playing soccer for longer than that, but it wasn’t official. So really, AFL is ‘football’, and soccer is ‘soccer’. But in my head, soccer is ‘football’ and AFL is ‘footy’.”

Still, he says, “it’s detrimental when you’re trying to have a discussion about the round-ball game and someone says…” – adopting a ‘spaz’ voice - ‘It’s football!’ Come on. We’ve got something in common here, and it’s a sport that a lot of people disdain – so let’s have a united front and not worry about the pathetic little things.”

With such a good attitude to the sport, I’m wondering why Danny isn’t more of a sporting jock comic.

“I am! Aren’t I? Yeah I am. I talk about sports…”

Danny explains that he cut his teeth in that arena, having started out at the Espy, playing Armidale, the Star & Garter and the like: “It was all bogan comics that I saw, so I started pretty bogan.”

Yeah, perhaps. But despite bogan origins, Danny was still the first person I saw making Harry Potter references early on – before it became de rigour particularly fro younger, more fey comics. Which was funny because Danny is, let’s face it, built like a jock. And he doesn’t deny it.

“I was a jock at school. I was in the popular group. I know it’s not cool to say that anymore – you’re supposed to say you were bullied. But I wasn’t – I was in the ‘cool people’ group, I went to the right parties, had a hot girlfriend, and did some bullying as well…”

No, hang on – Danny didn’t beat the shit out of wimps because he could – not that kind of ‘bullying’. He explains: “there were socially inept nerds and I had a pretty quick mind so I made fun of them. I never physically hurt anybody.” Pause. “But I probably scarred them a bit.”

So does being the jock-who-cooks and makes Harry Potter references make up for that? Is the career some kind of karmic penance?

“I don’t know. I’m not doing the Billy Madison thing where I phone them and they cross me off a list of people to kill. But I didn’t make anyone cry. As far as I know. I can’t guarantee that I made an impact on anyone’s life, but I know I got some pretty good zingers out there during little lunch. And that was my way into being in the cool group: I was on the footy team and I was funnier than most of the guys – and that put me in high esteem in high school.”

Again, let’s put this into perspective: Danny the Food Dude comic is still good mates with the captain of his high school football team. They still hang out. And go watch the footy. But – and this is a beauty – “he’s about to move to Munich to be a sculptor.”

This last bit results in an audible double-take on my part, because Danny adds, “it was a very odd school; you had the potheads, the Greeks, and me and him were a bit weird because we were artsy guys who played football.”

For a moment a rare throwback vaudeville gene takes control. “Are Greek potheads Grecian Urns? What’s a Grecian earn?” I can’t hold back from demanding. Danny doesn’t quite shake his head at me, instead donning the accent of a second generation Aussie for whom Greek is spoken at home. “I dunno, but it’s cash, mate; it’s cash…”

Danny McGinlay

Getting warmer

One of the comedy occupations Danny undertakes is that of warm-up: getting a live studio audience into the zone to be receptive and ready to laugh when the cameras of a live taping roll. I’ve always thought it was a particular kind of stand-up hell – though fact is, it’s audience hell, particularly when you’re in the audience of a Comedy Festival Gala, say, and all you want is for the show to start, but you have to sit through the same routines each time.

“When the alarm rings at 6:30am to get up and go into The Circle, it’s hell,” Danny says. “The whole reason I became a comedian was so that I could sleep in.”

Even though Danny first appeared as a guest on The Circle – in Food Dude mode – and he still appears as a guest from time to time, nowadays he, Harley Breen and Kynan Barker – “the go-to guy of warm-ups” – share warm-up duties. Danny has also warmed up Spicks & Specks, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, The Project and Adam Hills in Gordon Street Tonight audiences.

It was Ross Noble who proved warm-up can be a necessary evil that leads to good things, rather than hell: his ability to perpetually improvise, extemporising on random themes that he bring back to tie together at the end of two hours, having been developed in the stop-start nature of the studio taping, when you never know how long you’re going to have to talk to the audience.

“You can’t really do stand-up,” Danny explains. “It’s all just stuff about the show. I just chat to people.” This means his ‘crowd work’ has gotten much better.” While he is sometimes able to take them on weird flights of fancy, it all depends on the audience. On The Circle, for example, where he and the audience sit through the live advertorials before he takes over during the ad breaks, Danny has “set routines for the Genie Bra ad, the Ab Circle Pro ad, the Pet Insurance ad”. And since The Circle’s audience is often “old dears”, as long as he’s “a nice boy”, they like him. “Occasionally you get crowds who aren’t into it. And that’s where you get blamed – there isn’t much you can do about it.”

On the other hand, shooting Who Wants To Be A Millionaire can take some six hours. “By the last episode, you’ve chatted to them all, you know where they’re from, they’re tired, you’re tired. We just talk cr*p.” Danny’s got “two magic tricks” he saves for the very end, when all else has failed. “That’s how desperate you get.”

One of Danny’s best Millionaire stories involves a particularly stupid contestant indeed. During the warm up, while explaining to the audience how they have to be utterly silent until Eddy says ‘correct’, he used a pretend question with someone in the crowd, so they could practice.

“I just asked a question about something that was in the news that day – about Harry Kewl coming to Melbourne Victory. I said, ‘Which Socceroo has just signed to Melbourne Victory? Is it a) Kewl; b) David Beckham; c) Pelle; or d) Pinocchio.”

Later during the taping, a contestant was asked that question.

“And you know what’s even better?” Danny says. “He still got it wrong!”

Thankfully the audience did as it has been instructed, and kept quiet until the contestant had answered, and then reacted appropriately to the game, rather than the contestant’s stupidity.

“They didn’t laugh,” Danny says, “but they were all just looking at me as if to say, ‘you’re gonna get in trouble!’” But of course, Danny didn’t get into trouble. “No-one’s listening to what I’m doing during the warm-up; the producers are talking about camera angles; Ed’s in his dressing room.”

Later, while killing time between episodes, someone in the audience asked Danny if he’d done it deliberately. “I was like, ‘F*cken no! Thank you for not reacting!’”

The important point Danny has learnt is to unify the audience as a team; they get through the boring bits better, knowing they’re all in this together. And the ‘team game’ mentality helps with all aspects of comedy, especially MCing. It’s something you’ll notice Adam Hills do if you watch him carefully during a performance: he’ll do a lot of crowd work, ultimately to get them onside and ready to laugh.

“Hillsy’s great,” Danny concurs, having recently been reminded of this once again, at a gig at the Melbourne comedy room Softbelly. “I was MCing and feeling pretty good,” Danny says. “To best explain it, I was feeling like Harry Potter: creating magic out of the things the audience was giving me. Hillsy came on, spoke to the exact same members of the crowd, didn’t do any ‘material’ and got so much more out of them. It showed why he is Dumbledore. It was quite humbling, but at same time very inspiring.”

Talk turns to other aspects of performance: one of Danny’s points early on was that “nerves are your friend”, so it’s better to have them, before a gig, than dull them with alcohol. He reiterates now with some advice someone else gave him recently:

“Take the stage with equal parts fear and confidence; too much nerves will get in the way of the performance; too much confidence will alienate the audience. Too much of one or the other and the gig will go badly. Have it exactly equal and it’s perfect.”

One last little factoid, Danny attributes to Billy Connolly. “I think he’s said that if he’s not nervous before a gig, he’ll scull a litre of water so he’ll suddenly get jumpy and worried he’ll need to pee during the show. That gets him nervous.”


On that note, we both have a big glass of water head off to the gig.

Fine Print

Danny McGinlay Learns Ukrainian 7:45pm Upstairs @ Hairy Little Sista until the end of the 2012 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Puppetry of the Penis in 3-D


“Sorry I was a bit late,” the founding – ahem – member of Puppetry of the Penis, Simon Morley, apologises from his end of the phone line. “I’ve been baby wrangling.” And unless Simon’s added ‘cot’ or ‘cradle’ to the impressive list of items he can imitate with his wedding tackle, there are no dick tricks involved in that. “Absolutely none,” Simon confirms. “Apart from the conception, maybe.”


Two dicks come out at a bar

Simon and his mate Friendy (David Friend; neither of whom are pictured above) were the two who originally took to the stage clad only in capes in order to present the art of genital origami: in which they’d manipulate their manhood into various shapes. Like ‘The Pelican’ (in which the penis and scrotum are impressively stretched out to resemble the animal’s long upper beak, and long and deep lower beak). And ‘The Skateboard’ (in which the penis is lain across the scrotum so that the balls become wheels). And ‘The Propeller’ (I’m not going to ruin all of them for you).

That was back in 1998, and it occurred with much furor, initially, all of it unwarranted. Because, after about the first fifteen minutes, you’d pretty much acclimatise to the fact that there are two nude dudes pulling at their respective (not each other’s!) cock-and-balls on stage, and as it wasn’t in the more traditionally prurient manner of tugging yer tackle, you may as well have been looking at their elbows.

In time they were playing the West End and Broadway, getting written up in the likes of The Guardian and The New Yorker. And after taking dick tricks around the world, and taking the world by storm, they started producing shows in which other dick tricksters took the stage all over the world, manipulating their respective manhood. Now, nearly a decade-and-a-half later, they’re launching a live 3-D version of the show. In which neither Simon, nor his penis, will be appearing, because, he says, penis puppetry is “a young man's game”.

“I’m 45 now. I’ve got myself a bit of a belly. I haven’t seen my penis in about three years.”

Instead, Simon’s been working on pulling the 3-D technology together. The show is “technically a lot more advanced” than any of the previous Puppetry of the Penis endeavors. He developed it in the UK, and is presenting it here in Australia, premiering in the final week of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Thus, in his own words, Simon’s role is “directing. And pimping. I’m the ‘global pimp’.”


Puppetry of the Penis in 3-D

Zen and the art of dick tricks

If you haven’t seen Puppetry of the Penis live (or on DVD) before, it essentially works as follows: the two 'puppeteers' make shapes out of their nether regions, accompanied by banter. A camera presents close-ups on a screen. So the new 3-D show, you can easily imagine, would be that, but with the technology (and glasses!) to ensure what you see is coming at you (so to speak) out of the screen. However, there’s still more to it than that.

“We’re using CGI” - computer generated imagery - “so that when the guys perform, say, ‘The Pelican’ on stage, the camera is 3-D, the screen is 3-D, but all of a sudden, we’ll put ‘The Pelican’ into a pelican’s body.”

That’s really cool. And a little bit scary.

Another – far more elaborate – example of the CGI involves ‘The Propeller’. “In a tribute to North by Northwest, we put ‘The Propeller’ in a biplane that comes out at the audience. The guys have to leap off stage to avoid it…”

Excellent spectacle though dick tricks are, who’d have thought you could breath such new life into them? According to Simon, the constant question has always been, “What are you going to do with the show? Where are you going to take it next?” And the'd always answer – jokingly – that next it’d be in 3-D: the penises would jump off the screen.

“Then,” Simon says, “I began to realise that the technology was very soon going to be with us.” Thus the new show is groundbreaking and interesting as well as fun. “I just hope people enjoy it,” says Simon.

My conversation with Simon Morley happens to be taking place not too long after my own Melbourne Comedy Festival show, Stand-Up Sit-Down, has ended. Stand-Up Sit-Down consisted of interviews with comedy practitioners. In the final show, guest Andrew Denton spoke of his show David Tench Tonight, in which the main character David Tench was a CGI character animated in real time, interviewing celebrities. The drawbacks were that CGI technology was not quite up to the task at the time, and the animation was too human – an animal or some other object may have proven more disarming for interview subjects.

So the essential questions now are, is the CGI working for Puppetry of the Penis? And might there be a time when dick-based CGI creations (of which, it may be argued, David Tench was one) successfully interview celebrities?

“I’m sure it’s not gonna be too far off,” Simon insists. “I hadn’t thought about getting them to interview celebrities live, but they certainly could. I’ve got ’em singing songs!”


Denton n Dom

Denton and Dom discuss benefits of CGI interview technique


Historically, the rendering of dick tricks began in hotel rooms while on tour.

Simon initially managed pubs, running comedy nights in bars he managed. In time he started touring the comedians he initially booked, and in the early post-show hours on tour, when much alcohol had been consumed, the dick-trickery began. “At the end of the night, I’d be dropping my pants and amusing the comics,” Simon recalls. One such comic was Jimeoin, whom Morley toured after television success meant he was too big for the pub circuit. It’s whispered that Jimeoin has been known to turn a few tricks of a dickular nature himself. That’s right: Jimeoin is a secret dick-tricker.

“I wouldn’t even say ‘secret’,” Simon assures me. “He loves it! If we’re in Europe or the States, he regularly joins us on stage. He’s very proud!”

And he’s not the only comic who has the talent. Turns out Greg Fleet has a couple of tricks up his dacks.

“I saw Fleety once do a not very politically correct impression, shortly after the Space Shuttle disaster: he had a cigarette flying out of it, jumping off a balcony into a swimming pool. He was doing ‘The Space Shuttle Disaster’.”

Tim Smith is another comic who has indulged in pleasures of the flash. More or less. He may not have been demonstrating them to people, according to Simon, but “he was certainly work-shopping them for quite some time!”

Paul Hester, the original, and now sadly departed, drummer of Crowded House, was also adept at a dick trick. And although it never went to air, Simon and Friendy appeared as Puppetry of the Penis on Hester’s ABC variety show, Hessie’s Shed (some of the footage wound up on the Mick Molloy-produced cocumentary, Tackle Happy).

Jim Rose, of Circus fame, used to do them with Simon and Jimeoin in Edinburgh, in the Gilded Balloon toilets, back in 1992. Can’t get more Fringe than that, surely! “Jim Rose took the hamburger and ran with it! He still does it on stage, occasionally.”

  David has a hamburger!

David has a hamburger!


Amazing. Dick tricks, the way comedians amused each other late at night in 1992, became a stage act all their own in 1998, taking the world by storm shortly thereafter. But the origins lie further back. “My brothers and I came up with most of the tricks, as sibling rivalry, back in the 1980s,” Simon reports.

I guess the real question is, has Simon encountered Ron Jeremy in his travels and seen if Ron can do any of them, or indeed, has any tricks to add to the catalogue.

“I have met Ron Jeremy but I didn’t really want to have a ‘dick-off’ with him,” Simon confesses. I think I know what he means. “We met in a bar, and he’d heard of my work, and I’d certainly heard of his work, and there was a bit of mutual respect, but we were on very different sides of the fence, me and Ron! It was a bit like Van Gogh meeting Leunig…”

Not quite sure which one’s Van Gogh and which one’s Leunig, but the point is taken. And it has resonance. Say what you will about two blokes on stage manipulating their genitalia – serious publications approached the show seriously once it left Australian shores. Which Simon anticipated all along.

“I knew this was going to generate some serious debate. It was very confronting.” While it was “harmless fun” to Simon and Friendy – “It’s a piece of skin; get over it!” – for a lot of people, particularly in the media, it was challenging, even down to the basic debate of whether or not it could be shown on television. “Can we show male genitalia in a non-sexual light? What’s wrong with it, given we see so much female genitalia?” According to Simon, “it posed a lot of good questions, and I’m always happy when the debate starts around us. It’s important that we just stay focused; we just want to make shapes out of our dicks!”

Not wishing to enter any debate, my most pressing question right now is, given Simon’s not about to appear in this show, how does the Director and Global Pimp go about selecting his cast? How do you audition would-be dick tricksters?

“Basically, we get boys to come along, we talk them through and tell them what the job entails.Then we ask them all to kick their pants off. We do a little workshop, and then we get them to show us any tricks that they’ve got of their own, reproduce the ones we just taught them, and we look for them to be naturally funny. We say, ‘Right. Deliver your tricks!’”

What Simon’s looking for, essentially, in a would-be dick trickster is a special quality: “If there were couple of old ladies in the audience, we’d want them to have the most confronting and hilarious night of their lives, but we’d want them to turn to each other and go, ‘oh, but they’re such nice boys!’ So they’ve got to have a certain charm about them as well.”

And don’t think for an instant that you necessarily have to be hung like a Clydesdale to do these tricks: “I’ve actually said ‘no’ to a lot of guys who were too big,” Simon insists. “You’ve got to be able to manipulate it. You’ve got to be able to bend it. We’re looking for a certain proportion in the size of the penis to the testicles: the wheels on ‘The Skateboard’ can’t be too big. There’s also a lot of stretchiness of skin: you’ve got to be able to put a sail on your ‘Windsurfer’.”

Ultimately, says Simon, when it comes to dick tricks, “everyone can do some of them; not everyone can do all of them.”


Simon (seated) and Friendy, AKA Puppetry of the Penis


Coque du Soleil

I remember hearing – probably from the lads themselves – that the Umbilical Brothers were approached by Cirque du Soleil. However, joining the troupe would have meant giving up a lot of what they already had, and losing some identity. Has there been some sort of Coque du Soleil offer?

“Actually,” Simon says, “there has been…”

Turns out, in numerous trips to Montreal for the Just for Laughs comedy festival, Simon had encountered the Cirque du Soleil creators, who frequently used to joke that Puppetry of the Penis should become part of the show. And then it was no longer a joke: Cirque were “putting together an adult show for Vegas”.

It came to nothing, of course. For the same reason every attempt by Puppetry of the Penis to get to Vegas has also been stymied: a law that prohibits live sex acts. The wording applies to Puppetry of the Penis, even though it isn’t a sex act:

“There's an old licensing law that says you can be naked on stage, but you can’t touch your genitals. Unfortunately, we get caught up in this. Because all these shows are in billion dollar casinos, none of them are going to go, ‘well, that’s a stupid law…’. Nobody’s prepared to take that chance with a billion dollar license.”

But, Simon’s adamant: it’s only a matter of time. “We’ll play Vegas one day. We’ll get in there!”


Not so cocky

So here’s the thing. You’ve read this far. You’ve giggled at bits. But if you haven’t seen Puppetry of the Penis live, would you? The point I made earlier – which was Simon’s point, back in 1998 – which I’ve found to be true, deserves reiteration: watching two naked guys do silly things with their cocks is unnerving. At first. But after the initial shock, it is just funny silliness. And you may as well be looking at their elbows.

Admittedly, the times I’ve seen it, I’ve felt the need to take female friends with me. And they all react the same way: ‘You’re taking me to see WHAT?’ (Or, as one quoted their mother to me, ‘He’s taking you to see… that PENIS show?!’) But by the end of it they’ve laughed so much that they’re talking about it at work the next day and organising a girls’ night out before the end of the season.

Simon likens it to jumping out of an aeroplane: “It defies all your natural instincts. You DON’T jump out of aeroplanes; it’s madness; it’s stupid. And as soon as you get out of the plane and you’ve let go of everything and you’re freefalling, it’s the best feeling in the world.”

Okay, seeing Puppetry of the Penis may not be “the best feeling in the world” but Simon assures that “it’s quite harmless once you get over the initial shock of it all; you’ve just got to strap yourself in and hang on; it’ll be fine. You’re not gonna get hurt.”

Not gonna get hurt, indeed. Reminds me of the urban legend surrounding film pioneers, the Lumiere brothers, and their 50-second silent film Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station. Apparently, the first audience to see it – never having seen film projection before – freaked out at the shot of the train coming towards them. You’ll have your 3-D glasses on; you’ll be watching live theatre with close-ups coming at you live, on screen. But rest assured: those three-dimensional dick tricks coming at you pose no danger, just silly fun.



Puppetry of the Penis in 3-D opens Tuesday 17 April at the Athaneum Theatre in Melbourne.

Yoke Communications has freebies to the Wednesday 18 April performance. Be one of 20 lucky double pass recipients by emailing Nina at Yoke Communications now ([email protected]).

The Sydney season starts May 5 at the Enmore Theatre.

Who's been and about to be had…

Fear of a Brown Planet

I had Nazeem Hussain and Aamer Rahman of Fear of a Brown Planet in on Saturday, and DeAnne Smith on Sunday, as my Stand-Up Sit-Down guests.

DeAnne Smith

I'm technically probably not allowed to tell you who I have in on Tuesday. But here's a clue: it's Sammy J. Find out more about the show (the wheres and whens, etc) and buy tickets at the door, or prebook.