Into the Woods


“We did about ten shows and all the shows were great – standing ovations and good stuff like that. But at one of the shows, there was a person there who didn’t like my show, and they complained to the comedy club in London and they fired me for the next two weeks.”

What? How does that work?

“Exactly. That’s what I said. ‘How does that work?’ Someone in Dubai saw me, didn’t like my show – even though after the show I was signin’ autographs and taking pictures with the punters – she called London and these people just fired me, no questions asked. They didn’t say, ‘Hey, did you do this, did you do that?’ Nothin’! I was like, ‘Oh, wow. Welcome to America. Wait – I’m not in America!’”
I’m talking to Tony Woods long distance from the United States. He’s a comedian I’ve never met, nor seen live, but I know he’s good because when he was in Australia for the Cracker Comedy Festival earlier this year – appearing both in the Gala and on Good News Week – there was a buzz among other comics. There are clips, just in case you didn’t see him either and didn’t have other comics talking him up to you.

Tony’s in the middle of telling me a story about a Dubai gig that got him sacked, and I’m annoyed on his behalf. Firstly, the whole point of comedy is that the comedian tells ‘jokes’ – that is, they are effectively ‘pretend’ or ‘make-believe’ compared to ‘facts’ or ‘news’ or ‘reality’. Secondly, comedy is the one place where you are supposed to be allowed to explore taboo topics – to say things in jest that you could never have enough courage or insensitivity or permission to say in all seriousness.

“Well, first of all,” Tony insists, “I didn’t say what she accused me of saying, anyway. So… oh well.”

We’re still talking hypothetically, to a degree. Tony hasn’t divulged what he was accused of saying. I’m not gonna ask him. It shouldn’t matter. Comedy should be one place where you’re able to ‘push the envelope’ if you want to – and Tony reckons he wasn’t even doing that.

“Didn’t even push ’em. I don’t know what the hell she heard. She was drinkin’. Or somethin’. I don’t know. Oh well. She ruined my summer vacation. I was supposed to go to The Bahamas for a vacation, me ’n’ my family, but with two weeks of work fallin’ out of the pocket like that, you can’t just up and go on a vacation. So I don’t really wish the best for her at all.”

Well you wouldn’t, would you. No, if you were a comic in Tony’s position, the best outcome would be to enable everyone to laugh at this turn of events by turning this story into a comedy routine.

“Yeah,” Tony says. “I will. Heh, heh, heh, heh.”

Ah, the Tony Woods laugh. I love that laugh. People claim Keith Richards, of the Rolling Stones, has the dirtiest laugh since Sid James. Tony’s laugh is different to that: it is cool and conspiratorial. It has probably gotten Tony into as much trouble as it has gotten him out of. No doubt it’s gotten him laid.

You can hear the laugh on that YouTube clip where Paul McDermott grills Tony on the Good News Week couch. (‘Couch Potato, the interrogation game of comfort and joy’.) Although one question that doesn’t immediately elicit the laugh is when McDermott asks Woods why he applied for Dental School. “How’d you know that?” Tony says, taken aback. Eventually he replies “Man, I was 18; I just wanted… girls.”

When I ask him, Woods explains that he gained his first experience as “what they call a ‘dental technician/dental assistant’” in the navy. After advancing to ‘surgical assistant’ he decided he might actually pursue dentistry as a career. “But then,” he says, adopting a conspiratorial whisper, “I started doing comedy…”.

There’s a pause. Followed by the signature laugh.

“Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh… you know…”. 

It’s a low sound that emanates from deep within, detached and yet cheeky. It’s the sort of laugh that implies a shared knowledge we both know better than dare admit out loud. Although, in this instance, all I really ‘know’ is that things don’t always go to plan. The full story of how and why comedy usurped dentistry is something only Tony knows – but the encouragement to draw my own conclusion coupled with that laugh makes me want to assume the worst, something unspeakably shameful. That’s what that laugh does. On stage, the laugh causes the audience similarly to reach unspeakable conclusions, enabling the material to become as funny as our own imaginations allow. It means that Tony can create ‘off-colour’ material without actually delivering it. Audiences titillate themselves at his prompting.

I bet that’s what happened in Dubai: Tony didn’t say whatever the woman claimed he said. He left it open to interpretation, and then delivered that laugh. It must have made her feel funny and think dirty, in a manner she’d probably not had the pleasure of for some time. Good comedy can do that to you.

But I’m more intent on pinning the comic down than drawing my own conclusions – unspeakable or otherwise – so I press on. Was there a master-plan to ultimately ditch vocational studies for comedy, or did it happen accidentally? According to Woods, it was “very accidental”:

“I just happened to fall into it, man.” Tony’s buddies insisted he was funny, that he should “try out” as a comic. “I went touring on those ‘open mic’ deals,” he explains, “and… BANG! There you go! Ever since then, there’s no turning back.”

In addition to being able to leave the audience to do some of the work for themselves, Tony’s style involves turning real experiences into material by re-telling it in a ‘bewildered’ manner. Rather than a smug, arrogant or angry comic, Tony Woods is surprised. It’s as though events are still taking him by surprise in the re-telling. According to Tony, that's his style: “Last to know”:

“Even though I’m telling the story, it’s still taking me by surprise. I’m the last to know.”

The beauty of it is that it renders all of Tony’s material ‘universal’. He’s experiencing Australia for the first time and he’s telling us, more-or-less, as it happens to him::

“There’s freaky stuff happening. There’s a lot of animals…. I mean like, animals that I never…”

At this point, you suppose it’s gonna be every visiting comic’s monologue about Australia’s deadly fauna: spiders, snakes, sea creatures…. But no.

There was this dog on the couch, and I said to my Australian friend, ‘I ain’t never seen a dog like that. What kind of do is that?’

And he said, ‘It's a wombat, mate!’

I said, ‘yeah, I wanna dog like that’.

He said, ‘Nah, it’s a marsupial’.

‘What the f*ck does that mean?’

‘He got a pocket.’

And I’m thinking, ‘What the f*ck do all the animals in Australia need with a f*cken pocket? They ain’t carryin’ no wallet or nothin’ like that. What the f*ck you doin’ with a pocket, man?’

© Tony Woods

Funny to watch him tell it, bewildered, to Australian audiences – but it’s no doubt just as funny when he tells it, bewildered, to the folk back home. Or to any other audiences he plays to around the world. Tony Woods has been standing-up on the world stage for – well, at least a decade. There are clips on YouTube from Holland that are ten years old. Tony can’t quite remember when he made the transition from open mic-er to world class comic. “I just kind of adapt to my surroundings and make it happen,” is how he explains it. “It’s a shame that it seems I can get more work overseas than I can in America.”

That is a shame, but so is having people fail to ‘get it’ as far afield as Dubai. Although the Dubai experience doesn’t necessarily rate as Tony’s worst on the road. He explains that because of his “very laid-back” on-stage demeanour, early on, audiences would assume he was a stoner. “Now everyone claims to smoke pot,” he observes. “I wasn’t smokin’ pot. I just had a very daydreamy style, so it looked as though I was stoned on stage.” Although, it turns out, this was one of Ms Disappointed of Dubai’s grievances: “She says that I was drunk, that I was stoned. But she didn’t know what she was talkin’ about.”

If I wasn’t so comedy-savvy, I’d have my suspicions, as I tell Tony: he does have a lot of material about… But  I have to correct myself before I finish saying “getting stoned’. By ‘a lot’, what I actually mean is, of the few clips of his work I have seen on-line, one’s about going to Jamaica; another one recorded in Holland talks about… but Woods interrupts me.

“What it is,” he explains, “is a covert way of tellin’ people to not do drugs; showin’ people the misadventures and misfortunes you can have when you do that.”

The example I’ll go with at this point is Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, whose written work is riddled with drug references. If he was a medicated as he claims to be, on the substances he claims to have ingested, I doubt he’d have had the time to have written as much as he did. I don’t know many people who spend their entire waking lives stoned who have the memory or the motivation – let alone the talent – to turn their experiences into a career of stand-up comedy.

“Exactly!” Tony agrees. “You should call that woman and tell her that!”

Given that Woods is based in Washington, DC when he is in fact in the US, I would have expected a bit of a political bent to his work. But there doesn’t seem to be any.

“No, there’s not,” he confirms. “Not at all.” The political comics, Woods explains, are “the people who move to DC”, not the ones that live there. “It’s like the people who live in Los Angeles aren’t into show business,” he continues. “It’s the people who move to Los Angeles. They’re into show business.” As ever: the converts are the zealots. The life-long believers just go about their business as they always have.

Speaking of material and show business, there’s a great routine of which I’m very fond – Tony’s re-telling of the Little Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs fairy tales.

“That’s older stuff,” he says. “It’s about my introduction to kindergarten. I’d been at home watching soap operas and then I get there and they’d give me happy, sweet stories. I go, ‘no, there’s gotta be a covert mission behind these’.”

Little Red Riding Hood is a horrifying story. It is. It’s supposed to be like a kid’s story but you think about it.

First, Little Red Riding Hood: she’s like a trick, cos she wears little hot pants and stuff. You know, a big push-up bra and a little hood like a superhero stripper or something.

Remember, she’s skippin’ through the woods, teasing all the woodsmen: “Hi, woodsmen…”.

And they’re like, “Wassup, bitch?”

Okay, she didn’t hear them say that, but I want women here to know, that’s what men are always sayin’ to you when you talk to them from a distance.

© Tony Woods

What I love about these stories is that you could build a cute animation around the pre-existing routine. Perfect for vodcasting, or as a DVD extra or for… whatever, really. Woods likes the idea. “You should be my agent, man, so you can come to Los Angeles and tell these people.”

The way Tony sees it, “if you’re not doing the same thing that everyone else is doing, they don’t want to try it. Everyone says, ‘why don’t you do something like…’. I don’t want to do anything like that person did or this person did. If you think about it, in Hollywood, the film genres stay the same until one person – and it has to be someone of notoriety – goes the different way. Then they all go that way. Like, now it’s all superheroes, you know?”

Hmm. Sounds like Woods has beaten his head against a showbiz brick wall. While general trends are evident in comedy, there are least as many ways to approach the same topic as there are original comedians. But what has Woods got his eye on – television or film?

“I want to do film. I’m still trying to be an action hero but I think I’m getting old.”

Maybe. But in the meantime, make the Little Red Riding Hood animation about the superhero stripper, I reckon. That sort of thing shouldn’t be too far away from Tony’s own current interests, really. He already has his own DVD to flog after shows. “It’s an hour of different television clips of my television appearances from all around the world,” he says.

The important question is, do they include clips that we can’t sort of stumble upon for free on YouTube?

“Yes,” Tony says. “It’s un-stumble-upon-able.”

Nice. I think we’re done. I thank Tony for his time.

“No problem,” he says.

I tell him I’m looking forward to seeing him live.

“Okey-dokey,” he says.

Which makes me wanna ask one last question. I’m wondering if ‘okey-dokey’ is something he picked up on his last visit here. “Do you say ‘okey-dokey’ in your country?” I ask.

“Not everybody,” Tony reports. “I say it. It’s just one of those things. Maybe I say it from my travels, I don’t know. People say it.”

Hmm. Awkward. Let me explain. There’s one bit of routine – from the 2009 Cracker Comedy Festival Gala – where Tony imitates the Aussie accent and some of the words typical to our usage of English that aren’t in as common usage in the United States – like ‘indigenous’, ‘marsupial’ and ‘pouch’. As he continues into a an anecdote, as part of the routine, the word ‘motherf*cker’ come up a fair bit.

“Some of your material is about communicating those differences, in culture,” I offer, “and translating words. Like you say, ‘“motherf*cker” means “bloke” to me’.”

“Yeah. Heh, heh, heh, yeah,” Tony Woods says, laughing again. “It just means ‘bloke’.”

“I like that,” I offer. “Mate, you’re a good bloke!”

“Awright,” Tony says. “And you’re a good motherf*cker yourself!”

And this time, we both laugh.

“Heh, heh, heh, heh.”

Tony Woods is playing the Sydney Comedy Store until Aug 15.


Tony Woods on 2009 Cracker Comedy Festival Gala

Tony Woods on the Good News Week couch.

Tony Woods on Jamaica on Def  Comedy Jam

Tony Woods’s version of Little Red Riding Hood

Andrew Norelli & Mike Vecchione

Two Italian American comics are currently headlining at the Comedy Store as a double bill: Andrew Norelli and Mike Vecchione. They’re not a double act. And they’re ethnicity has virtually nothing to do with their comedy – it was just a starting point to the conversation. Well, more to the point, I started with the pronunciation of Mike’s surname which, in Italian, would require all the vowels to be sounded, and the ‘cch’, to act like ‘ck’ in English. This is the full Q&A from the hotel foyer, the day after an incredible opening night. They’ve still got another week at the Store. See them.

Dom Romeo: Mike, at the beginning of the night, you were announced as Mike Veck-i-OH-nee; by the end of the night, it was Michael Veck-i-OAN. In Italian it’s closer to the first, but you prefer the second version. Is that how it’s been – I’d say ‘anglicised’, but it’s more like – Americanised?

MIKE VECCHIONE: That’s actually a good version of messing my name up, ‘Veck-i-OH-nee’. If it’s just that, I don’t mind at all. But people have just butchered it. It’s a tough name to say if you’re Americanised – it actually means ‘old’ in Italian, but the correct pronunciation is ‘Veck-i-OAN’.

Dom Romeo: And I have no idea what ‘Norelli’ means in Italian.

ANDREW NORELLI: I don’t know either. I have no idea. But there are ‘Borellis’, there are ‘Morellis’, so I’m sure they were all the same name at some point.

Dom Romeo: Initially I thought you were a double act because you’re billed together, but you’re actually two acts who happen to be headlining together. Is this something you do often, or is it a first time?

ANDREW NORELLI: No, we had never worked together; we had never met. We had no idea what to expect. In America there are not many acts that go onstage together. I feel like there’s more of that in Europe and Australia. Is that true?

Dom Romeo: It’s definitely an English thing to have double acts nowadays –

ANDREW NORELLI: It’s very uncommon in America. And partly, I think it’s a practical thing – how do you make money when there’s not enough money for one person. Why would you split that money up for someone else?

Dom Romeo: I’ll throw this open to Michael: how is the money working?

MIKE VECCHIONE: It’s good for me – it’s my first trip here so I’m like a novice. I just wanted to perform because I’ve never performed in Australia. I just wanted the opportunity. I’m glad I got the opportunity to work over here.

Dom Romeo: Andrew, you’ve got a lot of local references. Have you been here before or have you done a lot of homework?

ANDREW NORELLI: I was just here in May, for two weeks, doing the Comedy Store and a lot of other venues in Sydney, so I figured out, way back then, which jokes were making people stare blankly into space and which ones were just completely losing them. Sometimes the crowd – it’s not that they don’t follow what you’re saying, it’s that they don’t care; they’re not invested in it. So sometimes you have to change a joke to make it something they find interesting and not detached from – because otherwise, they get it but they just don’t care.

I think me and Mike talked about it last night: for example, there’s a huge problem with steroids in baseball in America. They may be aware of that here, but they don’t care about it because they’re not fans of American baseball, for the most part.

Dom Romeo: I didn’t know that. I know that steroids is a problem in sport in general – so would you generalise it? Would you pick another sport? Or do you give it more context to make it work? Or do you steer clear of it altogether?

ANDREW NORELLI: I have several jokes about steroids, so I just cut out the couple that are so specific that the audience either wouldn’t know or, once again, wouldn’t care. Whereas in America it is a huge topic that is discussed all the time, and everyone knows the nuances of it in America: everyone in America knows what players tested positive for steroids, what the implications are for the Hall of Fame… that sort of stuff.

Dom Romeo: Mike, on stage, your persona is much scarier than Andrew’s and you really play that up in the way you interact with the audience. How did that develop?

MIKE VECCHIONE: I’m mostly a joke writer-type guy, so I just deliver the jokes, but I kind of like to have fun in between and let my personality come out. I like sarcasm. I think sarcasm is funny, and I like playing with the crowd. I have a cocky kind of look and I play off that, but then I smile in between to let them know, to ‘let them in’ on the joke. I think it’s funny to be sarcastic and a little over-the-top.

Dom Romeo: Andrew, I see a bit of a dramatic bent in the way you perform. Your physicality is different, but there are points where if you couldn’t actually convey different emotions in a quick period of time, the joke wouldn’t be as funny, and it is down to the physical acting more than the words. Or you’re physical actions undercut your words.

ANDREW NORELLI: Yeah, I agree. I feel like comedy is heavily based on emotion.

I don’t do it just because the crowd responds to it, I do it because that’s what feels fun to me on stage: to connect emotionally with the crowd. I don’t want to be one of those comics who is only about emotion, I want to have jokes too. Hopefully I combine those two elements.

Dom Romeo: Very well indeed!

You began your performance with a bit of a striptease – was that ‘off the cuff’, rehearsed, or – would you prefer not to discuss it for fear of giving away ‘trade secrets’?

ANDREW NORELLI: Not at all. I always leave room for spontaneity in my shows, always. And sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes you lose the crowd for two or three minutes and you have to get them back. Or maybe you don’t lose the crowd, you might lose momentum and rhythm in the show. But I will often do or say something totally unplanned, sometimes for several minutes.

Dom Romeo: That’s great – because then new stuff comes out of that, that you didn’t even know might come out of that.

ANDREW NORELLI: I agree, yeah. And truthfully, as a performer, it’s sometimes the only way to make it fun, because you don’t want to do the same thing over and over and over again – it drives you nuts. Some would argue the worst part about stand-up – the repetition.

Dom Romeo: And having to make it look like you’ve just made it up on the spot.

ANDREW NORELLI: Right. So I would rather sort of make it up on the spot. Even if it’s a joke I’ve said before, I’d rather find a way to say it differently or segue into it differently or put it in a different context so that there is some spontaneity in it. And I think the crowd can feel that, when that’s there.

Dom Romeo: I had no idea when you were gonna stop disrobing or how that was going to play with the rest of the show.

ANDREW NORELLI: But truthfully, I was also very hot up there. Which is why I do not wear a sport coat, because I really don’t like it. I actually like to be in loose, light clothing on stage. You saw how I move around: it feels better.

MIKE VECCHIONE: Speaking of the monotony and ‘keeping it fresh’, I think that’s what forces us to write a lot of the time: you get tired of the material. I know sometimes when I do it, I’m like, ‘I can’t do this material anymore; it works, and it’s great, but I’m tired of doing it!’ That kind of forces you into a box where you have to sit down and write new material, or at least play with it and try to manipulate it so that it works and that’s how you come up with new material. ‘I have to do something new just so that I feel alive and fresh on stage!’

Dom Romeo: Mike, as you say, you write a lot of gags, and it was rapid-fire gagging, but the persona you bring out in that – talking about scary cops with short-man syndrome – and you mock-intimidate the audience – or just members of the audience up the front, making them uncomfortable, and us in the process. But what I notice is a lot of your material seems to consist of dichotomies – the cops and the citizens; environmentalists and the people who have no interest in maintaining the environment; the vegetarian and the carnivore… where does that come from?

MIKE VECCHIONE: I never really thought about it, but I guess it’s true. I’m more of a writing-based guy. I’m trying to improve more by connecting with the crowd and allowing emotion to come into it more-or-less, in addition to the writing. We’re always trying to catch that balance between good writing and being a performer in the moment – being authentic. That’s really what we’re striving for.

Dom Romeo: One thing I find interesting, Andrew, is that during your set, you mentioned Australia differs from Europe because we don’t hate Americans; I don’t know if that, strictly speaking, is true… you’ve clearly not heard of the term ‘seppo’, which is slang for American. ‘Seppo’ is short for ‘septic tank’, which is rhyming slang for ‘Yank’.

ANDREW NORELLI: I hate those rhyming slurs – those are the worst!

Dom Romeo: Because you never know what they actually mean?

ANDREW NORELLI: That means somebody put extra thought into it to insult you, when they rhyme.

This is part of the problem with me being sort of an ‘improvised’ or ‘off-the-cuff’ comic, because sometimes I word things a little inaccurately. What I think I meant to say more there was that Australians don’t seem to have a superiority complex over Americans, whereas Europeans do, and sometimes rightfully so: they tend to be more well-read, they tend to be more well-rounded, they tend to be more cultured, and they’ve explored more.

Dom Romeo: That was a great point, the journey – but what was interesting about you saying that was that it reminded me of Mike’s set that I’d just seen, because what he does is play up some of the scarier aspects of American persona – ‘redneck America’, as we see it from there. In fact cops in general feature prominently in your material.

MIKE VECCHIONE: My thing – and I didn’t know if it was gonna work over here, but it did – was to try and get a rapport with the audience by being a little self-deprecating. Because I do look cocky, by being self-deprecating, it forces a rapport with the audience and I can take them where I want to go.

Dom Romeo: Once we trust you, you can. Whereas, if you hadn’t won us over, we may have remained truly afraid or disgusted when you do your disturbing, insinuating humour. Which is humour, unless we can’t see the joke, in which case it’s drama.

Now, as you hadn’t worked together before, did you draw straws or flip a coin? Who decided who’d go on first?

MIKE VECCHIONE: We sat down and had a talk about references and what was going to relate and what wasn’t. For me, I was just trying this stuff to see what worked and what references they got and what they didn’t – it was like ‘trial by fire’. But because Andrew had been here already and new what to expect, and I had never been here before, he graciously said, ‘if you want to go first, you can’. I was like, ‘very cool; I appreciate it’. It was easier for me, just to test the waters and see – and I watched the opening acts too – to test the waters and see what they got. I hope the rest of the run goes like that because they got everything. I couldn’t ask for a better crowd, to be honest.

ANDREW NORELLI: I totally agree! I’ve performed a lot in Sydney and the crowds at the Comedy Store are incredibly receptive. They want to laugh, they want to be opened. That’s a great feeling, because when a crowd is sceptical, there’s nothing worse. You can’t really make someone laugh who doesn’t want to. They have to want to.

We’re gonna flip-flop for the rest of the week. I think the hard part is going last, because the crowd has been there … last night they were there for nearly two hours. That’s the hard part: you’re following all these hilarious people and you have to come on last and say, ‘oh, here’s a little something extra’.

Dom Romeo: Last night was brilliant, but you would have an easier job had there not been so much good comedy before you. They audience loved you, but they would have been even more demonstrative of that had you not had to follow other good comics. If someone had stunk before you, they would have loved you even more.

I’m glad you’re going to alternate it, though – find out whether there’s a set order that works better or continue to alternate it.

ANDREW NORELLI: Headlining shows in the States, we are both aware that that is the downfall: you are following a lot of funny comics, and the crowd sometimes has a breaking point, where they’re just tired now. It’s not uncommon.

Dom Romeo: The other thing that really worked for you was use of local references – that were spot-on. It didn’t feel like you’d just changed that place name to this, or that phenomenon to this or that company to this, you actually picked the ones that made the best sense, and so were most funny. In fact I’m surprised that you’ve only been to Australia once before.

ANDREW NORELLI: Well when I was here before I did about 12 or 13 shows. You learn real quick. Not only did I learn, I also did stuff while I was here. I went around, I experienced things, I talked to people, I saw stuff. So I was able to understand the references that I’m making.

MIKE VECCHIONE: I was surprised. I knew the audience was going to be smart, but it’s in terms of what’s in their frame of reference. I was surprised so much was in their frame of reference, to be honest. I have jokes, but then they’re tagged a bunch of times at the end. For the joke to hit, and then all the tags to hit, the way that it was written, was really surprising. I just hope that that continues the rest of the week. That’s a good sign for me. I’m going to try to do some Australian stuff while I’m here because it’s fun. But as far as comfort level on stage, I felt very, very comfortable. Even going back-and-forth with the heckler, I felt very, very comfortable and felt the support of the crowd.

Dom Romeo: The heckler was interesting. He was vocal a few times throughout the night and he did undercut a great routine of yours, Mike, but you dealt with it very well. You didn’t lose your cool, and you made it funnier.

MIKE VECCHIONE: He was kind of trying to say that I stole some material for my show – which I wasn’t really aware of – so I just tried to handle it as diplomatically as possible in a joking way. Realistically, I have to check the reference out. What I was saying to him on stage wasn’t a lie, and if it’s too close to that television show, I’ll cut it or I’ll change it so it’s not like that anymore.

Dom Romeo: Are you always able to handle hecklers so well?

MIKE VECCHIONE: It depends. That guy was trying to be a little bit dicky, but he wasn’t a mean-spirited guy. If he was mean-spirited he would have kept after it and kept on me about it and we could have dialogued out of it. I saw him trying to undercut me but I didn’t see him as real mean-spirited.

Actually the worst kind of hecklers are the ones just yelling shit and making noises you can’t even respond to. If you’re making a statement I can at least respond to it and we can go back-and-forth. But if you’re making noises in the back and I can’t tell who’s doing it or what it is, it’s hard to defend against that.

Dom Romeo: He struck me as a comedy nerd, and I mean that in a nice way; he knows a lot of comedy for him to be able to go, ‘this reminds me of that’. He was showing off, but he didn’t seem to be malicious – only that he was a bit keen to be part of the comedy event, I felt.

MIKE VECCHIONE: I believe that’s exactly what it was. He was trying to undercut it just enough to let us know that he knew about comedy but he wasn’t trying to be real, real malicious with it.

Dom Romeo: How do you deal with hecklers, Andrew? Do you get them?

ANDREW NORELLI: That’s a part of comedy because any time there’s alcohol involved, there’s going to be behaviour that’s immature. I mean, that’s just a fact. The funny thing is the crowd seems to think that you’re highly skilled if you can shut down a heckler, and as comedians – at least from what I’ve gathered from my peers – we don’t care. We don’t put stock in a comic if you can shut down a heckler or not. That’s completely separate from being impressed by a comedian’s ability to ‘riff’. ‘Riffing’ is completely different. That is a nice skill when someone is able to interact with the audience and come up with clever things. But that is a different dynamic than someone shouting something derogatory or mean or intrusive and you topping what they said. That is a skill comedians don’t care about, and frankly, it’s irrelevant. Because the really good stuff in comedy like television appearances and appearances at big festivals like Montreal – there is no heckling. It doesn’t exist. So you’re honing a skill that is less and less relevant the better your career is.

Dom Romeo: I’ve never heard that take on it. It’s so true. And riffing is a different thing – although depending where you are, sometimes riffing with someone does make them a bit more cocky, and they do start interrupting more than they should, and then you need to shut them down.

ANDREW NORELLI: Right. Riffing can promote heckling. That’s part of the art of riffing: how do you riff without encouraging heckling? But the problem is, if the crowd realised there is a difference between riffing and heckling, they wouldn’t let riffing lead to heckling, because hey would realise sometimes you are just interacting with the crowd: you just want to see who they are, you want to talk, you want to come up with something clever in the moment.

Dom Romeo: That’s great – really, what happens is, it’s up to the comedian on stage to maintain control, it’s the comedian’s job to go, ‘this is going too far now’ – not by actually saying those words unless they need to be said – but to know when, ‘all right, I’ve given this person too much attention, we need to move on; I’ve got the microphone, I need to continue to be in control’. And I assume the ability to do that comes from just getting good at what you do.

ANDREW NORELLI: Yeah, it is. That’s just from doing it. And it can be hard because the crowd has this romanticising notion of heckling in their mind as a contest between the comic and crowd. We don’t see it that way. It’s not a contest to us, so believe me, if we ‘lose it’, we don’t care. No one cares. The industry doesn’t care, producers and agents don’t care, other comics don’t care. They care about ‘How good a comedian are you? What is your material? How smart, clever and original is your material?’

Dom Romeo: And there is a point where if the heckler doesn’t shut up, the audience turns on them as well. And then the management comes and ejects them if they still don’t stop. One would hope. If it’s a good venue.

To be honest, if I was a dickhead heckler who wouldn’t shut up, I’d heckle you more readily, Andrew, because you, Mike, look far more capable of snapping my neck with minimal effort.

MIKE VECCHIONE: When it gets to that point, it’s time to let the club step in, if it becomes a violent confrontation. I try to never let it become mean. We’ve all seen the situation when either the heckler was being mean-spirited, or the comic was being mean-spirited and then it just becomes like a pissing contest, and that’s just not fun for anybody involved. You want to just weather it, and then maybe hit ’em, and then you want to just continue doing your material and making it as entertaining on possible if that happens on stage. Unless you’re an ‘insult’ comic, you don’t want that to happen. But if it does, you have to have the skill to be able to deal with it.

Dom Romeo: Speaking of ‘insult’ comic – early in your routine, I thought you were that kind of comic – only you break out of character to show that was the joke. Then you break out of that character, to show that breaking out of character to make the first insult ‘just a joke’, was also, just a joke, so we never really know. But your staying in control reminds us that you’re the comic, this is happening on stage, and we have nothing to fear. That’s me over-analysing it; what’s it like for you on the stage at the time?

MIKE VECCHIONE: It’s a live performance, so it’s all about getting that rapport with the crowd – going into the crowd, going into the crowd – the two girls in the front, calling them ‘baby  chickens’ and stuff and then coming back, and then doing material, and then referencing them once in a while just to get a laugh. You’re going in and out just as a live performance. You’re bringing them into your world a little bit, I feel, by going out, but not basing my whole act on it. Going out and grabbing them to bring them in a little bit and then joke, joke, joke, joke, joke, and then back out to bring them in a little bit more so it’s really trying to pull them in, is the goal.

Dom Romeo: And as they’re in the front row, you can see them from where you’re standing. You can see if they’re getting a little uncomfortable – so you’d know if you’d need to tone it down or let ’em off the hook or turn it up, if that’s what’s needed.

MIKE VECCHIONE: That’s what I like about that venue: it’s very intimate. It’s an intimate venue as opposed to a theatre or a huge stage where you can’t see them. It’s intimate and you can see them. I like that better because it fosters a better rapport between comic and crowd.

Dom Romeo: Andrew, you actually played with the same two girls down the front, but you did something different with them. Whereas Michael was doing the intimidatory shtick verbally, you did it physically, pointing out that they looked uncomfortable and then acted it out on stage by getting into the corner and looking uncomfortable. It was interesting, getting different takes of the same situation.

ANDREW NORELLI: Yeah. It’s hard for me to even explain that. I don’t know. That’s just what I felt in that moment.

Dom Romeo: That’s the beauty of comedy: why should you explain it? You did it and it was funny.

ANDREW NORELLI: Right. And I wanted to ask them a couple of questions, so maybe that was my way of letting them know I was about to talk to them and ask her a question, she answered, which is what you want, if you’re riffing. I wanted to ask them questions, so I did, and she answered. She answered quickly and honestly. Which is the best thing that can happen. It’s the worst when you’re really asking them a sincere question and they think you’re messing around or something. So maybe that’s why I did: to make them comfortable real quick, so that I could ask them a couple of questions.

Suddenly the atmosphere is broken by the foolish sound of ‘Wackety Sax’, the theme to The Benny Hill show. It’s my mobile phone ringing.

ANDREW NORELLI: I like that ring!

I take the call, but keep it short.

Dom Romeo: Sorry about that. I have a cousin visiting from southern Italy and that was my mother telling me where they’ll be in case I can meet up with them after the interview. Sorry about that.

ANDREW NORELLI: We came from America. That’s just as far. So you need to spend time with us! We’re probably distant cousins. We’re from Italy, too.

Dom Romeo: What ever you do on stage tonight, don’t for a second stop to think about it like I’ve made you do right now – just do it.

ANDREW NORELLI: I would never let anything you say deter anything I would do on stage. No offense.

Dom Romeo: None taken!

Mike Vecchione and Andrew Norelli are at the Comedy Store until August 1st.

Neil Delamere’s Flights of Fancy

Neil Delamere Bookmarks_blue

‘Delamere’ is a Norman name. Neil Delamere knew this. His sixth grade classmates didn’t. His teacher chose to inform them in the process of teaching the class about the Norman invasion.

“The teacher linked England and 800 years of misery, death, famine and oppression to the Norman invasion and then added, ‘Neil is Norman’,” the comic explains. “Ding, ding, ding, ding… break time!

“We went out and I got battered – absolutely battered. It was the Irish families versus the Norman families. Me and one guy called Steven Prendergast got the crap kicked out of us by the Dunns, the O’Kellies, the O’Sullivans, the Moores… the fact that the Cappuccis joined in was a bit of a disgrace, to be honest with you. They owned the chippy; he was hitting me with a cornetto, the Cappucci lad was!”

I had no idea Irish comic Neil Delamere was of Norman descent, and it’s hardly the most vital biographical detail to arm yourself with when going to interview him. Neil is in Sydney to present Crème Delamere, his most recent festival show, at the Comedy Store for two weeks, but good luck trying to find out anything substantial about him to take to the interview. There’s precious little on offer on-line. Or at least, that’s the case before I meet him: neither the ‘Neil Delamere’ Wikipedia entry nor his homepage have much detail, the homepage bio still refering to Delamere’s 2007 Edinburgh Fringe show as his most recent. Which is almost grounds for embarrassment, the surprisingly soft-spoken comic reveals when I meet him face-to-face. True to his description ‘banter bomb’ (as dubbed by The Scotsman) we have a long, entertaining and effortless chat – as you might surmise from the amount of text that follows. Thankfully, the handful of stand-up comedy and chat show clips available on-line reveal enough to get us started.

For example, there’s the set Neil delivered at the 2008 New Zealand Comedy Festival Gala, where he opens by explaining he’s from “the southern part, not the scary Northern part” of Ireland, and in so doing, demonstrates the mischievous and cheeky streak he brings to the world around him. He notes that New Zealand public transport is “the opposite” of his girlfriend: “this bus kneels on request,” he quotes. He marvels at the kauri, a species of tree native to New Zealand and famed for its longevity, that he longs to touch. “It’d be brilliant – just rubbing up against 2000-year-old wood. Like Catherine Zeta-Jones does.” But it’s his cute observation, that it takes “an awful long time” to get to this part of the world, that will prove  the best point of departure, so to speak:

I left my house on Monday; I got here on Wednesday. Two days just f*cked off! Don’t know where they went. It was like being Jesus at Easter. He wasn’t crucified – he just flew to Auckland.

© Neil Delamere

While it’s nice to see the Easter references emerging in his humour – suggesting a religious upbringing – I like it most because Neil’s surname, ‘Delamere’, is French for ‘of the sea’; this international visitor is clearly descended from international visitors. As we sit before a not-quite-roaring open fire – a gas flame in the fireplace – in the hotel foyer that clearly once was the drawing room of a fine and stately home – the perfect place to interview a visiting Irish comic – I put it to Neil Delamere that he “comes from a long line of travellers”.

“That could mean anything!” Neil laughs, not revealing whether I’ve somehow suggested he’s a bastard, or implied some other insult. There is an entirely different tale of lineage and bastardry to relate, it turns out. ‘Delamere’ is, indeed, French, and does mean ‘of the sea’, and “the fact the Delameres moved to the midlands – the only landlocked part of Ireland,” Neil explains, “suggests an awful lot about the lazy branch of the family from which I am descended.”

It is at this point that he tells me the name is in fact of Norman origin, as he always knew, but as his teacher only revealed to his classmates when it could do the most damage – bastard! That the chippy-owning Cappuccis joined in to go him with a cornetto is particularly insulting, since the Cappuccis and Delameres may well have been neighbours in the ‘old country’; the Normans did colonise the southern half of what is now Italy, as well as the islands off its coast. But that’s by-the-by. Turns out the Normans were originally Vikings – which Neil again knows a great deal about, since his 2007 Edinburgh Fringe offering was The Viking Show. “My mother’s side were Vikings, as well,” he says, “so technically, I am 100 percent Viking – although I don’t look it, to be honest.”

Well… okay, Neil Delamere is not tall and lanky, but he is at least a bloodnut – a common Viking trait. It’s an alternate explanation for why the ranga gene is common amongst the Irish – the other being that they are one of the Lost Tribes of Israel.

What did he say about his mother?

I’m glad Neil brought up his Mam. As mentioned, there is a dearth of biographical detail available regarding Neil Delamere on-line. According to the Wikipedia entry, he was born “circa 1980”. Wha? ‘Around 1980’? Either side, give-or-take? That’s an unfeasibly long labour – which, let’s face it, given Viking lineage, Neil’s poor Ma may well have been equipped to endure. Or Neil is being coy about his date of birth.

“No,” Neil says, “there’s no coyness. I’m 30.”

The reason there’s not been much of Neil Delamere on-line, the comic confesses, is because “I’m really lazy with my website – which is kind of ironic considering my degree was…”

“That’s another thing!” I interupt before he can finish. The Wikipedia entry says he “completed a degree”. No specifications. “What degree? Where from? It could have been purchased off…”

“No,” Neil interupts me this time. “It’s from Dublin City University. And I’ll tell you how I can prove it…”

Turns out, Dublin City University – Ireland’s self-proclaimed “most innovative” university – is now producing bookmarks. Neil discovered this while visiting his alma mater. But that’s not the most innovative bit. They feature photos of the institution’s more impressive alumni – or, in Neil’s modest words, “people who are meant to have a bit of a profile”. So, along with Matt Cooper, one of Ireland’s leading broadcasters and journalists, and Jamie Heaslip, who plays No. 8 with the British and Irish Lions rugby squad, you can find Neil Delamere’s “stupid face” (his words) peeking over the top of book pages. Of course, like any good comic should, he does material about this find. “The new Edinburgh show is called Bookmarks,” he announces.

So Neil Delamere attended Dublin City University where – get this – he completed a degree in Computer Applications. That’s the irony of his rather meager homepage. Since graduating, Neil’s “gone the other way” and become a “luddite”, more-or-less: “I still enjoy gadgets but I have no interest in geekiness,”  he says. Unlike Neil’s older brother, who completed the same degree. “Now he’s earning millions from IT and I’m doing this. I feel like Dannii Minogue!”


Offaly nice place to visit… by mistake

Neil’s branch of the Delamere clan comes from a small town called Edenderry, in County Offaly, virtually slap-bang in the centre of Ireland. As fitting as it may sound that marauding Norman invaders might settle in a place named after offal, Neil explains that ‘Offaly’ is actually an English corruption of ‘Uí Failghe’ – pronounced something like ‘ee-VOLE-ya’ – which means ‘land of the Failghe’. This is the original kingdom that occupied what is now Ireland, before said marauding Normans invaded. That the county takes its name from the land’s earliest known inhabitants suggests that it is steeped in history, and indeed it is. But the other way of looking at it, Neil points out, is that “the midlands of any country is the place time forgets”, producing “odd places and great characters”. He cites England – “always a bit odd in the middle” – Ireland, and even Australia, whose middle includes the likes of “Alice Springs, the Nullarbor and all that sort of nothingness”. According to Delamere – (‘of the sea’, remember) – “most people are drawn to and hang around coasts, and the ones who go further inland are the people who kind of look at you with a twitch.”

Historically, what is now County Offaly once included Clonmacnoise (I’m not even going to attempt to spell it phonetically!), a monastery whose monks kept learning alive while barbarians destroyed Europe during the First Millennium. Offaly’s more recent past has not proven so spectacular. “If you name the year, I can name the tourists,” Neil boasts, offering an example: “1994 was Jans and Ulrich, two lovely lads who grossly underestimated the cycle to Galway, and ended up in Edenderry.”

If two lost tourists are the highlight of your calendar year, there can’t be a lot to do in your small country town in your landlocked county. At least Neil had the influence of two brothers – one ten years older, the other seven – to broaden his horizons. They essentially introduced him to comedy.

“I’d be watching Blackadder when I was 12 or 13, and Cheers and MASH…” Neil recalls. When stand-up became popular enough to feature on BBC television, he was exposed to the work of Tommy Tiernan hosting The Stand-up Show. Ardal O’Hanlon (Father Ted, My Hero) was hosting by the time the likes of Tommy Tiernan and Dylan Moran were winning the Perrier Award for Best Show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (1998 and 1996, respectively). “So,” says Neil, “it was put in my head that ‘these are the lads who could do this sort of stuff and they’re from roughly the same background as you’.” Thus, he figured, he might as well give it a go. “I did it once in a bar and just kind of kept doing it. But didn’t do it until I left college – I was 21 or 22.”

Havin’ a laugh

That was in 2001. International success wasn’t too long in coming. In 2004 Neil Delamere was invited to play the Montreal Just For Laughs Comedy Festival, featuring in a related television show at the same time. “Somebody saw me and got me to do The Panel,” he says. Oh yes, Working Dog sold the format of The Panel to other countries, and Ireland’s version features Neil Delamere as a regular panellist as well as, in more recent years, host. He works a treat on it, as YouTube clips demonstrate. He’s so natural that it’s hard to tell if he’s pulling in pre-existing bits of stand-up where relevant, or is very good at making with the funny business on the fly. Neil insists he rarely resorts to doing pre-existing ‘material’.

“The great thing about The Panel is you’re on with four other people and we make each other laugh. We’re not good enough actors to fake that, to be honest with you. So what happens is, when you see one of us laughing at the other person’s jokes, it’s genuine and spontaneous.”

This is, of course, ground that would have been covered when the local version of The Panel hit big – and is probably asked of every humorous topical game or chat show: how much is spontaneous and how much is rehearsed? “There is no rehearsal whatsoever in the show that we do,” Neil explains. Of course everyone’s pretty much going to know what the main stories up for discussion are each week; working comedians would have written gags about them or immediately seen a funny side of them anyway – that’s what comedians do. I reckon if you put the same people from The Panel in each other’s company in, say, a pub, they’d have virtually the same discussion, and Neil agrees – adding you’d probably have to record the entire conversation over the course of the night and then “cut it down to the funniest 50 minutes.” But that’s the greatest compliment to the show – that feels as though it’s a bunch of mates – even you and your mates – having a bit of a yack at the pub.

“The lack of contrivance is the aim of all stand-up,” Neil reckons, but it’s also “one of the problems of stand-up”: when you make it look like uncontrived “talking off the top of your head” – as the best stand-up should – “the lines are blurred”. Nobody would heckle a play; they can’t heckle the telly. But they heckle at stand-up because “it’s like talking to you in a pub!”

This raises an important issue every comic must face: not every heckler is trying to be disruptive and some heckles actually contribute to the performance, giving the comic something new to react to and build on. But if you encourage it, it may become ‘open slather’ for the audience and then detract from the show. Where do you draw the line? How do you ensure it adds to the audience experience?

“You have to take each heckle as it comes,” Neil acknowledges. “There are myriad reasons why someone would heckle. Each one has to be dealt with on its own merits.” Pause. “And I have a hammer…”. We both laugh at the tag. “No, I don’t, I don’t,” Neil reassures me. “But it would be good if I did, though, wouldn’t it!”

The way the cookies crumble

You wouldn’t expect it of a so-called ‘topical’ comedy panel show, but old episodes of Irish Panel are be hilarious. At least, the bits that make it to YouTube are. There’s a clip that features the discussion arising from an expensive biscuit company wanting to sue a budget biscuit company whose packaging is, they argue, indistinguishable. Neil, as host, reminds the other panellists of the time when cheap brands actually looked cheap, because, he says, “poor people needed to be reminded that they were poor. Big military writing: ‘YOU ARE POOR!’”

Nowadays, I guess, printing is affordable enough that the so-called cheap brands can look expensive – and your parents always would argue that they tasted the same anyway, so why pay more money for the ‘prestige’ product? Because, Neil argues, “if your mates caught you with that” in the supermarket, they’d tease you mercilessly: “HA HA HA HA HA! Yellow Pack! Vincent de Paul! Vincent de Paul!”

Since the cheap stuff is virtually indistinguishable from the expensive, there has been a shift that coincides with Ireland’s fortunes. “Ireland was one of the richest countries in the world in the last ten years,” Neil acknowledges, “all based on a house of cards, really. But we went through this period of being loaded and lovin’ it. Lovin’ it! We completely lost our inferiority complex with Britain because it’s a lot easier to take a derogatory joke from somebody if you know deep down you can afford to have them killed. But now we’ve gone back the other way and it’s become genuinely fashionable to be thrifty again, so we’re all going back to those days and buying ‘home brand’ stuff.”

One other thing that may change back to how it was, now that Ireland is less well off, is a massive and groundbreaking tax incentive called The Artists Exemption. For a time, creative types who contributed to the cultural life of Ireland were granted tax breaks so significant that it was in the best interest for talented people like U2, say, to stay put, and inject their massive earnings back into the local economy, rather than going, as English performers were wont do, into tax exile. But it was such a good tax break that people like Van Morrison – from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and therefore part of the UK rather than the Republic of Ireland – and Elvis Costello – a Liverpudlian with Irish heritage that he conveniently rediscovered – moved to Ireland to make the most of it. The Artist Exemption was introduced in the ’80s by then-Prime Minister – or ‘Taoiseach’, as it’s called (pronounced something like ‘TEE-shock’) – Charlie Haughey, Neil explains.

“It was for struggling artists – your guys writing books or self-publishing poems, sculptors or artists or whatever. But they didn’t think to cap it, so you had people like Frederick Forsyth and Lisa Stansfield moving over.”

Lisa Stansfield, eh? She’d been around the world, and she, she, she – decided Ireland was the most lucrative place to be. Eventually, The Artists Exemption was capped at €250,000 – at which point U2 started moving their holdings to The Netherlands.

“There was a lot of controversy over that,” according to Neil. “Bono on one hand saying, ‘give your money to the poor and make poverty history’, meanwhile moving most of U2’s business holdings to a foreign country.” Question is, does such an exemption aid comics? Do government officials consider comedians as creators of art, contributing to the social life of their country?

“We absolutely do!” Neil insists. “The trouble is that it’s very hard to prove that it’s original material and it’s very hard to hand something to the taxman. If you write a book, you can hand him the book; if you write a script, you can hand him the script; if you write an album, you can hand him the album. It’s quite difficult to hand him your set of jokes. It’s weird, because it’s only on the writing of stuff, it’s not on the actual performing, so it’s complicated. I think it’s a great idea, but I would say that in six months, it’ll be gone, because we are poor again.”

Well then, Neil Delamere, you have six months to record, release and hand to the taxman a DVD of your work, I offer. To which he replies, “the DVD is already recorded – the second one. It’s coming out in early November.”

Neil’s first DVD, No Message was released in 2007 and went platinum – “in Ireland, that’s 14 DVDs, so all the family bought it” – but he has no idea where it’s available, and he hasn’t smuggled any into Australia to make some sly, tax-free spending money. “Once you release it, you kind of forget about it,” Neil explains. “I’m sure you could order it from somewhere.” Pause. “I’m the worst salesman in the world! ‘I’m sure you can get it somewhere…’ Jesus!” 

Back downunder

Neil’s success as a stand-up comic grew with the success of The Panel, enabling him to tour off the back of the show. It’s also meant that he could return to Edinburgh Fringe with a bigger profile, and has been doing so over the last few years, as well as record and release DVDs. For local audiences, it’s meant he’s had a big enough profile to justify doing a show at this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and returning to Australia now for his two-week residency at the Comedy Store. But just as this year’s Comedy Festival turn wasn’t his first, this current stint at the Store isn’t his first visit to Sydney.

“I was here four or five years ago and probably did three or four gigs around Sydney, but people wouldn’t even remember,” Neil says. “That year we did the Fringe Festival in Adelaide, and then did a mini tour around places like Ayr, Townsville and Mount Isa.”

Mount Isa, eh? I had a friend in Mount Isa who, if you named the year, could probably tell you which comics toured, maybe even which ones misjudged their Georgetown cycling holiday.

“It was kind of strange, but a brilliant craic, I have to say,” the comic fondly recalls. “It was a ‘Best of Irish’ compilation show, which is amazing: you can put them on anywhere and people will go to see them, for some reason.” The reason is, as Neil says of that tour, and I’d say of this conversation, because it’s kind of strange, but a brilliant craic!

Lord of the flights

Seeing as we started our chat with long-haul flights, it’s fitting we should end with them. Neil flew to Australia this time with Air Etihad, a carrier he “can’t recommend enough” because they fly direct from Ireland. Which makes the most difference heading home.

“We always used to have to go through London, and there’s nothing worse than being on a plane for 24 hours and then realising you’re not home yet – that it’s going to be another four hours before you’re home!”

I’d agree, but before I’ve had time to, Neil considers what he’s just said. “When I say, ‘nothing worse’, I mean, obviously, crucifixion is pretty rough; and mutilation is pretty bad, as well. But four or five hours when you’re stuck in London…”

I’m wondering if it’s all down to a matter of those final hours, though. I’d heard Neil had been banned by Ireland’s low-cost airline – the ‘yellow label’ of flight, if you will – Ryanair.

“Well, that might be a slight exaggeration,” Neil says of the story. “I certainly did a gig with Michael O’Leary, who’s the Chief Executive Officer of Ryan Air, and I may, perchance, have slagged him off in front of 700 people…”

It was a corporate gig that Neil was MCing and the organisers had gone to great pains to point out that keynote speaker Michael O’Leary, “worth half a billion Euro”, was doing the gig for free. “Please don’t mess with his introduction,” they begged, and Neil, of course, promised he wouldn’t. But he was lying.

“I had no intention of agreeing,” he confesses. “I thought, ‘I’m never going to get this opportunity again’.” So he introduced Michael O’Leary:

“In 1987, Ryanair ferried 5000 passengers across Europe; in 2007 they carried 50 million passengers across Europe. Of those 50 million, 10 million got to the country they originally booked for, and some got their bags back. Ladies and gentlemen… Michael O’Leary!”

Naturally, O’Leary took the stage and started slagging off his MC. So when Neil returned to the stage after him, he gave O’Leary “dog’s abuse! It was dog’s abuse!” The best bit was when Neil produced a paper aeroplane, and said, “I’d like to symbolically represent a Ryanair flight right now. If you can just imagine that corner to my right over there is the country you actually want to get to – watch!”

And then 700 people watched Neil Delamere turn and throw the paper aeroplane in the opposite direction. The crowd loved it. Michael O’Leary leant over and said, “It’s good to go last, isn’t!” to which Neil replied, “Yes it is!”

For Neil, it was an opportunity to be funny with a well-known identity. “I thought, you’re never gonna get this opportunity again’. It was an odd gig; it was very loud. But as he was the keynote speaker and I was the MC, I knew he would be the one whose introduction I would listen to, so I took the opportunity to get the few lines in there and just kind of slag him off a bit.”

So there is a conclusion you can draw, as to why Neil Delamere may avoid flying Ryanair nowadays. “I had a horrible feeling, the next time I took a Ryanair flight,” Neil concurs, “that as I walk up to the counter I’d see the guy reach under for a silent alarm and dogs would bound up and rip my testicles off. But that only happened once…”

Time to go

Our own craic has run its course. Neil’s got a gig in a few hours, and since he only touched down in the country five hours earlier, it’d be nice if I let him rest. But I’m quite amazed that he’s awake and so lucid.

“No,” Neil corrects me, “I’m actually asleep. This is entirely a dream. I’ll have no recollection of this conversation in about 20 minutes.”

Neil Delamere is at the Comedy Store until Sat July 18


Some YouTube Clips:

2008 New Zealand International Comedy Festival Gala clip

The Panel McVities v Jacobs clip

The Gauss* on Shane Mauss
(*pronounced ‘goss’)


People frequently ask my opinion about comedy – often wanting to know if there’s “anyone new they should know about”. At the moment, my answer is Shane Mauss (pronounced ‘moss’). He’s a young-looking guy who’s been doing stand-up for about five years, who made the breakthrough relatively early in his career. He’s been on Conan O’Brien three times now, which is unprecedented for such a relative newbie. But when you see his material, you’ll understand why he’s doing so well.

His style makes much use of the ‘reveal’ gag. You know, like in cinema: the close-up or angle makes you think you’re looking at one thing, but after the camera pulls back or changes perspective, you see it’s something different. In comedy, the disjunction between what you thought, and what it is, produces the humour; how well it’s pulled off determines how much.

The thing with Shane is, the ‘reveals’ are so sophisticated. The twist can be a complete about-face. The initial set-up might have you ready to be offended or angered, but the punchline reveals your own folly, your own prejudice, your own preconceptions – and the relief of being shown that mistake creates an even bigger laugh. But make no mistake: the set-up – the bit that makes you jump to a conclusion in the first place – is as clever as the punchline. It is expert misdirection.

At this juncture, I usually have to offer an example to the person who asked, to illustrate both my point and Mauss’s brilliance. I don’t mind quoting the first joke I ever saw him do. It’s on-line, in one of his Conan O’Brien clips, and he opened with it on his Australian debut, at Sydney’s Original Comedy Store. It goes something like this:

I came up with a great idea the other day. I think I’m gonna be rich. I’ve designed a bumper sticker that just says, ‘I am a child molester’.

(C) Shane Mauss

I’m sorry if I don’t quite capture Shane’s on-stage delivery. His pace is slightly slow, as though he might be – whisper it – a little retarded. It suits his material, since the cleverness appears even cleverer to you when there’s something encouraging you to not expect it.

But all of this is by-the-by, because the person I’ve repeated the joke to invariably reacts the same way I did when I first heard it. It’s the same way the Conan O’Brien audience mostly reacts, the same way the Comedy Store audience reacted, and the same way you reacted reading the set-up: with confused silence. Perhaps the slightest smattering of uncomfortable laughter. In your head, you’re going, “Huh? Who’d buy that? How would you sell it? How could you possibly make money?”

Part of the ‘problem’ for the audience is that it seems as though ‘scheme to get rich’ is the set-up, and ‘sticker saying I’m a child molester’ is the punchline. It isn’t. There’s a real punchline coming, but in the brief pause, you’ve also had time to move on to “How is this even funny? I may even be a bit offended by this…”. While you may or may not be thinking all of this, you’re still in the process of not having found the first bit funny when Shane speaks up:

Maybe I should explain about the bumper sticker. You don’t put it on your car… that’d be stupid.

(C) Shane Mauss

A roar of laughter washes like a wave over the audience. If I’m re-telling the joke to someone, my delivery of Mauss’s actual punchline has the same effect.

What’s in a name?

Shane’s material is all of that quality, often challenging you time and again to see stuff differently by forcing you to at least consider the option of seeing how you saw it in the first place. If I’m making you uncomfortable by forcing you to think about comedy too much, rest assured, the most important aspect of Shane’s work holds true: he makes you laugh a lot out loud.

As I join Shane for brunch the morning after his Comedy Store debut, it seems too early to start with such a high-falutin’ approach to the art of comedy, even if he has been interviewed live on air already. I’m content to begin with a more base level of journalism. “What’s with the weird spelling of your surname?!” I demand.

“I have no idea,” Shane says, admitting that people “have a lot of trouble” with it being pronounced ‘moss’ and spelled ‘M – A – U – S – S’. But mostly, he confesses, their trouble is down to him “messing” with them. His explanation:

“It’s like ‘mouse’, except the ‘O’ is an ‘A’ and then the ‘E’ is an ‘S’. I mean, ‘Mauss’…” – (pronounced ‘moss’) – “… How easy do I have to make it for ya? It’s like ‘hippopotamus’: you just flip the ‘M’ and the ‘A’ around, take the ‘hippopot’, that’s an ‘S’ now, we’re gonna flip it around to the end: ‘Mauss’…” – (again, pronounced ‘moss’) – “…Easy-peasy!”

Clearly, Shane’s faced this line of questioning before.

People’s inability to pronounce his name can come in handy though, he adds. “I always knew when the bill collectors were calling, because they’d be like, ‘is Mr Shane May-ay-you-ouse there?’ I’d be, ‘No, he’s not here right now. He says he’ll pay you next month’.”

However, it can pose a bit of a problem when it comes to marketing and promoting. Imagine this were a radio interview rather than a written one – you’d hear me talk up ‘Shane Moss’ and you’d go to google the name as you heard it. Google’s not so likely to ask, ‘Did you mean Shane Mauss?’ But someone doing comedy as clever as Shane’s is going to have thought that one through. He not only opts for addresses utilising the name ‘shanecomedy’ (easier to hit if you google ‘shane moss comedy’) but his little blurb at the top of his MySpace page says, “Did you spell my name ‘Shane Moss’? You still found me! Hooray!!!” That’s so all the people who search on-line for ‘shane moss’ still end up at Very clever indeed.

But he not only admits it’s a “screwy last name”, he also confesses that he’s “heard the strangest thing” about its derivation. Apparently, Shane’s ancestors were Jewish and their surname was “‘Moshe’, or something like that”. The name was changed as a result of land ownership issues. “They just made up some different spelling so people wouldn’t know that they were Jewish!” Shane reports. “I have a hard time with blond hair and blue eyes believing that any of my ancestors were Jewish.”

250px-Maus I can’t help being reminded of Art Spiegelman’s excellent graphic novel adaptation of the Holocaust, Maus, in which Jews are depicted as mice, Hitler’s Nazis, as cats, but Shane is unfamiliar with it. “I don’t read,” he says. “I write. And then I read my own writing, which means I’m dumb, because I never learn anything because I never learn any new words…”

Wow. Turns out I’m brunching with the cleverest dumb-dumb I’ve ever met! But I can’t decide whether Shane’s comedy – the way it’s constructed – is a result of him being able to interpret things differently because he isn’t much of a reader, or if whatever it is that motivates him to avoid reading is a result of whatever it is that also makes him interpret life – and construct jokes around it – differently.

“I’ve never been into the same things as other people,” Shane says. “I never took the common educational system seriously. I learn things on my own.” Rather than reading books, he prefers to spend time “on Wikipedia” and the like, researching facts for himself. “I don’t read books, I’ve never been into sports and I’m not as fond of music as most people. I’m not into the same stuff that everyone else is so I’ve always felt that I think a little differently than most people.”

I’m intrigued. What do you do as a kid when you’re not into reading and music and sport?

Shane was “a little more” into sports and music as a kid – though not reading, mind – but wasn’t into “being a kid” as such, at all. “I didn’t have much fun. I was a dark little child.” Though, again, not a ‘depressed’ child;

Shane had fun with his mates. “I always thought I had a different kind of humour, and I was always cracking my friends up, but I was never the class clown; I was never out-going in classes. I did not like being a kid. I couldn’t wait to be grown up when I was a kid.”

Reminds me of stories of Tom Waits’s childhood. He so liked ‘old people’ that he’d dress as them. Even though I run the risk of losing Shane – if he’s not into music, will he even know of Tom Waits? – I ask him if he was the same. “No, no, none of that,” he insists. “I still don’t dress like an adult! I still dress like I’m 14 years old.” He holds his arms out inviting me to appraise his tee-shirt and hoodie. At least, I think it’s a hoodie. If not, it’s a trendy skater-kid’s hoodless hoodie. “And this is a good look, considering what I used to wear,” the comic adds. “My girlfriend kind of dresses me now and makes me look a little better than what I used to. I used to be a real slob!”

The rise and rise of Shane Mauss

It wasn’t just being an adult that Shane looked forward to as a kid. He reckons the only thing he ever wanted to do since he was ten years old is stand-up comedy. “I never thought about doing anything else and I never took anything else seriously,” he says. “When I was around fifteen I started writing little funny ideas down. I started accumulating material. But I just put it off for too long, cos I was really nervous and I didn’t really know how to go about getting started.”

What was the metaphorical kick-up-the-bum that forced Shane to finally take to the stage? Well, at the ripe old age of 23, he realised he was stuck in a miserable factory job he hated, drinking way too much, getting into a lot of trouble and hating his life. “I was like, ‘I’ve just wasted these five years – I’ve been putting off this stand-up thing forever…’.”

So it was time to get on with the career. Shane left his home in Wisconsin, aiming, he says, for New York, or maybe LA. “But I had a friend who was moving to Boston and I was like, ‘well, that’s close enough to New York’. I was desperate just to get out of Wisconsin, so I went.”

Getting started was hard. Shane spent two months struggling with “terrible, terrible stage fright”, bombing in “horrible” open mic rooms, often to virtually non-existent audiences. Until something clicked and, aided by “a ton of supportive comics”, he made the transition to clubs, where, within six months of having started out, he was getting paid work – “really unusual in the States”. But it was when Shane landed in the finals of the Boston Comedy Festival – “not the biggest deal in the world, but at the time it was a really big break for me; I got in the finals” – that his career took off.

Shane was recommended to the people who run the HBO Comedy Arts Festival – “the biggest festival in the States”. After a couple of auditions, one of the people who mattered – though just the one – liked what she saw. “They didn’t want me in but she put her job on the line for me and I was one of the last people picked." So Shane did the festival, in the process  doing some of best sets of his life. “I got a lot of attention and won an award for best stand-up comic,” he says. All this, and still only two-and-a-half years into his career!

The HBO success meant Shane could pretty much pick his management and agents – and it also meant the Conan O’Brien people saw him in action. “Everything just started falling in my lap,” he offers. Or, to put it another way, everything started to get “crazy, very intense and little overwhelming, too”. Shane Mauss might be the only comic who can boast that his first Conan O’Brien spot came three years into doing stand-up comedy. “They liked me and had me back six months later,” he adds, “which is also pretty unusual”.

There’s been a third appearance since then, and a fourth is lined up for this July. Which is even more impressive now that Conan’s graduated from his Late Night show to The Tonight Show. “And then I’ve got a half-hour Comedy Central special, Comedy Central Presents…, and then I’ve got to do a TV show in London. Things are just going really amazingly well. I’ve been very lucky.”

In hindsight, Shane realises Boston may be the best city in the United States to start out as a stand-up comic. “New York and LA, you go there once you have your chops and a little more experience and it’s time to try to get noticed by the industry,” he says. “As far as starting out, there’s tons of stage-time available and it’s really amazing in Boston.” Of course, he doesn’t need to make the transition to New York or LA now – he’s already been noticed.

At the top of his game

Okay – there are a couple of questions I need to ask now, in light of what Shane’s revealed. The first one has to do with one of his jokes about work (also featured in his first Conan O’Brien spot):

I used to have this crazy job where me and my co-workers basically got paid just to get drunk all day long. It was called ‘roofing’.

When you get a job like that, the first question they ask you is, ‘are you afraid of heights?’ to which I responded ‘no’, because I’m not afraid of heights.

But I think what they should have asked me is ‘are you afraid of carrying a hundred pounds of shingles three stories up an icy ladder while drunk?’ because hell, yes!

(c) Shane Mauss

I wanna know if Shane really was a roofer back in Wisconsin.

“People do ask that all the time,” Shane laughs: “‘Were you really a construction worker? You don’t look like a construction worker – you look more like… y’know, whatever it is the gays do.’ No, I’ve never worked in human resources… I did a lot of construction stuff.”

After I quickly point out that there was a construction worker amid the Village People, Shane explains that his father was a construction worker who had his own business and all his uncles were construction workers also. “It’s a little bit ‘in the blood’ – but I was terrible at it. I was really a disgrace to the Mauss name. I was the worst construction worker in the world.” Man, if that’s the case, I’d have been a depressed and disappointed drunk in my early 20s, too! Good thing comedy won out.

My other question is a more standard one: what with all this success, is it all a stepping-stone to the sitcom or cinema?

“I don’t care that much about that stuff,” Shane insists. “I really, really love stand-up. But I am working on some other stuff.”

The other stuff includes things like funny video shorts to be uploaded to the internet; a sitcom pilot based on an idea Shane and his girlfriend had; and a book, being written in collaboration with a friend.

“I dabble in other stuff,” Shane admits, “but I get really excited when I first have ideas for things, and then after working on them a while, I just get bored with it.”

For Shane, like so many other stand-up comics, the very beauty of stand-up is the fact that you can have a funny idea, turn it into a routine, do it on stage almost immediately and then move onto the next funny idea.

“I have such a terrible attention span that stand-up really lends itself to the way that I think. It’s an amazing and under-rated art form and I really love it. It’s never been my goal to be particularly famous or be in huge movies or anything like that – I just want to create a fan base doing stand-up so when I go to places people come out and know what I’m about. I get to goof around a little more that way.”

Kid kidding

If Shane Mauss was never the class clown, if he was a bit of a dark little loner, if he suddenly upped stumps and nicked off out of Wisconsin where he was last seen as a builder’s labourer on some construction site, surely there must be people he grew up with who see him now on Conan O’Brien and exclaim to whichever family and friends are watching television with them, “Him? How’s he a star comedian?!”

“Yeah, I’m sure there’s a lot of people that are caught really off-guard,” Shane agrees. “I wasn’t a guy who got picked on a lot or anything, but I wasn’t in the real cliquey crowds either. I just kind of kept to myself. To my friends, it was really no surprise because I was always cracking them up, but to a lot of people I was just some quiet kid. They probably didn’t even know that I was there. So I’m sure it’s pretty shocking to a lot of people. I’ve actually got to see a lot of my classmates who have come out to shows that I’ve done in the States.”

I didn’t think Shane was ever the kid that was mercilessly bullied. He doesn’t do the angry ‘revenger’s comedy’. The overtones of ‘this’ll show ’em’ you sometimes see in other comics’ material are totally absent in Mauss’s unique work. Although, he does have a nice little joke about his childhood:

“I once participated in the four-year-long popularity contest called ‘high school’ and I lost miserably – which was devastating because the reward was a career at Applebees…”

(C) Shane Mauss


Because I don’t quite react as I should – comics see through a courtesy laugh immediately, and some of them aren’t so desperate to be loved that they accept them anyway – Shane asks, “do you have Applebees here? Applebees is a crappy chain diner.” Well, for all I know, it could be a legal firm in the States. Clearly, ‘Applebees’ would be ‘McDonald’s’ in Australia. Point is, popular kids in high school often become the losers in adult life, which Shane finds “very funny; very just”. Hmm. Perhaps there is a touch of ‘revenger comic’ about him. Still worth noting, the joke contains the ‘about-face’ so common to Shane’s humour. So it’s probably safe to turn the discussion to his opening routine about getting rich with the bumper sticker.

“That’s one of my favourite jokes,” Shane says. “I love to make audiences really uncomfortable and think that I’ve taken something overboard or that it’s not gonna be funny, and then there’s that release of tension. That’s one of my favourite kinds of structure.”

Being so into comedy, Mauss is the kind of person who, when watching a comic on stage, can often guess where the joke is going to go, getting the punchline before it’s been cracked. He applies this knowledge to his own writing: “I’m constantly guessing where I’m going to go with it and where other people think I’m taking it and then I try to go as far off-course as I can. It’s a lot of fun. It’s kind of like a puzzle.”

Yeah, but I particularly like it when he does all of that, with a level of shock – making the audience just a little bit uncomfortable. When that happens, Shane ‘calls it’. He lets the audience know he’s aware that he put them in that predicament by addressing them as “my uncomfortable audience” in the next stage of the joke set-up. It reminds the audience that he’s still in control, making them more likely to laugh, rather than be offended.

“My favourite thing,” Shane adds, “is to find a way to break down something shocking or offensive in a very innocent, likable way that makes people go ‘okay…’. Like, I talk about really nasty sex in a very adorable way, where girls go, ‘oh, that’s cute’ about stuff they really shouldn’t be laughing at. I try to find a way to make myself likable that way.”

Rest assured, it works.



Shane in action

Here’s the clip of Shane Mauss’s first appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Unfortunately, embedding has been disabled, but just click the link (or look the stuff up on Shane’s MySpace). Of course, as ever, you should be seeing him live whenever you’ve got the chance! And here’s Shane’s other homepage.

Big bright Green pleasure machine


I first saw Jeff Green at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2000, and though I remember laughing a lot, I also remember coming out of the gig able to remember very little of what I laughed at. Apart from that he was a kind of foppish, good-looking guy in a suit and tie, with a nice accent (he’s from Chester), a pleasant manner and – it subsequently turned out – more often than not a room full of swooning female fans, I knew very little. I still felt that way after I interviewed him not long after.

I didn’t realise Jeff had been coming to Australia since the mid-90s. Or that he specialised in relationship material, although this particular factoid did become apparent over time. Jeff has a gentler manner – he’s not a shouty, sweary kind of comic – which means, when he keeps it in character, he can actually get away with some pretty outrageous stuff amongst his material, but it never actually offends. The result of this is that he’s perceived – incorrectly, much as Adam Hills is – as somehow less funny. Not an opinion held by the multitude of fans that constitute these comedians’s respective audiences, mind; in fact, usually an opinion held by someone who doesn’t see much live comedy. See Jeff live. Among all the laughter you hear, you will often discern that loud laughter of shocked disbelief. What you never hear is silence.

Whereas Green always plays to big, full rooms in Melbourne, I caught him midweek at Sydney’s Comedy Store. He’d just completed a leg of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow – taking the funny across Australia – and had pretty much sold out his week at the Store apart from the night I went. It was still a corker of a show. Surprisingly, there were some punters who didn’t quite know who he was when they arrived. They left talking about him, better able to quote his stuff than I was when I first saw him.

I was pleased that Jeff was happy to hang around for a chat after the gig – and he didn’t seem to mind my comedy nerd questions.


Dom Romeo: I find you’re a gentler observational comic. You don’t scare an audience, you don’t threaten an audience, you almost make them laugh surreptitiously. We’re never made to feel ‘on edge’ as we may with other comics. You have a very ‘gentle’ manner about you. How did that style develop?

It didn’t develop in any kind of conceived, concocted way; it’s just part of who I am. I’ve tried to be edgy, and I’ve tried to be angry, and I’ve tried to be shouty, but audiences just don’t like it from me. They prefer it when it’s more ‘in receivership’; when I’m the butt of the joke, rather than making fun of other people or attacking other people. So it sort evolved through audience editing and realising that’s who I am, that’s how our relationship is, and so that’s how I better write the joke otherwise they’re not interested.

Dom Romeo: You say that, but it’s interesting: if you have some rowdy hecklers you can still shut them down, still being that persona that isn’t the shouty guy. You’re in total control all the time. Even though you say it’s the audiences that helped edit and direct where you go, you’re still clearly in full control at all times.

Well, you ‘ve got to be. The audience don’t want to run the ship. They’re like children insomuch as if you don’t know where you’re going, they get a bit anxious. So you’ve got to be in control. That’s what they’ve paid for.

I don’t get many hecklers, but when you do, you’ve got to pretty much tread on them. And there’s a difference between ‘heckling’ and ‘banter’. Heckling, when it’s aggressive and negative and unpleasant, you tread on that straight away. But if they’re responding and feeding off what you said – like tonight, I had a woman talking back to me about how these particular shorts were cut in such a way that they exposed a man’s scrotum, when he was working on construction, and it was off something I said about going to the gym – that’s actually fun. But when it’s ‘get off, you’re shit’, there’s no place for that. Not in comedy.

There’s no place for that in life, actually. You wouldn’t speak to a plumber like that who had come to fix your drains. You wouldn’t speak to anybody. Why are you entitled to speak to anyone like that?

Dom Romeo:
What I get from you as a performer is that you’re a gentleman. The first time I saw you, you were in a suit, you spoke to us politely. You were still hilarious, but you came across as one of the ‘gentlemen of comedy’, was my feeling.

Well, I got into it because I wanted to make people laugh. I didn’t get into it as an ego thing. I did get into it to get laid, obviously; everybody does.  But it was never really about dominating people, and I was never bullied, so I wasn’t working off any of my own insecurities. Everybody’s creative in some way: crocheting, cooking, building model aircraft, reading books, collecting records, and mine was writing jokes and writing routines. And I love routines. That was why I wanted to get on stage and explore stand-up comedy, which is why I’ve been doing it for 20 years without taking a break.

As for ‘being gentle’ – audiences paid a lot of money so I’m not really there to shout at them and tell them off. And it makes me cringe when I see comedians do it so I’m not really gonna do that myself. Whether that’s held me back or not, I don’t know. People have said, ‘Jeff’s funny but he’s never gonna be a barnstormer’. Maybe that’s why I’m at the level I’m at. But I really think people are at the level they want to be. After 20 years, this is who I am.

Dom Romeo: But that’s deceptive because even though you’re gentle, you can still shock – and you do: the routine about watching your child being born has some elements that make an audience go, ‘hang on, that’s funny, but, it’s also a bit…’ disconcerting, I guess. There are elements of discomfort and outrage – shock, perhaps, that those words are coming out of your mouth. But the bottom line is, it is funny.

And it’s only there to be funny. It’s only there because I find it has a genuine quality, something that I want to say to an audience night after night. So yeah, I shock the audience. But I don’t like the audience ‘tutting’ at me. I don’t like the audience going ‘oooooh!’ Because that’s not really the furrow I want to plough. But I love banging out strong punchlines: I love talking about children with big ears; I love talking about people tapping things out with their nose on a special keyboard. It’s gritty and it gets big laughs and that’s the kind of comedy you always want.

Dom Romeo: Well, what I’m saying is, there is an edge to it. It’s not always apparent on the surface, but if you listen to the material there is an edge to it. It’s almost deceptive because of the manner in which you present yourself, but those edges are there. They’re not all bubble-wrapped!

No, no. It’s not squeaky clean. I’m filthy! I wasn’t even particularly filthy tonight – okay I was a little – but I can get really, really filthy. But people go, ‘oh no, but you’re not really, because it’s not what you do.’ Mike Willmott is a very good friend of mine, and he’s wonderful, but he says, ‘really, you’re not filthy’, and I go, ‘yeah I am’ and says, ‘no you’re not; I am. I’m really filthy’. And I go, ‘Yeah, you are! But I am, too.’ But anyway, that’s how my mind works. I can’t do a squeaky clean, clever set. It’s not who I am.

Dom Romeo: You mention in your routine, the kind of child who is a ‘blinker’ – you toss a ball at him, and as it hurtles towards him, he stares at it blinking, hoping it’ll disappear. Were you ‘the blinker’ as a kid?

I was one up from ‘the blinker’. That was my level of sporting prowess: I wasn’t so rubbish that I was sent off to craft, but I was the kid that wasn’t much better. I was third last to be picked; then there’s the kid in the wheelchair after me; and then there was the blind kid after him.

Dom Romeo: That’s why you’re the comic; the kid in the wheelchair and the blind kid aren’t necessarily the comics.

No. I love sports, but I’m just not very good at it. My son’s three and he can’t catch a ball. I go, ‘oh, he’s like his dad!’ I’m left-handed, but I must have been one of those left-handed people who was crap at sports as well, instead of being majestic. Is that one of your favourite bits?

Dom Romeo: Yes, for a couple of reasons – your impersation of the blinker is hilarious; and I really identify with the the routine.

Were you the blinker?

Dom Romeo: No, but I was one of the ones picked last, and I was always made the scorekeeper as well.

Some things I talk about only in Australia because you’ve got a sporting culture. I don’t necessarily try and write jokes about Australia, but I do try to think about what might float your boat. It’s got to float my boat, too, but it’s about where you’re at as a culture.

Dom Romeo: You’re good at telling us about ourselves. Do you go back to England and tell them about us too, in your material?

I do. I take the piss out of Australia and I take the piss out of England but I make sure that I do those jokes in England and I make sure I do them in Australia because it’s important to me not to be doing it behind anybody’s back. So I go, ‘Could I do this joke in Melbourne? Yes. So then I’m entitled to do it in London.’ I had a joke about Australians – I might have done it this year, or maybe I did it last year – it went, ‘Everyone says, when Australians come to England, they always get a job behind a bar; I go, “yeah, they were behind bars when they left the country; they come back, they’re behind bars again”.’ It gets a bit of a laugh in London, as you can imagine. But then I went, ‘right, I’ve got to do it in Melbourne,’ because I always do the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. You’ve got to find a way of doing it, and if you can’t do it, then you’re not allowed to do it behind their back. It worked; it got a ‘boo’, and I took the boo, but it was important to me that it work in Australia if I’m to do it in England.

Dom Romeo: I’ve just remembered a bit of routine I saw you do back in 2000, that I’m sure I heard someone refer to recently – about madmen and hands-free mobile phones…?

It’s on my DVD, Back from the Bewilderness: ‘I hate those hands-free mobile phone kits because they make the real nutters so hard to spot’. Those jokes occur to you seeing someone walking down the street talking and going, ‘he looks a bit odd’ and you realise, ‘if I think he’s a bit odd, everyone else in that room is going to think he’s a bit odd’, and then I just float it out on stage and they go, ‘we’ve all spotted it and you’ve just articulated it’. And that’s really what observational comedy is about: it’s about not filtering out stuff; it’s about observing everything and not taking anything for granted that you see out on the street, or that you feel. And it’s quite difficult because very often we operate and we tend to let things happen in the background. Whereas it’s my job to raise the background noise to ‘loud enough’ and then take it out on stage.

Dom Romeo: You’ve married an Aussie, and you talk about the wedding and family in the material…

Did I talk a lot about that tonight? There was a big, long bit about kids…

Dom Romeo: We’ll get to that. There was stuff you did tonight that I didn’t see in Melbourne – newer stuff, I felt, about kids.

Or old stuff that you hadn’t seen before!

Dom Romeo: The party stuff, I thought was new.

The party stuff was… not new.

Dom Romeo: I shouldn’t be so naïve! Anyway – the point I wanted to make is that you’ve always done relationship material as part of what you do, and the fact that you’ve married an Aussie brings it closer to home for us. I think we’re more aware of it because of that. Was it important, because that was a big life event for you, or was it just a matter of you being a comedian and finding the funny side of it as a part of every-day life?

The latter. You’re always looking for stuff, and you don’t know where you’re best jokes are coming from. You think it’s gonna come from your wedding because it’s a big, important event, but sometimes the best jokes come out of seemingly small observations. I’ve had comedians crack me up talking about their cutlery drawer. Just because they’re big topics, doesn’t mean it’s gonna be the funniest material that you come up with. But part and parcel of the stuff that I’ve done over the years, which is autobiographical, is relationship stuff – and so the wedding was always going to get mentioned. And now I’ve done it, and so I’ll have to go and think of something else to talk about it.

Dom Romeo: Okay. So the party stuff, that I thought was new that you tell me is old…

It’s not that old! I mean, I know comedians that are doing their jokes from 15 years ago. I don’t know how they do it – I’d be going out of my mind! My oldest kid is only three, so that material might be about 13 months old, but to me it’s old.

Dom Romeo: Could you have written that material before you had kids?

No. But I don’t want to tell you any more about my material; I don’t want to show you where the rabbits are hidden.

Dom Romeo: Nor should you! People should just come and laugh.

Yeah. I love the craft of comedy. I’d be happy to talk about how I write and how routines come about and how they’re honed and how an audience plays a part in taking a routine from an idea to a finished bit, but maybe that’s for a different time. I don’t want you to come to the show and know how it all came about. But equally, I understand why you would be curious about that. And one day, I’d love to tell it. I’m not a great writer. I work hard. A lot of it’s perspiration. I don’t find it easy, writing stand-up; I find it very difficult. And I write in binges: I don’t write every day – I’ll write for six months. I wish I could write every day. But I’ll write for a point – like if I’ve got a new show to do.  But I’ll bring stuff back, the same as other comics. I see Rich Hall or Mike Wilmott or Billy Connolly and they bring stuff back. You know, it’s like, ‘I saw that ten years ago… maybe he doesn’t think I saw him ten years ago.’ I’m sure there’s people like yourself, going, ‘I saw that bit he did this year from ten years ago…’ but that’s just us trying to keep it fresh. And we run out of ideas sometimes.

Dom Romeo: Also, the context changes. That joke that I brought up earlier that I saw ten years ago was in a different context and it fit just as well in this show and probably had more meaning because of where it came in this show this year.

Yeah. Part of my problem as a stand-up who was writing a lot about relationships is that when I started doing relationship jokes, there was nobody doing them. It was just me. It was good – I had it all to myself. And now, unfortunately, if I’m on a bill, the compere talks about marriage and ‘how long have you been going out?’ and girlfriends and I’m like, ‘this is all the stuff I was going to do…’ Now I’m boxed into a corner: I have to talk about other stuff because there’s very little left when I go on stage and I have to make my jokes better than everybody else’s when I go onstage. I can’t be lame. They do keep me on my toes. But I do love talking about women; always have, and probably always will.

Dom Romeo: I’ve observed that women love to hear you talking about them, too.

Yeah, and I don’t think it’s because of what I’m saying – they probably feed off my fascination. I don’t find it hard to get into that mindset because I do find them incredibly interesting to understand. I’ve got four sisters and my mother, who brought me up, so I was brought up pretty much in an all-female household. And I’ve also had three fathers through my mum’s marriages, but I was brought up for long periods just by my mum on my own, and my sisters, so I’m a bit wary of men. I always have been a bit wary of blokes. I find them a bit scary.

I’ve got two sons, which is a big head-fuck – I thought I would have been better off with daughters, but they’re actually forcing me to be a man in a way that I never had to. So I’ve never been a fan of big groups of blokes. I just don’t like them. So I always find talking about women more of a comfort for me than talking about men but I’m coming out of it now. I talk about going to the gym, I talk about… there’s a lot more ‘man’ stuff – being a man. It’s a bit less feminine, my show now, possibly. And that’s part of having boys in my life, as opposed to all girls.

Dom Romeo: Yes, early on when I’d see you, there would be more women in the audience than men. You are a good-looking man. You look very dashing in a suit.

The suit’s gone!

Dom Romeo: The suit has gone, but I do remember you as the best dressed comic for a long time.

Yeah, and then you have to evolve. You do have to evolve. I don’t know why, but I just thought, I want to wear something different now, that feels more ‘me’, as people change. Billy Connolly’s not wearing the big banana boots anymore – you just don’t need it anymore. It’s not part of the crutch.

Dom Romeo:
You speak very knowingly about your experiences in Australia. There’s stuff that I’ve learnt about this country from seeing you live. Is that part of the comic’s job? Is it almost part of your ‘duty’ to ‘report back’?

No, I don’t feel an obligation to be a ‘travelogue’. It’s your country; I’m seeing it through very fresh eyes. I feel it’s something that I’ve got to address. I can’t just do the act that I’d do in England. I’m an Englishman in Australia and I’ve got an obligation to talk about what I’m doing here, and what I’m seeing. And people want to hear about themselves. If you live in Lismore, you want to hear about that bloody shop down the street selling crap things… I’m in Australia so I’m going to acknowledge where I am and get as many jokes in as I possibly can.

Dom Romeo: Not to give any jokes away, your analysis of how Sydney is, is pretty accurate. When you make some comments about observing Sydney, they are valid observations. They’re also very funny – that’s the bottom line.

I didn’t even do any Sydney jokes, did I?

Dom Romeo: You did! And I’m not going to repeat them because people should come and see you do them and laugh, without having already heard the punchline.

Oh, yes! All right. Thank you.

Dom Romeo: Jeff Green, thank you very much.

Thank you.

Steve Hughes, the Bard of Paradox

Steve Hughes came back to Australia for what, initially, was a three week residency at the Comedy Store. Thankfully, he has stuck around, playing more gigs. See him whenever you can. He's clever and funny. If you don't believe me, look at this YouTube clip. Then read the interview. Be warned. It contains cuss words. But make sure you see him!

Dom Romeo: What’s brought you back to Australia?

Aah… living in England for ten years. That’ll bring anyone back! It will.

I just realised that I’ve got to sit down for a minute in the bush. Go out to the woods, stare at the sky, look at thunderstorms. Honestly. This is the deal. I wasn’t thinking, ‘great, I’ll go back and play the Fairfield RSL’, which some comic on stage mentioned the other night is one of the worst gigs in his entire history, because no-one showed up and the woman made him do the gig anyway. Which I guess is the decent part of the Australian spirit: ‘yeah, go on get on with it anyway, mate!’

You just have to have a break and sit down. I just happened to run into getting three weeks at the Comedy Store out of nowhere – they had someone cancel or something – ‘oh no, who are we gonna get?’ Then I went, ‘aw, I’m here…’. I wasn’t gonna work at all. Well, not for a while, anyway. But three weeks – you can’t turn down that.

Dom Romeo: Now I know that the story about the gig that nobody turned up to happens to be Dave Jory’s story.

Dave Jory’s good. I like Dave Jory. He’s a good act. I worked with him on Saturday – him and Daniel Townes, which was good, because I’d only seen Dave MC before. You don’t get to do much as an MC. Although, it’s a harder job than people think, MCing, which is funny. They just think, ‘oh, we’ll get anyone to MC’ and I’m thinking, ‘No… you’ve got to get the room ready, you mental case!’ I remember hearing this MC one night come offstage, he went, ‘yeah, they were a little cold when I went on…’. I thought, ‘well, of course they were; you’re the MC. That’s your job, you idiot!’

Dom Romeo: Do you ever MC?

No. About three times, in England, but only because someone pulled out and I thought, ‘all right, I’ll do it for you’. But no, not really.

Dom Romeo: When you left, you were clearly a good comic of the ones coming through. You clearly had something. You’ve gone away and you’ve come back brilliant. You must have known you could do this. But was there a point when you were overseas where you went, ‘I’ve gone from being okay to being quite good, actually…’

STEVE HUGHES: Yeah, yeah, of course there is. When you gig that much in England… I mean proper gigs… There’s heaps of gigs. Sometimes people go, ‘You know, there’s quite a few gigs in Sydney now’, but you realise, ‘yeah, but they’re at the Fairfield RSL’; that doesn’t help you out either…’. At least in England there are gigs, heaps of gigs, and they’re good…

They have comedy gigs in villages in England, which manage to keep it going. You know what I mean? It’s just a different country for comedy, than it is here. Australia’s outdoorsy to begin with. Or, as my mother said, when she said, ‘is the English comedy scene good?’ and I went, ‘yeah, it’s great’. She said, ‘is it better than here?’ I said, ‘of course it is!’ She goes, ‘Yeah, well, we don’t do indoor sports here, do we?’

But you don’t as much, because the sun’s out… so it’s very difficult to get this good in Australia if you don’t get that kind of exposure. I remember when I saw Bill Bailey at the Harold Park Hotel, which was in about ’98 or something, which was killer! You just go, ‘you gotta get that good! You gotta get that good!’ And you wanna be around people that good, don’t you. So I said, ‘well, I have to go…’ The worst thing that could have happened was I have to come back. It was a very good idea, I think, if you’re gonna do comedy. You become masterful.

Dom Romeo: When it came to manifest itself, how was it clear to you? How did it feel, what was it like?

STEVE HUGHES: Well, just when you know you can walk into a room with 500 people on a Saturday night and you don’t care anymore and you think, ‘good!’ cos you know you can do it. Jongleurs in England, which is a more mainstreamy chain of clubs – they’re marketed more mainstream: bucks nights and hen nights and office dos, that kind of thing – and I was quite deadpan when I left. I wanted to master deadpan.

Then I started to break out of that by doing these huge shows in England and that suddenly added more strength to the repertoire of performing. I realised, ‘right, now I can finally do it the way I wanted to do it’. I’d mastered ‘deadpan’ and all this stuff. Then you start to get invited to go overseas, and then you start doing gigs in Holland, Sweden and Finland where you have to change the words and make the jokes work a little differently because they’re listening in another language and they think a little differently about comedy.

So you start to get all these things under your belt and you start to realise that if you’re getting compliments off guys who you think are brilliant then you start to go, ‘oh well, something’s working’. Also, if you’re getting work in the UK, it’s working to begin with!

Dom Romeo: You make it look effortless – that deadpan persona is you, personified… so to speak.

STEVE HUGHES: Yeah, well just, you know, learning how to… If you want a crowd to be quiet, it’s best you just stand there in silence instead of yelling at them, ‘will you please listen to me?’ because they go, ‘no!’ I learnt that years ago, gigging at the Fringe Bar years ago, where stick you on a palette in the corner in front of a bunch of talking Eastern Suburbs yuppies. It’s no good going, ‘can everybody turn around and listen to me?’ It’s better to stand there and say nothing. Then they go, ‘well this bloke must have something to say – he’s got nothing to say.’ It’s reverse psychology at the subconscious level. It helps to be intelligent if you want to be a comedian, as well.

Dom Romeo: You bring a lot of psychology into play with what you do – if not explicitly then underlying the material. Is that an accurate assessment?

STEVE HUGHES: I guess on a level, yes. Sometimes I think a lot of the psychology is simple common sense, in the sense of just breaking down what people find acceptable on certain levels of thinking in society, especially in the political correct age where they think saying anything against anyone is somehow ‘offensive’. Like ‘support the war on terror’, which is actually the murder and genocide of millions of people, yet don’t ever say the word ‘poofter’ again because that could be deemed really offensive. Support the illegal invasions of Middle Eastern countries. See, to me, that’s common sense and understanding that you’ve been duped here.

Dom Romeo: You broadly fall into a class of expat Aussie shouty, sweary comedians – not as shouty as others because you can and will be deadpan and silent – and you’re not as blatantly sweary because it always has a purpose. But do you see yourself in that subgenre of comic? Chances are, you’ll say, ‘yeah, that subgenre of good comics, and that’s the only thing we have in common’…

STEVE HUGHES: There’s only a few that really go over there a lot, like Jim Jeffries who’s always there. Jim’s big in America and tons of places. Adam Hills has always been over there – he was the original Australian that was overseas when I started. Kitty Flanagan has been overseas a lot. She’s good. She’s killer! She’s one of the best female comics in England, I reckon. Daniel Townes goes over there a bit now. There are a couple of Aussie guys who live over there who I don’t know if they ever did it here, but they do it there. Aaron Counter, who lives in Edinburgh. When I saw Dave Jory the other night, I thought, ‘you’d work!’. He could work in England. It’s good delivery, it’s good jokes.

The ‘sweary’ thing: sometimes I do swear too much sometimes. Sometimes I use it for a purpose, and other times I say it too much like being an Australian, we just do swear. F*ck! We swear, don’t we! What’s that joke that Arj Barker’s got about how Australians are the only people who swear when they give directions?

Sometimes I swear too much. You have those nights where you’re nervous and you’re not doing too well, and you slip back into this sort of ‘ah, fuck you…!’ Actually, I did a TV show for the BBC before I left, which was the first bit of mainstream TV I did in England – no swearing of course – which was good! Good practice. And actually, I re-wrote some of my jokes without the swear bits anymore, and I realised, ‘that works much better!’ If you do do it too much, you can’t use it as a strength, because sometimes you have to say ‘f*ck’ in a certain place to make the joke kill. Some people think, ‘you can just say ‘bloody’, but no, you can’t.

Dom Romeo: There may be an alternative to ‘f*ck’ but it’s not always the same one. It will be a different one each time, depending on the joke, surely.

STEVE HUGHES: And of course, there’s no alternative to ‘C*NT!’. One must use ‘c*nt’ with strength and sense of purpose.

Dom Romeo: You and Jim Jeffries shared a house for a while and you both have a story about an actual crime that happened that’s not a joke, that’s actually a crime that took place – do you want to talk about it, or have you talked about it enough?

STEVE HUGHES: It’s quite funny because people quite often go up to Jim and say, ‘that’s Steve Hughes’s material; they don’t know he’s the other guy. He’ll go, ‘no it’s not – I was there too, tied up on the ground!’

We don’t have to talk about it, I’ve got great material about it. Come and hear it. It was very funny. Only comedians would be lying on the floor in a house with towels over their heads with guys with machetes wandering around, thinking to themselves, ‘can you pass me that pen, mate? I’ve just had a killer idea…’

Dom Romeo: Do you still play music?

STEVE HUGHES: Yeah, I do. In fact, I’ve just got a new comedy CD out which is interesting in the sense of how we were just discussing that I can be quite deadpan and un-shouty… this almost ties back into the original question, why’d I come back. Listening to my new CD, I’m so angry and mental and yelling, it’s quite insane. I listen back to it and I realise, ‘god, I needed a rest!’ These English are such good audiences they even accepted me just screaming at them.

So… uh… what was the original question?

Dom Romeo: Are you still playing music?

STEVE HUGHES: I taught myself guitar so I don’t have to be in a band. But I always put a song on the end of my comedy CDs, which I record myself. And I may have something in the works, depending how long I stay here, to play with a couple of freaks in the Sydney metal scene. We may do a gig. It’s a little bit chaotic. I won’t say who it is yet, in case we don’t pull it off.

Dom Romeo: Are they signed?

STEVE HUGHES: No. They’re very well known, though. If you know underground Australian heavy metal. It’ll be good. I’d be very f*cken happy. A pure live ritual… It’ll be quite disturbing.

Dom Romeo: You were saying you’ve only just made it to ‘proper’ television in the UK.

STEVE HUGHES: Just stand-up. Not a ‘show’ or anything.

Dom Romeo: Do you want to do more of the television thing? Because you strike me as the seminal ‘live’ comedian. What you do is you thrive with an audience. I couldn’t see you fronting a game show…

STEVE HUGHES: Oh, no, no, no, no. No, I’m not doing that! Sometimes comedians are all sort of, ‘I wanna get on TV, I wanna get on TV, I wanna do this, if I get on TV everything will be all right…’. They live in some kind of fantasy. Sometimes I have to say to them, ‘what do you want to do on TV?’ They don’t know! ‘You can’t have no idea; write a show as good as Blackadder and then you’ll get on TV. Do you have a show as good as that? That’s the standard, as far as I’m concerned. Unless you want to be the host of some crap show.’ I can’t do that. What am I gonna do? I hate TV. I love it as a medium if it were used correctly. But it’s not. It’s used by the ruling elite to send propaganda messages to the new world order society that’s being congregated into an empirically based scientific dictatorship… You getting all this? You getting this down, everybody? You understand?

Dom Romeo: That’s why you need to get to television: you need to do a show that stops all of that or at least presents the alternative.

STEVE HUGHES: That’s impossible. It’s all owned by one conglomerate. TV has to offer the illusion of having separate channels, like politics offers the illusion of having different parties.

Dom Romeo: That, to me, is the philosophy underlying your comedy. Every comic who has something to say, eventually, you get to their philosophy underneath it all.

STEVE HUGHES: I don’t even think mine is ‘underneath it all’. I just say it! Simple as that! You’re often limiting yourself… If you have a contempt of the mainstream, which of course, in this country, to put it bluntly – I don’t care – I’ve always found the TV industry here to be ‘safe’; ‘gutless’; nothing of grit ever seems to make it on. Australians have been conditioned to turn off when they hear politics or anything serious or something that may offer a streak of tragedy or acceptance of something they’ve done. We’ve all just got to shut up and be happy and drink lattes in the sun and pretend nothing’s ever gone wrong, and until you accept that there’s a tragedy here that needs to be acknowledged, then you’ll never have proper soul or as good a scene or be able to make a band as good as Peter Gabriel.

Dom Romeo: See, but you just went and undercut all that!

STEVE HUGHES: Yeah. But the problem is, Australia actually has some of the best artists around. They can totally perform well on stage. Bands that keep going; longevity; hardcore; Australians know how to do it because we’re so isolated. Yet there’s never any structure for art to be turned into a side of the Australian culture. It’s still dominated by sport, which is… uh… I don’t know. Good, if you like sport. Not all of us do! So anyone who doesn’t like sport in Australia has usually been outcast. And yet, there’s no underground scene for the outcasts to create the part of society that turns into the fabric of society. You know what I mean? At least in Europe – some of the artists I know here, if they were in Europe, they’d be liked. They’d have somewhere to perform, somewhere to show their stuff. Here, it’s like, ‘what are ya doin’ that for mate? What are ya doin’ that for? That’s a bit stupid. A bit weird. A bit negative, isn’t it? Where’s the ball?’ Anyway. Stuff like that.

Dom Romeo: I guess the last question would be, ‘why don’t you come back more often?’ but you’ve kind of answered it…

STEVE HUGHES: It’s so far to come back, isn’t it? Not like my Canadian mates. They can go home from England. Seven hours!

Dom Romeo: But it’s not just the time and the distance it takes to travel – it’s also the philosophy and the mind-set. That’s far away, too.

STEVE HUGHES: Well, I don’t know. Because I’m really enjoying it, being here now. Only because I haven’t been here for so long. And the gigs are brilliant. And I conquered so much of England. A lot of guys who I met who started doing comedy in England ten years ago, as much as it’s fun to work there, you still start to go a bit mad, just on the comedy circuit for years and years and years and years, you go, ‘right, I gotta do something different now’. I did all of England. I thought, ‘what am I doing? What am I doing?’ I’ve done tons of Europe and stuff. Just kind of like, need something else to do. Because they laugh good, Australians. They laugh their guts out. They don’t fake laugh. They knee-slap laugh. They’re a little conservative – but I don’t believe they are, really. Cos they’re the one race I know that actually say ‘c*nt’ all the time. So, they have this constant paradox, Australians: they swear like f*cken dockers, and they’re next minute they’re like, ‘oooh, oooh, can you say that?’ It’s like this f*cken paradox, the Australian psyche. Which is good. Paradoxes are where secrets to the universe lie.

But I’m enjoying doing gigs here, because they do laugh from their guts, and it’s fun: you’ve just got to sneak in under their shell. The next minute, they realise they’re f*cken pissing themselves, so it’s just good fun. Plus I can do tons of old jokes I haven’t done for years!

Dom Romeo: What are you doing at the end of this residency at the Comedy Store? You’re not heading back to the UK, are you?

STEVE HUGHES: No. I’m going to Queensland to stand in the bush.

Dom Romeo: Hopefully you’ll come back and do some more gigs…

STEVE HUGHES: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ve got the Laugh Garage – the Parramatta one – on the 13th. Which I don’t know how I’m going to get out to, because I went for my driver’s licence test the other day and they failed me. Because I didn’t stop at the stop sign for long enough. Even though the guy said, ‘I know you can drive’. Well give me the licence then! ‘No, you didn’t do it to the correct rules…’. But you know I can drive, why do you have to waste everybody’s time? Anyway. Come to a show and you can hear me rant about that, if I want.

Dom Romeo: All right. And the last thing is, we need to know when you’re playing the Fairfield RSL.

STEVE HUGHES: Oh, right. The Fairfield RSL. I’m doing a one-month run there. Five nights a week. Come on down. You get a pie and chips. Make sure you take your hat off before you go in. Show respect. That should be a great month’s run down at the Fairfield RSL. We should get anywhere up to six or seven people a night. Seats four hundred. I’m sure it’s gonna be a great gig.

Dom Romeo: Steve, it’s always a pleasure to catch up with you.

STEVE HUGHES: No Problems, brother.

Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2007


I have had the pleasure of watching Dave Jory develop as a comic, having judged his very first Raw Comedy heat in Sydney a few years back. He was a bit scary then - the bald head and the suit made him resemble one of those villains in a Guy Ritchie flick.

I was kind of eyeing the exits to make good my escape if he proved to be as dangerous as his image threatened.

Afterwards he came up and asked for advice. I told him he needed to be less scary up front, to win the audience over - one of the other judges thought he might cut them.

He learnt pretty quickly. Now Dave Jory lives up to the the title of his show - he's a polished stand-up comic.  Hence his Melbourne International Comedy Festival show, Dave Jory is Polished.

You should come and see him live.

Book now.

I should also tell you that the basic design of Dave's flyer is by Kim Longue, who does the poster artwork for Sydney's original Comedy Store.

going halves

I am also producing Going Halves, a show also featuring two comics on the rise. James Lieutenant I have been watching in Raw Comedy for several years now; it's not something that crops up in the normal corse of interacting with him as a stand-up comic, but James is a gifted visual artist on the verge of something major. The same is true of his comedy.

Tom Gibson has been doing comedy for about as long, and last year placed third in Canberra's 'Green Faces' comedy competition.

These guys are the fresh face of the next generation of Aussie stand up.

Book now.

And I want to add a note about the flyer. James organised the photo and insisted in no uncertain terms that I was to use it as is, without manipulating it in any way. I guess he wanted to ensure I didn't do to it what I did to the photos that made up the flyer for his Cracker show, Painful Truths, in which he split the bill with Ben Ellwood.

Best of Oz Comedy


I'll be honest. As a long-time judge of Raw Comedy, I was a bit taken aback when I first saw the posters for 'Best of Oz Comedy', proclaiming the undertaking as 'Australia's first professional comedy competition'. Raw isn't exactly a raggedy ass thrown-together-at-the-last-moment enterprise. It's run very professionally, thank you very much. And then I realised that the proclamation meant exactly what it said, that the competition is for 'professional comics' as opposed to the amateurs to whom Raw is open. The other difference is the audience gets to vote as well.

Any other misgivings I may have had disappeared when I was asked to join the panel of judges for the Sydney heat and the national final - both taking place at the Comedy Store.

The Last Laugh at the Comedy Club hosted the Melbourne heat of the 'Best of Oz Comedy' competition on Thurs 15th, with the winners announced as Adam Vincent, CJ Fortuna, Lawrence Mooney and Troy Kinne.

As I mentioned, I'll be judging the Sydney heat and the final, both taking place at the Comedy Store. If Sydneysiders are interested, the Sydney heat takes place Saturday 17th at 6:30 pm with Justin Hamilton MCing, and features a line-up of comedians that can only be described as 'interesting'. Seriously - check out who's on:

And the good people at Star 100 (running the competition here in Australia) and the Comedy Store have been good enough to make this deal: if you phone the box office - (02) 9357 1419 - to book tickets and mention my name, you can have two tickets for the price of one.

Which is good, because you can use the money you'll save going with a friend, to put towards tickets to the late show that's on after the competition: Tom Gleeson with Subby Valentine and MC Justin Hamilton.

The final of the 'Best of Oz Comedy' competition takes place Sat 24th, also at 6:30 pm. I can't offer any specials, I'm afraid.

Radio Ha Ha Episode 34

Episode 34 was a tough one to do — it was the first one without co-host and co-founder of the show Tammy Tantschev, who has accepted work overseas. She's not left the country yet, but she has left the show — for all of a week — and I already miss her!

Anyway, this is the first episode to feature a 'guest co-host', as it were — stand-up comic Dave Jory.

The first time I met Dave — in fact the first time I met all the comedians in this episode, and Tammy for that matter, was during a heat of Raw Comedy, that competition to locate fresh talent run by the Melbourne International Comedy Festival every year.

As we discuss in the episode, my first impression of Dave — in his black suit, with his bald head, doing dark and shocking material that wasn't necessarily funny — was that he was scary enough to be one of those crims in a Guy Ritchie crime flick.

In addition to playing a bit of Dave’s stand-up, and discussing his development as a comic, we also feature an excellent piece from Sam Bowring. Sam's got an interesting story — having started doing comedy at age 17 at the now-legendary (and sadly defunct) Harold Park Hotel, formerly in Glebe. Since he was under-age, his father had to accompany him to the venue, as legal guardian. But his father wasn't allowed to see him perform — potentially, too embarrassing for Sam!

Not so now — I saw all of the Bowring family at a recent performance, where I got to record Sam. The routine involves him spitting venom at the proprietor of a pie company responsible for the worst pie he‘s ever ingested, and it was recorded — as was all the comedy apart from a little snippet of Dave’s stuff featured early on —live at the Mic In Hand; that’s the Thursday night gig at the Friend In Hand Hotel, Glebe, run by Sam Bowring and fellow stand-up comic Kent Valentine. (The other Dave Jory snippet was recorded at the Comedy Store, at Moore Park).

Actually, now that I think of it, Sam insists we met long before he tried out in Raw Comedy. When he was a 17 year-old open mic comic at the Harold Park Hotel, I was an earnest wannabe publisher, of a comedy zine called Stand & Deliver!. I don't remember encountering him there, but he certainly remembers me and my little zine — which still almost kind of exists, as my blog, also entitled Stand & Deliver!. Before I move on, I think I'd be withholding important information if I didn't add — for the less familiar — the fact that Sam Bowring was shortlisted for 'best newcomer' at this year's Melbourne International Comedy Festival. And Kent Valentine enjoyed a sell-out season (much to my embarrassment, virtually the only Sydney act I didn't see down there — only because every time I set aside an evening to see him, he was, of course, sold out!)

The other comedian whose work gets a run in Episode 34 is Mat Kenneally, another comic from the ranks of the legal fraternity (that gave us the likes of John Cleese, Tim Brooke-Taylor, James O'Loghlin and many others I should be able to name but can't off the top of my head right now). I got to know Mat this year because he was one of four comics appearing in The Comedy Zone — the show the Melbourne International Comedy Festival puts together by selecting a bunch of up-and-comers from a series of auditions. Of course, Mat insists that I saw him in a Raw final (he would have been a law student in Canberra then; I would have seen him in a NSW State final) and that I commended him on a particular routine for being politically aware and still very funny. I don't actually remember the conversation or the bit of material, but I can still commend Mat for producing that sort of comedy. In fact, it was a joy to see him MC at the Mic In Hand a couple of weeks ago; he was the MC at The Comedy Zone, and was great, but he's already come a long way since then!

If any of this interests you, you may read the transcript of the episode here;


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