I had the pleasure of a good chat with Jeff not too long ago.
The one with Eddy Brimson that used to live on this page is now here.
I had the pleasure of a good chat with Jeff not too long ago.
The one with Eddy Brimson that used to live on this page is now here.
âWe did about ten shows and all the shows were great â standing ovations and good stuff like that. But at one of the shows, there was a person there who didnât like my show, and they complained to the comedy club in London and they fired me for the next two weeks.â
What? How does that work?
âExactly. Thatâs what I said. âHow does that work?â Someone in Dubai saw me, didnât like my show â even though after the show I was signinâ autographs and taking pictures with the punters â she called London and these people just fired me, no questions asked. They didnât say, âHey, did you do this, did you do that?â Nothinâ! I was like, âOh, wow. Welcome to America. Wait â Iâm not in America!ââ
Iâm talking to Tony Woods long distance from the United States. Heâs a comedian Iâve never met, nor seen live, but I know heâs good because when he was in Australia for the Cracker Comedy Festival earlier this year â appearing both in the Gala and on Good News Week â there was a buzz among other comics. There are clips, just in case you didnât see him either and didnât have other comics talking him up to you.
Tonyâs in the middle of telling me a story about a Dubai gig that got him sacked, and Iâm annoyed on his behalf. Firstly, the whole point of comedy is that the comedian tells âjokesâ â that is, they are effectively âpretendâ or âmake-believeâ compared to âfactsâ or ânewsâ or ârealityâ. Secondly, comedy is the one place where you are supposed to be allowed to explore taboo topics â to say things in jest that you could never have enough courage or insensitivity or permission to say in all seriousness.
âWell, first of all,â Tony insists, âI didnât say what she accused me of saying, anyway. Soâ¦ oh well.â
Weâre still talking hypothetically, to a degree. Tony hasnât divulged what he was accused of saying. Iâm not gonna ask him. It shouldnât matter. Comedy should be one place where youâre able to âpush the envelopeâ if you want to â and Tony reckons he wasnât even doing that.
âDidnât even push âem. I donât know what the hell she heard. She was drinkinâ. Or somethinâ. I donât know. Oh well. She ruined my summer vacation. I was supposed to go to The Bahamas for a vacation, me ânâ my family, but with two weeks of work fallinâ out of the pocket like that, you canât just up and go on a vacation. So I donât really wish the best for her at all.â
Well you wouldnât, would you. No, if you were a comic in Tonyâs position, the best outcome would be to enable everyone to laugh at this turn of events by turning this story into a comedy routine.
âYeah,â Tony says. âI will. Heh, heh, heh, heh.â
Ah, the Tony Woods laugh. I love that laugh. People claim Keith Richards, of the Rolling Stones, has the dirtiest laugh since Sid James. Tonyâs 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 itâs gotten him laid.
You can hear the laugh on that YouTube clip where Paul McDermott grills Tony on the Good News Week couch. (âCouch Potato, the interrogation game of comfort and joyâ.) Although one question that doesnât immediately elicit the laugh is when McDermott asks Woods why he applied for Dental School. âHowâd you know that?â Tony says, taken aback. Eventually he replies âMan, I was 18; I just wantedâ¦ girls.â
When I ask him, Woods explains that he gained his first experience as âwhat they call a âdental technician/dental assistantââ in the navy. After advancing to âsurgical assistantâ he decided he might actually pursue dentistry as a career. âBut then,â he says, adopting a conspiratorial whisper, âI started doing comedyâ¦â.
Thereâs a pause. Followed by the signature laugh.
âHeh, heh, heh, heh, hehâ¦ you knowâ¦â.
Itâs a low sound that emanates from deep within, detached and yet cheeky. Itâs 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 âknowâ is that things donât always go to plan. The full story of how and why comedy usurped dentistry is something only Tony knows â but the encouragement to draw my own conclusion coupled with that laugh makes me want to assume the worst, something unspeakably shameful. Thatâs 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 âoff-colourâ material without actually delivering it. Audiences titillate themselves at his prompting.
I bet thatâs what happened in Dubai: Tony didnât 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 sheâd probably not had the pleasure of for some time. Good comedy can do that to you.
But Iâm more intent on pinning the comic down than drawing my own conclusions â unspeakable or otherwise â 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 âvery accidentalâ:
âI just happened to fall into it, man.â Tonyâs buddies insisted he was funny, that he should âtry outâ as a comic. âI went touring on those âopen micâ deals,â he explains, âandâ¦ BANG! There you go! Ever since then, thereâs no turning back.â
In addition to being able to leave the audience to do some of the work for themselves, Tonyâs style involves turning real experiences into material by re-telling it in a âbewilderedâ manner. Rather than a smug, arrogant or angry comic, Tony Woods is surprised. Itâs as though events are still taking him by surprise in the re-telling. According to Tony, that's his style: âLast to knowâ:
âEven though Iâm telling the story, itâs still taking me by surprise. Iâm the last to know.â
The beauty of it is that it renders all of Tonyâs material âuniversalâ. Heâs experiencing Australia for the first time and heâs telling us, more-or-less, as it happens to him::
âThereâs freaky stuff happening. Thereâs a lot of animalsâ¦. I mean like, animals that I neverâ¦â
At this point, you suppose itâs gonna be every visiting comicâs monologue about Australiaâs deadly fauna: spiders, snakes, sea creaturesâ¦. But no.
There was this dog on the couch, and I said to my Australian friend, âI ainât never seen a dog like that. What kind of do is that?â
And he said, âIt's a wombat, mate!â
I said, âyeah, I wanna dog like thatâ.
He said, âNah, itâs a marsupialâ.
âWhat the f*ck does that mean?ââHe got a pocket.â
And Iâm thinking, âWhat the f*ck do all the animals in Australia need with a f*cken pocket? They ainât carryinâ no wallet or nothinâ like that. What the f*ck you doinâ with a pocket, man?â
Â© Tony Woods
Funny to watch him tell it, bewildered, to Australian audiences â but itâs 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 â well, at least a decade. There are clips on YouTube from Holland that are ten years old. Tony canât quite remember when he made the transition from open mic-er to world class comic. âI just kind of adapt to my surroundings and make it happen,â is how he explains it. âItâs a shame that it seems I can get more work overseas than I can in America.â
That is a shame, but so is having people fail to âget itâ as far afield as Dubai. Although the Dubai experience doesnât necessarily rate as Tonyâs worst on the road. He explains that because of his âvery laid-backâ on-stage demeanour, early on, audiences would assume he was a stoner. âNow everyone claims to smoke pot,â he observes. âI wasnât smokinâ pot. I just had a very daydreamy style, so it looked as though I was stoned on stage.â Although, it turns out, this was one of Ms Disappointed of Dubaiâs grievances: âShe says that I was drunk, that I was stoned. But she didnât know what she was talkinâ about.â
If I wasnât so comedy-savvy, Iâd have my suspicions, as I tell Tony: he does have a lot of material aboutâ¦ But I have to correct myself before I finish saying âgetting stonedâ. By âa lotâ, what I actually mean is, of the few clips of his work I have seen on-line, oneâs about going to Jamaica; another one recorded in Holland talks aboutâ¦ but Woods interrupts me.
âWhat it is,â he explains, âis a covert way of tellinâ people to not do drugs; showinâ people the misadventures and misfortunes you can have when you do that.â
The example Iâll 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 heâd have had the time to have written as much as he did. I donât know many people who spend their entire waking lives stoned who have the memory or the motivation â let alone the talent â to turn their experiences into a career of stand-up comedy.
âExactly!â Tony agrees. âYou should call that woman and tell her that!â
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 doesnât seem to be any.
âNo, thereâs not,â he confirms. âNot at all.â The political comics, Woods explains, are âthe people who move to DCâ, not the ones that live there. âItâs like the people who live in Los Angeles arenât into show business,â he continues. âItâs the people who move to Los Angeles. Theyâre into show business.â 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, thereâs a great routine of which Iâm very fond â Tonyâs re-telling of the Little Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs fairy tales.
âThatâs older stuff,â he says. âItâs about my introduction to kindergarten. Iâd been at home watching soap operas and then I get there and theyâd give me happy, sweet stories. I go, âno, thereâs gotta be a covert mission behind theseâ.â
Little Red Riding Hood is a horrifying story. It is. Itâs supposed to be like a kidâs story but you think about it.
First, Little Red Riding Hood: sheâs 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, sheâs skippinâ through the woods, teasing all the woodsmen: âHi, woodsmenâ¦â.
And theyâre like, âWassup, bitch?â
Okay, she didnât hear them say that, but I want women here to know, thatâs what men are always sayinâ to you when you talk to them from a distance.
Â© 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 forâ¦ whatever, really. Woods likes the idea. âYou should be my agent, man, so you can come to Los Angeles and tell these people.â
The way Tony sees it, âif youâre not doing the same thing that everyone else is doing, they donât want to try it. Everyone says, âwhy donât you do something likeâ¦â. I donât 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 â and it has to be someone of notoriety â goes the different way. Then they all go that way. Like, now itâs all superheroes, you know?â
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 â television or film?
âI want to do film. Iâm still trying to be an action hero but I think Iâm getting old.â
Maybe. But in the meantime, make the Little Red Riding Hood animation about the superhero stripper, I reckon. That sort of thing shouldnât be too far away from Tonyâs own current interests, really. He already has his own DVD to flog after shows. âItâs an hour of different television clips of my television appearances from all around the world,â he says.
The important question is, do they include clips that we canât sort of stumble upon for free on YouTube?
âYes,â Tony says. âItâs un-stumble-upon-able.â
Nice. I think weâre done. I thank Tony for his time.
âNo problem,â he says.
I tell him Iâm looking forward to seeing him live.
âOkey-dokey,â he says.
Which makes me wanna ask one last question. Iâm wondering if âokey-dokeyâ is something he picked up on his last visit here. âDo you say âokey-dokeyâ in your country?â I ask.
âNot everybody,â Tony reports. âI say it. Itâs just one of those things. Maybe I say it from my travels, I donât know. People say it.â
Hmm. Awkward. Let me explain. Thereâs one bit of routine â from the 2009 Cracker Comedy Festival Gala â where Tony imitates the Aussie accent and some of the words typical to our usage of English that arenât in as common usage in the United States â like âindigenousâ, âmarsupialâ and âpouchâ. As he continues into a an anecdote, as part of the routine, the word âmotherf*ckerâ come up a fair bit.
âSome of your material is about communicating those differences, in culture,â I offer, âand translating words. Like you say, ââmotherf*ckerâ means âblokeâ to meâ.â
âYeah. Heh, heh, heh, yeah,â Tony Woods says, laughing again. âIt just means âblokeâ.â
âI like that,â I offer. âMate, youâre a good bloke!â
âAwright,â Tony says. âAnd youâre a good motherf*cker yourself!â
And this time, we both laugh.
âHeh, heh, heh, heh.â
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 Woodsâs version of Little Red Riding Hood
Two Italian American comics are currently headlining at the Comedy Store as a double bill: Andrew Norelli and Mike Vecchione. Theyâre not a double act. And theyâre ethnicity has virtually nothing to do with their comedy â it was just a starting point to the conversation. Well, more to the point, I started with the pronunciation of Mikeâs surname which, in Italian, would require all the vowels to be sounded, and the âcchâ, to act like âckâ in English. This is the full Q&A from the hotel foyer, the day after an incredible opening night. Theyâve 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 itâs closer to the first, but you prefer the second version. Is that how itâs been â Iâd say âanglicisedâ, but itâs more like â Americanised?
MIKE VECCHIONE: Thatâs actually a good version of messing my name up, âVeck-i-OH-neeâ. If itâs just that, I donât mind at all. But people have just butchered it. Itâs a tough name to say if youâre Americanised â it actually means âoldâ in Italian, but the correct pronunciation is âVeck-i-OANâ.
Dom Romeo: And I have no idea what âNorelliâ means in Italian.
ANDREW NORELLI: I donât know either. I have no idea. But there are âBorellisâ, there are âMorellisâ, so Iâm sure they were all the same name at some point.
Dom Romeo: Initially I thought you were a double act because youâre billed together, but youâre 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 thereâs more of that in Europe and Australia. Is that true?
Dom Romeo: Itâs definitely an English thing to have double acts nowadays â
ANDREW NORELLI: Itâs very uncommon in America. And partly, I think itâs a practical thing â how do you make money when thereâs not enough money for one person. Why would you split that money up for someone else?
Dom Romeo: Iâll throw this open to Michael: how is the money working?
MIKE VECCHIONE: Itâs good for me â itâs my first trip here so Iâm like a novice. I just wanted to perform because Iâve never performed in Australia. I just wanted the opportunity. Iâm glad I got the opportunity to work over here.
Dom Romeo: Andrew, youâve 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 â itâs not that they donât follow what youâre saying, itâs that they donât care; theyâre not invested in it. So sometimes you have to change a joke to make it something they find interesting and not detached from â because otherwise, they get it but they just donât care.
I think me and Mike talked about it last night: for example, thereâs a huge problem with steroids in baseball in America. They may be aware of that here, but they donât care about it because theyâre not fans of American baseball, for the most part.
Dom Romeo: I didnât know that. I know that steroids is a problem in sport in general â 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 wouldnât know or, once again, wouldnât 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 Fameâ¦ that sort of stuff.
Dom Romeo: Mike, on stage, your persona is much scarier than Andrewâs and you really play that up in the way you interact with the audience. How did that develop?
MIKE VECCHIONE: Iâm 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 âlet them inâ on the joke. I think itâs 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 couldnât actually convey different emotions in a quick period of time, the joke wouldnât be as funny, and it is down to the physical acting more than the words. Or youâre physical actions undercut your words.
ANDREW NORELLI: Yeah, I agree. I feel like comedy is heavily based on emotion.
I donât do it just because the crowd responds to it, I do it because thatâs what feels fun to me on stage: to connect emotionally with the crowd. I donât 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 â was that âoff the cuffâ, rehearsed, or â would you prefer not to discuss it for fear of giving away âtrade secretsâ?
ANDREW NORELLI: Not at all. I always leave room for spontaneity in my shows, always. And sometimes it doesnât work. Sometimes you lose the crowd for two or three minutes and you have to get them back. Or maybe you donât 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: Thatâs great â because then new stuff comes out of that, that you didnât even know might come out of that.
ANDREW NORELLI: I agree, yeah. And truthfully, as a performer, itâs sometimes the only way to make it fun, because you donât want to do the same thing over and over and over again â it drives you nuts. Some would argue the worst part about stand-up â the repetition.
Dom Romeo: And having to make it look like youâve just made it up on the spot.
ANDREW NORELLI: Right. So I would rather sort of make it up on the spot. Even if itâs a joke Iâve said before, Iâd 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 thatâs 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 donât 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 âkeeping it freshâ, I think thatâs what forces us to write a lot of the time: you get tired of the material. I know sometimes when I do it, Iâm like, âI canât do this material anymore; it works, and itâs great, but Iâm tired of doing it!â 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 thatâs how you come up with new material. âI have to do something new just so that I feel alive and fresh on stage!â
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 â talking about scary cops with short-man syndrome â and you mock-intimidate the audience â 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 â the cops and the citizens; environmentalists and the people who have no interest in maintaining the environment; the vegetarian and the carnivoreâ¦ where does that come from?
MIKE VECCHIONE: I never really thought about it, but I guess itâs true. Iâm more of a writing-based guy. Iâm trying to improve more by connecting with the crowd and allowing emotion to come into it more-or-less, in addition to the writing. Weâre always trying to catch that balance between good writing and being a performer in the moment â being authentic. Thatâs really what weâre striving for.
Dom Romeo: One thing I find interesting, Andrew, is that during your set, you mentioned Australia differs from Europe because we donât hate Americans; I donât know if that, strictly speaking, is trueâ¦ youâve clearly not heard of the term âseppoâ, which is slang for American. âSeppoâ is short for âseptic tankâ, which is rhyming slang for âYankâ.
ANDREW NORELLI: I hate those rhyming slurs â 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 âimprovisedâ or âoff-the-cuffâ comic, because sometimes I word things a little inaccurately. What I think I meant to say more there was that Australians donât 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 theyâve explored more.
Dom Romeo: That was a great point, the journey â but what was interesting about you saying that was that it reminded me of Mikeâs set that Iâd just seen, because what he does is play up some of the scarier aspects of American persona â âredneck Americaâ, as we see it from there. In fact cops in general feature prominently in your material.
MIKE VECCHIONE: My thing â and I didnât know if it was gonna work over here, but it did â 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 hadnât won us over, we may have remained truly afraid or disgusted when you do your disturbing, insinuating humour. Which is humour, unless we canât see the joke, in which case itâs drama.
Now, as you hadnât worked together before, did you draw straws or flip a coin? Who decided whoâd go on first?
MIKE VECCHIONE: We sat down and had a talk about references and what was going to relate and what wasnât. For me, I was just trying this stuff to see what worked and what references they got and what they didnât â it was like âtrial by fireâ. But because Andrew had been here already and new what to expect, and I had never been here before, he graciously said, âif you want to go first, you canâ. I was like, âvery cool; I appreciate itâ. It was easier for me, just to test the waters and see â and I watched the opening acts too â to test the waters and see what they got. I hope the rest of the run goes like that because they got everything. I couldnât ask for a better crowd, to be honest.
ANDREW NORELLI: I totally agree! Iâve performed a lot in Sydney and the crowds at the Comedy Store are incredibly receptive. They want to laugh, they want to be opened. Thatâs a great feeling, because when a crowd is sceptical, thereâs nothing worse. You canât really make someone laugh who doesnât want to. They have to want to.
Weâre gonna flip-flop for the rest of the week. I think the hard part is going last, because the crowd has been there â¦ last night they were there for nearly two hours. Thatâs the hard part: youâre following all these hilarious people and you have to come on last and say, âoh, hereâs a little something extraâ.
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.
Iâm glad youâre going to alternate it, though â find out whether thereâs 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 theyâre just tired now. Itâs not uncommon.
Dom Romeo: The other thing that really worked for you was use of local references â that were spot-on. It didnât feel like youâd 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 Iâm surprised that youâve 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 Iâm making.
MIKE VECCHIONE: I was surprised. I knew the audience was going to be smart, but itâs in terms of whatâs in their frame of reference. I was surprised so much was in their frame of reference, to be honest. I have jokes, but then theyâre 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. Thatâs a good sign for me. Iâm going to try to do some Australian stuff while Iâm here because itâs 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 didnât 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 â which I wasnât really aware of â 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 wasnât a lie, and if itâs too close to that television show, Iâll cut it or Iâll change it so itâs 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 wasnât 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 didnât see him as real mean-spirited.
Actually the worst kind of hecklers are the ones just yelling shit and making noises you canât even respond to. If youâre making a statement I can at least respond to it and we can go back-and-forth. But if youâre making noises in the back and I canât tell whoâs doing it or what it is, itâs 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, âthis reminds me of thatâ. He was showing off, but he didnât seem to be malicious â only that he was a bit keen to be part of the comedy event, I felt.
MIKE VECCHIONE: I believe thatâs exactly what it was. He was trying to undercut it just enough to let us know that he knew about comedy but he wasnât trying to be real, real malicious with it.
Dom Romeo: How do you deal with hecklers, Andrew? Do you get them?
ANDREW NORELLI: Thatâs a part of comedy because any time thereâs alcohol involved, thereâs going to be behaviour thatâs immature. I mean, thatâs just a fact. The funny thing is the crowd seems to think that youâre highly skilled if you can shut down a heckler, and as comedians â at least from what Iâve gathered from my peers â we donât care. We donât put stock in a comic if you can shut down a heckler or not. Thatâs completely separate from being impressed by a comedianâs ability to âriffâ. âRiffingâ 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 donât care about, and frankly, itâs irrelevant. Because the really good stuff in comedy like television appearances and appearances at big festivals like Montreal â there is no heckling. It doesnât exist. So youâre honing a skill that is less and less relevant the better your career is.
Dom Romeo: Iâve never heard that take on it. Itâs so true. And riffing is a different thing â 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. Thatâs 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 wouldnât 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: Thatâs great â really, what happens is, itâs up to the comedian on stage to maintain control, itâs the comedianâs job to go, âthis is going too far nowâ â not by actually saying those words unless they need to be said â but to know when, âall right, Iâve given this person too much attention, we need to move on; Iâve got the microphone, I need to continue to be in controlâ. And I assume the ability to do that comes from just getting good at what you do.
ANDREW NORELLI: Yeah, it is. Thatâs 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 donât see it that way. Itâs not a contest to us, so believe me, if we âlose itâ, we donât care. No one cares. The industry doesnât care, producers and agents donât care, other comics donât care. They care about âHow good a comedian are you? What is your material? How smart, clever and original is your material?â
Dom Romeo: And there is a point where if the heckler doesnât shut up, the audience turns on them as well. And then the management comes and ejects them if they still donât stop. One would hope. If itâs a good venue.
To be honest, if I was a dickhead heckler who wouldnât shut up, Iâd 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, itâs time to let the club step in, if it becomes a violent confrontation. I try to never let it become mean. Weâve 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 thatâs just not fun for anybody involved. You want to just weather it, and then maybe hit âem, and then you want to just continue doing your material and making it as entertaining on possible if that happens on stage. Unless youâre an âinsultâ comic, you donât 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 âinsultâ comic â early in your routine, I thought you were that kind of comic â 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 âjust a jokeâ, was also, just a joke, so we never really know. But your staying in control reminds us that youâre the comic, this is happening on stage, and we have nothing to fear. Thatâs me over-analysing it; whatâs it like for you on the stage at the time?
MIKE VECCHIONE: Itâs a live performance, so itâs all about getting that rapport with the crowd â going into the crowd, going into the crowd â the two girls in the front, calling them âbaby chickensâ and stuff and then coming back, and then doing material, and then referencing them once in a while just to get a laugh. Youâre going in and out just as a live performance. Youâre 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 itâs really trying to pull them in, is the goal.
Dom Romeo: And as theyâre in the front row, you can see them from where youâre standing. You can see if theyâre getting a little uncomfortable â so youâd know if youâd need to tone it down or let âem off the hook or turn it up, if thatâs whatâs needed.
MIKE VECCHIONE: Thatâs what I like about that venue: itâs very intimate. Itâs an intimate venue as opposed to a theatre or a huge stage where you canât see them. Itâs 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. Itâs hard for me to even explain that. I donât know. Thatâs just what I felt in that moment.
Dom Romeo: Thatâs 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 youâre 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. Itâs the worst when youâre really asking them a sincere question and they think youâre messing around or something. So maybe thatâs 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 âWackety
Saxâ, the theme to The Benny Hill show. Itâs 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 theyâll be in case I can meet up with them after the interview. Sorry about that.
ANDREW NORELLI: We came from America. Thatâs just as far. So you need to spend time with us! Weâre probably distant cousins. Weâre from Italy, too.
Dom Romeo: What ever you do on stage tonight, donât for a second stop to think about it like Iâve made you do right now â 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.
âThe teacher linked England and 800 years of misery, death, famine and oppression to the Norman invasion and then added, âNeil is Normanâ,â the comic explains. âDing, ding, ding, dingâ¦ break time!
âWe went out and I got battered â 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 OâKellies, the OâSullivans, the Mooresâ¦ 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!â
I had no idea Irish comic Neil Delamere was of Norman descent, and itâs hardly the most vital biographical detail to arm yourself with when going to interview him. Neil is in Sydney to present CrÃ¨me 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. Thereâs precious little on offer on-line. Or at least, thatâs the case before I meet him: neither the âNeil Delamereâ Wikipedia entry nor his homepage have much detail, the homepage bio still refering to Delamereâs 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 âbanter bombâ (as dubbed by The Scotsman) we have a long, entertaining and effortless chat â 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, thereâs the set Neil delivered at the 2008 New Zealand Comedy Festival Gala, where he opens by explaining heâs from âthe southern part, not the scary Northern partâ 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 âthe oppositeâ of his girlfriend: âthis bus kneels on request,â 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. âItâd be brilliant â just rubbing up against 2000-year-old wood. Like Catherine Zeta-Jones does.â But itâs his cute observation, that it takes âan awful long timeâ to get to this part of the world, that will prove the best point of departure, so to speak:
While itâs nice to see the Easter references emerging in his humour â suggesting a religious upbringing â I like it most because Neilâs surname, âDelamereâ, is French for âof the seaâ; this international visitor is clearly descended from international visitors. As we sit before a not-quite-roaring open fire â a gas flame in the fireplace â in the hotel foyer that clearly once was the drawing room of a fine and stately home â the perfect place to interview a visiting Irish comic â I put it to Neil Delamere that he âcomes from a long line of travellersâ.
âThat could mean anything!â Neil laughs, not revealing whether Iâve somehow suggested heâs a bastard, or implied some other insult. There is an entirely different tale of lineage and bastardry to relate, it turns out. âDelamereâ is, indeed, French, and does mean âof the seaâ, and âthe fact the Delameres moved to the midlands â the only landlocked part of Ireland,â Neil explains, âsuggests an awful lot about the lazy branch of the family from which I am descended.â
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 â 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 âold countryâ; the Normans did colonise the southern half of what is now Italy, as well as the islands off its coast. But thatâs by-the-by. Turns out the Normans were originally Vikings â which Neil again knows a great deal about, since his 2007 Edinburgh Fringe offering was The Viking Show. âMy motherâs side were Vikings, as well,â he says, âso technically, I am 100 percent Viking â although I donât look it, to be honest.â
Wellâ¦ okay, Neil Delamere is not tall and lanky, but he is at least a bloodnut â a common Viking trait. Itâs an alternate explanation for why the ranga gene is common amongst the Irish â the other being that they are one of the Lost Tribes of Israel.
What did he say about his mother?
Iâm 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 âcirca 1980â. Wha? âAround 1980â? Either side, give-or-take? Thatâs an unfeasibly long labour â which, letâs face it, given Viking lineage, Neilâs poor Ma may well have been equipped to endure. Or Neil is being coy about his date of birth.
âNo,â Neil says, âthereâs no coyness. Iâm 30.â
The reason thereâs not been much of Neil Delamere on-line, the comic confesses, is because âIâm really lazy with my website â which is kind of ironic considering my degree wasâ¦â
âThatâs another thing!â I interupt before he can finish. The Wikipedia entry says he âcompleted a degreeâ. No specifications. âWhat degree? Where from? It could have been purchased offâ¦â
âNo,â Neil interupts me this time. âItâs from Dublin City University. And Iâll tell you how I can prove itâ¦â
Turns out, Dublin City University â Irelandâs self-proclaimed âmost innovativeâ university â is now producing bookmarks. Neil discovered this while visiting his alma mater. But thatâs not the most innovative bit. They feature photos of the institutionâs more impressive alumni â or, in Neilâs modest words, âpeople who are meant to have a bit of a profileâ. So, along with Matt Cooper, one of Irelandâs leading broadcasters and journalists, and Jamie Heaslip, who plays No. 8 with the British and Irish Lions rugby squad, you can find Neil Delamereâs âstupid faceâ (his words) peeking over the top of book pages. Of course, like any good comic should, he does material about this find. âThe new Edinburgh show is called Bookmarks,â he announces.
So Neil Delamere attended Dublin City University where â get this â he completed a degree in Computer Applications. Thatâs the irony of his rather meager homepage. Since graduating, Neilâs âgone the other wayâ and become a âludditeâ, more-or-less: âI still enjoy gadgets but I have no interest in geekiness,â he says. Unlike Neilâs older brother, who completed the same degree. âNow heâs earning millions from IT and Iâm doing this. I feel like Dannii Minogue!â
Offaly nice place to visitâ¦ by mistake
Neilâs 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 âOffalyâ is actually an English corruption of âUÃ Failgheâ â pronounced something like âee-VOLE-yaâ â which means âland of the Failgheâ. This is the original kingdom that occupied what is now Ireland, before said marauding Normans invaded. That the county takes its name from the landâs 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 âthe midlands of any country is the place time forgetsâ, producing âodd places and great charactersâ. He cites England â âalways a bit odd in the middleâ â Ireland, and even Australia, whose middle includes the likes of âAlice Springs, the Nullarbor and all that sort of nothingnessâ. According to Delamere â (âof the seaâ, remember) â âmost 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.â
Historically, what is now County Offaly once included Clonmacnoise (Iâm not even going to attempt to spell it phonetically!), a monastery whose monks kept learning alive while barbarians destroyed Europe during the First Millennium. Offalyâs more recent past has not proven so spectacular. âIf you name the year, I can name the tourists,â Neil boasts, offering an example: â1994 was Jans and Ulrich, two lovely lads who grossly underestimated the cycle to Galway, and ended up in Edenderry.â
If two lost tourists are the highlight of your calendar year, there canât be a lot to do in your small country town in your landlocked county. At least Neil had the influence of two brothers â one ten years older, the other seven â to broaden his horizons. They essentially introduced him to comedy.
âIâd be watching Blackadder when I was 12 or 13, and Cheers and MASHâ¦â 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 OâHanlon (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). âSo,â says Neil, âit was put in my head that âthese are the lads who could do this sort of stuff and theyâre from roughly the same background as youâ.â Thus, he figured, he might as well give it a go. âI did it once in a bar and just kind of kept doing it. But didnât do it until I left college â I was 21 or 22.â
Havinâ a laugh
That was in 2001. International success wasnât 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. âSomebody saw me and got me to do The Panel,â he says. Oh yes, Working Dog sold the format of The Panel to other countries, and Irelandâs 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. Heâs so natural that itâs hard to tell if heâs 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 âmaterialâ.
âThe great thing about The Panel is youâre on with four other people and we make each other laugh. Weâre 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 personâs jokes, itâs genuine and spontaneous.â
This is, of course, ground that would have been covered when the local version of The Panel hit big â and is probably asked of every humorous topical game or chat show: how much is spontaneous and how much is rehearsed? âThere is no rehearsal whatsoever in the show that we do,â Neil explains. Of course everyoneâs 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 â thatâs what comedians do. I reckon if you put the same people from The Panel in each otherâs company in, say, a pub, theyâd have virtually the same discussion, and Neil agrees â adding youâd probably have to record the entire conversation over the course of the night and then âcut it down to the funniest 50 minutes.â But thatâs the greatest compliment to the show â that feels as though itâs a bunch of mates â even you and your mates â having a bit of a yack at the pub.
âThe lack of contrivance is the aim of all stand-up,â Neil reckons, but itâs also âone of the problems of stand-upâ: when you make it look like uncontrived âtalking off the top of your headâ â as the best stand-up should â âthe lines are blurredâ. Nobody would heckle a play; they canât heckle the telly. But they heckle at stand-up because âitâs like talking to you in a pub!â
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 âopen slatherâ 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?
âYou have to take each heckle as it comes,â Neil acknowledges. âThere are myriad reasons why someone would heckle. Each one has to be dealt with on its own merits.â Pause. âAnd I have a hammerâ¦â. We both laugh at the tag. âNo, I donât, I donât,â Neil reassures me. âBut it would be good if I did, though, wouldnât it!â
The way the cookies crumble
You wouldnât expect it of a so-called âtopicalâ comedy panel show, but old episodes of Irish Panel are be hilarious. At least, the bits that make it to YouTube are. Thereâs 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, âpoor people needed to be reminded that they were poor. Big military writing: âYOU ARE POOR!ââ
Nowadays, I guess, printing is affordable enough that the so-called cheap brands can look expensive â and your parents always would argue that they tasted the same anyway, so why pay more money for the âprestigeâ product? Because, Neil argues, âif your mates caught you with thatâ in the supermarket, theyâd tease you mercilessly: âHA HA HA HA HA! Yellow Pack! Vincent de Paul! Vincent de Paul!â
Since the cheap stuff is virtually indistinguishable from the expensive, there has been a shift that coincides with Irelandâs fortunes. âIreland was one of the richest countries in the world in the last ten years,â Neil acknowledges, âall based on a house of cards, really. But we went through this period of being loaded and lovinâ it. Lovinâ it! We completely lost our inferiority complex with Britain because itâs a lot easier to take a derogatory joke from somebody if you know deep down you can afford to have them killed. But now weâve gone back the other way and itâs become genuinely fashionable to be thrifty again, so weâre all going back to those days and buying âhome brandâ stuff.â
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 â from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and therefore part of the UK rather than the Republic of Ireland â and Elvis Costello â a Liverpudlian with Irish heritage that he conveniently rediscovered â moved to Ireland to make the most of it. The Artist Exemption was introduced in the â80s by then-Prime Minister â or âTaoiseachâ, as itâs called (pronounced something like âTEE-shockâ) â Charlie Haughey, Neil explains.
âIt was for struggling artists â your guys writing books or self-publishing poems, sculptors or artists or whatever. But they didnât think to cap it, so you had people like Frederick Forsyth and Lisa Stansfield moving over.â
Lisa Stansfield, eh? Sheâd been around the world, and she, she, she â decided Ireland was the most lucrative place to be. Eventually, The Artists Exemption was capped at â¬250,000 â at which point U2 started moving their holdings to The Netherlands.
âThere was a lot of controversy over that,â according to Neil. âBono on one hand saying, âgive your money to the poor and make poverty historyâ, meanwhile moving most of U2âs business holdings to a foreign country.â 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?
âWe absolutely do!â Neil insists. âThe trouble is that itâs very hard to prove that itâs original material and itâs 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. Itâs quite difficult to hand him your set of jokes. Itâs weird, because itâs only on the writing of stuff, itâs not on the actual performing, so itâs complicated. I think itâs a great idea, but I would say that in six months, itâll be gone, because we are poor again.â
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, âthe DVD is already recorded â the second one. Itâs coming out in early November.â
Neilâs first DVD, No Message was released in 2007 and went platinum â âin Ireland, thatâs 14 DVDs, so all the family bought itâ â but he has no idea where itâs available, and he hasnât smuggled any into Australia to make some sly, tax-free spending money. âOnce you release it, you kind of forget about it,â Neil explains. âIâm sure you could order it from somewhere.â Pause. âIâm the worst salesman in the world! âIâm sure you can get it somewhereâ¦â Jesus!â
Neilâs success as a stand-up comic grew with the success of The Panel, enabling him to tour off the back of the show. Itâs 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, itâs meant heâs had a big enough profile to justify doing a show at this yearâs Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and returning to Australia now for his two-week residency at the Comedy Store. But just as this yearâs Comedy Festival turn wasnât his first, this current stint at the Store isnât his first visit to Sydney.
âI was here four or five years ago and probably did three or four gigs around Sydney, but people wouldnât even remember,â Neil says. âThat year we did the Fringe Festival in Adelaide, and then did a mini tour around places like Ayr, Townsville and Mount Isa.â
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.
âIt was kind of strange, but a brilliant craic, I have to say,â the comic fondly recalls. âIt was a âBest of Irishâ compilation show, which is amazing: you can put them on anywhere and people will go to see them, for some reason.â The reason is, as Neil says of that tour, and Iâd say of this conversation, because itâs kind of strange, but a brilliant craic!
Lord of the flights
Seeing as we started our chat with long-haul flights, itâs fitting we should end with them. Neil flew to Australia this time with Air Etihad, a carrier he âcanât recommend enoughâ because they fly direct from Ireland. Which makes the most difference heading home.
âWe always used to have to go through London, and thereâs nothing worse than being on a plane for 24 hours and then realising youâre not home yet â that itâs going to be another four hours before youâre home!â
Iâd agree, but before Iâve had time to, Neil considers what heâs just said. âWhen I say, ânothing worseâ, I mean, obviously, crucifixion is pretty rough; and mutilation is pretty bad, as well. But four or five hours when youâre stuck in Londonâ¦â
Iâm wondering if itâs all down to a matter of those final hours, though. Iâd heard Neil had been banned by Irelandâs low-cost airline â the âyellow labelâ of flight, if you will â Ryanair.
âWell, that might be a slight exaggeration,â Neil says of the story. âI certainly did a gig with Michael OâLeary, whoâs the Chief Executive Officer of Ryan Air, and I may, perchance, have slagged him off in front of 700 peopleâ¦â
It was a corporate gig that Neil was MCing and the organisers had gone to great pains to point out that keynote speaker Michael OâLeary, âworth half a billion Euroâ, was doing the gig for free. âPlease donât mess with his introduction,â they begged, and Neil, of course, promised he wouldnât. But he was lying.
âI had no intention of agreeing,â he confesses. âI thought, âIâm never going to get this opportunity againâ.â So he introduced Michael OâLeary:
âIn 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 gentlemenâ¦ Michael OâLeary!â
Naturally, OâLeary took the stage and started slagging off his MC. So when Neil returned to the stage after him, he gave OâLeary âdogâs abuse! It was dogâs abuse!â The best bit was when Neil produced a paper aeroplane, and said, âIâd 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 â watch!â
And then 700 people watched Neil Delamere turn and throw the paper aeroplane in the opposite direction. The crowd loved it. Michael OâLeary leant over and said, âItâs good to go last, isnât!â to which Neil replied, âYes it is!â
For Neil, it was an opportunity to be funny with a well-known identity. âI thought, youâre never gonna get this opportunity againâ. 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.â
So there is a conclusion you can draw, as to why Neil Delamere may avoid flying Ryanair nowadays. âI had a horrible feeling, the next time I took a Ryanair flight,â Neil concurs, âthat as I walk up to the counter Iâd see the guy reach under for a silent alarm and dogs would bound up and rip my testicles off. But that only happened onceâ¦â
Time to go
Our own craic has run its course. Neilâs got a gig in a few hours, and since he only touched down in the country five hours earlier, itâd be nice if I let him rest. But Iâm quite amazed that heâs awake and so lucid.
âNo,â Neil corrects me, âIâm actually asleep. This is entirely a dream. Iâll have no recollection of this conversation in about 20 minutes.â
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
People frequently ask my opinion about comedy â often wanting to know if thereâs âanyone new they should know aboutâ. At the moment, my answer is Shane Mauss (pronounced âmossâ). Heâs a young-looking guy whoâs been doing stand-up for about five years, who made the breakthrough relatively early in his career. Heâs been on Conan OâBrien three times now, which is unprecedented for such a relative newbie. But when you see his material, youâll understand why heâs doing so well.
His style makes much use of the ârevealâ gag. You know, like in cinema: the close-up or angle makes you think youâre looking at one thing, but after the camera pulls back or changes perspective, you see itâs something different. In comedy, the disjunction between what you thought, and what it is, produces the humour; how well itâs pulled off determines how much.
The thing with Shane is, the ârevealsâ 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 â and the relief of being shown that mistake creates an even bigger laugh. But make no mistake: the set-up â the bit that makes you jump to a conclusion in the first place â 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 Maussâs brilliance. I donât mind quoting the first joke I ever saw him do. Itâs on-line, in one of his Conan OâBrien clips, and he opened with it on his Australian debut, at Sydneyâs Original Comedy Store. It goes something like this:
Iâm sorry if I donât quite capture Shaneâs on-stage delivery. His pace is slightly slow, as though he might be â whisper it â a little retarded. It suits his material, since the cleverness appears even cleverer to you when thereâs something encouraging you to not expect it.
But all of this is by-the-by, because the person Iâve repeated the joke to invariably reacts the same way I did when I first heard it. Itâs the same way the Conan OâBrien 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, youâre going, âHuh? Whoâd buy that? How would you sell it? How could you possibly make money?â
Part of the âproblemâ for the audience is that it seems as though âscheme to get richâ is the set-up, and âsticker saying Iâm a child molesterâ is the punchline. It isnât. Thereâs a real punchline coming, but in the brief pause, youâve also had time to move on to âHow is this even funny? I may even be a bit offended by thisâ¦â. While you may or may not be thinking all of this, youâre 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 donât put it on your carâ¦ thatâd be stupid.
(C) Shane Mauss
A roar of laughter washes like a wave over the audience. If Iâm re-telling the joke to someone, my delivery of Maussâs actual punchline has the same effect.
Whatâs in a name?
Shaneâs 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 Iâm making you uncomfortable by forcing you to think about comedy too much, rest assured, the most important aspect of Shaneâs 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-falutinâ approach to the art of comedy, even if he has been interviewed live on air already. Iâm content to begin with a more base level of journalism. âWhatâs with the weird spelling of your surname?!â I demand.
âI have no idea,â Shane says, admitting that people âhave a lot of troubleâ with it being pronounced âmossâ and spelled âM â A â U â S â Sâ. But mostly, he confesses, their trouble is down to him âmessingâ with them. His explanation:
âItâs like âmouseâ, except the âOâ is an âAâ and then the âEâ is an âSâ. I mean, âMaussââ¦â â (pronounced âmossâ) â ââ¦ How easy do I have to make it for ya? Itâs like âhippopotamusâ: you just flip the âMâ and the âAâ around, take the âhippopotâ, thatâs an âSâ now, weâre gonna flip it around to the end: âMaussââ¦â â (again, pronounced âmossâ) â ââ¦Easy-peasy!â
Clearly, Shaneâs faced this line of questioning before.
Peopleâs inability to pronounce his name can come in handy though, he adds. âI always knew when the bill collectors were calling, because theyâd be like, âis Mr Shane May-ay-you-ouse there?â Iâd be, âNo, heâs not here right now. He says heâll pay you next monthâ.â
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 â youâd hear me talk up âShane Mossâ and youâd go to google the name as you heard it. Googleâs not so likely to ask, âDid you mean Shane Mauss?â But someone doing comedy as clever as Shaneâs is going to have thought that one through. He not only opts for addresses utilising the name âshanecomedyâ (easier to hit if you google âshane moss comedyâ) but his little blurb at the top of his MySpace page says, âDid you spell my name âShane Mossâ? You still found me! Hooray!!!â Thatâs so all the people who search on-line for âshane mossâ still end up at www.myspace.com/shanecomedy. Very clever indeed.
But he not only admits itâs a âscrewy last nameâ, he also confesses that heâs âheard the strangest thingâ about its derivation. Apparently, Shaneâs ancestors were Jewish and their surname was ââMosheâ, or something like thatâ. The name was changed as a result of land ownership issues. âThey just made up some different spelling so people wouldnât know that they were Jewish!â Shane reports. âI have a hard time with blond hair and blue eyes believing that any of my ancestors were Jewish.â
I canât help being reminded of Art Spiegelmanâs excellent graphic novel adaptation of the Holocaust, Maus, in which Jews are depicted as mice, Hitlerâs Nazis, as cats, but Shane is unfamiliar with it. âI donât read,â he says. âI write. And then I read my own writing, which means Iâm dumb, because I never learn anything because I never learn any new wordsâ¦â
Wow. Turns out Iâm brunching with the cleverest dumb-dumb Iâve ever met! But I canât decide whether Shaneâs comedy â the way itâs constructed â is a result of him being able to interpret things differently because he isnât 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 â and construct jokes around it â differently.
âIâve never been into the same things as other people,â Shane says. âI never took the common educational system seriously. I learn things on my own.â Rather than reading books, he prefers to spend time âon Wikipediaâ and the like, researching facts for himself. âI donât read books, Iâve never been into sports and Iâm not as fond of music as most people. Iâm not into the same stuff that everyone else is so Iâve always felt that I think a little differently than most people.â
Iâm intrigued. What do you do as a kid when youâre not into reading and music and sport?
Shane was âa little moreâ into sports and music as a kid â though not reading, mind â but wasnât into âbeing a kidâ as such, at all. âI didnât have much fun. I was a dark little child.â Though, again, not a âdepressedâ child;
Shane had fun with his mates. âI 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 couldnât wait to be grown up when I was a kid.â
Reminds me of stories of Tom Waitsâs childhood. He so liked âold peopleâ that heâd dress as them. Even though I run the risk of losing Shane â if heâs not into music, will he even know of Tom Waits? â I ask him if he was the same. âNo, no, none of that,â he insists. âI still donât dress like an adult! I still dress like Iâm 14 years old.â He holds his arms out inviting me to appraise his tee-shirt and hoodie. At least, I think itâs a hoodie. If not, itâs a trendy skater-kidâs hoodless hoodie. âAnd this is a good look, considering what I used to wear,â the comic adds. âMy 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!â
The rise and rise of Shane Mauss
It wasnât 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. âI never thought about doing anything else and I never took anything else seriously,â he says. âWhen 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 didnât really know how to go about getting started.â
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. âI was like, âIâve just wasted these five years â Iâve been putting off this stand-up thing foreverâ¦â.â
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. âBut I had a friend who was moving to Boston and I was like, âwell, thatâs close enough to New Yorkâ. I was desperate just to get out of Wisconsin, so I went.â
Getting started was hard. Shane spent two months struggling with âterrible, terrible stage frightâ, bombing in âhorribleâ open mic rooms, often to virtually non-existent audiences. Until something clicked and, aided by âa ton of supportive comicsâ, he made the transition to clubs, where, within six months of having started out, he was getting paid work â âreally unusual in the Statesâ. But it was when Shane landed in the finals of the Boston Comedy Festival â ânot the biggest deal in the world, but at the time it was a really big break for me; I got in the finalsâ â that his career took off.
Shane was recommended to the people who run the HBO Comedy Arts Festival â âthe biggest festival in the Statesâ. After a couple of auditions, one of the people who mattered â though just the one â liked what she saw. âThey didnât 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. âI got a lot of attention and won an award for best stand-up comic,â 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 â and it also meant the Conan OâBrien people saw him in action. âEverything just started falling in my lap,â he offers. Or, to put it another way, everything started to get âcrazy, very intense and little overwhelming, tooâ. Shane Mauss might be the only comic who can boast that his first Conan OâBrien spot came three years into doing stand-up comedy. âThey liked me and had me back six months later,â he adds, âwhich is also pretty unusualâ.
Thereâs been a third appearance since then, and a fourth is lined up for this July. Which is even more impressive now that Conanâs graduated from his Late Night show to The Tonight Show. âAnd then Iâve got a half-hour Comedy Central special, Comedy Central Presentsâ¦, and then Iâve got to do a TV show in London. Things are just going really amazingly well. Iâve been very lucky.â
In hindsight, Shane realises Boston may be the best city in the United States to start out as a stand-up comic. âNew York and LA, you go there once you have your chops and a little more experience and itâs time to try to get noticed by the industry,â he says. âAs far as starting out, thereâs tons of stage-time available and itâs really amazing in Boston.â Of course, he doesnât need to make the transition to New York or LA now â heâs already been noticed.
At the top of his game
Okay â there are a couple of questions I need to ask now, in light of what Shaneâs revealed. The first one has to do with one of his jokes about work (also featured in his first Conan OâBrien spot):
I wanna know if Shane really was a roofer back in Wisconsin.
âPeople do ask that all the time,â Shane laughs: ââWere you really a construction worker? You donât look like a construction worker â you look more likeâ¦ yâknow, whatever it is the gays do.â No, Iâve never worked in human resourcesâ¦ I did a lot of construction stuff.â
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. âItâs a little bit âin the bloodâ â but I was terrible at it. I was really a disgrace to the Mauss name. I was the worst construction worker in the world.â Man, if thatâs the case, Iâd 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?
âI donât care that much about that stuff,â Shane insists. âI really, really love stand-up. But I am working on some other stuff.â
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.
âI dabble in other stuff,â Shane admits, âbut 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.â
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.
âI have such a terrible attention span that stand-up really lends itself to the way that I think. Itâs an amazing and under-rated art form and I really love it. Itâs never been my goal to be particularly famous or be in huge movies or anything like that â I just want to create a fan base doing stand-up so when I go to places people come out and know what Iâm about. I get to goof around a little more that way.â
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 builderâs labourer on some construction site, surely there must be people he grew up with who see him now on Conan OâBrien and exclaim to whichever family and friends are watching television with them, âHim? Howâs he a star comedian?!â
âYeah, Iâm sure thereâs a lot of people that are caught really off-guard,â Shane agrees. âI wasnât a guy who got picked on a lot or anything, but I wasnât 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 didnât even know that I was there. So Iâm sure itâs pretty shocking to a lot of people. Iâve actually got to see a lot of my classmates who have come out to shows that Iâve done in the States.â
I didnât think Shane was ever the kid that was mercilessly bullied. He doesnât do the angry ârevengerâs comedyâ. The overtones of âthisâll show âemâ you sometimes see in other comicsâ material are totally absent in Maussâs unique work. Although, he does have a nice little joke about his childhood:
âI once participated in the four-year-long popularity contest called âhigh schoolâ and I lost miserably â which was devastating because the reward was a career at Applebeesâ¦â
(C) Shane Mauss
Because I donât quite react as I should â comics see through a courtesy laugh immediately, and some of them arenât so desperate to be loved that they accept them anyway â Shane asks, âdo you have Applebees here? Applebees is a crappy chain diner.â Well, for all I know, it could be a legal firm in the States. Clearly, âApplebeesâ would be âMcDonaldâsâ in Australia. Point is, popular kids in high school often become the losers in adult life, which Shane finds âvery funny; very justâ. Hmm. Perhaps there is a touch of ârevenger comicâ about him. Still worth noting, the joke contains the âabout-faceâ so common to Shaneâs humour. So itâs probably safe to turn the discussion to his opening routine about getting rich with the bumper sticker.
âThatâs one of my favourite jokes,â Shane says. âI love to make audiences really uncomfortable and think that Iâve taken something overboard or that itâs not gonna be funny, and then thereâs that release of tension. Thatâs one of my favourite kinds of structure.â
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 itâs been cracked. He applies this knowledge to his own writing: âIâm constantly guessing where Iâm going to go with it and where other people think Iâm taking it and then I try to go as far off-course as I can. Itâs a lot of fun. Itâs kind of like a puzzle.â
Yeah, but I particularly like it when he does all of that, with a level of shock â making the audience just a little bit uncomfortable. When that happens, Shane âcalls itâ. He lets the audience know heâs aware that he put them in that predicament by addressing them as âmy uncomfortable audienceâ in the next stage of the joke set-up. It reminds the audience that heâs still in control, making them more likely to laugh, rather than be offended.
âMy favourite thing,â Shane adds, âis to find a way to break down something shocking or offensive in a very innocent, likable way that makes people go âokayâ¦â. Like, I talk about really nasty sex in a very adorable way, where girls go, âoh, thatâs cuteâ about stuff they really shouldnât be laughing at. I try to find a way to make myself likable that way.â
Rest assured, it works.
Shane in action
Hereâs the clip of Shane Maussâs first appearance on Late Night with Conan OâBrien. Unfortunately, embedding has been disabled, but just click the link (or look the stuff up on Shaneâs MySpace). Of course, as ever, you should be seeing him live whenever youâve got the chance! And hereâs Shaneâs other homepage.
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 (heâs from Chester), a pleasant manner and â it subsequently turned out â 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 didnât 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 â heâs not a shouty, sweary kind of comic â 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 heâs perceived â incorrectly, much as Adam Hills is â as somehow less funny. Not an opinion held by the multitude of fans that constitute these comediansâs respective audiences, mind; in fact, usually an opinion held by someone who doesnât 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 Sydneyâs Comedy Store. Heâd just completed a leg of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow â taking the funny across Australia â 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 didnât 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 â and he didnât seem to mind my comedy nerd questions.
Dom Romeo: I find youâre a gentler observational comic. You donât scare an audience, you donât threaten an audience, you almost make them laugh surreptitiously. Weâre never made to feel âon edgeâ as we may with other comics. You have a very âgentleâ manner about you. How did that style develop?
JEFF GREEN: It didnât develop in any kind of conceived, concocted way; itâs just part of who I am. Iâve tried to be edgy, and Iâve tried to be angry, and Iâve tried to be shouty, but audiences just donât like it from me. They prefer it when itâs more âin receivershipâ; when Iâm 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 thatâs who I am, thatâs how our relationship is, and so thatâs how I better write the joke otherwise theyâre not interested.
Dom Romeo: You say that, but itâs interesting: if you have some rowdy hecklers you can still shut them down, still being that persona that isnât the shouty guy. Youâre in total control all the time. Even though you say itâs the audiences that helped edit and direct where you go, youâre still clearly in full control at all times.
JEFF GREEN: Well, you âve got to be. The audience donât want to run the ship. Theyâre like children insomuch as if you donât know where youâre going, they get a bit anxious. So youâve got to be in control. Thatâs what theyâve paid for.
I donât get many hecklers, but when you do, youâve got to pretty much tread on them. And thereâs a difference between âhecklingâ and âbanterâ. Heckling, when itâs aggressive and negative and unpleasant, you tread on that straight away. But if theyâre responding and feeding off what you said â 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 manâs scrotum, when he was working on construction, and it was off something I said about going to the gym â thatâs actually fun. But when itâs âget off, youâre shitâ, thereâs no place for that. Not in comedy.
Thereâs no place for that in life, actually. You wouldnât speak to a plumber like that who had come to fix your drains. You wouldnât 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 youâre 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 âgentlemen of comedyâ, was my feeling.
JEFF GREEN: Well, I got into it because I wanted to make people laugh. I didnât 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 wasnât working off any of my own insecurities. Everybodyâs 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 Iâve been doing it for 20 years without taking a break.
As for âbeing gentleâ â audiences paid a lot of money so Iâm not really there to shout at them and tell them off. And it makes me cringe when I see comedians do it so Iâm not really gonna do that myself. Whether thatâs held me back or not, I donât know. People have said, âJeffâs funny but heâs never gonna be a barnstormerâ. Maybe thatâs why Iâm at the level Iâm 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 thatâs deceptive because even though youâre gentle, you can still shock â and you do: the routine about watching your child being born has some elements that make an audience go, âhang on, thatâs funny, but, itâs also a bitâ¦â disconcerting, I guess. There are elements of discomfort and outrage â shock, perhaps, that those words are coming out of your mouth. But the bottom line is, it is funny.
JEFF GREEN: And itâs only there to be funny. Itâs 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 donât like the audience âtuttingâ at me. I donât like the audience going âoooooh!â Because thatâs 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. Itâs gritty and it gets big laughs and thatâs the kind of comedy you always want.
Dom Romeo: Well, what Iâm saying is, there is an edge to it. Itâs not always apparent on the surface, but if you listen to the material there is an edge to it. Itâs almost deceptive because of the manner in which you present yourself, but those edges are there. Theyâre not all bubble-wrapped!
JEFF GREEN: No, no. Itâs not squeaky clean. Iâm filthy! I wasnât even particularly filthy tonight â okay I was a little â but I can get really, really filthy. But people go, âoh no, but youâre not really, because itâs not what you do.â Mike Willmott is a very good friend of mine, and heâs wonderful, but he says, âreally, youâre not filthyâ, and I go, âyeah I amâ and says, âno youâre not; I am. Iâm really filthyâ. And I go, âYeah, you are! But I am, too.â But anyway, thatâs how my mind works. I canât do a squeaky clean, clever set. Itâs not who I am.
Dom Romeo: You mention in your routine, the kind of child who is a âblinkerâ â you toss a ball at him, and as it hurtles towards him, he stares at it blinking, hoping itâll disappear. Were you âthe blinkerâ as a kid?
JEFF GREEN: I was one up from âthe blinkerâ. That was my level of sporting prowess: I wasnât so rubbish that I was sent off to craft, but I was the kid that wasnât much better. I was third last to be picked; then thereâs the kid in the wheelchair after me; and then there was the blind kid after him.
Dom Romeo: Thatâs why youâre the comic; the kid in the wheelchair and the blind kid arenât necessarily the comics.
JEFF GREEN: No. I love sports, but Iâm just not very good at it. My sonâs three and he canât catch a ball. I go, âoh, heâs like his dad!â Iâm 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 â your impersation of the blinker is hilarious; and I really identify with the the routine.
JEFF GREEN: 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.
JEFF GREEN: Some things I talk about only in Australia because youâve got a sporting culture. I donât necessarily try and write jokes about Australia, but I do try to think about what might float your boat. Itâs got to float my boat, too, but itâs about where youâre at as a culture.
Dom Romeo: Youâre good at telling us about ourselves. Do you go back to England and tell them about us too, in your material?
JEFF GREEN: 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 itâs important to me not to be doing it behind anybodyâs back. So I go, âCould I do this joke in Melbourne? Yes. So then Iâm entitled to do it in London.â I had a joke about Australians â I might have done it this year, or maybe I did it last year â it went, âEveryone says, when Australians come to England, they always get a job behind a bar; I go, âyeah, they were behind bars when they left the country; they come back, theyâre behind bars againâ.â It gets a bit of a laugh in London, as you can imagine. But then I went, âright, Iâve got to do it in Melbourne,â because I always do the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Youâve got to find a way of doing it, and if you canât do it, then youâre not allowed to do it behind their back. It worked; it got a âbooâ, and I took the boo, but it was important to me that it work in Australia if Iâm to do it in England.
Dom Romeo: Iâve just remembered a bit of routine I saw you do back in 2000, that Iâm sure I heard someone refer to recently â about madmen and hands-free mobile phonesâ¦?
JEFF GREEN: Itâs on my DVD, Back from the Bewilderness: âI hate those hands-free mobile phone kits because they make the real nutters so hard to spotâ. Those jokes occur to you seeing someone walking down the street talking and going, âhe looks a bit oddâ and you realise, âif I think heâs a bit odd, everyone else in that room is going to think heâs a bit oddâ, and then I just float it out on stage and they go, âweâve all spotted it and youâve just articulated itâ. And thatâs really what observational comedy is about: itâs about not filtering out stuff; itâs about observing everything and not taking anything for granted that you see out on the street, or that you feel. And itâs quite difficult because very often we operate and we tend to let things happen in the background. Whereas itâs my job to raise the background noise to âloud enoughâ and then take it out on stage.
Dom Romeo: Youâve married an Aussie, and you talk about the wedding and family in the materialâ¦
JEFF GREEN: Did I talk a lot about that tonight? There was a big, long bit about kidsâ¦
Dom Romeo: Weâll get to that. There was stuff you did tonight that I didnât see in Melbourne â newer stuff, I felt, about kids.
JEFF GREEN: Or old stuff that you hadnât seen before!
Dom Romeo: The party stuff, I thought was new.
JEFF GREEN: The party stuff wasâ¦ not new.
Dom Romeo: I shouldnât be so naÃ¯ve! Anyway â the point I wanted to make is that youâve always done relationship material as part of what you do, and the fact that youâve married an Aussie brings it closer to home for us. I think weâre 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?
JEFF GREEN: The latter. Youâre always looking for stuff, and you donât know where youâre best jokes are coming from. You think itâs gonna come from your wedding because itâs a big, important event, but sometimes the best jokes come out of seemingly small observations. Iâve had comedians crack me up talking about their cutlery drawer. Just because theyâre big topics, doesnât mean itâs gonna be the funniest material that you come up with. But part and parcel of the stuff that Iâve done over the years, which is autobiographical, is relationship stuff â and so the wedding was always going to get mentioned. And now Iâve done it, and so Iâll 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 oldâ¦
JEFF GREEN: Itâs not that old! I mean, I know comedians that are doing their jokes from 15 years ago. I donât know how they do it â Iâd be going out of my mind! My oldest kid is only three, so that material might be about 13 months old, but to me itâs old.
Dom Romeo: Could you have written that material before you had kids?
JEFF GREEN: No. But I donât want to tell you any more about my material; I donât want to show you where the rabbits are hidden.
Dom Romeo: Nor should you! People should just come and laugh.
JEFF GREEN: Yeah. I love the craft of comedy. Iâd be happy to talk about how I write and how routines come about and how theyâre honed and how an audience plays a part in taking a routine from an idea to a finished bit, but maybe thatâs for a different time. I donât 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, Iâd love to tell it. Iâm not a great writer. I work hard. A lot of itâs perspiration. I donât find it easy, writing stand-up; I find it very difficult. And I write in binges: I donât write every day â Iâll write for six months. I wish I could write every day. But Iâll write for a point â like if Iâve got a new show to do. But Iâll 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, itâs like, âI saw that ten years agoâ¦ maybe he doesnât think I saw him ten years ago.â Iâm sure thereâs people like yourself, going, âI saw that bit he did this year from ten years agoâ¦â but thatâs 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.
JEFF GREEN: 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 â I had it all to myself. And now, unfortunately, if Iâm on a bill, the compere talks about marriage and âhow long have you been going out?â and girlfriends and Iâm like, âthis is all the stuff I was going to doâ¦â Now Iâm boxed into a corner: I have to talk about other stuff because thereâs very little left when I go on stage and I have to make my jokes better than everybody elseâs when I go onstage. I canât be lame. They do keep me on my toes. But I do love talking about women; always have, and probably always will.
Dom Romeo: Iâve observed that women love to hear you talking about them, too.
JEFF GREEN: Yeah, and I donât think itâs because of what Iâm saying â they probably feed off my fascination. I donât find it hard to get into that mindset because I do find them incredibly interesting to understand. Iâve got four sisters and my mother, who brought me up, so I was brought up pretty much in an all-female household. And Iâve also had three fathers through my mumâs marriages, but I was brought up for long periods just by my mum on my own, and my sisters, so Iâm a bit wary of men. I always have been a bit wary of blokes. I find them a bit scary.
Iâve got two sons, which is a big head-fuck â I thought I would have been better off with daughters, but theyâre actually forcing me to be a man in a way that I never had to. So Iâve never been a fan of big groups of blokes. I just donât like them. So I always find talking about women more of a comfort for me than talking about men but Iâm coming out of it now. I talk about going to the gym, I talk aboutâ¦ thereâs a lot more âmanâ stuff â being a man. Itâs a bit less feminine, my show now, possibly. And thatâs part of having boys in my life, as opposed to all girls.
Dom Romeo: Yes, early on when Iâd 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.
JEFF GREEN: The suitâs gone!
Dom Romeo: The suit has gone, but I do remember you as the best dressed comic for a long time.
JEFF GREEN: Yeah, and then you have to evolve. You do have to evolve. I donât know why, but I just thought, I want to wear something different now, that feels more âmeâ, as people change. Billy Connollyâs not wearing the big banana boots anymore â you just donât need it anymore. Itâs not part of the crutch.
Dom Romeo: You speak very knowingly about your experiences in Australia. Thereâs stuff that Iâve learnt about this country from seeing you live. Is that part of the comicâs job? Is it almost part of your âdutyâ to âreport backâ?
JEFF GREEN: No, I donât feel an obligation to be a âtravelogueâ. Itâs your country; Iâm seeing it through very fresh eyes. I feel itâs something that Iâve got to address. I canât just do the act that Iâd do in England. Iâm an Englishman in Australia and Iâve got an obligation to talk about what Iâm doing here, and what Iâm 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 thingsâ¦ Iâm in Australia so Iâm 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. Theyâre also very funny â thatâs the bottom line.
JEFF GREEN: I didnât even do any Sydney jokes, did I?
Dom Romeo: You did! And Iâm not going to repeat them because people should come and see you do them and laugh, without having already heard the punchline.
JEFF GREEN: Oh, yes! All right. Thank you.
Dom Romeo: Jeff Green, thank you very much.
JEFF GREEN: Thank you.
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: Whatâs brought you back to Australia?
STEVE HUGHES: Aahâ¦ living in England for ten years. Thatâll bring anyone back! It will.
I just realised that Iâve 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 wasnât thinking, âgreat, Iâll go back and play the Fairfield RSLâ, 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: âyeah, go on get on with it anyway, mate!â
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 â they had someone cancel or something â âoh no, who are we gonna get?â Then I went, âaw, Iâm hereâ¦â. I wasnât gonna work at all. Well, not for a while, anyway. But three weeks â you canât turn down that.
Dom Romeo: Now I know that the story about the gig that nobody turned up to happens to be Dave Joryâs story.
STEVE HUGHES: Dave Joryâs good. I like Dave Jory. Heâs a good act. I worked with him on Saturday â him and Daniel Townes, which was good, because Iâd only seen Dave MC before. You donât get to do much as an MC. Although, itâs a harder job than people think, MCing, which is funny. They just think, âoh, weâll get anyone to MCâ and Iâm thinking, âNoâ¦ youâve got to get the room ready, you mental case!â I remember hearing this MC one night come offstage, he went, âyeah, they were a little cold when I went onâ¦â. I thought, âwell, of course they were; youâre the MC. Thatâs your job, you idiot!â
Dom Romeo: Do you ever MC?
STEVE HUGHES: No. About three times, in England, but only because someone pulled out and I thought, âall right, Iâll do it for youâ. But no, not really.
Dom Romeo: When you left, you were clearly a good comic of the ones coming through. You clearly had something. Youâve gone away and youâve come back brilliant. You must have known you could do this. But was there a point when you were overseas where you went, âIâve gone from being okay to being quite good, actuallyâ¦â
STEVE HUGHES: Yeah, yeah, of course there is. When you gig that much in Englandâ¦ I mean proper gigsâ¦ Thereâs heaps of gigs. Sometimes people go, âYou know, thereâs quite a few gigs in Sydney nowâ, but you realise, âyeah, but theyâre at the Fairfield RSLâ; that doesnât help you out eitherâ¦â. At least in England there are gigs, heaps of gigs, and theyâre goodâ¦
They have comedy gigs in villages in England, which manage to keep it going. You know what I mean? Itâs just a different country for comedy, than it is here. Australiaâs outdoorsy to begin with. Or, as my mother said, when she said, âis the English comedy scene good?â and I went, âyeah, itâs greatâ. She said, âis it better than here?â I said, âof course it is!â She goes, âYeah, well, we donât do indoor sports here, do we?â
But you donât as much, because the sunâs outâ¦ so itâs very difficult to get this good in Australia if you donât get that kind of exposure. I remember when I saw Bill Bailey at the Harold Park Hotel, which was in about â98 or something, which was killer! You just go, âyou gotta get that good! You gotta get that good!â And you wanna be around people that good, donât you. So I said, âwell, I have to goâ¦â The worst thing that could have happened was I have to come back. It was a very good idea, I think, if youâre 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 donât care anymore and you think, âgood!â cos you know you can do it. Jongleurs in England, which is a more mainstreamy chain of clubs â theyâre marketed more mainstream: bucks nights and hen nights and office dos, that kind of thing â 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, âright, now I can finally do it the way I wanted to do itâ. Iâd mastered âdeadpanâ 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 theyâre 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 youâre getting compliments off guys who you think are brilliant then you start to go, âoh well, somethingâs workingâ. Also, if youâre getting work in the UK, itâs working to begin with!
Dom Romeo: You make it look effortless â that deadpan persona is you, personifiedâ¦ so to speak.
STEVE HUGHES: Yeah, well just, you know, learning how toâ¦ If you want a crowd to be quiet, itâs best you just stand there in silence instead of yelling at them, âwill you please listen to me?â because they go, âno!â 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. Itâs no good going, âcan everybody turn around and listen to me?â Itâs better to stand there and say nothing. Then they go, âwell this bloke must have something to say â heâs got nothing to say.â Itâs 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 â 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 âoffensiveâ. Like âsupport the war on terrorâ, which is actually the murder and genocide of millions of people, yet donât ever say the word âpoofterâ again because that could be deemed really offensive. Support the illegal invasions of Middle Eastern countries. See, to me, thatâs common sense and understanding that youâve been duped here.
Dom Romeo: You broadly fall into a class of expat Aussie shouty, sweary comedians â not as shouty as others because you can and will be deadpan and silent â and youâre not as blatantly sweary because it always has a purpose. But do you see yourself in that subgenre of comic? Chances are, youâll say, âyeah, that subgenre of good comics, and thatâs the only thing we have in commonââ¦
STEVE HUGHES: Thereâs only a few that really go over there a lot, like Jim Jeffries whoâs always there. Jimâs big in America and tons of places. Adam Hills has always been over there â he was the original Australian that was overseas when I started. Kitty Flanagan has been overseas a lot. Sheâs good. Sheâs killer! Sheâs 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 donât 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, âyouâd work!â. He could work in England. Itâs good delivery, itâs good jokes.
The âswearyâ 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, donât we! Whatâs that joke that Arj Barkerâs got about how Australians are the only people who swear when they give directions?
Sometimes I swear too much. You have those nights where youâre nervous and youâre not doing too well, and you slip back into this sort of âah, fuck youâ¦!â Actually, I did a TV show for the BBC before I left, which was the first bit of mainstream TV I did in England â no swearing of course â which was good! Good practice. And actually, I re-wrote some of my jokes without the swear bits anymore, and I realised, âthat works much better!â If you do do it too much, you canât use it as a strength, because sometimes you have to say âf*ckâ in a certain place to make the joke kill. Some people think, âyou can just say âbloodyâ, but no, you canât.
Dom Romeo: There may be an alternative to âf*ckâ but itâs not always the same one. It will be a different one each time, depending on the joke, surely.
STEVE HUGHES: And of course, thereâs no alternative to âC*NT!â. One must use âc*ntâ 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 thatâs not a joke, thatâs actually a crime that took place â do you want to talk about it, or have you talked about it enough?
STEVE HUGHES: Itâs quite funny because people quite often go up to Jim and say, âthatâs Steve Hughesâs material; they donât know heâs the other guy. Heâll go, âno itâs not â I was there too, tied up on the ground!â
We donât have to talk about it, Iâve 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, âcan you pass me that pen, mate? Iâve just had a killer ideaâ¦â
Dom Romeo: Do you still play music?
STEVE HUGHES: Yeah, I do. In fact, Iâve 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-shoutyâ¦ this almost ties back into the original question, whyâd I come back. Listening to my new CD, Iâm so angry and mental and yelling, itâs quite insane. I listen back to it and I realise, âgod, I needed a rest!â These English are such good audiences they even accepted me just screaming at them.
Soâ¦ uhâ¦ what was the original question?
Dom Romeo: Are you still playing music?
STEVE HUGHES: I taught myself guitar so I donât 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. Itâs a little bit chaotic. I wonât say who it is yet, in case we donât pull it off.
Dom Romeo: Are they signed?
STEVE HUGHES: No. Theyâre very well known, though. If you know underground Australian heavy metal. Itâll be good. Iâd be very f*cken happy. A pure live ritualâ¦ Itâll be quite disturbing.
Dom Romeo: You were saying youâve only just made it to âproperâ television in the UK.
STEVE HUGHES: Just stand-up. Not a âshowâ or anything.
Dom Romeo: Do you want to do more of the television thing? Because you strike me as the seminal âliveâ comedian. What you do is you thrive with an audience. I couldnât see you fronting a game showâ¦
STEVE HUGHES: Oh, no, no, no, no. No, Iâm not doing that! Sometimes comedians are all sort of, âI wanna get on TV, I wanna get on TV, I wanna do this, if I get on TV everything will be all rightâ¦â. They live in some kind of fantasy. Sometimes I have to say to them, âwhat do you want to do on TV?â They donât know! âYou canât have no idea; write a show as good as Blackadder and then youâll get on TV. Do you have a show as good as that? Thatâs the standard, as far as Iâm concerned. Unless you want to be the host of some crap show.â I canât do that. What am I gonna do? I hate TV. I love it as a medium if it were used correctly. But itâs not. Itâs used by the ruling elite to send propaganda messages to the new world order society thatâs being congregated into an empirically based scientific dictatorshipâ¦ You getting all this? You getting this down, everybody? You understand?
Dom Romeo: Thatâs 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: Thatâs impossible. Itâs 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 donât even think mine is âunderneath it allâ. I just say it! Simple as that! Youâre often limiting yourselfâ¦ If you have a contempt of the mainstream, which of course, in this country, to put it bluntly â I donât care â Iâve always found the TV industry here to be âsafeâ; âgutlessâ; 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 theyâve done. Weâve all just got to shut up and be happy and drink lattes in the sun and pretend nothingâs ever gone wrong, and until you accept that thereâs a tragedy here that needs to be acknowledged, then youâll 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 weâre so isolated. Yet thereâs never any structure for art to be turned into a side of the Australian culture. Itâs still dominated by sport, which isâ¦ uhâ¦ I donât know. Good, if you like sport. Not all of us do! So anyone who doesnât like sport in Australia has usually been outcast. And yet, thereâs 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 â some of the artists I know here, if they were in Europe, theyâd be liked. Theyâd have somewhere to perform, somewhere to show their stuff. Here, itâs like, âwhat are ya doinâ that for mate? What are ya doinâ that for? Thatâs a bit stupid. A bit weird. A bit negative, isnât it? Whereâs the ball?â Anyway. Stuff like that.
Dom Romeo: I guess the last question would be, âwhy donât you come back more often?â but youâve kind of answered itâ¦
STEVE HUGHES: Itâs so far to come back, isnât it? Not like my Canadian mates. They can go home from England. Seven hours!
Dom Romeo: But itâs not just the time and the distance it takes to travel â itâs also the philosophy and the mind-set. Thatâs far away, too.
STEVE HUGHES: Well, I donât know. Because Iâm really enjoying it, being here now. Only because I havenât 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 itâs 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, âright, I gotta do something different nowâ. I did all of England. I thought, âwhat am I doing? What am I doing?â Iâve 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 donât fake laugh. They knee-slap laugh. Theyâre a little conservative â but I donât believe they are, really. Cos theyâre the one race I know that actually say âc*ntâ all the time. So, they have this constant paradox, Australians: they swear like f*cken dockers, and theyâre next minute theyâre like, âoooh, oooh, can you say that?â Itâs like this f*cken paradox, the Australian psyche. Which is good. Paradoxes are where secrets to the universe lie.
But Iâm enjoying doing gigs here, because they do laugh from their guts, and itâs fun: youâve just got to sneak in under their shell. The next minute, they realise theyâre f*cken pissing themselves, so itâs just good fun. Plus I can do tons of old jokes I havenât done for years!
Dom Romeo: What are you doing at the end of this residency at the Comedy Store? Youâre not heading back to the UK, are you?
STEVE HUGHES: No. Iâm going to Queensland to stand in the bush.
Dom Romeo: Hopefully youâll come back and do some more gigsâ¦
STEVE HUGHES: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Iâve got the Laugh Garage â the Parramatta one â on the 13th. Which I donât know how Iâm going to get out to, because I went for my driverâs licence test the other day and they failed me. Because I didnât stop at the stop sign for long enough. Even though the guy said, âI know you can driveâ. Well give me the licence then! âNo, you didnât do it to the correct rulesâ¦â. But you know I can drive, why do you have to waste everybodyâs 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 youâre playing the Fairfield RSL.
STEVE HUGHES: Oh, right. The Fairfield RSL. Iâm 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 monthâs run down at the Fairfield RSL. We should get anywhere up to six or seven people a night. Seats four hundred. Iâm sure itâs gonna be a great gig.
Dom Romeo: Steve, itâs always a pleasure to catch up with you.
STEVE HUGHES: No Problems, brother.
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.
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.
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.flyer for his Cracker show, Painful Truths, in which he split the bill with Ben Ellwood.
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.
Episode 34 was a tough one to do â 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 â for all of a week â and I already miss her!
Anyway, this is the first episode to feature a 'guest co-host', as it were â stand-up comic Dave Jory.
The first time I met Dave â 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 â in his black suit, with his bald head, doing dark and shocking material that wasn't necessarily funny â 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 Daveâs stand-up, and discussing his development as a comic, we also feature an excellent piece from Sam Bowring. Sam's got an interesting story â 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 â potentially, too embarrassing for Sam!
Not so now â 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 heâs ever ingested, and it was recorded â as was all the comedy apart from a little snippet of Daveâs stuff featured early on âlive at the Mic In Hand; thatâs 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 â 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 â for the less familiar â 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 â 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 â 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;
(Copy and paste the link into your Podcast software)