Who's been and about to be had…

Fear of a Brown Planet

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

DeAnne Smith

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


Still Here...


May I just say that despite lack of evidence of regular posts here, please be reassured I am alive and well and doing a Melbourne International Comedy Festival show called Stand-Up Sit-Down, where I get up close and personal with a bunch of awesome comedians. Here's the list, where you can also buy tickets. What? You couldn't possibly leave this page and check it out? Okay. Here's the list:

You missed Fiona O'Loughlin last night.

Don't miss:

Tom Gleeson, March 30;
Fear of a Brown Planet, March 31;
DeAnne Smith, April 1;
Sammy J, April 3;
Tim Ferguson, April 4;
Greg Fleet, April 5;
Hannah Gadsby, April 6;
Celia Pacquola, April 7;
Andrew Denton, April 8.

Seriously. Come hang out with Dom ’n’ Tom tonight!

Tom Gleeson photo

I will keep blogging, but mostly as a kind of festival diary for the show. And only when not flyering, seeing shows…

Meanwhile, come see the show.

And failing that, support it through my Pozible campaign. Pledge a small amount, it all helps to contribute to what, in Fiona O'Loughlin's words, is "a fine tradition that has begun!!!!!"

Stand-Up Sit-Down

Coming soon to a 2012 Melbourne International Comedy Festival near you:

MICF2012_reduced_poster_no names_lowres

Tix available now.



Que Sera, Sarah Quinn?


I’d been seeing Sarah Quinn around comedy festivals long enough to have been on nodding and smiling terms, sometimes going as far as to say hello. I assumed she was a comedian of some kind, but not one from Australia, otherwise we’d also be nodding, smiling, and sometimes saying hello on the circuit during non-festival. Discovering, through the Facebook ‘friend-of-a-friend’ network, I discovered she was based in Canada and was grateful I’d never spoke to her long enough to mistakenly refer to an American heritage. But the assumption that she’s Canadian is also inaccurate, it turns out. She’s an Aussie. Not that any of this really matters. Except that she’s currently portraying various characters in the show Other People’s Problems (at Melbourne International Comedy Festival and Sydney Comedy Festival) so having difficulty pinning down her real life identity is apt.



Dom Romeo: For some reason I assumed you were a Canadian visiting Australia, rather than an Aussie who is now based in Montreal. What took you to Canada?

Sarah Quinn: I am indeed an Aussie based in Montreal. I went there originally on a post-grad study exchange. I didn't really apply myself, just between you and me. I chose Montreal because it sounded exotic, diverse, inspiring and fun. Turns out, it is all those things and more. It is a very... distracting city. In the very best way.

Dom Romeo: Is there a difference between the acting scene here in Australia, and there? And if so, how do they differ?

Sarah Quinn: Yes. Very much so. Firstly, there is a lot more gender equality in the arts in general, and as far as I can tell, they don't need to sit down and have forums about it, it’s just the way it is because there is no rational reason it should be any other way. When you grow up seeing that all around you, it is very powerful. You aren’t hard-wired to believe that, for instance, Directing is a man’s job and Arts Administration is a woman’s job (not that I'm pulling specific examples here or anything). That is, as far as I can tell, a very specific load of outdated bullshit we Australians can be proud to call our own.

The first language in Quebec is French, and so the dominant culture is French culture. The English language theatre scene in Montreal is sort of like operating in a small town within a big city. Anglophones make up only about a quarter of the population, so as you can imagine, the theatre scene is a quarter of the size, and so are the audiences. Personally I find that I see a bit more programming risk being taken here,  at least on bigger stages, and that shows often have much higher production values, but I think that is a scale issue. There is also a whole world of French theatre that I haven’t yet got into because je ne comprehend pas enough French. Having said that, the fringe arts scene in Montreal is outstanding, because it is a cheap place to live, and is full of creative souls. There is a lot of really edgy fantastic stuff happening in tiny venues and warehouses. The fact that it is such a small scene means it is very supportive, welcoming, and it doesn't take long til you know almost everyone.  Living there gave me the confidence and freedom and inspiration to get back into performing, and for that (and many other reasons) it will always have a very special place in my heart. It is difficult to make money, but people aren’t money-driven there, so it doesn't matter. We're all blissfully poor. It is a singularly unique and authentic city.


Dom Romeo: You seem to return frequently to perform here. Are you bringing shows that you’ve done back in Montreal, or do you find you create different work depending on where you are?

Sarah Quinn: What I have been doing the past couple of years is coming here with a show first, using the Adelaide Fringe as a sort of jumping off point. Generally I will preview the show once in front of a very soft crowd of people I trust in Montreal, then bring it to the Fringe and other fringey venues in Melbourne and Sydney, and then take it back to do a full season in Montreal. This has worked quite well. This year I decided to fight my drive to keep starting something new (which is strong in this one), by going back to my 2009 show and making it better. It can be beneficial to revisit work that way because no matter how successful it was, it is amazing how much you can always be tweaking and improving it. Also, I decided that this year I wanted to reach a wider audience, so having the energy to put into promotion and presentation, instead of  just creation and development, is necessary for that. It is a show I really believe in and have a lot of fun performing, and I always felt it had more potential than just a one-off fringe thing.

I create more work in Montreal just because that is where I live most of the year. I also run a monthly new-work salon called “Happenglad's New Hat”, where the rule is that all the performers need to be trying out brand new acts or bits. It is fantastic fun, and always exciting for that reason. I've seen some amazing stuff come out of that show, and as a performing artist you need that kind of forum to be able to try out new ideas. I've written a handful of new solo sketches and characters purely because the show was on the following night (or the same day) and I HAD to write something. I promised myself I would get up every time, and even though I came close to piking out several times, I always ending up pulling it out of somewhere.  And most of those tiny sketches of sketches have now become full-blown ideas for characters, or web clips, or radio plays.

Dom Romeo: Tell me about how you came to be acting. Was it your first career choice? How did you realise it was what you had to be doing? (I’m assuming I saw an earlier photo of you on your Facebook – black and white, school girlish looking one – an early production?)

Sarah Quinn: Are you talking about the photo of Jane Fonda from LIFE Magazine??



Dom Romeo:
Um… yeah… that one… Clearly the LIFE watermark was not obvious enough to me…

Sarah Quinn: I love that photo because that is how I feel when I am developing and rehearsing my solo work – sort of alone, and urgent. I love that she looks as though there could be a million things racing through her mind, or nothing at all. I know that zone.

I got bit by the bug when I was in my first play in primary school. Even though the whole process of auditioning and rehearsing in front of my peers scared me to death, once I was on stage it all went away. I remember really liking that phenomenon. Then I was part of a small group who fought tooth and nail to have a drama class brought in at my academia-and-sports-focused selective high school, and after that I trained in acting at university. So you could say it was what I always wanted to do, although I feel I lost my way once I left drama school. I think I had a lot of insecurities and misgivings about the industry (not all unfounded), and misconceptions about  the kinds of people that made it as actors. I always loved performing, but for me it’s the communication, the connection with the audience, the expression of something deep and human that attracts me to it. I thought you had to be a bit of a show off, a precocious child who always loved the spotlight, and very fame-driven, to succeed in the industry. It’s not true, and it turns out I enjoy it too much to do anything else. I’ve tried to do other things, but nothing feels as right or as fun or as important to me as this. I just don't care this much about anything else. Except maybe food. I care a lot about that.

Dom Romeo: You appear to be an actor edging further into stand-up comedy. Is that an accurate observation? Why and how has your performing career pursued that trajectory?

Sarah Quinn: I get called a comedian sometimes and it makes me very uncomfortable. (That said, I do very much like the French term for actress, “comedienne”. ) I am absolutely not heading into stand-up, and that is not something I am desirous of. I certainly have gravitated toward comedy, and love performing comedy –  almost everything I write tends to turn out to be satire – but it is always in character, and while it is (hopefully) funny, it is not really “jokes”. I love stand-up, I see what those guys do first hand, and I’m very admiring of it, but it is not for me.  I have no drive toward that format and no inclination toward writing jokes.  Although I do end up being a sounding board quite a bit. When you live with a comic, (or see a lot of comedy), before long you start thinking in premises and tags, and I have always always loved to laugh. Humour is very important to me, I was brought up in a family that valued a good sense of humour very highly. Watching so much stand-up has cemented and enlivened my sense that anything can be funny, and that we need humour to face every situation.


Dom Romeo: Tell me about Other People’s Problems.

Sarah Quinn: Other People's Problems is a satirical response to the ever-expanding self-improvement industry. It is three short plays written by three different authors – DeAnne Smith, Samuel Booth, and me. I perform them all. It delves into the world of self help, and the often unhinged characters that inhabit it. It is a dark comedy,  at times tragic, frequently absurd, but also very touching. I had an idea for a teenage video-blogger character who doles out really questionable advice on the internet, and then gets sucked into a commodified world she is too naive to deal with. I knew DeAnne was throwing around ideas for a motivational speaker, and then Sam and I came up with another character – an uptight woman listening to a sexuality self help tape – which he then went away and wrote. I rehearsed them up and workshopped them over several months, with DeAnne providing an occasional outside eye.

Since the original run, I have added new production elements, and a few little audiovisual transition pieces, which tie it all together more than the original. This also meant I got to explore a few new ideas and write some new material. It feels more like a solid whole now, rather than three short plays.

Dom Romeo: Is each character that you play the creation of the respective author, as opposed to people writing material for ‘pre-established’ characters? Which was the easiest to play? Do you approach someone else’s words differently to your own?

Sarah Quinn: Yes, each character was the creation of a different writer. (I snuck two into mine, ’cos I didn’t know any better.) At first, I absolutely approached my own words differently. I felt them very silly, and clearly less accomplished as writing than the others (who  both have lots of writing under their belts; this was my first) and I doubted anyone would be interested in hearing them. Then something strange began to happen, the more I did it, and the more people responded positively, the less the words felt like my own, and the less the character felt like my creation. She had a life of her own and it felt just as real and valid as the others. I think this was just my confidence growing, and I went from declaring painfully, “I will never write again!!” to being really quite addicted to the satisfaction of expressing something of my own and having people connect with it. Now they are all equally special to me, and neither is easier or more difficult. They all take work and I inhabit them each with genuine relish every time.

Dom Romeo: Push comes to shove, what do you prefer, live performance or film/television work? And why?

Sarah Quinn: This is impossible. But if you held me at gunpoint and forced me to choose (what kind of an asshole are you anyway?), then I would have to choose live theatre, because it is my first love, and the ritual of live performance is like religion to me. That said, I have been well and truly seduced by the movies, and am now a faithful theatre devotee with a very meaningful lover on the side. (The lover is film, by the way.) Movies are awesome, and I love shooting them. I love that people come and powder your face and when you are done the director says “That’s a wrap!”, just like in the movies.

Dom Romeo: Does anyone see your name and assume you are Tegan’s sister?

Sarah Quinn: Funny you should ask. Yes, I believe they do, because back when MySpace was a thing (remember back in the mid-late noughties? Simpler times...) I used to get friend requested by girls with such monikers as “MRSTEGANQUIN”, and “T&S4EVA<3”, even though our names are spelled completely differently. In fairness, I did used to have short asymmetrical hair. Sara Quin actually lives in Montreal as well, which doesn’t help matters. Nowadays there are so many fake Facebook pages for her that they don’t make it down to friend requesting me, thankfully. I’ve never met her, but I think we have several mutual friends and am sure we would get along swimmingly.


DeAnne Smith’s Writerly Comedy


“I’m definitely not a musical comic,” DeAnne Smith assures me, but not with the kind of vehemence a President of the United States might employ to deny shagging an intern, nor even the type St Peter might use to thrice deny knowing Christ as a prologue to bitter weeping. It’s merely a statement of fact, provided because I seem to ‘recall’ – erroneously, it turns out – DeAnne being a musical comic. In my head, I picture her wielding a ukulele. It’s an image wedded to the first memory I have of the slight, svelte, well-dressed (collar and tie, sometimes even a jacket) androgynous pixie in glasses, performing in the line-up of Ali McGregor’s late night variety show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival some years ago.

More recently, I’ve seen DeAnne at story-teller nights where the point has been to spin a narrative more than get laughs – although DeAnne does both rather readily. Point is, in my head, she started out as a musician whose between-song patter has grown to be the main feature. You know, like Billy Connolly – if you’ve been following him since his folkie days as a member of the Humblebums.

“I have only just started playing the ukulele this year,” DeAnne informs me. “I have literally three songs that I do. Maybe four. But it’s all so very new. I’ll probably play some songs in one-hour show, and if I’m doing a spot – like, say, half an hour, I’ll punctuate the performance with a song. But it’s not where I started, or where I’m coming from.”

Ah, now that’s the other thing I seem intent on being vague about: DeAnne’s origins. I’d almost certainly sign a statutory declaration stating my belief that she is Canadian, though very little supports that contention. In those more recent ‘story-telling’ gigs, she's told of having lived in Mexico - but that's not where she's from either.

So where did DeAnne Smith start? How did she start? Where is she coming from?

“I don’t know where I’m coming from,” DeAnne laughs. Stylistically, she says, her approach to comedy is “from a kind of ‘writerly’ place”. Geographically, however, she’s all over the place, having grown up – and studied – upstate New York.

“After university, I lived in Baltimore for about a year and a half, and worked at a publishing company and on a street outreach team,” she recalls, “which was kind of fun.” It’s more fun nowadays, when DeAnne’s out in the street, accosting passers-by in order to distribute pamphlets advertising her show – the fine art of ‘flyering’. “People say, ‘Wow that takes a lot of guts, approaching strangers to come to your show’,” she explains. “I used to approach strangers all the time on the streets of Baltimore, asking them if they needed condoms or clean needles. To give someone a flyer for a comedy show feels like nothing.”

DeAnne almost hit the stand-up stage in Baltimore. She got as far as going to an open-mic venue, but the night was cancelled:

“There weren’t enough people. I just never went back. I guess I didn’t have the guts or the desire. But it was something that had been in the back of my mind for a while.”

From Baltimore, Deanne “hopped to Mexico”, where she lived for the next five or six years. “I moved to Mexico for no real reason. I was just young and I wanted to do something different. I think I went for a bit of a lark, to do something different, and it was how my life became: I’d go to the beach, I’d teach English…”

While teaching English, DeAnne started writing humorous columns for online publications. And in time, she realised, “it would just be easier to get up and say this stuff, rather than taking so much care of my vocabulary choice and syntax.” Thus, when DeAnne Smith finally did start doing comedy, “it was definitely from a writing point of view than a performance point of view”.

DeAnne’s first foray into open-mic comedy didn’t come in Mexico, either, although she says that’s where she “got bit by the bug”. It began with a CD DeAnne’s girlfriend, an engingeer working on a project for Sirius Satellite Radio, burned for her, featuring comics and material from one of the station’s shows. She didn’t know DeAnne had any interest in comedy. Nor did DeAnne. “Listening to it awakened all this desire in me,” she explains. “It didn’t make me happy and relaxed, it made me feel jealous and angry. I could feel this clenching in myself: ‘I wanna do this. This is what I should be doing.’ So I did that.”

Not directly, mind. It still took another step before DeAnne got to the stage. “My girlfriend wanted to go to Mime School. In Montreal. There’s a mime school in Montreal!” (A very good one, it seems: l’Ecole de Mime, Montreal.) “I went, ‘Okay, I’ll go with you.’ Very whimsical. So basically I moved to Montreal to be with a mime.”

DeAnne also made study plans for her new life in Montreal. She applied, and was accepted, into a masters degree at a writing school. “I deferred the writing thing for a year and started doing stand-up at open mic rooms, and decided that’s what I wanted to do.”

Makes perfect sense, then, DeAnne Smith’s writerly approach to stand-up comedy. “So many people get into it with a theatre background or an acting background,” she says. “I just threw myself into it. I feel like I’ve been catching up with the performance aspect of things. But I think it works for me because I’m very much myself on stage – there’s not a lot of pretense there.”

The origins as a writer and the lack of pretense – along with the cute pixie androgyny – contribute to whatever it is that sets DeAnne apart. And something certainly does, stylistically. I just can't quite verbalise it. And although DeAnne agrees that something does, she can't - or won't - name it either. “That sort of thing is not for me to say. I don’t like to get involved. I probably should – I’d be better at promoting myself if I knew how to better articulate what I do and what I’m like…”

Probably better this way. Let other people - fans and critics - come up with descriptions. It's only when she finds one she likes that she should adopt it as her own, I tell her. “Good,” she agrees.


So back to that CD that inspired DeAnne to pursue stand-up in earnest. Who was on it? And were some of them – whisper it – a bit sh*t, in order to inspire the clenching response?

“That was part of it,” DeAnne confirms, unwilling to name the comics who seemed to solicit more approval from the audience than perhaps they deserved. “Hearing the audience’s response made me feel I oughta give it a try!”

One comic who did stand out for being brilliant was Maria Bamford. “She was amazing. I was like ‘Who is this person?’ I guess that was the immediate instigator to get me going. I started doing open mic and I never looked back.”

It wasn’t too long before DeAnne was visiting Australia for the first time – here for the 2008 comedy festival season. “It was fun. It went well and I met a lot of people. I wasn’t really thinking about making it an annual thing, but when all the deadlines for the 2009 festivals rolled around again, I realised I should come back again because I’d done a bit of groundwork. There was a tiny bit of buzz, so it would be silly to not come back the next year, and to come back in two years when everyone’s forgotten about me.”

It was when she was back in 2009 that DeAnne made her debut on Good News Week. “That was really good for me – it helped people know who I am.”

It’s also the reason we assume this American comic is Canadian.

When DeAnne first came to Australia and had to register for the Adelaide Fringe, she “didn’t know anything about anything”, she says. “George Bush was president and I hadn’t lived in the States in about eight years. I had to choose a ‘country of origin’ so I just put ‘Canada’ because that was where I started comedy and that’s where I lived.”

When she appeared on Good News Week, she would have been known as the comic from Montreal who had performed on the Australian festival circuit the year before. “They were talking to me a lot about Canada, and I just kind of went with it, and I regretted it – I lied to the nation! Unfortunately, my little lie has been reinforced because I meet a lot of people who say, ‘I know you were Canadian; you don’t seem like an American; those Americans…’ – and they start trash talking to me about America.”

Subsequently, DeAnne has spoken of her American origins on stage and on her website. Most people are hip. “I don’t pretend that I’m not from New York. But I hadn’t lived there for a while. During the George Bush years, I was like ‘I had nothing to do with that!’”

Currently, Montreal is still home to the comic, although she spends a lot of her year travelling, performing in Australia and the southern part of the United States. “I think the way I approach it is to make everywhere home, and any audience you’re performing for, that’s who you want to reach. I’ve been on Roadshow with Melbourne International Comedy Festival and played some really out-of-the-way rural towns and I’ve maybe looked out into the audience and thought, ‘Oh gosh, I’m not gonna connect with these people; we’ve nothing in common…’ and then go out there and do the show and everyone has a really great time. It’s hard to know where something will work better than somewhere else.”

There are, of course, subtle changes a seasoned comic can make to cater to different audiences. “If I’m in front of a rural crowd of middle-aged to older people,” DeAnne explains, “I might play up the ‘sweet, innocent’ angle a bit more just to get away with the things I want to say. And then, if I’m at the Feast Festival, in front of a group of lesbians, say, I might play up a slightly more aggressive or hard-edged angle. It’s just knowing what you can get away with in front of different crowds. It comes from experience and also instinct. You start to adjust onstage.”

Again, part of what helps DeAnne do that, is her image. People do assume she’s younger than she actually is. Which she readily acknowledges. She puts it down not just to her looks, but also to her spirit. “I have a brother and sister who are quite older than me – my brother is 11 years older than me and my sister is 7 years older. I had this revelation the other day: I’m in my 30s but I have this ‘kid sister’ energy. I keep waiting to outgrow it, but it just doesn’t happen.”

It might happen. In time. Perhaps it should have already. Perhaps that's why her next festival show is called About Freakin' Time. “It’s about time in general, and nerdy aspects like time travel, the concept of ‘forever’ and the passage of time, that sort of thing.”

If you haven't seen DeAnne Smith live yet, you really should this time round. It's About Freakin' Time.

Microphone adj