Rhys in our time
Monday, February 15, 2010
âLike a lot of British, I came here backpacking,â Rhys Jones explains. âAfter seven months Iâd run out of money and got stuck in Sydney, and just kind of gave comedy a go.â
Iâd like to tell you that stand-up comic Rhys Jones â who hails from Portsmouth, England â is an interesting guy; that heâs an amazing comic; that heâs a close personal friend and itâs been a real pleasure getting to know him; but I wonât. Because no matter how true all of it is, Iâm only just getting to know Rhys and I have a certain amount of jealousy that this guy can just pop up out of nowhere and be running a popular open mic room.
Okay, sure, he has been doing comedy for a few years now â paid his dues and all that â and he himself admits that heâs only really started to pick up momentum âover the last six months or soâ, but this is also the guy whoâll occasionally give notice for failing to make a gig because heâs landed another, MCing for strippers. When has your excuse for âpikingâ ever been so good?
Meanwhile, his room, âStand Up, Get Downâ at the World Bar on Bayswater Road, Darlinghurst, has gone from being fortnightly to weekly. And Rhys is helping program comedy for festivals like the up-coming Playground Weekender. So, no matter how good, nice, talented, decent he is, or how hard heâs worked to be as successful as he is, I have to hate him just a little bit on principle. How dare he be that cool, that good, that essential to the growing comedy scene, seemingly out of nowhere?
Long Time Being
âIâve been here five years,â Rhys explains when we finally catch up for a chat â ostensibly to promote the Playground Weekender festival. Despite being broke and stranded seven months into his visit to Australia, now he is not so broke, and not quite stranded. Rather, he says, heâs âkind of trappedâ â but in a good way: âowning thingsâ now prevents him from heading home. Acquiring âbig thingsâ like a sofa, accumulating a life, a career, and friends, he is essentially planting roots over here. âI like it,â he says â and it must be liking him back. Friends are certainly harder to offload on www.gumtree.com.au than the sofa, so why not stay! Especially when it was âa dear friendâ that finally encouraged Rhys to take a stab at stand-up comedy.
âI was kind of âpress-gangedâ into it,â he insists. âShe suggested it when Iâd come up with a particularly witty quip at a dinner party. I kind of just tossed the suggestion aside offhand. I blame her, basically.â Being the âdear friendâ that she is, Rhys's buddy entered him into the Melbourne International Comedy Festival/Triple J Raw Comedy competition. Which is a good thing. Because despite growing up a âhuge student of comedyâ in England, where humour was essentially âembeddedâ into him from an early age via sitcoms like âBlack Adder, Only Fools And Horses and the rest of itâ, he probably wouldnât have gotten around to giving it ago himself. Sure, Portsmouth was a big enough place to afford a lot of live comedy â with their own Jongleurs (part of a UK-wide chain of venues) and âmajor actsâ like Harry Hill and Steve Coogan passing through to play the Guildhall as part of a national tour, and even a fortnightly comedy room at the Wintergreen â but there was no open mic scene to speak of. So even though, Rhys says, comedy was something that heâd thought about doing, something that heâd âalmost fantasised aboutâ, where was he going to take the stage in order to learn the art?
Well, of course, there is Londonâ¦
âTo be honest, I found London quite a daunting prospect.â Rhys admits. âSydney, as a city, is a really good middle ground, because itâs a cosmopolitan city, but itâs not quite as harsh and as massive as London.â Itâs also âby the seaâ, like his home town. So Sydney offers the best aspects of London and Portsmouth with an easier entre â if youâre willing to take it â into comedy. âSince Iâve tried stand-up in Sydney, and done it elsewhere in Australia, I think Australiaâs a great place to âlearn the tradeâ, as it were. Particularly in Sydney: most of the audiences are pretty attentive and have a âgood on the newcomerâ attitude. I donât think Iâd be involved in comedy in the UK â Iâd be the funny guy at the pub getting drunk every weekend. Now Iâm a guy doing comedy and getting drunk every weekend. And occasionally during the week.â
Rhys in the Raw
One point I am having trouble with is that Rhys Jones was a Raw Comedy contestant in Sydney â having judged pretty much all the Sydney heats for the last I-donât-know-how-many years, I must have judged Rhysâs. How come I wasnât aware of him until he was doing well enough for me to be jealous of his success? According to Rhys, his two attempts âended in a bit of a disasterâ â as far as early attempts at amateur comedy go. âThe first one was the first ever time I did comedy, and I lost my train of thought. The second one, I forgot the last two minutes of my routine. After a promising start, I just walked off.â
Iâm kind of relieved â Iâd hate to have failed to spot a genuine talent. And, better still, it proves my strongest held tenets about comedy and competitions: the point of doing comedy is to make the audience laugh, not to win competitions. And the point of doing comedy competitions is to make the audience laugh, not to win competitions. Some of the finest talent you will ever be amused by, failed to win competitions â the comedians who make it are the ones who keep getting back up on stage. And the ones who start running their own venues so that they can keep getting back up have a better chance of that. Rhys agrees. âThe only way you learn is through those bad gigs. I think Iâve come along a lot.â
Too true. In fact, you learn a lot more from a so-called âbad gigâ than you do from walking away from a âgoodâ one. In fact, in my limited experience, itâs easy to walk away from a successful performance a little bit proud and cocky, and then totally stuffing up the next one as a result! Again, Rhys concurs: âI think the key to getting anywhere in comedy â and Iâm still just starting out âis building a thick enough skin to deal with the low blows.â
Which leads to the other golden rule of stand-up comedy: no comic has ever done their best or worst gig. Thereâs always going to be one down the track that could set the new benchmark! Thatâs just as true â possibly more so â when running the room. Again, Rhys knows this only too well. âYou really get an insight how tough it is marketing comedy to people,â he says of his experience with âStand Up, Get Downâ. âThereâs been a bit of an explosion with venues in Sydney in the last year. Some of them are doing better than others. Ours is going steady. Weâve got a particular nicheâ¦ We do try and promote the little guy, to a certain extent. Iâm all a bout giving headline and MC spots to guys who are up-and-coming who perhaps wouldnât get on in a similar capacity at other venues.â
Clearly, Iâd suggest, Rhys must be getting right, seeing as âStand Up, Get Downâ has gone from a fortnightly room to a weekly one.
âYeah, we changed that in December, the reason being that it was impossible for people to keep track of what weeks we were on. The idea to go weekly is just so people know every Wednesday thereâs comedy at the World Bar, instead of having to faff around trying to work out which week the night falls on.â
âThe weekly comedy room at the World Bar is attached to a night called âThe Wallâ, run by my business partner Dan Chin. Every week he has a different artist exhibiting upstairs and we run the comedy out of that room. âStand Up, Get Downâ is also known as âComedy At The Wallâ because itâs affiliated with this art space night.â
Oh, okay. So Rhys Jones in a nutshell: came to Australia to realise the lifetime of comedy embedded into him, hitherto only fantasised about, and contributes significantly to the local stand-up scene. But thereâs more: in the process he also starts helping establish some of the cooler aspects of the UK comedy scene Downunder. The Playground Weekender festival, now in its fourth year, is the prime example of that.
âPlayground Weekender is a festival started by English expats,â Rhys explains. âThey started up Good Vibrations a few years ago before selling it on. The whole ethos is a British-style festival, so it has a lot more of a laid-back aesthetic than, say, your Big Day Outs or your other music events; the whole ethos is fun. Iâve been to every one and seen it grow, which has been great.â
From barely 2000 attendees that first year (still a significant start, of course), the Playground Weekender festival had quadrupled in size by its third year: 8000 people. This year theyâre expecting 12,000. Not only that: this year thereâll be comedy. Using the British model, where every festival has a comedy venue, Playground Weekender is offering two hours of comedy on each of the festivalâs four nights, in âThe Shackâ.
âDan and I are both extremely chuffed that theyâve asked us to host the comedy stage. Weâve got one of the main stages to run. Itâs a beautiful setting as well: the Del Rio resort at Wisemans Ferry, on the Hawkesbury River. Itâs just a really laid- back âanything goesâ attitude, really. Like any music festival, itâs what you make of it. You can go for the quiet time, or you can go crazy.â
Furthermore, there are live art installations that culminate with a charity auction at the end of the festival, hosted by Rhys. âWe did that a few years ago and it was a huge success,â he says. Iâm impressed. More so, when I ask Rhys if he was instrumental in ensuring comedy become a part of the festival. âAll the legwork was done by Dan,â he says. âIâm just clinging onto his coattails and sorting out some comics and getting the word out, I guess.â
Talented, successful and humble. Rhys, I really want to like you, but you make it so difficultâ¦ And it gets worse:
âOur grand vision is to introduce this format to other weekend festivals around Australia. In Britain itâs a given: thereâs always a comedy tent in every festival you go to, which generally runs all day, every day. If we could introduce a scaled-down version, and perhaps, further down the line, have the financial backing to get some really big names out, It could be something we take around Australia with us.â
Umâ¦ Rhys, mate, Iâm just wonderingâ¦ is
there any more room on those coattails?
Playground Weekender runs for a four-day weekend at Wisemans Ferry, from Thurs 18 Feb to Sun 21 Feb. A four-day ticket is $219. A three-day ticket is $199 (plus booking fees). There are day tickets available as well.
Musical artists include Orbital, Lupe Fiasco, The Polyphonic Spree, The Cribs, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Jamie Lidell, Steve Lawler, Bluejuice, Bjorn Again, Gui Boratto, OK GO and LTJ Bukem.
More importantly, here are the comedians appearing â in Rhysâs words, âour favourite performers of 2009:
Eric Hutton â Stand Up, Get Downâs favourite headliner and a highly original funny man. The Voice of Barry White with the delivery of a highly accurate postman [Iâd say heâs the illegitimate product of an illicit tryst between The Chaserâs Charles Firth and Andrew Hansen, but whatever â Dom], this strawberry blond dynamo is a truly originally comic / the best freestyle rapper in town! http://erichuttontime.com/
Nick Sun â Fresh from a tour of the States supporting Doug Stanhope, and on the verge of a fourth show at the Melbourne International Comedy festival, Nick is a unique comedian who eschews the artificiality of traditional stand up for a more insightful, honest and god damn, sharp as a knife hilarious brand of comedyâ¦ http://www.nicksun.com/pages/multimedia.php
Shane Matheson â Highly unconventional, brilliantly inventive and always hilarious, Shane is about to venture to Melbourne International Comedy Festival for his third festival show. Superb improviser and great ârandomistâ, Shane combines the fearlessness of Sam Simmons, with the characterisation of those British legends Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hu-oOGmbJho
Ryan Withers â Natural born funny man,
armed with a rapier wit and rather girlish looks, Ryan Withers aka DJ Randy
Winters, is a regular performer, and organisational contributor at Stand Up Get
Down. About to burst forth at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival with
his first solo show, Ryan has supported the likes of Arj Barker and Jamie
Kilstien here in Sydney. 2009 was a massive year, but it looks like 2010 is
truly going to be where this young Maestro really hits his stride. For an
insight into the truly unique mind of Ryan Withers read this recent column
where he interviews himself, wow, crazy fun! http://www.throwshapes.com.au/2009/12/17/comedy-gatecrash-ryan-withers-vs-ryan-withers/
The Cloud Girls aka Carnovale and Culp â
Past performers at Sydney Cracker, Melbourne Fringe and Adelaide Fringe
festivals, the Cloud Girls are truly unique character based comedians. Taking the
everyday mundane and turning it into great sketched routines, the C and C
laughter factory is going to be one not to miss! For a tiny taster check out
this clip http://www.youtube.com/user/carnovaleandculp#p/a/u/1/3XDCHQJIj60
With ample support coming from the likes of
Rhys Jones, Nick Capper, Dain Hedgpeth, Ray Badran, Rod Todd, John Cruickshank,
Ben Ellwood and more to be announced, expect a hilarious and diverse show from
Sydneyâs best alternative comedy collective! For more information or questions on Stand
Up, Get Down please contact Rhys Jones at [email protected]
With ample support coming from the likes of Rhys Jones, Nick Capper, Dain Hedgpeth, Ray Badran, Rod Todd, John Cruickshank, Ben Ellwood and more to be announced, expect a hilarious and diverse show from Sydneyâs best alternative comedy collective!
For more information or questions on Stand Up, Get Down please contact Rhys Jones at [email protected]