“I really want to be in musical theatre, but I can’t sing,” insists stand-up comic Joel Creasey. “But I only want the leading lady roles, because they’re better roles. So even if I could sing, I still wouldn’t be able to play the roles I wanted. I want to be Miss Saigon; I want to be Elphaba in Wicked. Unless I have a sex change, I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
I’m talking to Joel not long after his touching down in Sydney on a Tuesday afternoon, in that brief respite between the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, which has just ended, and the Sydney Comedy Festival, whose opening gala will be taking place in a matter of hours. Joel’s show Naked is featuring at both festivals this year. According to Joel, the Melbourne run was “definitely my favourite season so far”.
“I really like the show,” he says. “Normally, by this stage, I’d be sick of it. But I’m not – I’m still enjoying it.”
At the ripe old age of 21, Joel Creasey is a veteran of two Raw Comedy competitions – “I made the State Final two years in a row in Perth but then lost two years in a row” – and three festival shows, with Naked marking a clear progression in the comic’s development.
“It’s definitely a better show and a better structured show,” he insists. “And it has more to it than my other shows have had.” Part of what gives it more substance is the fact that Naked is all about Joel, whereas his first show, Joel Creasey’s Slumber Party – earning him a nomination for ‘Best Newcomer’ at the 2010 Melbourne Comedy Festival – dealt with celebrities. And the subsequent year’s Party Animals was about politics.
The reason the focus of his scathing wit has been turned inwards, Joel says, is because “I’ve bagged out a lot of other people and I figured it was my turn.”
Joel’s first forays into self-expressive arts were theatrical, tinged with comedy. Over time, the theatricality has fallen away to the point where it’s the pure stand-up of a comic not even making observations about the stuff around him, but about his own life experiences. And it may seem a bit premature to be doing that at age 21, but you have to remember, Joel’s been doing this since he was 17. Though comedy wasn’t the grand plan, so much as it was an escape route:
“I couldn’t be bothered studying and realised you don’t have to study for comedy, so I thought, ‘I’ll just do that!’”
But it’s not as clear-cut as that. Because after finishing high school, there was a cursory attempt at tertiary education – a good three months pursuing a degree in political science. “I pulled out because I was hating that and loving comedy,” Joel insists.
At school, Joel’s major passion – and strongest subject – was drama. Indeed, having gone to drama school, Joel reckons he would have stayed in theatre had comedy not “come along”. But I doubt that, because even when he was doing theatre, he could never stay in it without turning to comedy.
Consider Joel’s final Grade 12 drama piece: he was one of the few Year 12 drama students in his state – or perhaps the country – who opted to deliver a comedic piece. “Grade 12 kids aren’t funny,” he argues. “Their pieces are always serious – about suicide or something heavy like that.” Not Joel’s. He chose to write a funny piece about a character of his own invention – flight attendant Glen Suavé, “hell-bent on taking over the world”.
The character was disgusting, racist, offensive, and – according to Joel – “based on many Qantas flight attendants I’ve had the joy of meeting”. Naturally, Joel’s peers failed to understand what Joel was doing. Thankfully, his examiners did.
“I got amazing marks!” says Joel. “That was the thing that got me through Grade 12; it evened out my bad marks in maths and science and every other subject.”
It was also the thing that got Joel into stand-up comedy – since that monologue formed the basis of his first routine. “I was actually doing character comedy when I started,” Joel admits. “Now, obviously, I wouldn’t touch that, but I spent my first six months doing characters.”
Character comedy isn’t for everyone. As with all the various comedic subgenres, there are the truly talented who do characters very well. And chances are, had he stuck with it, Joel would have become such a comic. Instead, he found himself jealous of other comics who could “just get up and chat about their lives”. Realising that was the sort of comedy he wanted to be able to do, he soon realised he had to “drop the character”.
Which is why Naked serves as a marker in Joel’s career trajectory: he’s gone from being a character to being himself talking about other people, to being himself talking about himself. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. Particularly in the first year after Joel jettisoned the character, there was the fear that nobody particularly wants to hear about his life. “And still, sometimes I’ll get halfway through a story and think, ‘oh god, do people really want to know about me?’”
Clearly, they do. Particularly when Joel can make it sound so funny. But right now, I mostly want to know about his relationship with his parents. Clearly, they’re cool about his career choice in showbiz, if they had sent him to drama school!
“My parents are actors themselves, so they’re cool,” Joel confirms. Now that he’s based in Melbourne, Joel’s folks travel from Perth every year to check out the show. “They’re pretty into it. They’ve never tried to dissuade me in any way.” How could they? As Joel points out, having started at age 17, he actually needed his parents to attend all of his performances as they took place in pubs.
“I had to go with them to get in. That was fun! I’m sure that that’s how all the big-name comics do it…”
So Joel didn’t have the usual comedian’s story of “my parents disowned me when I started doing comedy”; perhaps he might have has a “my parents disowned me when I started doing musical theatre taking on the leading lady roles” but that’s just as unlikely. However, he still has the basic tale of overcoming adversity that so many comics have. The disbelievers, against whom every one of Joel’s successes is a victory, are “everyone I went to school with!”
“They were horrible to me because I was the Drama Captain – Surprise! There were just so many arseholes I went to school with. I just want to stick it in their face.”
Consider it stuck. One of my fonder moments in Melbourne took place in the shopping centre, Melbourne Central. On one level, every pillar is a poster board, meaning that on that level, literally hundreds of posters are Blu-Tacked to be viewed by the multitude of passing shoppers. I regret not having taken a photograph of the poster for Joel’s Naked, in which he’s depicted pretty much as the title suggests. Because someone had gone to the trouble of fashioning a cock-and-balls and adorning his poster with it.
“I’m hoping they used a lot of Blu-Tack,” Joel says.
I’m not in a position to confirm the anatomical accuracy of it, but anyone can graffiti a poster with texta, and Joel concurs that it is “a very impressive effort” that someone has gone to. “I’m very proud of that,” he says. “That took time and effort. I’m flattered. I hope they bought a ticket to the show as well…”
Speaking of the show, it’s worth chasing down what it is actually about.
“People say Naked is a ‘gay show’,” Joel says, “but it’s not. It’s relatable to everyone. It’s just that I’m so camp, people are always going to assume that. Which sometimes annoys me, because reviewers come to my show and call me ‘really gay’, and I don’t think they would go and see a woman comic and call her ‘really feminine’.”
That Joel’s camp persona is larger than life should come as no surprise. That’s what a camp persona essentially is. And while it will always be part of Joel’s comedic style – “I have very limp wrists throughout the entire performance, and my gay nasal twang is out in full force” – it doesn’t dictate the substance of the material. Party Animal, for example, was more ‘gay’, insofar as, since it was dealing with politics, it had to address the issue of single-sex marriage.
Naked – a title devised “years ago” – is all about Joel. It consists of stories stretching from primary school to high school and involves “getting drunk and things that everyone does, not just gay guys.” Although, he adds, “we probably do get drunk more than most people…”
Furthermore, in the more pat description, Naked is “all about fears, secrets, nudity and Xena the Warrior Princess”. Since one of the secrets is that Joel’s “a mad fan of Xena the Warrior Princess – and not ashamed!” it’s easy to see why some reviewers will consider the show a bit ‘gay’.
Thing is, as with many gay comics, the audience, paradoxically, will consist mostly of ‘straights’. Forgive the generalisation – or at least, hear me out first – but it seems that gay men usually have such a biting sense of humour that, usually, nobody else can be as funny as them and their mates, or at least, systematically amuse them as much as their mates. So they don’t go out and see comedy as readily as ‘straight’ audiences. And it’s the straight audiences who dig the gay comics most, because they’re getting access to insights and observations they wouldn’t usually hear.
Don’t freak out at the last paragraph. Particularly, don’t freak out just because it contains the adjectives ‘gay’ and ‘straight’. It’s just a more specific example of the greater truism, that comics are like prophets: appreciated less in their own land, they have to go off and preach to other people who have not been brought up in the same environment/class/belief system.
“We are very good at taking people apart, piece-by-piece,” says Joel, agreeing initially that he doesn’t have “a massively gay audience”. Then he corrects himself:
“I do: I would have more of a gay audience than, say, Dave Hughes.”
However, he says, his “dream audience” are the ones found in regional towns and “rough clubs” because of the challenge they pose: “you can win them over; they’re easier to shock. Whereas, while gay guys generally seem to have a great sense of humour, they’re very hard to shock. There’s always that weird element of competition there.”
But there are a lot of gay people in his audience, Joel realises, because when he was playing in Melbourne, the women playing in the venue before him noticed how fabulously attired his audience was. “They said they loved walking out and seeing my crowd queuing to come in because they’d all be so well dressed. They’d see what sort of looks were in season and take notes!”
The major demographic a good looking, young gay guy naturally plays to is present and accounted for in significant numbers in Joel’s audiences: teeny-bopper girls.
“I love them because they are great laughers,” Joel says. “But sometimes they bring their parents, and I think, ‘Oh god, you don’t know what you’re in for…’” Not that there are awkward moments during the show, so much. More likely, there are “many awkward car rides home”.
This is particularly true given some of the fears Joel addresses in Naked. One of them is, indeed, of being naked. Hence the show’s title. And poster.
“The show’s about me getting my kit of metaphorically,” Joel says. “And physically…”
There is a point in the show when the comic strips.
“So, yeah, when the young girls bring their parents it’s like, ‘oh god… I’ve got to take my clothes off at some point…”
In addition to his fear of being naked, Joel also has podophobia: “a weird fear of feet”.
“I’ve never liked them,” he says. “I hate them. They freak me out…”
Although he can deal with his own, Joel loathes other people’s. “I just don’t want to see feet. I hate thongs and sandals and crocs and things like that.”
Initially, Joel’s foot fear was not part of this show. Not until he happened to mention it to fellow comic Adam Richard while at a dinner party.
Adam’s immediate reaction?
“He put his feet in my potato salad, of course!”
The following day, Adam told his multitude of Twitter followers that Joel Creasey has a foot fetish, asking people to send Joel pictures of their feet.
“It was awful!” Joel says. “He’s got ten thousand followers, so I got a lot of pictures of feet.” And, being “very OCD”, Joel was forced to open every single attachment, “just in case one of them was a gift voucher for a million dollars.”
Oh, that reminds me of a horrible photo I saw online, of someone who had been shot in the foot.
“If I can find the image, I’ll send it to you,” I promise.
“Please don’t,” Joel says. “That’ll haunt me!”
See Joel Creasey's Naked at the Sydney Comedy Festival at Seymour Centre Sound Lounge at 7:30pm, Thurs 26 April to Sat 28 April.