Hard to tell, I know, but what you're looking at is a bug. Frozen in an ice cube. In the bottom of a cup. That I had just drained of Sprite. From a Maccas.
Now here's the thing: it's understandable that a bug might fall into the container full of ice. It happens. And it was tiny. I can understand how it was overlooked. And I'm sure it caused me no real damage - after all, we consume 6 insect legs a day in chocolate or whatever that stupid statistic is (an average of 8 legs per chocolate bar, in fact - apparently) and a bunch of spiders (more than 4 little ones).
In fact, nowadays, we're told we'll soon all be consuming insects for their protein. Although this isn't so new: a buddy told me about a trip to Thailand where a piece of corrugated metal, lit from above, was situated over a bucket of water; insects hit it all night and landed in the water; the following morning somebody sorted them into the different varieties in preparation for frying and vending.
Silkworm pupae. Yes, I have photographed it from various angles, not on the supermarket shelf. That's because it came home with me. I figured, maybe I should drain 'em, deep fry 'em - I once saw locusts cooked that way on a doco. Salted, they end up being ideal savoury snacks.
In my case, not so much.
I didn't drain them properly. I didn't use enough oil or wait until it was hot enough. They didn't taste of crisp, savoury snacks, I told Chris when asked, so much as mouldy old socks.
"I'm sorry," he said, as if he'd somehow coerced or dared me.
Anyway, point is: I wasn't really fazed by the bug on the ice. But I still wanted to kick up a stink. I'm good at that. I figured, maybe I'd get the Kramer's-lifetime-of-coffee soft drink deal out of them:
Again, not so much.
Got my money back. And a voucher for a complimentary EspressoPronto coffe or Sundae "in a size of your choice" when I visit next time. I still say there could have been a plastic card entitling the bearer to a free drink every meal forever after.
But at least the voucher was cool. Not the form letter part apologising for my "experience" not being "all it could have been today", thanking me for letting them know and assuring me they want to get it right.
It has this cool image.
Long after the clown has stopped appearing in person at stores (those ads that used to end, "come to McDonald's, I'll be there/Listen carefully and we'll tell you where" were just too much of a directory for kiddy fiddlers, I'm guessing), this has to be the coolest trademark ever.
I was gonna say 'it pisses all over the Golden Arches'. But think about it: the top of that curvy yellow 'm' could be considered bum cleavage - in which case, these boots kick its arse! Or, if you live near the rural town of Yass, it's ass!
The interview took place in the hotel room Noel and Julien Barrett - The Mighty Boosh - were sharing in Melbourne during the Comedy Festival. They were performing Autoboosh that year, and their walk-on music - which I recognised as soon as it began - was Frank Zappa's 'Help I'm A Rock' from the very first Mothers of Invention album Freak Out.
By the end of the interview, Noel presented me with the gorgeous hand-drawn portrait of Zappa that he'd executed, in pen, during our conversation.
Nearly a decade later, I got to interview Noel again, for an issue of FilmInk. Noel remembered our earlier interview:
What I didn't know, either time I interviewed Noel, was that the Mighty Boosh had once described their work as "comedy for people who grew up listening to Frank Zappa". In fact, as that interview went on to reveal, I also didn't recognise Zappa's youngest child, daughter Diva, in her cameo in the final episode of the Mighty Boosh.
"How did you not recognise her?" Noel demanded in disbelief. "She looks so much like her dad!"
The Mighty Boosh Band went on to appear in the Zappa Roundhouse Festival in 2010, celebrating what would have been Zappa's 70th birthday - albeit a couple of months early, give-or-take.
The latest Zappa/Boosh crossover is with the Zappa Family Trust release of a 12-inch single - on red vinyl - featuring the Mothers of Invention for Mothers Day. Well, the announcement of the release is in time for Mothers Day.
The record features 'Help I'm A Rock' and 'It Can't Happen Here' in their original stereo 1966 mixes on side 1. Side 2 features the original mono release and the original basic tracks of 'Who Are The Brain Police?'
The record also features gorgeous cover art by Noel Fielding. Yep. Noel Fielding painting a portrait of Zappa for 'Help I'm A Rock'. Who'dathunkit? I love it when my nerd worlds collide. You can pre-order it here.
Jared Jekyll is debuting at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year with his show Loony Bin. Here is a clip promoting his show, directed by Jeremy Belinfante. (If I were honest, I'd admit I thought they were the same guy to begin with. In fact, I'm not entirely convinced they're not.)
As it happens, I'm doing a Festival show too. Here is the poster frommy show, which I will tell you all about later.
âI graduated on Thursday, so no more school
forever!â Nina informs me, which comes as a surprise. Not for the reason you might think.
First time I saw Nina Oyama
perform, she was in her school uniform, school bag in tow, evidently having come directly to the gig from school.
âActually,â she says, âIâd come via work. It was a choice between the work uniform and the school uniform.â The work was Maccas, and Nina had already gigged in the Maccas uniform; clever and dedicated from the beginning, she was keen to see whether the same material got a different response with a different uniformâ¦
Next thing I hear, Nina had dropped out
of school. And was hanging out with that Phuklubcrowd. Suddenly Iâm acting even older than I am, since an old man rant build.
Because â not that it was any of my business â to me, thatâs clearly a mistake.
Not just ditching school for a life of
comedy (cos thatâs likely to be extremely lucrative!), but ditching it for a life of comedy where, as a newbie,
youâre plunging headlong into the world of
alternative-and-not-necessarily-funny comedy. (Iâm not having a go; the Phuklub comedians are hilarious and what
theyâre doing is important â see my write-up.)
Iâm just saying: breaking all the rules in
comedy is all very well. Itâs certainly better than breaking all the rules in
school â more advantageous dropping out if thatâs the case â but as in all art,
in comedy, itâs better to have learnt the rules before you break them, because
then you know what youâre doing. Even if you donât quite know where youâre going, you can have the faith that youâll come back safely, and the audience are aware of that even if they donât realise it, so they go with you, and everybody has a fun adventure.
Consider, for example, the
discordant notes that Mike Garson plays in David Bowieâs âAladdin Saneâ: they work as
music despite being all over the place rhythmically, melodically and harmonically because there is form and technique to the mess. As opposed to someone just hitting
random notes heavy-handedly. Those years of learning scales and technique pay off.
Except, perhaps it isnât. Perhaps learning
stagecraft while being polite and predictable is less valuable than learning
how to fly blind, to jump and hope the net will appear.
But thereâs no need to deploy the old man
rant. Not just because Nina has been sensible enough to spend as much time in
more traditional comedy rooms as she has in experimental variety, honing her craft to a great degree for such a short time at it. Also because, as she puts it, she âwent back to school, tail between my legs, and completed Year 12
successfullyâ. Oh, sheâs still got to sit the Higher School Certificate examinations, rest
assured. Which means buckling down and studying almost immediately. But not before one spectacular âlast hurrahâ. Which is why weâre talking. Before she hits the books with a vengence, Ninaâs performing in a show she put together for the Sydney Fringe Festival, featuring a bunch of fellow kid comedians.
âI wanted to do a Fringe show but I didnât think I was able to do it by myself,â Nina reckons. Having made the Class
Clowns final this year, she figured, âman, there is just so much talent and
people who are young have so much cred,â so she put a show together around
some of her Class Clown peers.
Well, I say âpeersâ; at the ripe old age of 19,
Nina is the senior member of the group. Theyâre already being noticed by people who matter in the industry, but whatâs most important is that theyâre funny. Iâll let them speak for themselves through their own press bios.
(18) â With titles under his belt such as Winner of Class Clowns 2009 and a
performance at the Melbourne International Teen Gala 2011, Neel is definitely
one to watch. A master of impressions, reviewers have described his stand up as
warm, casual and current. Neelâs other passion is gangster rap, which he writes
and performs. Neel has never been to jail but considers his tight knit Indian
family a âgangâ.
(16) â Student, skater and self-confessed serial masturbator, Jordanâs stand up
encompasses what it truly means to be a teenager. Based in the Central Coast of
NSW, Jordanâs laid back storytelling style lead him to become one of the
youngest Class Clowns National Finalists in 2012.
Nina Oyama (19)
â When she was seven, Nina ate bugs as a dare and secretly liked it. Ten years
later, she tried stand up comedy as a dare and secretly liked that too. Finding
it easier to make people laugh, Nina gave up her dream of becoming a
professional bug eater. A Class Clowns State Finalist 2012, her act combines
both music and traditional stand up. Nina has entertained both locally and
interstate. She was recently selected to perform at The Sydney Comedy Store as
part of the Sydney Comedy Festival Showcase. She also writes for the Australian
comedy website BonVivant.com.au. (I'd link to this, but it defaults to the 'Gourmet Explorer' homepage - Dom)
Aaron Chen (17)
â Breathing heavily and pacing nervously across the stage, Aaron doesnât feel
comfortable until he knows what toothpaste the audience uses. At the precocious
young age of 16, Aaron became one of the youngest paid performers in Sydney.
Aaronâs killer punch lines and savage wit have earned him the accolades of
Class Clowns State Finalist 2011, Winner of Class Clowns 2012 and Quest for the
Best Finalist 2011. Most recently Aaron was given the opportunity to perform at
The Sydney Comedy Store in the Best in Live Comedy Winter Showcase.
Stewart (18) â Despite growing up in the notoriously rough outer suburbs,
Madeleine is one classy young lady, complete with a sharp dress sense and a
penchant for opera singing. Her clean-cut one-liners and political stylings
have had her talked about everywhere, most notably on Wil Andersonâs podcast, TOFOP.
Madeleine was a Class Clowns National Finalist in 2011 and State Finalist in
2012. She also only has one arm; her mother was forced to keep her because the
hospital had a âyou break it, you bought itâ policy.
Barely Legal is playing Thurs 27 to
Saturday 29 September from 18.30
to 19.30 at the Laugh Garage Comedy Club, Cnr of Park and Elizabeth Street Sydney 2000 (Ph 9264 1161).
Registration for Class Clowns 2013 opens October 5.
âWill this end with me beind date raped?â Michael Hing responds to my initial offer of an interview
over a home-cooked meal. Instead, I make him the Mafia compromise: a meal he
canât refuse in a public place where neither of us has the clear advantage. Although
I have slightly more, since itâs a pizza place in the shopping strip where I
work. But as no firearm has, to our knowledge, been strapped behind the
cistern, and neither of us comes out of the john with just our dick in our hand, itâs
still clearly the right decision. (Iâll see your Gen Y ironic rape gag with a
Gen X pop cultural reference, Hingers!)
Although it seems like
heâs been around for a relatively short period of time, Michael Hingâs been
involved in various modes of comedy for ages; heâs done just about everything,
his disproportionate hunger for comedy seemingly outweighing any other need or
desire in life. If thereâs any
interesting new movement or trend happening in comedy, chances are Michael will
be somewhere close to the centre of it, since most if not all roads lead back
to Hing. Particulary at this yearâs Sydney Fringe Festival where Hingers seems
to be producing or appearing in some 20-odd shows, making it very much a Sydney
Stand-out elements of
Michaelâs comedy include his need to outline an informed socio-political
position. Heâll rant, but the rant will be backed up by facts. On a personal
level, however, he specialises in a line of self-conscious, nerdy absurdist
self-deprecation â but the self-deprecation is never racially based. That, he
eschews with an almost Richard Dawkins-like fervour. Which is where I most
often want to take issue, because even if the so-called âwog comedyâ and Asian
permutations thereof are unsophisticated, they still serve a purpose.
Unsophisticated people deserve to enjoy a laugh, too. But weâll get to that,
and just about everything else, in good time.
My first memory of
Michael Hing was of that self-conscious Sydney Uni kid with the dreadlocks,
giving Raw Comedy a go. Twice. Within weeks of each other. First as a solo
stand-up, then as part of a kind-of-âsketchâ double act with another Sydney Uni
kid called Neal Downward. The double act was more memorable than the solo
stand-up since it cleverly â perhaps too cleverly â deconstructed performance itself. Metacomedy. Earning Hing and his partner, Neal
Downward, a bit of coverage in MX when
they made the state semis. Next thing I know, Hing and Downward are producing a
sketch troupe consisting of a whole mess of Sydney Uni kids, called âThe
Delusionistsâ, in their self-titled show for Sydneyâs Big Laugh Festival and
the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
The Delusionists, (l-r when they first appear): Ben Jenkins, Alex Lee, Steen Raskopoulos, Benita de
Wit, Paul Michael Ayre
âThat was all within the same six month period,â Michael acknowledges:
âa pretty quick turn-around!â
What happened was, a year earlier Ben Jenkins â who would become one of
the Delusionists â made it through to the Raw Comedy National Finals. Hingâs
housemate, a high school buddy, was friends with Ben, so Hingers ended up
seeing Jenkins in action and thought âI could probably do thatâ and gave it a
âI didnât have the drive, performance ability, talent and experience Ben
had,â Michael recalls. âAnd I was really, really new and Raw might have been
the second time Iâd done comedy.â
âI forgot most of my set that night, and stood
in silence in the light.â
What was interesting was the nightâs feature act â the professional
comic who entertains the loyal audience as a kind of reward for having sat
through a dozen newbie amateurs â was Nick Sun. And he more-or-less âdid
exactly the same thing, which is, come on into the light and be silent and not
know his jokes.â
âWhen Nick Sun did it, it was hilarious because it seemed like it was
deliberate. When I did it, it was like, âwhat are you doingâ¦?ââ
The rise and rise of Michael Hing began with a couple of improv classes
towards the end of 2005 â which makes complete sense since Theatresports and
the tradition of improvised comedy have been strong at Sydney Uni just about
forever. Peripheral involvement with that yearâs Arts Faculty Revue whetted his appetite; Hing directed the Architecture Revue the following year. âI
didnât perform, but I wrote a lot for it,â he says, admitting that his early
attempts at comedy are a little embarrassing now. âIt was terrible. I was
consciously trying to do stuff that was different to everybody else, but it was
a case of âyou have to learn all the rules before you can break themâ.â
Hingers did try to be different: whereas the first commandment of
University Revue seems to be âThou Shalt Taketh the Piss Out of Other
Facultiesâ, under Michaelâs watch, rather than take on Engineering, Education, Science and Arts, the Architecture Revue sought to be ââdifferentâ and âcrazyâ and âout
thereâ and âwhoooooaaaah!ââ Without sufficient experience the result, according
to Michael, was âthis weird mess of ideasâ where, of the 90-minute show, âmaybe
40 jokes were funny and 50 million jokes were terribleâ.
To be fair, every sketch show is hit-and-miss unless itâs put together
some five years into the participantsâ careers, where they can draw from the
best of everything theyâve done thus far. And even then, the best sketch shows
are the British ones where thereâve been several series on Radio 4 before the
best bits thus far are chosen for the debut television series. You donât know
that when you see that television series; it just looks like someone amazing
has come out of nowhere to work comedy magic.
Be that as it may, John Pinder â Aussie comedy pioneer whoâd helped
found the Melbourne International Comedy Festival way back when and was still
consulting for television producers and heading up one of Sydneyâs numerous and
disparate festivals (The Big Laugh Festival at the time) â happened to see the
âI donât really understand what was going on,â Hingers says, âbut for
some reason, he liked it and gave me a bit of money to put together a sketch
crew to be a part of that yearâs Big Laugh Festival, and from that, do the
Melbourne Comedy Festivalâ.â
Thus, The Delusionists came into being.
Remember, by this time Pinder and producer Chris McDonald had created a
âbest of the university revuesâ live show called The Third Degree, which eventually became the Ronnie Johns television show.
âThe Third Degree already had
a format, so we came in at a time when the exact theatre that they were in â
the Kaleide Theatre at RMIT â was free, and there was what John described as âa
gap in the marketâ, which we filled,â Hing recalls. âPeople had heard of The Third Degree and wanted to be a part
of that experience in terms of sketch and discovering new comedy, so in our
first year, we had a lot of ticket sales that we didnât really deserve.â
Undeserved perhaps, but definitely earned. When you go down to Melbourne
with a sketch show, you have a mass of performers as well as crew â a small
army that can cover all the bases when flyering punters on the street in the hope theyâll come see your
show. And it did seem they knew what they were doing, even if it was mostly
front and bluster. But Hingers comes clean:
âThat was mostly copied from the model these guys were running. They had
all these rules and tips that they gave us, so we werenât going down completely
âfresh facedâ, although, to all the people who didnât know us, it was like,
âwho are these kids who have come down and sold 200 tickets?!ââ
Itâs not like they hadnât done it before, really. Theyâd flyered
strangers for their uni revue, and the had the likes of Dan Ilic and Jordan
Raskopoulos â Third Degree and Ronnie Johns veterans â teaching them
stuff. The result? A good first show that earned a three-and-a-half star review
in The Age. They were overjoyed. âThe Age! The paper! It came and saw our
show!â Michael recalls.
At this stage of his not-quite-career, despite an initial foray into Raw
Comedy, Michael Hing is sticking to writing and directing rather than
performing. And having cool dreadlocks, I suggest. âYeah, and just being a real
weird dude,â he adds.
The following year, of course, the Delusionists return to Melbourne with
The History of Everything that Ever
Happened. Ever and sell out some 23 of their 25 shows, despite being on at a
ridiculously early timeslot. There are suggestions that TV is interested,
though nothing immediately comes of it. Although, the major difference this
time is âwe get a two-star review from The
Age, and they call us homophobic and racist and the rest.â According to
Hing, âthat really hurtâ because they were all âcrazy, left-wing, politically
correct peopleâ with âtotally innocuous jokesâ that âwerenât even about race or
genderâ. Indeed, Michael stresses, indignant, âit really hurt to be called homophobic when
weâre the type of people who go on marches for this kind of stuff. Weâre Sydney
Uni students. Donât you understand? We vote for the Greens!â
Ah yes. A half-decade or so earlier, theyâd be rich kids who could
afford, in time, to be âchardonnay socialistsâ. Understood loud and clear. But
that doesnât make them any less funny. Or politically incorrect necessarily (although,
I resist pointing out, this interview did begin with a date rape gag, âironicâ and/or
âabsurdâ as it may be). If the Delusionists were guilty of anything, it was of
being a bit too clever-clever.
Still, it served as a lesson to Michael Hing in
his formative years.
âThatâs when I first
started thinking about how careful you have to be with your comedy in terms of
what youâre saying and what youâre doing. The onus isnât on the audience to
interpret it. The onus is on you to give them a message that they couldnât
possibly misinterpret. You dictate how they interpret you. Itâs all on you.â
After that year, Hing quit the group to
concentrate on solo comedy.
âI was too insecure to work in a group,â he says. âIâm not performing,
so Iâm thinking, Iâm not the funny one; theyâre getting all the laughs, Iâm
just writing jokes.â By this stage, the Delusionists were a strong troupe of
performers, and as such, pretty much directed themselves. âIâm like, âyou know
what, I really want to do my own thing now. I want to go back to Uni and do
drama and some other stuff, maybe finish my degree, I donât know.ââ
Back to Uni
Thatâs an interesting diversion at this point. What exactly was Michael
studying? The plan out of high school was to follow Mama and Papa Hing into
medicine, because Michael was a pretty smart kid.
âBut then it turns out Iâm not smart enough to do that,â Michael says, âso
after six months of that I move to teaching for about three years.â
After teaching, Hingers tried his hand at counselling. âI go on a school
counselling prac and I expect it to be âoh like, hey, talk about your feelings
and stuffâ and on the first day it was, âmy mumâs an alcoholic, my dadâs a
heroin addict, what have you got for me?â I was like, âthis is out of my
league!â so I ditched that because there was no way that I could really help
Six months of architecture ensued. And then an
attempt at a philosophy degree.
âThe point is,â Hing says, âI never graduated.â
Hang on, Hingers. Youâre an Asian kid. You have an intellect. Both your
folks are high achieving doctors. How do they feel that you need to be a clown?
âThey are amazingly supportive of this unmitigated bullshit,â Michael
says. Although his routine is littered with jokes about his parents
disapproving of his life choices, âin reality,â he insists, âthey are just
amazing. For exampleâ¦â
Before he launches into his example, Hingers
falters and has a second thought.But then says, âYeah, Iâll talk about this,â and carries on.
âI had an opportunity two years ago to audition for a television show
which never got made. It was a sitcom. I got asked to audition for the part of
this Asian character who spoke in a weird accent and did a lot of Asian jokesâ¦â
If you know Michael Hing at all, or have seen him on stage, you will
almost certainly know that this is anathema to him â playing the
self-deprecating, comic-relief, cheap-laugh Asian. And yet â sitcom. Television
work. Income. Perhaps fame.
âI was kind of not sure about what I wanted to do or whether I should do
it, and my dad was like, âMichael, you didnât do uni because you donât want to
have a real job; if you start doing stuff like this that youâre not passionate
about and donât believe in, thatâs like having a real job. You need to do what
you want in the way you want to do it.ââ
Cool dad, huh!
âThat is one of the biggest influences on what I am trying to do,â
Hingers acknowledges. âMy parents are super, super supportive. Ridiculously so.
To the point where it is almost irresponsible. Now Iâm doing fine and donât need
support, but if I ever did, I think they would help me out.â
Moving on from The Delusionists while remaining friends with the cast
and crew, Michael began to concentrate on his own comedy. He took another stab
at Raw, making it to the state final. âThat was when I realised stand-up was
the thing Iâm not terrible at,â he says. Still, his career trajectory was
somewhat bound to the sketch comedy troupe.
âAll the shows weâd done down in Melbourne, they were partially funded
by the University of Sydney Union,â Hingers explains. For the uninitiated, the
Union is the body that administers much of the cultural life of the student
body, and one way in which it does so is by funding cultural undertakings.
However, Michael says, after two years of financing a small armyâs interstate
incursion, the Union woke up to itself.
âThey were kind of like, âHey, youâre going down to Melbourne with
thousands of our dollars and weâre not getting anything out of thatâ. So for
2009 when we wanted to do it, we said, âYou know what, to prove to you that
weâre doing something for culture on campus, weâll start a comedy room on
campus thatâll do a show every week and weâll mix between doing stand-up and
sketch and improv and story telling and musical comedy and plays and everything
and weâll literally do a different show every weekâ.â
And so, out of the need to fund a final Festival foray in 2009, Project
52 was born. âWe didnât realise that what would become Project 52 would be the
greatest thing weâve ever done and one of the coolest things that weâve ever
been involved in,â Michael says, quickly pointing out that heâs ânot the only
personâ behind it. âI do a lot of the boring admin work for it, but it
certainly is a five-way group who run it.â The team includes Ben Jenkins, Carlo
Ritchie, Steen Raskopolous and Tom Walker. âCarlo and Tom are the people who
probably make me laugh more than anyone else in the world. I understand their
minds, and they still make me laugh all the time.â
It wasnât an instant success, of course: some nights were packed
out. Other nights the comics outnumbered the audience. âThere were some grim
times for us,â Hing acknowledges. âThereâd be eleven people in the room,
and ten comics, and itâs going to go forever and itâs gonna be terrible and
Iâve got to tell some first year Iâm really sorry, he canât go on because there
are too many comics. But by the end of the first year, a small crowd for us
became 60 people.â
It certainly helped Michael develop as a comic, having to front up each
week, often in front of largely the same group of punters. He had to have new
material each time.
âItâs perfect when youâre young and you have a million ideas and you
have to write them all down,â Michael reckons. âI say like Iâm some old guy nowâ¦â
I am some old guy now, and I can say the one night I got to perform
there, it was chockers. Admittedly, everyone apart from Hing â and me â was
some undergraduate doing material about Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Harry
Potter, but it was a great night. And then I couldnât get another go, because
word got out that it was the coolest room in Sydney and visiting international
acts were climbing over each other to get some stage time. Although Michael has
a far more touching story about Project 52âs growth in prominence.
In Memoriam, Jordan McClellan
Some time into the roomâs second year, on the night of Sydney
Universityâs Theathresports Grand Final, a student called Jordan McClellan,
who âdid a lot of improv stuffâ with Hing and co, was tragically hit and killed by a taxi on his way home.
âIt was really serious and really, really sad,â Michael recalls. âThat affected
a lot of people and changed the way we did comedy. It really changed a lot of
One change was the renaming of the Theatsports Trophy. Steen
Raskopoulos and Tom Walker, who run the Theatresports program, renamed it The
Jordan McClellan Cup. But one of the âmore offbeat thingsâ to come out of it,
according to Michael, occurred as a result of them googling Jordan McClellanâs
name, to see how his death had been reported.
âWe found this blog by someone called Sidney Critic who had been writing
about us for 18 months. We had no idea. He reviewed all our shows. So there was
this great memory of our friend who had passed away. That was really cool.â
Sidney Critic went on to name Project 52 the best comedy room in Sydney.
âI think other comics must have read that blog or something, because when we
started up in the second year, the people who wanted to get on werenât just
open mikers and friends, it was proper comedian people.â
But thatâs just the stand-up night; there is far more to Project 52 than
stand-up, which takes place on night a month. Steen Raskopoulos runs âThe Impro
Denâ. âIt is â and I say this
having watched a lot of impro â by several standard deviations the best
improvised comedy youâll see in Australiaâ â Michael insists.
âStory Clubâ is the story-telling night run by Ben Jenkins. âItâs part
of a new trend thatâs been happening for a couple of years,â Michael says,
acknowledging story-telling rooms run by the likes of Kathryn Bendall (âTell Me A Storyâ) and
Michael Brown (âCampfire Collectiveâ). The point of difference for Story Club, Hingers explains, is
that people literally type a story and read it out of a giant book. âSo thereâs
no performance element to it the way you would tell a stand-up story. Itâs more
of a writing and performing process, and theyâre on a theme. Itâs as really
good way to break in, when people donât feel confident in performing, they can
And, finally, there is a sketch night called Make Way For Ducklings.
âItâs probably the funnest thing to ever do,â Michael insists.
In addition, Project 52 runs other themed
nights where the comedy is about a specific â often nerdy â thing. âLike our Game of Thrones night. Recently we did a
âwould you ratherâ discussion. Itâs license to do whatever we want. Weâre not
locked into doing stand-up every week, like other rooms are.â
Makes me want to run away and join Michael
Hingâs circus. They have the most supportive milieu. âItâs not even just
students,â Michael insists. âItâs a specific kind of student.â The room has a
capacity of 130-odd. âWe donât like turning people away,â he says, âbut there
are nights when we say, âThere are people who shouldnât be here, could they
leaveâ¦â.â Such people, according to Michael, arenât going to âget into the
spiritâ of the roomâs comedy. He reckons theyâre people âwho want rape jokes
and âedgyâ comedyâ (said the man who suggested dinner-and-interview might serve
as the prelude to unwanted foreplay. And afterplay).
2012 was the first year Michael Hing took his own hour-long show, An Open Letter to Rich White People
Concerning Their Role in the Downfall of Civilisation, to the Melbourne
International Comedy Festival âbecause thatâs how the Australian comedy
industry works,â he acknowledges. Whereas in America you develop five minutes
of material, building it to 10 and then 15 and then twenty, on your way to an
hour, in Australia you âdo comedy for a bit and then you do an hour-long show
at a Festivalâ. Though not necessarily âreadyâ to take on the solo show, there
were indications that it was time â âa bunch of weird thingsâ starting to
happen from the beginning of the year.
âI broke up with a girl who
I had been dating for years. I started working at a university as an adult
instead of as a student lay-about.â It was, he says, part of that coupla-year
cycle where h panics a little and thinks he has to decide whether he should persevere
with comedy or pack it all in and try to get a real job.
âI gave myself to the end of the year to decide,â he explains: âIf Iâm
just doing one or two spots a week and only a couple of gigs a month are paid, then
Iâm going to focus on my career and do stand-up as a hobby. But if by the end
of the year Iâm doing stuff that I really like and Iâm really proud of what Iâm
doing, then comedy is the thing Iâm going to do.â
Focus on your âcareerâ, Hingers? What, pray,
tell, was the âcareerâ if it wasnât comedy, midway through 2011?
âAt the time I was booking bands and the
Roundhouse, at the University of New South Wales,â Michael says. âI was like,
âI can be a booker. And do comedy as a hobbyâ.â Of course, Michael gave that
all away, and his non-comedy employment nowadays consists of teaching digital
marketing and media at said university part time, âeven thought I donât have a
degree and Iâm not qualified at allâ.
Aiding the transition from part time amateur
comic to full time professional were the collaborative shows Michael had been
creating for earlier Sydney Comedy Festivals with Patrick Magee. A founding
member and stalwart of Comicide, the
other sketch comedy troupe operating around the same time as The Delusionists, Magee was in many ways
Hingâs perfect foil.
Their first show, 2010âs Illustrious Physicians of Romance, set out âto teach you everything
you need to know about love in an hourâ. A sample routine involved grabbing a
punter from the audience and calling up their ex-girlfriend in order to try and
win them back over the phone. The show arose out of Hing and Mageeâs respective
obsessions with women at the time. (What? And your long term relationship
faltered, Michael? How? Why?)
Their second show, the following yearâs Orientalism was a sustained ârallying
cry against ethnic comedyâ â one of Hingâs bugbears. Although Michael is still adamantly
opposed to ethnic comedy, he can at least acknowledge that â60 minutes is a
long time to be preachy about somethingâ.
These shows werenât necessarily good prep for
Hingâs one-man show. âThey were mostly improvised and they were more sketch
than stand-up,â Michael explains. âThey changed every night because Pat Magee has
an inability to maintain focus on stuff, which is what makes him super funny a
lot of the time. It also makes him highly emotionally volatile a lot of the
time, as well. He is seriously one of the smartest, funniest, cleverest people
Iâve ever met and worked with. If he ever bothered to commit to doing comedy
forever, heâd be great.â
Given that Patrickâs currently in the UK
pursuing comedy, chances are heâs well on his way to achieving that greatness.
As for Michael, the process made him realise he had a number of stories he
wanted to tell, and so it was time to do his own show. Its first incarnation was Iâm Only Doing This Because They Wonât Let Me Be A Rapper at the 2011 Sydney Fringe Festival.
Half a year on from the Melbourne Comedy Festival, Michaelâs attitude to
his season is telling.
âI came back from Melbourne with a good amount of money from doing
comedy,â he says, âwhich felt really, really cool.â
So comedy as career instead of hobby, then. No need to get qualified to
teach digital media and marketing after all.
âAt the same time, there was stuff in my comedy that I didnât feel very
proud of. I was doing some jokes that I thought were lazy, and some easy gags.
I felt a little bit guilty because I was using easy tricks â in about three or
four parts of my show â to get laughs.â
Oh, Hingers, ever the purist. He sometimes got laughs not by telling a
joke, but by using âjust the rhythm of a joke, and the word âf*ckâ.â What comic
has never been guilty of that? Your job is to make them laugh. Did you make
them laugh? Good. No problem. Unless youâre competing in a [Raw] comedy
competition, in which case, be concerned that the jokes are below your judgesâ
standards, rather than your audiencesâ. But even then, it doesnât matter: 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.
Still, Michael makes a convincing argument:
âFor the first three weeks, where Iâm selling out some nights and
getting great reviews, it feels great.â
Why wouldnât it? Thatâs every Melbourne Comedy Festival debutante â and
veteran â comicâs dream.
Uh-oh. Chortle is the Ã¼ber-comedy critic, the comedy critic sine qua
non. And Hing confirms that Chortle essentially said, ââHey, dickhead, youâre a mad, lazy writer who should be
trying harder, cos youâre cheapâ.â Hingâs paraphrasing, of course; Chortle is far more articulate than
âI read that and I think, âHe sees through everything, and itâs
trueâ. And the reality is, any other achievement that I feel proud of, is
meaningless. So I come back from Melbourne with money that Iâm not
uncomfortable to have, but think I should put it towards something cool.â
Good man, Hingers. I think I speak for almost everyone when I say Iâm
never uncomfortable to have money, and I always think I should put it towards
something cool. But Iâm never as cool as Michael, who has put his money to the best
possible use, producing fringe festival shows of several of his comedy peers.
But thatâs the obvious, immediate penance â putting potentially
âill-gotten gainsâ toward a greater good. Michaelâs taking other initiatives as
âI donât have a lot of strengths, but one thing Iâm quite good at is
learning. I flatter myself to think I can learn quite well, so if someone I
respect, whose reviews Iâve read, says to me âthis is a two-star show and you
need to work harder and not be lazyâ, then I can click onto that being a real
And so for Hingers, itâs once more into the fray: among the multitude of
shows heâs involved with is the new hour of material, in development for the
2013 festival season.
All roads lead to Hingers
While âcoasting comedianâs guiltâ goes some way to explaining why so
many roads lead to Hing â the âSydney Hing Festivalâ part of it, anyway â there
are still all the other undertakings he is and has been involved in.
For example, a couple of years ago one of the new hot young things of
comedy was a svelte Sydney chanteuse called Gen Fricker whose sinister
world view with conveyed via punk ballads sugar coated with a thin veneer of faux-naivete bookended with some of the most hilarious off-the-cuff banter youâll ever have served up at you.
Another one of the many to arise out of the Sydney Uni milieu, Gen is clearly a
world-class talent in her formative years. Suddenly, Hingers was hosting the
breakfast shift with her on Radio FBi.
A couple of years previous, Jack Druce was the youngest Raw finalist
ever (dubbed âan embryoâ at the time by one slightly older â and possibly slightly jealous
comic). Now Hing is co-hosting one of the better comedian-fronted podcasts with
Cale Bain hosts an brilliant impro night on Tuesdays at the Roxbury
Hotel (the second best in the known universe, according to Hingers â but he has
a vested interest in the Impro Den, so itâs hard to call) and Hing is one of
A bunch of brash alternate comics have a weekly package of performance
anarchy called Phuklub â of which Iâve written at length. Guess whoâs now a
regular there, tooâ¦
And virtually any cool newbie you see who is or was at one time a
student at Sydney University, rest assured, is a friend, was groomed by,
appeared in a revue with, or letâs face it, will one day regret never having embarked
upon a meaningful physical relationship with, Michael Hing.
Thereâs a reason why this is.
âIf I want this to be my job,â Hing explains, âif I talk to my friends,
most of whom are comics, and theyâre doing a cool thing, I want to be a part of
it. And I feel like I have a disparate amount of experience now that I can go
into any place and try and fit in with what theyâre doing.â
And, more than wanting the constant challenge of trying to apply his worldview
and talents to each new comedic undertaking, thereâs a far more fundamental and
âThereâs no shortage of talented people in any comedy scene,â Hing says.
âAll that separates me or anyone from anyone else is the amount of work that you
do. If I think Iâm good and Iâm gonna coast this out, there are any number of
more naturally talented people who can take my place.â
One of the forces guiding Michael, particularly in the way he helps
administer comedy to university campuses and beyond, taking newbies under his
wing as he investigates new avenues for himself and others, is to provide the
means of access that didnât exist when he first hit the scene.
âWhen I was at uni and had a dream of doing stand-up, there was no way
that I knew how to go to the Mic in Hand on a Thursday night. If youâre a
student studying a science degree or whatever, you go, âoh, there are people at
my uni putting a show on every Wednesday night, and theyâve done shows in
Melbourne, and theyâre doing gigs at the Comedy Store. If I hang around with
them maybe I can learn how to do this â how to get it doneâ. Thatâs a really
attractive thing to be able to offer young people. When I was in high school
and at university I didnât know how to be a comedian. Now, if I can offer anyone
anything, itâs this: here is a night where you can get on and you can do
comedy, and if you like comedy, I can tell you who to talk to and who can help
you out. And now we get the people who run the Comedy Store coming by and
checking out our night. Thatâs really cool for me.â
Thus, Michael is producing 20-odd shows at this yearâs Sydney Fringe
Festival because when he was at Uni he didnât know how to do comedy, and now he
has a bit of an idea. Not just of how to approach it, but of the different
approaches you might choose to take. Indeed, Michael has several approaches of
his own that heâs putting into practice all at once â in a handful of shows.
One of them is a sketch show with Ben Jenkins, called Ben and Hing Do Sketches At You for the Better Part of an Hour. But donât
think, for an instant, that itâs another âMichael Hing and Patrick Mageeâ show
with Jenkins playing the role of Magee, even though Hing works as well with Ben
as he does with Pat.
âBen and I have been writing together for six years now, so we have a
catalogue of 100 sketches. Weâre gonna pick out 10 or 15 of them to call them a
And of course, thereâs the solo show, Occupy White People, thatâll be the prototype of his
2013 festival show.
But the most political and personal one, by far, is A Series of Young Asian Comedians not doing Asian Jokes, which
features Jen Wong, Ronny Chieng (joint Best Newcomer at the Melbourne
International Comedy Festival this year), Alex Lee, Jonathan Lee and Aaron Chen along with Hingers. âWe
all do 10 minutes each and no one mention race, no one mentions racism, no one
mentions immigration, no one mentions being Asian, no one mentions stereotypesâ¦
nothing. Itâs us doing jokes that have nothing to do with that.â
The stereotyped kid
Michael and I donât quite agree on the âwog comedyâ issue. Being
slightly older, and remembering what an amazing phenomenon Wogs Out Of Work was, I appreciate that self-deprecating humour was
the first opportunity certain audiences â consisting of huge cross-sections of
Australian society â got to see characters they could identify with on stage.
Performers were talking to them about their particular experiences in ways that
Ango Austalian comics and other stage and screen characters couldnât.
Furthermore, these non-Anglo Australian stereotypes werenât merely the âlowâ
characters, the comic relief, the butt of the Anglo Australiansâ jokes. They
played the gamut of characters, and where they were the butt of the jokes, they
were the butt of their own jokes: the humour was self-deprecating, so it wasnât
hurtful. Decades on, yes, that kind of humour is clearly less sophisticated;
society has changed enough (we hope) that itâs unnecessary. We see non-Anglo
Australians in the media representing more than the mere fact that they happen
to be people of foreign extraction. But in less enlightened times, self-deprecating
wog comedy was empowering.
âYeah,â Hing replies, âbut if the only way ethnic people can identify
with a character on television in the 1980s is through Con the Fruiterer,
thatâs a damning indictment of television. Itâs so rare, for example, to see a
Chinese person on TV where their defining role isnât merely being Chinese. Itâs
only now that youâre seeing hot Asian girls who are actually just âhot girlsâ,
rather than âhot Asian girlsâ.â
Somewhere, a Gen X woman â who probably reviews for The Age â is reading this and being annoyed at the objectification
of âhotâ and âgirlsâ when Hing clearly meant âwomenâ; is it a bigger faux pas
when special attention is being paid to the avoidance of racial
generalisations? His point stands, however: if the person of a certain race
appears in popular culture merely as a stereotypical representation of that
race, there is a tendency for kids engaging with that culture to define
themselves and others primarily by ethnicity. âAnd it is divisive,â Hing insists,
âbecause, growing up, you are no longer the kid who happens to be Chinese or
the kid who happens to be Italian. You are âthe Chinese kidâ. Or âthe Italian
kidâ. And for some people thatâs a really positive point of difference, but
there is no reason that they have to be that. Why not âyou are the smart kidâ
or âyou are the fast kidâ?â
âA lot of Asian comedians do it: âMy dad gets his Ls and his Rs mixed
up. Whatâs up with that?ââ Hing says, outlining why this line of humour fails.
âYouâre making fun of your dadâs accent. Number one: itâs very
well-trodden ground. You should be above that. If youâre holding a microphone,
you should hold yourself to be above that. Number two: if your parents have a
thick accent, chances are, theyâre first generation emigrants. They probably
made huge sacrifices to bring you here and bring you up in a country with
opportunities where they can give you the best life possible. And youâre gonna
get on stage and make fun of them because they donât speak English properly and
they have a funny accent? Go f*ck yourself. That f*cken annoys me. It enrages
The rage has its origins during Hingâs own childhood.
âGrowing up in the mid-90s in Australia, watching a comedian on
television who looks like me,â he recalls, âI get excited, and then he says,
âspring rollsâ¦ boogadah boogadah boogadah, whatâs up with thatâ¦?â (The
âboogadah boogadah boogadahâ is shorthand not unlike the Yiddish âyaddah yaddah
yaddahâ, serving here to dismiss facile observations.) âEveryone goes, âThatâs
amazingâ and they grow up thinking thatâs okay to do, and you think thatâs what
you have to do as a Chinese guy doing comedy. I just want to prove to people
that you donât have to do that.â
What it feels like, I offer, is that Michael saw Hung Le on television,
and irrespective of how funny or clever Hungâs observations were, later on at
school narrow minded people repeated them, seeking to tease Hing. âDefinitely,â
he admits. âBut this is what Iâm talking about. People take away the message
they want. Itâs your job as a comedian to ensure that nobody leaves your show
going, âIâm going to find the guy who that applies to and make him feel like
sh*tâ. You start a ripple effect where youâve hurt some guy you donât even
Iâm not sold on the argument. Part of me feels that Hingâs âbunging it
onâ more than he actually feels it, in order to create the context for his
particular brand of intellectually outraged stand-up to work. And mostly, it
seems, itâs for the edification of less privileged âoutsidersâ. I mean, the
open letter to rich white people has a different meaning coming from a rich
non-white person, than it does from a poor non-white person. Thereâs nothing
wrong with taking that position, it just takes more effort and more experience
to make it feel less âbunged onâ and more relevant and sincere.
âI donât feel disenfranchised,â Hing confirms. âIâm the Asian son of two
doctors who grew up fine. I was bullied a little bit at school, but there are
people who cop it much worse. But racial injustice angers me. And when I talk
about racist stuff in my comedy, itâs because I genuinely think there is something
funny to be said about it.â
But, Michael continues, the reason he finds âthe vast majority of ethnic
comedyâ loathsome is because âwhen youâre in a position of power â and I think
we can agree that having the microphone is being in that position of powerâ
your target â the butt of the joke, and the level at which you pitch your jokes
â has to be above your own level. This because, if you donât, âif youâve got a
microphone and youâre screaming about someone who has less power than you and
youâre aiming your anger and ridicule downwards, youâre just bullying someone.
Whereas if youâre aiming it upwards âtaking on the prime minister or people who
are muscular and rascist or people who are smart and rich â they can defend
themselves; they have a right of reply in a cultural capital.â
I agree with this philosophy. And I can see why it is such an
interesting comedic path that Michael Hing treads. Coming from that privileged
background, there arenât many targets above him. And the bullying canât have
been so full-on from fellow privileged lads.
âI went to the local public primary school, but because it was in a reasonable
area âIllawong, in the Shire â it wasnât a rough school,â Michael confirms. âI
was âthe Chinese kidâ. It totally influences my position. I hated being defined
as âthe Chinese kidâ because everyone else is pointing and laughing.â Perhaps,
Michael considers, thatâs where the comedy-as-defence-mechanism began because,
he says, âI grabbed the mic at talent quests and stuff.â
Talking out of school
After primary school, Hingers wasnât so keen to attend the local
selective public high school. âI didnât know what I wanted to do, so my parents
sent me to Trinity Grammar. I got involved in some dicey stuff. I joined a
Dicey gang stuff at Trinityâ¦? Apple in the chapel, I enquire, getting my
posh private school scandals muddled.
âNo, Trinity was âThe Anacondaâ,â Hingers reminds me, adding, âand no, a
This was the key story of Hingâs Open
Letterâ¦and since heâs performed
it on stage, he doesnât mind relating it to me now. âThrough a series of
events,â says Michael, he âended up being friends with this guy whose older
brother was in a gang at Cabramatta.â Lonely and in need of friends â often a
characteristic looming early in a comedianâs life â Hingers ended up âdoing
jobsâ for these people that included picking up packages from the guyâs place
and delivering them to addresses in China Town.
âItâs hundreds of dollars every time that I do it, and I pretend I donât
know whatâs going on, but I know: itâs drugs and weapons and stolen goods in my
Dressing like the Ã¼ber-nerd he is â âtop button done up, tie done up,
socks pulled up even though Iâm wearing long pantsâ â Michael is the perfect
âI do this for between 12 and 18 months. Eventually my friend gets moved
to Hong Kong, to live with a disciplinarian uncle. I eventually quit, and
because Iâm a nerd and they know Iâm a coward, they donât hurt me. They let me
This is around 2000 when the âanacondaâ sex scandal took place, and
suddenly the schoolâs systematically searching every studentâs locker. âA lot
of people Iâm associated with are called to the principalâs office,â Hing
reports. âEventually, Iâm called. Iâm sitting there, crying and stuff. They
tell me Iâm not going to go to that school next year, and I think, âIâm
f*cked!â but it turns out that the reason Iâm at the principalâs office isnât
because of that stuff; itâs because about 6 months earlier, being a super nerd,
I made a website about my friend David calling him âgayâ because I was 14 and
thatâs what I found funny. They were like, âthatâs unacceptibleâ and I was
like, âyouâre right, it is, I need to leave the school; goodbyeâ.â
Hing ended up at Carringbah High, the selective high school he had been
trying to avoid, where he met all his nerdy friends, was mocked, got angry, got
to uni got into comedy and eventually ended up opposite me in a pizza place in
Manly Vale, where I ate most of his vegie selection after finishing my own
marinara, and after I swallow his last piece, I have to know: how the hell were
the doctors Mama and Papa Hing about all this?
âAgain, just stupidly supportive of everything,â
Michael says. âThat also contextualises what Iâm doing now: sure, Iâm not
finishing my degree or getting a job, but Iâm also not in a gang, which is a
thing I came very close to doing for the rest of my life. It makes the choice
of being a stand-up comic much, much easier.â
âAck hghr lkjg alkhg,â offers Ben Mattick, the clean-shaven guitarist of the group.
Iâve phoned him at the appointed time on a Thursday afternoon, on the appointed number, in the hope of getting a quick interview with him. But Benâs currently in the Seymour Centre Sound Lounge, below street level, so the mobile signal keeps breaking up.
âI can call back later,â I suggest. âWhenâs the best timeâ¦?â
âActually, now would be best,â says Ben. He hands the phone over to brother Nick, the hairy vocalist, who pops upstairs where reception is much better, and weâre off.
This yearâs show, Broken Dreams, is about just that: Nick and Benâs broken dreams in showbiz. âItâs about us selling out,â Nick confesses, âand wanting to move to Poland to start afresh.â
Poland? Why Poland? Is it because it sounds exotic, or do Nick and Ben actually have some links to that country?
âWeâre under the illusion that musical comedy is getting really big there,â Nick says. âItâs very important to us, in the course of the show.â
Given Nickâs failure to elaborate further, I can only assume all will be revealed in the course of the show. But, Iâm wondering, is âMattickâ â the boysâ surname â of Polish origin?
âIt can beâ¦â Nick offers.
It can be! I love it. As ever, the world Nick and Ben offer is fluid with possibilities.
One of the things Iâve always liked about Smart Casual â and it may be the secret to their success â is their ability to ensure the song lasts as long as the joke. Itâs one of the things that sets good musical comics apart from other comics who bung a song in. According to Nick, however, itâs common sense:
âWe thought thatâs important because if we're bored of something then the audience is probably very bored of it!â
Fair call. But â after five-odd years of success as a musical comedy duo â is it still important? Does a long-term audience, or the fact that youâve been at it so long somehow meanyou can maintain interest in other ways and it isnât so imperative to crack the gag and get out, as it were?
Actually, it does â because you learn ways to maintain interest. But Smart Casual have always known how to do that. They have a few âbuildersâ, according to Nick, referring to devices that enable a song to last longer because they continue to add something that âbuidsâ upon the initial idea. âSomething has to happen, if you know what I mean: there has to be a twist or a change-up,â Nick says.
A perfect example is Smart Casualâs first big hit, âThe Hawkâ: each verse develops the idea. Someone has to push The Hawk. On the catwalk. And, even after the verses have ended, things continue to happen: Nick keeps building with his shrieky 'CAW!' noise â the cry of a hawk â while he flaps his wings.
The 'origin story' of Smart Casual is simple enough. Brothers Nick and Ben wanted to do acting and music, respectively, but having set out on their chosen vocations, neither seemed to be doing particularly well just yet. According to Nick, âwe met in the middle, I guess, and it just seemed to work.â
âJust seemed to workâ is an understatement. As a comedy duo, the brothers complemented each other perfectly, each bringing something the other lacked to form a classic gestalt, where the whole is worth more than the sum of the parts.
They competed in the Triple J/Melbourne International Comedy Festival Raw Comedy competition of 2008 where, making it to the national final, they proved a crowd favourite. They were subsequently selected for 2009âs Comedy Zone, the show the Melbourne Comedy Festival puts together from the best up-and-comers.
âRaw Comedy opened a lot of doors, especially in Melbourne,â Nick recalls. âWe got success really early and we thought it was easy, easy, easy. Then we hit a wall with our first full-length show.â
Iâm not sure what exactly Nick means. Their first full-length show, technically, was Art vs Smart Casual, which took place at the Melbourne Fringe Festival of 2009. The show saw the pair line up the multitude of art forms â acting, dancing, painting, et cetera â against musical comedy to see which held more merit (âit was a drawâ). Among the reviews garnered was a particular favourite, the verbal feedback of a punter: âyou guys are shit-hotâ. The Age considered them âimmediately likeableâ, opining that âAussie laconic humour is alive and wellâ, while Buzzcuts recognised their work as âexceptionally clever and well executedâ, predicting the duo to be âdestined for big thingsâ.
2010 saw them deliver the show Same Mother, Different Fathers at festivals around Australia.
âIs that true?â I ask, a little sheepishly, about the title. After all, Nick and Ben do look quite different. âEsau is an hairy man, while Jacob is a smooth man,â to borrow from Alan Bennettâs paraphrasing of Genesis 27:11. If I hadnât been told theyâre brothers, they look different enough that I wouldnât have guessed it.
âNo, thatâs bullshit,â Nick says. âItâs just that Iâm âFletcher Jonesâ and heâs âRoger Davidâ and weâre brothers; thatâs the way we worked that out. In our shows, if it helps us being full brothers, weâre full brothers; if it helps us being halvies, weâre halvies. The truth doesnât matter!â
Well, thatâs one bit of the folklore dealt with. There was another story that did the rounds a little while ago, that both brothers were working as teachersâ aids until some of their material was deemed perhaps a little unsuitable. Maybe, at some level, there was a conflict of interest having both careers running concurrently.
âBen still is a teacherâs aid,â Nick reports, but sets me straight on the story: Smart Casual have a song about autism. Nick worked in a class with autistic kids. One of the kidsâ parents went to see the show.
âI didnât know she was coming, but she loved it, so it was okay,â Nick says. âThey seemed to not mind it. But then it got out that we did thatâ¦â
So thatâs the story: a non-offensive song that didnât cause offense, that through a process of âChinese whispersâ enraged someone at a distance who probably neither saw the show nor is attached to a child with autism, who got offended on the behalf of others. Isnât that always the way!
âI think itâs important to note that the joke is about the misconceptions of autism,â Nick says, ârather than having a laugh at someoneâs expense. I think that if the jokeâs good enough, and in the right place, you can laugh at almost anything.â
Definitely. Given the right context and enough talent (the greater the talent, the less necessary the context) than anything can be funny. The comedianâs job, always, is to say the unsayable. But thatâs not whatâll turn an audience, necessarily.
My immediate thought is that it thus also harks back to Art vs Smart Casual, the difference being intervening years of experience and development, and a lot more sophistication in its execution. And rather than merely talking about those other artforms, Smart Casual are actually physically executing them and incorporating them in the show. Hence the need to complete a tech run before opening night in Sydney, despite having spent a month doing the show in Melbourne.
And then my subsequent thought is that, if Smart Casual are presenting a multimedia variety show on stage, surely their own television show or Smart Casual: The Movie canât be too far away.
However, whatâs actually happening is that, having performed Broken Dreams some 50 times this year already, theyâre able to pull it off every night, and spend their days writing their next show.
âBut weâre definitely looking toward the future,â Nick assures me. âWeâve done a lot of filmed stuff that weâll throw onto YouTube after this run finishes, and weâre gonna do more of that kind of stuff. Itâs really fun to do that.â
Which begs the question: does Smart Casual have a DVD out yet?
âNo, we donât have a DVD,â Nick says. âWe have a very old CD. We probably need to get a new one of those, as well.â
All in good time. Right now, itâs all about the Sydney Comedy Festival run of Broken Dreams.
âThis is the best thing weâve done, this show,â Nick says. âIt has taken us four or five years to get here, so itâs a solid hour. Itâs very fun to do and itâs very fun to watch.â
âI really want to be in musical theatre, but I canât sing,â insists stand-up comic Joel Creasey. âBut I only want the leading lady roles, because theyâre better roles. So even if I could sing, I still wouldnât 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 donât think thatâs going to happen.â
Iâm 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. Joelâs show Naked is featuring at both festivals this year. According to Joel, the Melbourne run was âdefinitely my favourite season so farâ.
âI really like the show,â he says. âNormally, by this stage, Iâd be sick of it. But Iâm not â Iâm still enjoying it.â
At the ripe old age of 21, Joel Creasey is a veteran of two Raw Comedy competitions â âI made the State Final two years in a row in Perth but then lost two years in a rowâ â and three festival shows, with Naked marking a clear progression in the comicâs development.
âItâs definitely a better show and a better structured show,â he insists. âAnd it has more to it than my other shows have had.â Part of what gives it more substance is the fact that Naked is all about Joel, whereas his first show, Joel Creaseyâs Slumber Party â earning him a nomination for âBest Newcomerâ at the 2010 Melbourne Comedy Festival â dealt with celebrities. And the subsequent yearâs Party Animals was about politics.
The reason the focus of his scathing wit has been turned inwards, Joel says, is because âIâve bagged out a lot of other people and I figured it was my turn.â
Joelâs first forays into self-expressive arts were theatrical, tinged with comedy. Over time, the theatricality has fallen away to the point where itâs 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, Joelâs been doing this since he was 17. Though comedy wasnât the grand plan, so much as it was an escape route:
âI couldnât be bothered studying and realised you donât have to study for comedy, so I thought, âIâll just do that!ââ
But itâs not as clear-cut as that. Because after finishing high school, there was a cursory attempt at tertiary education â a good three months pursuing a degree in political science. âI pulled out because I was hating that and loving comedy,â Joel insists.
At school, Joelâs major passion â and strongest subject â was drama. Indeed, having gone to drama school, Joel reckons he would have stayed in theatre had comedy not âcome alongâ. But I doubt that, because even when he was doing theatre, he could never stay in it without turning to comedy.
The character was disgusting, racist, offensive, and â according to Joel â âbased on many Qantas flight attendants Iâve had the joy of meetingâ. Naturally, Joelâs peers failed to understand what Joel was doing. Thankfully, his examiners did.
âI got amazing marks!â says Joel. âThat was the thing that got me through Grade 12; it evened out my bad marks in maths and science and every other subject.â
It was also the thing that got Joel into stand-up comedy â since that monologue formed the basis of his first routine. âI was actually doing character comedy when I started,â Joel admits. âNow, obviously, I wouldnât touch that, but I spent my first six months doing characters.â
Character comedy isnât 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 âjust get up and chat about their livesâ. Realising that was the sort of comedy he wanted to be able to do, he soon realised he had to âdrop the characterâ.
Which is why Naked serves as a marker in Joelâs career trajectory: heâs gone from being a character to being himself talking about other people, to being himself talking about himself. But itâs 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. âAnd still, sometimes Iâll get halfway through a story and think, âoh god, do people really want to know about me?ââ
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, theyâre cool about his career choice in showbiz, if they had sent him to drama school!
âMy parents are actors themselves, so theyâre cool,â Joel confirms. Now that heâs based in Melbourne, Joelâs folks travel from Perth every year to check out the show. âTheyâre pretty into it. Theyâve never tried to dissuade me in any way.â 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.
âI had to go with them to get in. That was fun! Iâm sure that thatâs how all the big-name comics do itâ¦â
So Joel didnât have the usual comedianâs story of âmy parents disowned me when I started doing comedyâ; perhaps he might have has a âmy parents disowned me when I started doing musical theatre taking on the leading lady rolesâ but thatâs 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 Joelâs successes is a victory, are âeveryone I went to school with!â
âThey were horrible to me because I was the Drama Captain â Surprise! There were just so many arseholes I went to school with. I just want to stick it in their face.â
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 Joelâs Naked, in which heâs 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.
âIâm hoping they used a lot of Blu-Tack,â Joel says.
Iâm 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 âa very impressive effortâ that someone has gone to. âIâm very proud of that,â he says. âThat took time and effort. Iâm flattered. I hope they bought a ticket to the show as wellâ¦â
Speaking of the show, itâs worth chasing down what it is actually about.
âPeople say Naked is a âgay showâ,â Joel says, âbut itâs not. Itâs relatable to everyone. Itâs just that Iâm so camp, people are always going to assume that. Which sometimes annoys me, because reviewers come to my show and call me âreally gayâ, and I donât think they would go and see a woman comic and call her âreally feminineâ.â
That Joelâs camp persona is larger than life should come as no surprise. Thatâs what a camp persona essentially is. And while it will always be part of Joelâs comedic style â âI have very limp wrists throughout the entire performance, and my gay nasal twang is out in full forceâ â it doesnât dictate the substance of the material. Party Animal, for example, was more âgayâ, insofar as, since it was dealing with politics, it had to address the issue of single-sex marriage.
Naked â a title devised âyears agoâ â is all about Joel. It consists of stories stretching from primary school to high school and involves âgetting drunk and things that everyone does, not just gay guys.â Although, he adds, âwe probably do get drunk more than most peopleâ¦â
Furthermore, in the more pat description, Naked is âall about fears, secrets, nudity andXena the Warrior Princessâ. Since one of the secrets is that Joelâs âa mad fan of Xena the Warrior Princess â and not ashamed!â itâs easy to see why some reviewers will consider the show a bit âgayâ.
Thing is, as with many gay comics, the audience, paradoxically, will consist mostly of âstraightsâ. Forgive the generalisation â or at least, hear me out first â 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 donât go out and see comedy as readily as âstraightâ audiences. And itâs the straight audiences who dig the gay comics most, because theyâre getting access to insights and observations they wouldnât usually hear.
Donât freak out at the last paragraph. Particularly, donât freak out just because it contains the adjectives âgayâ and âstraightâ. Itâs 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.
âWe are very good at taking people apart, piece-by-piece,â says Joel, agreeing initially that he doesnât have âa massively gay audienceâ. Then he corrects himself:
âI do: I would have more of a gay audience than, say, Dave Hughes.â
However, he says, his âdream audienceâ are the ones found in regional towns and ârough clubsâ because of the challenge they pose: âyou can win them over; theyâre easier to shock. Whereas, while gay guys generally seem to have a great sense of humour, theyâre very hard to shock. Thereâs always that weird element of competition there.â
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. âThey said they loved walking out and seeing my crowd queuing to come in because theyâd all be so well dressed. Theyâd see what sort of looks were in season and take notes!â
The major demographic a good looking, young gay guy naturally plays to is present and accounted for in significant numbers in Joelâs audiences: teeny-bopper girls.
âI love them because they are great laughers,â Joel says. âBut sometimes they bring their parents, and I think, âOh god, you donât know what youâre in forâ¦ââ Not that there are awkward moments during the show, so much. More likely, there are âmany awkward car rides homeâ.
This is particularly true given some of the fears Joel addresses in Naked. One of them is, indeed, of being naked. Hence the showâs title. And poster.
âThe showâs about me getting my kit of metaphorically,â Joel says. âAnd physicallyâ¦â
There is a point in the show when the comic strips.
âSo, yeah, when the young girls bring their parents itâs like, âoh godâ¦ Iâve got to take my clothes off at some pointâ¦â
In addition to his fear of being naked, Joel also has podophobia: âa weird fear of feetâ.
âIâve never liked them,â he says. âI hate them. They freak me outâ¦â
Although he can deal with his own, Joel loathes other peopleâs. âI just donât want to see feet. I hate thongs and sandals and crocs and things like that.â
Initially, Joelâs 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.
Adamâs immediate reaction?
âHe put his feet in my potato salad, of course!â
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.
âIt was awful!â Joel says. âHeâs got ten thousand followers, so I got a lot of pictures of feet.â And, being âvery OCDâ, Joel was forced to open every single attachment, âjust in case one of them was a gift voucher for a million dollars.â
Oh, that reminds me of a horrible photo I saw online, of someone who had been shot in the foot.
âIf I can find the image, Iâll send it to you,â I promise.
âPlease donât,â Joel says. âThatâll haunt me!â
You probably know Danny McGinlay - perhaps as Australia's only Three Michelin Star Comedian, the âFood Dudeâ whoâs presented a dedicated menu of cuisine-related festival shows over the years. Maybe youâve seen him on The Circle; or as the warm-up guy for The Circle and other television shows. Possibly you read his soccer blog, or have seen him as an extra in a film. At the very least, you should know him as a solid headliner that can turn even the coldest, reticent room into a den of happy punters, howling with laughter.
Even though I know him as the first guy I ever saw make a Harry Potter reference - long before it was de riguour to make those references â like a lot of comics I never got to see coming through the Sydney open mic scene, my first awareness of Danny McGinlay was via a recommendation from another mate of mine who is a stand-up comedian: Julia Wilson. Sheâd gigged with him in the UK and one day assured me if I ever met him that I should say gâday cos heâs a good comic and a good bloke. When that opportunity arose I did indeed say gâday, and discovered Danny to be both the good comic and good bloke that Wilson described him to be.
âWilsonâs âGood Blokeâ police?â Danny asks, laughing, when I tell him. Weâre sitting in my kitchen, about to go to a gig at the Old Manly Boatshed, chowing down on a homemade pie (courtesy of my girlfriend) before we leave.
Turns out Wilson had recommended me to him as well. He was staying at her place while playing in Sydney, and one of his gigs was a Raw Comedy heat I was judging at the Comedy Store back when I used to judge Raw Comedy heats at the Comedy Store. Danny McGinlay was the feature act who entertained the crowds during the judgesâ deliberation.
âI was panicking about how Iâd find my way back to Wilsonâs place,â Danny recalls, âaround the corner from you. She said, âDom Romeoâs a judge; youâll give him a lift home; heâll direct you. Youâll be best friends foreverâ.â
Thatâs more-or-less the case. And why not? Dannyâs that perfect mixture of good comic and good bloke. Heâs pretty down-to-earth. Take, for instance, the time he followed Marc Maron on stage at HiFi an MICF ago or so.
âI gigged with him, not knowing who he was,â Danny recalls, âand I think that helped.â
Speaking to him briefly before the gig, Marc âseemed like a bit of an angry bastard,â no different to so many other comics. So rather than awe â the universal response of every comic and comedy lover who has heard Maronâs legendary comedy-deconstructing WTF podcast and actually recognises him when they encounter him - Danny approached Maron with the polite indifference of the ignorant, concentrating on the gig at hand. âI followed him on and afterwards people said, âoh my god â you just got as many, if not more, laughs than Marc Maronâ. I was like, âyeah, so? Heâs just an internationalâ¦â
Danny McGinlay started gigging in London at 23 â an age I consider quite young when youâve not actually grown up and started doing comedy in England. But he puts it in perspective for me. âI started very young. I was the first of the âunderageâ comedians!â
Apart from earlier school concert spots â consisting of the sort of jokes you rip off from joke books â Danny made his open mic debut at the ripe old age of 16 at St Kildaâs legendary Esplanade Hotel â aka âThe Espyâ. Still a full time school kid, Danny couldnât hit the comedy scene âproperlyâ, instead being forced to âsneak into a few places underageâ. It wasnât until heâd finished high school that Danny could âdive into the open mic sceneâ. Which is exactly what he did.
Rather than waste time pursuing one of those âcareers to fall back onâ, so beloved of parents, Danny gave uni a miss. âAll I wanted to do was be a stand-up comedian, so I didnât go to uni. I didnât even apply for anything. I just wanted to do comedy.â The fact that he was an intelligent but seemingly under-achieving kid â âIâd get Cs and Bs, and comments like, âyouâre correct, but you havenât structured this essay properlyââ â suggested that Danny would always be a better talker than a writer. So making his case humorously, on stage, had to win out.
While itâs not uncommon for Aussie comics, particularly of a certain (youthful) age, to make their foray into the UK scene â thereâs always a bunch of âem â Danny didnât head over for the comedy. It was for a girl. âWho Iâm now marrying,â he assures me, âso itâs fineâ.
What chasing a girl to England means is, whereas there should have been some research and organising and a five-year plan to get somewhere in the stand-up world, Danny went more on a whim. And happened to get a bit of work while he was there.
âI certainly didnât set the comedy world on fire,â he says of his time in Olâ Blighty. âAnd thatâs fine with me, because I have no desire to live in England. Every other aspect of life is better here in Australia.â To prove it, he invites me to pick something at random. But I donât need to. I wasnât long in England before I quickly realised how much I take the quality of fresh food for granted in Australia.
âF*ck yeah! You know exactly what youâre talking about,â Danny says, before adopting the instantly recogniseable voice of a surly pommy git: âNup! You canât âave that!â
Not that living in the UK doesnât have advantages: the US and Europe are much easier to get to. And the comedy scene is awesome. But occupying a three-bedroom sharehouse with eight other people is much less so. Particularly when youâre the only one who has English as a first language.
Hang on, does not compute: didnât Danny chase a lady to England? Yep. And her English is perfect. But, being of Ukrainian descent, Ukrainian was her first language. Turns out Dannyâs true love was initially âthe weird kid in prep school with funny-smelling lunches who couldnât speak Englishâ¦â
Danny insists life âwasnât greatâ in the UK â cramped living conditions, virtually broke all the time. âThe only thing you can do there is drink, because thatâs cheap,â he says. But it did lead to his developing a love of soccer â âbecause all I could afford to do was have a few pints watching all the matches that were on in the pubâ â and becoming a better comic â âI was doing three or four gigs per week, most of them paid, though only about 40 quid to MCâ.
Turns out one of the flaws of the English comedy scene is that MCing isnât so highly regarded, with the least experienced person made to MC. Really, the MC is the second most important person on the bill, after the headliner: a good MC paces the room to ensure every act has the opportunity to âkillâ â rather than âdieâ â thus ensuring the audience gets the most laughs. They may have come only to see the headline act (or support their buddy the open mic-er) but if the night is run badly, they may not manage to stay to see the headline act, or may be burnt out by the time the headliner comes on. The MC has to âre-setâ the room after each act so the next one has the optimum opportunity to entertain the crowd.
âOnly in Londonâs Comedy Store â in my opinion, the best comedy club in the world â does the really good comic MC,â Danny says. âAnd they get paid better than everybody else.â
Despite the excellent opportunity the UK offers comics â this isnât cultural cringe, the truth is the comedy scene is far more developed and more generously rewarding for the truly talented â Danny returned to Australia in 2006. Ask him what brought him back to Australia and heâll be adamant in his response:
âEverything! I want to spend my days off in a flat thatâs not the size of a table. I wanna see my friends. I want to eat good food. I want to go out and not have all the pubs close at the exact same time, so that everyone whoâs drunk and just sculled three pints cos it was âlast drinksâ is now out together on crammed tubes âIâve no idea how they think that prevents violenceâ¦â On that subject, he adds, âIf you had 24-hour drinking in London, for the first three months, nothing would get done. But after that, the whole culture would change and thereâd be less violence.â
Believe it or not
Culture of violence is an interesting tangent to pursue with Danny. Heâs proper Irish Catholic, and has what he describes as âa very controversial positionâ on religion: âI think religion ultimately does more good than harm. But you canât really say that to someone in the very sectarian arts world, where not being an atheist is as bad as being an atheist in Alabama.â
At the same time, Danny says, he probably would not identify himself as âCatholicâ were it not so important to his grandparents that they call themselves âCatholicâ. It looms large in his heritage. âThey had to fight, and were spat on, for being Catholic,â he says.
I know Dannyâs proper Irish Catholic, with overtones of âThe Troublesâ, from the time I posted a YouTube clip of Paul McCartney and Wings playing their first single, âGive Ireland Back To The Irishâ. Unlike everyone else who had a go because it is, essentially, a lousy song, Danny had a go because I referred to the ruthless suppression of a protest that inspired it (and John Lennon and Yoko Onoâs âLuck of the Irishâ and U2âs âSunday Bloody Sundayâ) as a massacre that took place âin Londonderryâ. Danny assured me the place is called âDerryâ.
âBut that place is called âDerryâ,â he reiterates. âMy family is from the north of Ireland, both the Republic and the âOccupied Countiesâ. I correct âLondonderryâ because itâs still a big factor; whether you call it âDerryâ or âLondonderryâ shows where youâre from.â And indeed, your politico-religious leanings. Or in my case, ignorance.
In settling in Australia, Dannyâs father has tried to ensure piece would reign for subsequent generations. But when visiting the homeland, Danny says, âof course the relatives are still angry and talk about it.â Furthermore, he says, âhalf the familyâs from Glasgow, so itâs âBelfastâ on a larger scale. They never had the bullets â they punch each other instead.â
The cousins in Glasgow still refuse to consider themselves âScottishâ, even despite being born there â of parents also born in Scotland. âTheyâve barely been to Ireland â but theyâre still Irish!â
Sounds like a future showâ¦
Before London, Danny spent time as an on-air radio personality â again, proof of his early over-achieving. In 2002 he appeared in Comedy Zone â the show the Melbourne International Comedy Festival puts together from that yearâs batch of best up-and-comers.
âI was head-hunted from that to be on the Fox Brekky Team,â Danny confesses. âWhich lasted all of six weeks.â The powers-that-were at FOX FM decided to add Danny to âTracy & Mattâ â the on-air team that consisted of Tracy Bartram and Matt Tilly. Only, they hadnât really informed Tracy and Matt. âThey got told on a Friday that thereâd be a new guy on Monday.â
And how was that Monday? Well, all of Dannyâs radio experience thus far was ânot much community radioâ, so he was always going to be ânervous as f*ckâ, as he so descriptively puts it.
âI was 19. Iâd never had a real job. Suddenly Iâm on Fox FM Breakfast. I donât know what Iâm doing. The atmosphere was tense, but I figured that was just my perception, on account of my nervousness.â
Luckily, Tracy & Matt were able to send young Danny out in the field. The Osbournes was the big reality television show that everyone was talking about, so FOX FM started a competition to find Melbourneâs weirdest family, âThe Melbournesâ. Danny lasted âa good monthâ by going out to familiesâ houses in the morning, and interviewing them. âThat was my segment. Theyâd cross back to me a few times. It was pretty awful.â
Knowing not to make that mistake again, Danny says, FOX FM had the good sense to introduce the next new team member as a writer, just one day a week. And then two days a week. Get him in softly before giving him his own segment. âWithin six months he was part of the team and Iâd been shafted to Black Thunder driver,â Danny says. âI got the arse.â
Who was that other new guy, I wonder? Did he go on to bigger and better things?
âHeâs a guy whoâs done nothing with it subsequently,â Danny says. âDonât know if youâve heard of him: Hamish Blake.â
Ah yes. That underachiever. Whoâs done nothing subsequently. Apart from just about everything. Including winning a Gold Logie. âYou lost your job to Hamish Blake?!â I demand, Admittedly, a tad too insensitively. Still, it was ten years ago now.
âI was the first guy who was ever sacked for Hamish Blake,â Danny concurs. Adding: âTwice.â
What? Danny McGinlay lost his job to Hamish Blake twice?
Oh yes. Turns out Danny was doing late nights by the time Hamish & Andy got their own radio show. And, he says, âI got shafted for that!â So Danny McGinlay has lost his job to Hamish Blake twiceâ¦ âbefore he was even famous!â
Although it wasnât immediate and total. At first, Hamish & Andy were only on one night a week. So Danny â hired as a comic, demoted to Black Thunder driver, ended up just another jock doing late nights. And as it was commercial radio, there was no end of directives instructing him how to be better at it.
âTheyâd say things like, âWe hired you as a comedian on air, so why donât you be funnier?â So Iâd try to do stuff. And then Iâd get calls from above saying, âWhy are you talking for so long? People just want to hear the music, not your opinions or your banter with callers. Get to the point or get off the microphone!â
In the end, Danny was doing the graveyard shift on Triple M in Sydney, from Melbourne. âBy that time I knew I didnât want to be a jock anymore so I had fun with it,â he recalls. It was that period of broadcasting when everyone had to have a nickname, and one of Dannyâs best afternoons was the one he spent devising his own nickname. âI was trying to come up with stuff that was really nerdy but didnât sound nerdy. Likeâ¦â â adopting commercial radio âjockâ voice â ââ¦âHey, itâs the Raven Claw!ââ (One of the Houses at Hogwarts in Harry Potter, Danny thinks he ought to explain to me. I am a half-generation older than him. âOr âItâs Slayer hereâ, as in âvampire slayerâ.â
Despite spending an hour compiling an extensive â and extensively nerdy â list, the first suggestion on it was âThe Wookieâ, so the email came back almost immediately: âWookie. Great. Thatâs who you are.â Dannyâs certain they never even read beyond the first item.
âAnd what was your response?â I demand, but donât give him time to reply before adding: âDo it!â Danny complies, offering an excellent Chewbacca impression.
âI was doing graveyard shifts on Triple M Sydney: âItâs the Wookieâ¦ââ â does the sound effect â âââ¦hereâs Khe Sanâ.â
Since it was midnight to dawn shift on commercial radio, Danny was certain nobody was listening until the last half hour â between 5am and 6am, in the lead-up to the breakfast crew. âThatâs when youâd have to be quite good â which was always the hardest because youâd be exhausted. But youâd have to go to a news break and you knew that people were starting to listen.â
This is when âThe Cageâ was Triple Mâs highly-rating breakfast crew, so Danny often had to announce, âThe cage is on in 20 minutesâ and throw to a highlights package. One time he extemporised a little with, âTell you what â todayâs episode of The Cage is the best. Ever. If you miss a second of it, you will kick yourself. Itâs just going to be absolutely fantastic. Anyway. Hereâs some stuff they did last weekâ¦â before cuing the highlights package. At which point a call came through from Triple Jâs program director, who also happened to be the anchor for The Cage:
âMate. What are you doinâ?â
âIâm plugging The Cage.â
âSayinâ itâs the best show ever?â
âWhat if itâs not? Why are you putting pressure on us? What if itâs not? Why would you do that? Now people are gonna turn it off if itâs not.â
Ah, the pressures of breakfast radio.
âWhat I wanted to say was, âif you get off the phone and do some research and prep, maybe it will be the best show ever!ââ Danny relates. âI got in trouble for over-selling the show!â
Sounds like Danny McGinlay was just about ready to disappear overseasâ¦
Danny established himself as the âfoodâ comic more-or-less out of the blocks. His first ever solo festival show was a cooking show entitled Monumental Cook-Up. âIt was on at 10:45pm, down an alleyway. It got reviewed on its first night really positively by Helen Razer before there were star ratings in reviews, but I reckon it would have been a four-star review. I got a lot of ticket sales from that, but being on at 10:45pm down an alleyway, the season fizzled out.â
Though not all Dannyâs shows have beena bout cooking, many have been. This, he insists, is mostly out of practicality: âWhen I procrastinate, I cook. This was a way of using procrastination to my advantage.â But apart from that, and also out of practicality, being the âFood Dudeâ meant that Danny had a theme that set his shows apart. âIt meant I was doing something that nobody else was doing,â he says.
Although, when you see headlining at a club or pub gig, youâre not gonna see Danny cook, and thereâs a practical reason for that, too: âWhen youâre cooking and telling jokes, youâre splitting the audienceâs focus.â Itâs too difficult to listen and laugh if youâre concentrating on the food prep â which is borne out by reviews saying the same thing: âItâs a very funny show, but itâs more interesting than funnyâ. Thatâs âfair enoughâ, he says: âIâd be creating things with my hands, and even though Iâd throw funny jokes out there, often they were too engrossed in what I was doing to pay attention to what I was saying.â
Of course, Dannyâs a clever enough comic to overcome this issue, devising the perfect method to avoid splitting audience attention with his last foodie show, Recipes for Disaster: he included pre-recorded sketches.
âPeople would be watching the sketches on screen while I did the involved things, so by the time we would finish showing the sketch, the food would be ready to serve.â
In addition to standing out from the festival pack by doing shows about food, the food ensures Danny can stand out from the pack in his poster art â which is essential, because so many comics are, to the less comedy-savvy, pretty much alike. âWhat can you do?â Danny says. âWe do all look the same â white malesâ¦â So Dannyâs always got a food prop to ensure he looks different. âOne year there was the wooden spoon â another year I had a chefâs hat. Last year I was zapping the chicken with jumper leadsâ¦â
In my opinion, so many comics look alike on their posters because they go to the same handful of photographers for their images. James Penlidis is popular in Melbourne. (Iâm fond of the work of Photobat â who took great photos of me a couple of years and several kilos ago; nowadays I use my mate Tonyâs photosâ¦)
Danny swears by Penlidis. And in addition to wielding props, Danny also has the good sense to get his images done a little later, always asking what colours everyone else has been using in order to ensure he stands out.
âPenlidis always makes you feel like a rock star when you use him,â Danny says. âHe makes you look good. You go to his studio and itâs just awesome: you go through his books and see every celebrity youâve ever heard of; heâs taken photos of them.â
And, for the comedy nerd in me, Danny adds a further factoid: Penlidis was the body in publicity photos of chart-topping prank-caller Guido Hatzis. âHeâs got two kids now but he still looks good. If I was drunk he couldâ¦ maybeâ¦ turn me. Because heâs so lovelyâ¦ And buffâ¦ And Greekâ¦ Reminds me of schoolâ¦â
As it happens, having devised food shows and posters to stand out from the crowd, and systemic methods to get around technical difficulties of those food shows, Dannyâs decided to get away from food shows altogether this year.
âI didnât want to do any props or gimmicks or anything this time around,â Danny explains. âI just wanted to do stand-up. But of course, a gimmick show has organically formed.â
The show is called Danny McGinlay Learns Ukrainian â instead of cooking utensils, on this poster he carries a massive Ukrainian flag. The show is all about his relationship with the girl he chased to England. âIâm still with her,â he says. âWe will be ten yeas together in January. Weâre getting married June 9.â
The initial idea was a stand-up show loosely based around the story of Danny taking Ukranian lessons. However, Danny says, working with script consultant â and former Rove writer â Declan Fay led somehow to the greater development of âthe actualâ¦ âgimmickryâ, I supposeâ¦â of learning Ukrainian. Between the two, theyâve fleshed out a show thatâs 90 percent about the learning Ukrainian with only a few side forays into other stand-up. âSo itâs become another personal story, with a flip chart showing Ukrainian words,â Danny says. He didnât want to end up using a flip chart, but he knows full well that ânot doing something for the sake of not doing it is just as bad as doing it for the sake of doing it!â
And rest assured, hints of Dannyâs erstwhile Food Dudery persists, particularly on the poster, which bears the line, âHow far would you go for a chick in Kiev?â That great pun is the work of Taswegian comic Gavin Baskerville â who, it turns out, came up with the title of Dannyâs 2011 show, Recipes for Disaster. In fact, Gavin came up with the goods for Monumental Cook-Up as well, delivering the line âJamie Oliver with be turning in his gravy!â And of course, good guy that Danny is, heâll express his gratitude with a slab for Gav the next time he plays a gig in Hobart.
Soccer to 'em
When Danny procrastinates, he doesnât always just cook and come up with food-based festival shows. His procrastination has also given rise to a soccer blog, Danny's Football Bluff: âBecause when Iâm procrastinating, I also go into football forums and see what people have to sayâ¦â
I wanna see what Danny has to say about this: Is it âfootballâ or âsoccerâ? A fair question to put to an Australian lover of the round-ball sport.
âItâs both,â Danny insists. âAnd anyone who argues over it is a f*ckwit.â
He elaborates: âWhy does it matter? I will say âsoccerâ most of the time, because people donât question it then. Whereas âfootballâ in Australia can mean rugby league, Aussie rules, soccer, rugby unionâ¦â
Thatâs a good point. But Iâm a half-generation older than Danny. When I went to school, âfootballâ, or âfootyâ, never ever meant âwogballâ. The two were very different.
âYeah, I donât feel comfortable calling it that,â Danny says, not for reason of political correctness, rather because heâs setting up a well-placed gag: âIâd call it anything except âwogballâ â mostly because the Greeks arenât very good at it!â
Back to the issue of the name, Iâm proud to know the origins of âsoccerâ and âfootballâ originate with the sportâs proper name: âassociation footballâ. Why we grabbed a syllable from the âassociationâ part to create the hypocorism âsoccerâ, while others chose to go with âfootballâ or the hypocorism âfootyâ is a factoid that still eludes me. Danny has his own interesting factoid:
âAussie Rules is older than soccer. Not really, but officially. The rules of Australian Rules football were written down first. People were playing soccer for longer than that, but it wasnât official. So really, AFL is âfootballâ, and soccer is âsoccerâ. But in my head, soccer is âfootballâ and AFL is âfootyâ.â
Still, he says, âitâs detrimental when youâre trying to have a discussion about the round-ball game and someone saysâ¦â â adopting a âspazâ voice - âItâs football!â Come on. Weâve got something in common here, and itâs a sport that a lot of people disdain â so letâs have a united front and not worry about the pathetic little things.â
With such a good attitude to the sport, Iâm wondering why Danny isnât more of a sporting jock comic.
âI am! Arenât I? Yeah I am. I talk about sportsâ¦â
Danny explains that he cut his teeth in that arena, having started out at the Espy, playing Armidale, the Star & Garter and the like: âIt was all bogan comics that I saw, so I started pretty bogan.â
Yeah, perhaps. But despite bogan origins, Danny was still the first person I saw making Harry Potter references early on â before it became de rigour particularly fro younger, more fey comics. Which was funny because Danny is, letâs face it, built like a jock. And he doesnât deny it.
âI was a jock at school. I was in the popular group. I know itâs not cool to say that anymore â youâre supposed to say you were bullied. But I wasnât â I was in the âcool peopleâ group, I went to the right parties, had a hot girlfriend, and did some bullying as wellâ¦â
No, hang on â Danny didnât beat the shit out of wimps because he could â not that kind of âbullyingâ. He explains: âthere were socially inept nerds and I had a pretty quick mind so I made fun of them. I never physically hurt anybody.â Pause. âBut I probably scarred them a bit.â
So does being the jock-who-cooks and makes Harry Potter references make up for that? Is the career some kind of karmic penance?
âI donât know. Iâm not doing the Billy Madison thing where I phone them and they cross me off a list of people to kill. But I didnât make anyone cry. As far as I know. I canât guarantee that I made an impact on anyoneâs life, but I know I got some pretty good zingers out there during little lunch. And that was my way into being in the cool group: I was on the footy team and I was funnier than most of the guys â and that put me in high esteem in high school.â
Again, letâs put this into perspective: Danny the Food Dude comic is still good mates with the captain of his high school football team. They still hang out. And go watch the footy. But â and this is a beauty â âheâs about to move to Munich to be a sculptor.â
This last bit results in an audible double-take on my part, because Danny adds, âit was a very odd school; you had the potheads, the Greeks, and me and him were a bit weird because we were artsy guys who played football.â
For a moment a rare throwback vaudeville gene takes control. âAre Greek potheads Grecian Urns? Whatâs a Grecian earn?â I canât hold back from demanding. Danny doesnât quite shake his head at me, instead donning the accent of a second generation Aussie for whom Greek is spoken at home. âI dunno, but itâs cash, mate; itâs cashâ¦â
One of the comedy occupations Danny undertakes is that of warm-up: getting a live studio audience into the zone to be receptive and ready to laugh when the cameras of a live taping roll. Iâve always thought it was a particular kind of stand-up hell â though fact is, itâs audience hell, particularly when youâre in the audience of a Comedy Festival Gala, say, and all you want is for the show to start, but you have to sit through the same routines each time.
âWhen the alarm rings at 6:30am to get up and go into The Circle, itâs hell,â Danny says. âThe whole reason I became a comedian was so that I could sleep in.â
Even though Danny first appeared as a guest on The Circle â in Food Dude mode â and he still appears as a guest from time to time, nowadays he, Harley Breen and Kynan Barker â âthe go-to guy of warm-upsâ â share warm-up duties. Danny has also warmed up Spicks & Specks, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, The Project and Adam Hills in Gordon Street Tonight audiences.
It was Ross Noble who proved warm-up can be a necessary evil that leads to good things, rather than hell: his ability to perpetually improvise, extemporising on random themes that he bring back to tie together at the end of two hours, having been developed in the stop-start nature of the studio taping, when you never know how long youâre going to have to talk to the audience.
âYou canât really do stand-up,â Danny explains. âItâs all just stuff about the show. I just chat to people.â This means his âcrowd workâ has gotten much better.â While he is sometimes able to take them on weird flights of fancy, it all depends on the audience. On The Circle, for example, where he and the audience sit through the live advertorials before he takes over during the ad breaks, Danny has âset routines for the Genie Bra ad, the Ab Circle Pro ad, the Pet Insurance adâ. And since The Circleâs audience is often âold dearsâ, as long as heâs âa nice boyâ, they like him. âOccasionally you get crowds who arenât into it. And thatâs where you get blamed â there isnât much you can do about it.â
On the other hand, shooting Who Wants To Be A Millionaire can take some six hours. âBy the last episode, youâve chatted to them all, you know where theyâre from, theyâre tired, youâre tired. We just talk cr*p.â Dannyâs got âtwo magic tricksâ he saves for the very end, when all else has failed. âThatâs how desperate you get.â
One of Dannyâs best Millionaire stories involves a particularly stupid contestant indeed. During the warm up, while explaining to the audience how they have to be utterly silent until Eddy says âcorrectâ, he used a pretend question with someone in the crowd, so they could practice.
âI just asked a question about something that was in the news that day â about Harry Kewl coming to Melbourne Victory. I said, âWhich Socceroo has just signed to Melbourne Victory? Is it a) Kewl; b) David Beckham; c) Pelle; or d) Pinocchio.â
Later during the taping, a contestant was asked that question.
âAnd you know whatâs even better?â Danny says. âHe still got it wrong!â
Thankfully the audience did as it has been instructed, and kept quiet until the contestant had answered, and then reacted appropriately to the game, rather than the contestantâs stupidity.
âThey didnât laugh,â Danny says, âbut they were all just looking at me as if to say, âyouâre gonna get in trouble!ââ But of course, Danny didnât get into trouble. âNo-oneâs listening to what Iâm doing during the warm-up; the producers are talking about camera angles; Edâs in his dressing room.â
Later, while killing time between episodes, someone in the audience asked Danny if heâd done it deliberately. âI was like, âF*cken no! Thank you for not reacting!ââ
The important point Danny has learnt is to unify the audience as a team; they get through the boring bits better, knowing theyâre all in this together. And the âteam gameâ mentality helps with all aspects of comedy, especially MCing. Itâs something youâll notice Adam Hills do if you watch him carefully during a performance: heâll do a lot of crowd work, ultimately to get them onside and ready to laugh.
âHillsyâs great,â Danny concurs, having recently been reminded of this once again, at a gig at the Melbourne comedy room Softbelly. âI was MCing and feeling pretty good,â Danny says. âTo best explain it, I was feeling like Harry Potter: creating magic out of the things the audience was giving me. Hillsy came on, spoke to the exact same members of the crowd, didnât do any âmaterialâ and got so much more out of them. It showed why he is Dumbledore. It was quite humbling, but at same time very inspiring.â
Talk turns to other aspects of performance: one of Dannyâs points early on was that ânerves are your friendâ, so itâs better to have them, before a gig, than dull them with alcohol. He reiterates now with some advice someone else gave him recently:
âTake the stage with equal parts fear and confidence; too much nerves will get in the way of the performance; too much confidence will alienate the audience. Too much of one or the other and the gig will go badly. Have it exactly equal and itâs perfect.â
One last little factoid, Danny attributes to Billy Connolly. âI think heâs said that if heâs not nervous before a gig, heâll scull a litre of water so heâll suddenly get jumpy and worried heâll need to pee during the show. That gets him nervous.â
On that note, we both have a big glass of water head off to the gig.
âSorry I was a bit late,â the founding â ahem â member of Puppetry of the Penis, Simon Morley, apologises from his end of the phone line. âIâve been baby wrangling.â And unless Simonâs added âcotâ or âcradleâ to the impressive list of items he can imitate with his wedding tackle, there are no dick tricks involved in that. âAbsolutely none,â Simon confirms. âApart from the conception, maybe.â
Two dicks come out at a bar
Simon and his mate Friendy (David Friend; neither of whom are pictured above) were the two who originally took to the stage clad only in capes in order to present the art of genital origami: in which theyâd manipulate their manhood into various shapes. Like âThe Pelicanâ (in which the penis and scrotum are impressively stretched out to resemble the animalâs long upper beak, and long and deep lower beak). And âThe Skateboardâ (in which the penis is lain across the scrotum so that the balls become wheels). And âThe Propellerâ (Iâm not going to ruin all of them for you).
That was back in 1998, and it occurred with much furor, initially, all of it unwarranted. Because, after about the first fifteen minutes, youâd pretty much acclimatise to the fact that there are two nude dudes pulling at their respective (not each otherâs!) cock-and-balls on stage, and as it wasnât in the more traditionally prurient manner of tugging yer tackle, you may as well have been looking at their elbows.
In time they were playing the West End and Broadway, getting written up in the likes of The Guardian and The New Yorker. And after taking dick tricks around the world, and taking the world by storm, they started producing shows in which other dick tricksters took the stage all over the world, manipulating their respective manhood. Now, nearly a decade-and-a-half later, theyâre launching a live 3-D version of the show. In which neither Simon, nor his penis, will be appearing, because, he says, penis puppetry is âa young man's gameâ.
âIâm 45 now. Iâve got myself a bit of a belly. I havenât seen my penis in about three years.â
Instead, Simonâs been working on pulling the 3-D technology together. The show is âtechnically a lot more advancedâ than any of the previous Puppetry of the Penis endeavors. He developed it in the UK, and is presenting it here in Australia, premiering in the final week of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Thus, in his own words, Simonâs role is âdirecting. And pimping. Iâm the âglobal pimpâ.â
Puppetry of the Penis in 3-D
Zen and the art of dick tricks
If you havenât seen Puppetry of the Penis live (or on DVD) before, it essentially works as follows: the two 'puppeteers' make shapes out of their nether regions, accompanied by banter. A camera presents close-ups on a screen. So the new 3-D show, you can easily imagine, would be that, but with the technology (and glasses!) to ensure what you see is coming at you (so to speak) out of the screen. However, thereâs still more to it than that.
âWeâre using CGIâ - computer generated imagery - âso that when the guys perform, say, âThe Pelicanâ on stage, the camera is 3-D, the screen is 3-D, but all of a sudden, weâll put âThe Pelicanâ into a pelicanâs body.â
Thatâs really cool. And a little bit scary.
Another â far more elaborate â example of the CGI involves âThe Propellerâ. âIn a tribute to North by Northwest, we put âThe Propellerâ in a biplane that comes out at the audience. The guys have to leap off stage to avoid itâ¦â
Excellent spectacle though dick tricks are, whoâd have thought you could breath such new life into them? According to Simon, the constant question has always been, âWhat are you going to do with the show? Where are you going to take it next?â And the'd always answer â jokingly â that next itâd be in 3-D: the penises would jump off the screen.
âThen,â Simon says, âI began to realise that the technology was very soon going to be with us.â Thus the new show is groundbreaking and interesting as well as fun. âI just hope people enjoy it,â says Simon.
My conversation with Simon Morley happens to be taking place not too long after my own Melbourne Comedy Festival show, Stand-Up Sit-Down, has ended. Stand-Up Sit-Down consisted of interviews with comedy practitioners. In the final show, guest Andrew Denton spoke of his show David Tench Tonight, in which the main character David Tench was a CGI character animated in real time, interviewing celebrities. The drawbacks were that CGI technology was not quite up to the task at the time, and the animation was too human â an animal or some other object may have proven more disarming for interview subjects.
So the essential questions now are, is the CGI working for Puppetry of the Penis? And might there be a time when dick-based CGI creations (of which, it may be argued, David Tench was one) successfully interview celebrities?
âIâm sure itâs not gonna be too far off,â Simon insists. âI hadnât thought about getting them to interview celebrities live, but they certainly could. Iâve got âem singing songs!â
Denton and Dom discuss benefits of CGI interview technique
Historically, the rendering of dick tricks began in hotel rooms while on tour.
Simon initially managed pubs, running comedy nights in bars he managed. In time he started touring the comedians he initially booked, and in the early post-show hours on tour, when much alcohol had been consumed, the dick-trickery began. âAt the end of the night, Iâd be dropping my pants and amusing the comics,â Simon recalls. One such comic was Jimeoin, whom Morley toured after television success meant he was too big for the pub circuit. Itâs whispered that Jimeoin has been known to turn a few tricks of a dickular nature himself. Thatâs right: Jimeoin is a secret dick-tricker.
âI wouldnât even say âsecretâ,â Simon assures me. âHe loves it! If weâre in Europe or the States, he regularly joins us on stage. Heâs very proud!â
And heâs not the only comic who has the talent. Turns out Greg Fleet has a couple of tricks up his dacks.
âI saw Fleety once do a not very politically correct impression, shortly after the Space Shuttle disaster: he had a cigarette flying out of it, jumping off a balcony into a swimming pool. He was doing âThe Space Shuttle Disasterâ.â
Tim Smith is another comic who has indulged in pleasures of the flash. More or less. He may not have been demonstrating them to people, according to Simon, but âhe was certainly work-shopping them for quite some time!â
Paul Hester, the original, and now sadly departed, drummer of Crowded House, was also adept at a dick trick. And although it never went to air, Simon and Friendy appeared as Puppetry of the Penis on Hesterâs ABC variety show, Hessieâs Shed (some of the footage wound up on the Mick Molloy-produced cocumentary, Tackle Happy).
Jim Rose, of Circus fame, used to do them with Simon and Jimeoin in Edinburgh, in the Gilded Balloon toilets, back in 1992. Canât get more Fringe than that, surely! âJim Rose took the hamburger and ran with it! He still does it on stage, occasionally.â
David has a hamburger!
Amazing. Dick tricks, the way comedians amused each other late at night in 1992, became a stage act all their own in 1998, taking the world by storm shortly thereafter. But the origins lie further back. âMy brothers and I came up with most of the tricks, as sibling rivalry, back in the 1980s,â Simon reports.
I guess the real question is, has Simon encountered Ron Jeremy in his travels and seen if Ron can do any of them, or indeed, has any tricks to add to the catalogue.
âI have met Ron Jeremy but I didnât really want to have a âdick-offâ with him,â Simon confesses. I think I know what he means. âWe met in a bar, and heâd heard of my work, and Iâd certainly heard of his work, and there was a bit of mutual respect, but we were on very different sides of the fence, me and Ron! It was a bit like Van Gogh meeting Leunigâ¦â
Not quite sure which oneâs Van Gogh and which oneâs Leunig, but the point is taken. And it has resonance. Say what you will about two blokes on stage manipulating their genitalia â serious publications approached the show seriously once it left Australian shores. Which Simon anticipated all along.
âI knew this was going to generate some serious debate. It was very confronting.â While it was âharmless funâ to Simon and Friendy â âItâs a piece of skin; get over it!â â for a lot of people, particularly in the media, it was challenging, even down to the basic debate of whether or not it could be shown on television. âCan we show male genitalia in a non-sexual light? Whatâs wrong with it, given we see so much female genitalia?â According to Simon, âit posed a lot of good questions, and Iâm always happy when the debate starts around us. Itâs important that we just stay focused; we just want to make shapes out of our dicks!â
Not wishing to enter any debate, my most pressing question right now is, given Simonâs not about to appear in this show, how does the Director and Global Pimp go about selecting his cast? How do you audition would-be dick tricksters?
âBasically, we get boys to come along, we talk them through and tell them what the job entails.Then we ask them all to kick their pants off. We do a little workshop, and then we get them to show us any tricks that theyâve got of their own, reproduce the ones we just taught them, and we look for them to be naturally funny. We say, âRight. Deliver your tricks!ââ
What Simonâs looking for, essentially, in a would-be dick trickster is a special quality: âIf there were couple of old ladies in the audience, weâd want them to have the most confronting and hilarious night of their lives, but weâd want them to turn to each other and go, âoh, but theyâre such nice boys!â So theyâve got to have a certain charm about them as well.â
And donât think for an instant that you necessarily have to be hung like a Clydesdale to do these tricks: âIâve actually said ânoâ to a lot of guys who were too big,â Simon insists. âYouâve got to be able to manipulate it. Youâve got to be able to bend it. Weâre looking for a certain proportion in the size of the penis to the testicles: the wheels on âThe Skateboardâ canât be too big. Thereâs also a lot of stretchiness of skin: youâve got to be able to put a sail on your âWindsurferâ.â
Ultimately, says Simon, when it comes to dick tricks, âeveryone can do some of them; not everyone can do all of them.â
Simon (seated) and Friendy, AKA Puppetry of the Penis
Coque du Soleil
I remember hearing â probably from the lads themselves â that the Umbilical Brothers were approached by Cirque du Soleil. However, joining the troupe would have meant giving up a lot of what they already had, and losing some identity. Has there been some sort of Coque du Soleil offer?
âActually,â Simon says, âthere has beenâ¦â
Turns out, in numerous trips to Montreal for the Just for Laughs comedy festival, Simon had encountered the Cirque du Soleil creators, who frequently used to joke that Puppetry of the Penis should become part of the show. And then it was no longer a joke: Cirque were âputting together an adult show for Vegasâ.
It came to nothing, of course. For the same reason every attempt by Puppetry of the Penis to get to Vegas has also been stymied: a law that prohibits live sex acts. The wording applies to Puppetry of the Penis, even though it isnât a sex act:
âThere's an old licensing law that says you can be naked on stage, but you canât touch your genitals. Unfortunately, we get caught up in this. Because all these shows are in billion dollar casinos, none of them are going to go, âwell, thatâs a stupid lawâ¦â. Nobodyâs prepared to take that chance with a billion dollar license.â
But, Simonâs adamant: itâs only a matter of time. âWeâll play Vegas one day. Weâll get in there!â
Not so cocky
So hereâs the thing. Youâve read this far. Youâve giggled at bits. But if you havenât seen Puppetry of the Penis live, would you? The point I made earlier â which was Simonâs point, back in 1998 â which Iâve found to be true, deserves reiteration: watching two naked guys do silly things with their cocks is unnerving. At first. But after the initial shock, it is just funny silliness. And you may as well be looking at their elbows.
Admittedly, the times Iâve seen it, Iâve felt the need to take female friends with me. And they all react the same way: âYouâre taking me to see WHAT?â (Or, as one quoted their mother to me, âHeâs taking you to seeâ¦ that PENIS show?!â) But by the end of it theyâve laughed so much that theyâre talking about it at work the next day and organising a girlsâ night out before the end of the season.
Simon likens it to jumping out of an aeroplane: âIt defies all your natural instincts. You DONâT jump out of aeroplanes; itâs madness; itâs stupid. And as soon as you get out of the plane and youâve let go of everything and youâre freefalling, itâs the best feeling in the world.â
Okay, seeing Puppetry of the Penis may not be âthe best feeling in the worldâ but Simon assures that âitâs quite harmless once you get over the initial shock of it all; youâve just got to strap yourself in and hang on; itâll be fine. Youâre not gonna get hurt.â
Not gonna get hurt, indeed. Reminds me of the urban legend surrounding film pioneers, the Lumiere brothers, and their 50-second silent film Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station. Apparently, the first audience to see it â never having seen film projection before â freaked out at the shot of the train coming towards them. Youâll have your 3-D glasses on; youâll be watching live theatre with close-ups coming at you live, on screen. But rest assured: those three-dimensional dick tricks coming at you pose no danger, just silly fun.
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-Downguests.
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.