Into the Woods
Monday, August 10, 2009
âWe did about ten shows and all the shows were great â standing ovations and good stuff like that. But at one of the shows, there was a person there who didnât like my show, and they complained to the comedy club in London and they fired me for the next two weeks.â
What? How does that work?
âExactly. Thatâs what I said. âHow does that work?â Someone in Dubai saw me, didnât like my show â even though after the show I was signinâ autographs and taking pictures with the punters â she called London and these people just fired me, no questions asked. They didnât say, âHey, did you do this, did you do that?â Nothinâ! I was like, âOh, wow. Welcome to America. Wait â Iâm not in America!ââ
Iâm talking to Tony Woods long distance from the United States. Heâs a comedian Iâve never met, nor seen live, but I know heâs good because when he was in Australia for the Cracker Comedy Festival earlier this year â appearing both in the Gala and on Good News Week â there was a buzz among other comics. There are clips, just in case you didnât see him either and didnât have other comics talking him up to you.
Tonyâs in the middle of telling me a story about a Dubai gig that got him sacked, and Iâm annoyed on his behalf. Firstly, the whole point of comedy is that the comedian tells âjokesâ â that is, they are effectively âpretendâ or âmake-believeâ compared to âfactsâ or ânewsâ or ârealityâ. Secondly, comedy is the one place where you are supposed to be allowed to explore taboo topics â to say things in jest that you could never have enough courage or insensitivity or permission to say in all seriousness.
âWell, first of all,â Tony insists, âI didnât say what she accused me of saying, anyway. Soâ¦ oh well.â
Weâre still talking hypothetically, to a degree. Tony hasnât divulged what he was accused of saying. Iâm not gonna ask him. It shouldnât matter. Comedy should be one place where youâre able to âpush the envelopeâ if you want to â and Tony reckons he wasnât even doing that.
âDidnât even push âem. I donât know what the hell she heard. She was drinkinâ. Or somethinâ. I donât know. Oh well. She ruined my summer vacation. I was supposed to go to The Bahamas for a vacation, me ânâ my family, but with two weeks of work fallinâ out of the pocket like that, you canât just up and go on a vacation. So I donât really wish the best for her at all.â
Well you wouldnât, would you. No, if you were a comic in Tonyâs position, the best outcome would be to enable everyone to laugh at this turn of events by turning this story into a comedy routine.
âYeah,â Tony says. âI will. Heh, heh, heh, heh.â
Ah, the Tony Woods laugh. I love that laugh. People claim Keith Richards, of the Rolling Stones, has the dirtiest laugh since Sid James. Tonyâs laugh is different to that: it is cool and conspiratorial. It has probably gotten Tony into as much trouble as it has gotten him out of. No doubt itâs gotten him laid.
You can hear the laugh on that YouTube clip where Paul McDermott grills Tony on the Good News Week couch. (âCouch Potato, the interrogation game of comfort and joyâ.) Although one question that doesnât immediately elicit the laugh is when McDermott asks Woods why he applied for Dental School. âHowâd you know that?â Tony says, taken aback. Eventually he replies âMan, I was 18; I just wantedâ¦ girls.â
When I ask him, Woods explains that he gained his first experience as âwhat they call a âdental technician/dental assistantââ in the navy. After advancing to âsurgical assistantâ he decided he might actually pursue dentistry as a career. âBut then,â he says, adopting a conspiratorial whisper, âI started doing comedyâ¦â.
Thereâs a pause. Followed by the signature laugh.
âHeh, heh, heh, heh, hehâ¦ you knowâ¦â.
Itâs a low sound that emanates from deep within, detached and yet cheeky. Itâs the sort of laugh that implies a shared knowledge we both know better than dare admit out loud. Although, in this instance, all I really âknowâ is that things donât always go to plan. The full story of how and why comedy usurped dentistry is something only Tony knows â but the encouragement to draw my own conclusion coupled with that laugh makes me want to assume the worst, something unspeakably shameful. Thatâs what that laugh does. On stage, the laugh causes the audience similarly to reach unspeakable conclusions, enabling the material to become as funny as our own imaginations allow. It means that Tony can create âoff-colourâ material without actually delivering it. Audiences titillate themselves at his prompting.
I bet thatâs what happened in Dubai: Tony didnât say whatever the woman claimed he said. He left it open to interpretation, and then delivered that laugh. It must have made her feel funny and think dirty, in a manner sheâd probably not had the pleasure of for some time. Good comedy can do that to you.
But Iâm more intent on pinning the comic down than drawing my own conclusions â unspeakable or otherwise â so I press on. Was there a master-plan to ultimately ditch vocational studies for comedy, or did it happen accidentally? According to Woods, it was âvery accidentalâ:
âI just happened to fall into it, man.â Tonyâs buddies insisted he was funny, that he should âtry outâ as a comic. âI went touring on those âopen micâ deals,â he explains, âandâ¦ BANG! There you go! Ever since then, thereâs no turning back.â
In addition to being able to leave the audience to do some of the work for themselves, Tonyâs style involves turning real experiences into material by re-telling it in a âbewilderedâ manner. Rather than a smug, arrogant or angry comic, Tony Woods is surprised. Itâs as though events are still taking him by surprise in the re-telling. According to Tony, that's his style: âLast to knowâ:
âEven though Iâm telling the story, itâs still taking me by surprise. Iâm the last to know.â
The beauty of it is that it renders all of Tonyâs material âuniversalâ. Heâs experiencing Australia for the first time and heâs telling us, more-or-less, as it happens to him::
âThereâs freaky stuff happening. Thereâs a lot of animalsâ¦. I mean like, animals that I neverâ¦â
At this point, you suppose itâs gonna be every visiting comicâs monologue about Australiaâs deadly fauna: spiders, snakes, sea creaturesâ¦. But no.
There was this dog on the couch, and I said to my Australian friend, âI ainât never seen a dog like that. What kind of do is that?â
And he said, âIt's a wombat, mate!â
I said, âyeah, I wanna dog like thatâ.
He said, âNah, itâs a marsupialâ.
âWhat the f*ck does that mean?ââHe got a pocket.â
And Iâm thinking, âWhat the f*ck do all the animals in Australia need with a f*cken pocket? They ainât carryinâ no wallet or nothinâ like that. What the f*ck you doinâ with a pocket, man?â
Â© Tony Woods
Funny to watch him tell it, bewildered, to Australian audiences â but itâs no doubt just as funny when he tells it, bewildered, to the folk back home. Or to any other audiences he plays to around the world. Tony Woods has been standing-up on the world stage for â well, at least a decade. There are clips on YouTube from Holland that are ten years old. Tony canât quite remember when he made the transition from open mic-er to world class comic. âI just kind of adapt to my surroundings and make it happen,â is how he explains it. âItâs a shame that it seems I can get more work overseas than I can in America.â
That is a shame, but so is having people fail to âget itâ as far afield as Dubai. Although the Dubai experience doesnât necessarily rate as Tonyâs worst on the road. He explains that because of his âvery laid-backâ on-stage demeanour, early on, audiences would assume he was a stoner. âNow everyone claims to smoke pot,â he observes. âI wasnât smokinâ pot. I just had a very daydreamy style, so it looked as though I was stoned on stage.â Although, it turns out, this was one of Ms Disappointed of Dubaiâs grievances: âShe says that I was drunk, that I was stoned. But she didnât know what she was talkinâ about.â
If I wasnât so comedy-savvy, Iâd have my suspicions, as I tell Tony: he does have a lot of material aboutâ¦ But I have to correct myself before I finish saying âgetting stonedâ. By âa lotâ, what I actually mean is, of the few clips of his work I have seen on-line, oneâs about going to Jamaica; another one recorded in Holland talks aboutâ¦ but Woods interrupts me.
âWhat it is,â he explains, âis a covert way of tellinâ people to not do drugs; showinâ people the misadventures and misfortunes you can have when you do that.â
The example Iâll go with at this point is Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, whose written work is riddled with drug references. If he was a medicated as he claims to be, on the substances he claims to have ingested, I doubt heâd have had the time to have written as much as he did. I donât know many people who spend their entire waking lives stoned who have the memory or the motivation â let alone the talent â to turn their experiences into a career of stand-up comedy.
âExactly!â Tony agrees. âYou should call that woman and tell her that!â
Given that Woods is based in Washington, DC when he is in fact in the US, I would have expected a bit of a political bent to his work. But there doesnât seem to be any.
âNo, thereâs not,â he confirms. âNot at all.â The political comics, Woods explains, are âthe people who move to DCâ, not the ones that live there. âItâs like the people who live in Los Angeles arenât into show business,â he continues. âItâs the people who move to Los Angeles. Theyâre into show business.â As ever: the converts are the zealots. The life-long believers just go about their business as they always have.
Speaking of material and show business, thereâs a great routine of which Iâm very fond â Tonyâs re-telling of the Little Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs fairy tales.
âThatâs older stuff,â he says. âItâs about my introduction to kindergarten. Iâd been at home watching soap operas and then I get there and theyâd give me happy, sweet stories. I go, âno, thereâs gotta be a covert mission behind theseâ.â
Little Red Riding Hood is a horrifying story. It is. Itâs supposed to be like a kidâs story but you think about it.
First, Little Red Riding Hood: sheâs like a trick, cos she wears little hot pants and stuff. You know, a big push-up bra and a little hood like a superhero stripper or something.
Remember, sheâs skippinâ through the woods, teasing all the woodsmen: âHi, woodsmenâ¦â.
And theyâre like, âWassup, bitch?â
Okay, she didnât hear them say that, but I want women here to know, thatâs what men are always sayinâ to you when you talk to them from a distance.
Â© Tony Woods
What I love about these stories is that you could build a cute animation around the pre-existing routine. Perfect for vodcasting, or as a DVD extra or forâ¦ whatever, really. Woods likes the idea. âYou should be my agent, man, so you can come to Los Angeles and tell these people.â
The way Tony sees it, âif youâre not doing the same thing that everyone else is doing, they donât want to try it. Everyone says, âwhy donât you do something likeâ¦â. I donât want to do anything like that person did or this person did. If you think about it, in Hollywood, the film genres stay the same until one person â and it has to be someone of notoriety â goes the different way. Then they all go that way. Like, now itâs all superheroes, you know?â
Hmm. Sounds like Woods has beaten his head against a showbiz brick wall. While general trends are evident in comedy, there are least as many ways to approach the same topic as there are original comedians. But what has Woods got his eye on â television or film?
âI want to do film. Iâm still trying to be an action hero but I think Iâm getting old.â
Maybe. But in the meantime, make the Little Red Riding Hood animation about the superhero stripper, I reckon. That sort of thing shouldnât be too far away from Tonyâs own current interests, really. He already has his own DVD to flog after shows. âItâs an hour of different television clips of my television appearances from all around the world,â he says.
The important question is, do they include clips that we canât sort of stumble upon for free on YouTube?
âYes,â Tony says. âItâs un-stumble-upon-able.â
Nice. I think weâre done. I thank Tony for his time.
âNo problem,â he says.
I tell him Iâm looking forward to seeing him live.
âOkey-dokey,â he says.
Which makes me wanna ask one last question. Iâm wondering if âokey-dokeyâ is something he picked up on his last visit here. âDo you say âokey-dokeyâ in your country?â I ask.
âNot everybody,â Tony reports. âI say it. Itâs just one of those things. Maybe I say it from my travels, I donât know. People say it.â
Hmm. Awkward. Let me explain. Thereâs one bit of routine â from the 2009 Cracker Comedy Festival Gala â where Tony imitates the Aussie accent and some of the words typical to our usage of English that arenât in as common usage in the United States â like âindigenousâ, âmarsupialâ and âpouchâ. As he continues into a an anecdote, as part of the routine, the word âmotherf*ckerâ come up a fair bit.
âSome of your material is about communicating those differences, in culture,â I offer, âand translating words. Like you say, ââmotherf*ckerâ means âblokeâ to meâ.â
âYeah. Heh, heh, heh, yeah,â Tony Woods says, laughing again. âIt just means âblokeâ.â
âI like that,â I offer. âMate, youâre a good bloke!â
âAwright,â Tony says. âAnd youâre a good motherf*cker yourself!â
And this time, we both laugh.
âHeh, heh, heh, heh.â
Tony Woods is playing the Sydney Comedy Store until Aug 15.
Tony Woods on 2009 Cracker Comedy Festival Gala
Tony Woods on the Good News Week couch.
Tony Woods on Jamaica on Def Comedy Jam
Tony Woodsâs version of Little Red Riding Hood