A Ward Winner (A Brief History of Felicity Ward)


That Was The Week That Was, also known as ‘TW3’, was a weekly television show in England that was fronted by David Frost (a Cambridge graduate whose laconic speaking voice is said to be based on Peter Cook’s EL Wisty character), employed a small army of writers (some  of whom would be Pythons and Goodies), and though not actually responsible for launching the so-called 'satire boom' of the early 1960s, certainly provided evidence that it was truly underway. There was also an American version of the show. A clever singer-songwriter (who would give up writing clever satirical songs and touring the world performing them in order to return to lecturing mathematics at university) called Tom Lehrer used to write a clever song each week for the American edition and went on to release an album of the best bits, called That Was The Year That Was. It was much better than the single released as the 'theme' of the British version of the show.

For the second year in a row, the Sydney Opera House is home to a gala comedy event looking back satirically at the year that was, tipping its hat to the satire tradition from which it borrows its name: That Was The Year That Was. This year's line-up features Wil Anderson, Eddie Perfect, The Scared Weird Little Guys, Mikey Robins, Wendy Harmer, Flacco and the Sandman, Felicity Ward and Celia Pacquola, to name but several, and the poster suggests there are more, yet to be announced.

I'm taking the opportunity to present an interview with Felicity Ward, who appeared to come not quite out of nowhere and be brilliant in the shortest period of time. One minute she was producing Heath Franklin's Chopper shows, the next she was the talk of Melbourne Fringe.

This interview took place midway through 2009 after Wardy had enjoyed excellent festival seasons in Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney with Ugly as a Child, the show that had won her ‘Best Newcomer’ at Melbourne Fringe in 2008. At the time, wanting to try to develop my writing style, I decided to take on a proper in-depth profile – with a view to one day tackling a full-blown biography. Clearly,  I bit off more than I can chew;  it contains a heap of Wardy’s – and a certain period of Australian comedy's – history, but really should have culminated in more of a portrait of what it is she does. Or at least, what it was she was doing at the time. Rest assured, Felicty Ward is nothing short of brilliant. An hilarious comic, a worthy guest on your show and the perfect person to spend an afternoon chatting to in a café. She’s certainly less melodramatic and less highly strung than when first invited to guest on a live late night variety show at a comedy festival!


“I was so nervous before I went on. I got so worked up that I honestly thought – and I say this without any exaggeration – ‘when I get off stage I will probably kill myself, so it doesn’t matter what I do on stage’. I just hated myself. I thought, ‘This isn’t funny, I don’t know what I’m doing. This is just terrible’.”

Okay. Let’s backtrack a bit. It’s just gone 4pm and I’m sitting in a café – two doors up from a primary school – that specialises in hot chocolate. Sitting opposite me is Felicity Ward, a comic I was first aware of on the Channel Ten sketch show The Ronnie Johns Half Hour, where she was responsible for characters like cute little Poppy, the girl who innocently explains away inadvertently dodgy photographs, and scarily angst-ridden existentialist Gretchen. Nowadays, Felicity’s a stand-up comic. A good one. She made her festival debut at Melbourne Fringe last year where her show Ugly as a Child earned her the ‘Melbourne Airport Best Newcomer Award’. At this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the show played to mostly sold-out houses. Somewhere in between Ronnie Johns and Ugly as a Child, Felicity started appearing on Spicks and Specks and proved to be nothing short of bloody good on that, too. Not long after we caught up for this conversation, she made her debut appearance on Thank God You’re Here. And guess what? She absolutely blitzed it.

But according to Felicity, her very first stand-up gig was going to be her last. While many a comic may fear ‘dying’, metaphorically, on stage, she wasn’t fussed; she reckons she was happy to do so literally, after she got off stage. What’s more, she’s dead serious. But school has knocked off for the day and we’re surrounded by a multitude of kiddies peaking on a sugar rush, their mums seemingly indifferent to the chocolate stains that will have to be removed from uniforms later on, so now’s not quite the right time to chase down the suicide story – lest a multitude of ‘Poppies’ repeat it for ‘show and tell’ tomorrow morning.

So. First things first: Ronnie Johns. “That was a big accident,” Felicity insists. “I had never done comedy in any sort of form.”

Oh. Okay. Looks like we need to backtrack even further.

Wardy portrait

Giving Wardy The Third Degree

It was 2004. Having attended performing arts schools growing up, Felicity Ward was momentarily distracted with an interlude of Music Business Skills at Wyong TAFE – (“I was gonna be a band manager or event manager because in some part of my history, that’s what I wanted to do...”) – before acting won out. Wardy moved to Sydney to be an actor, getting involved with ATYP (Australian Theatre for Young People), an entity run as a professional theatre company –with set and costume designers, actors and directors – by the Sydney Theatre Company. “They put on really great plays, specifically for young people. The people you were working with were really professional so you treated it like a job.”

Felicity appeared in an ATYP production of The Musicians, directed by Tim Jones for that year’s Sydney Festival. One of Felicity’s fellow cast members, Benedict Hardie, was directing the University of Sydney’s Arts Faculty Revue soon after and asked Wardy if she’d be in it. The fact that Felicity didn’t actually go to Sydney Uni wasn’t a problem. “There were twenty people in the cast,” Felicity says with typical modesty. “Not that it wasn’t a big deal, but lots of people got into that.”

The previous year, a couple of clever people from Macquarie University had acknowledged that university revues mostly follow the same pattern: a handful of awesome sketches appear in a show surrounded by the same old stuff. These guys – Chris McDonald and Heath Franklin – decided it’d be really cool to take just the awesome sketches from a handful of different university revues and combine them into really good show. The cast of the show would similarly consist of some of the best performers from those various revues. That show was called The 3rd Degree: Generation HECS, the ‘3rd Degree’ nicely referring to comedy derived from university revue (not unlike The D-Generation, from two decades earlier) as well as offering a pun on intense interrogation, the final stage of initiation and the most severe type of burn (they’re all known as ‘third degree’).

Successful enough to warrant a second year on the festival circuit, The 3rd Degree came together for the show Eskimos with Polaroids at the 2005 Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Having appeared in the 2004 University of Sydney Arts Faculty Revue, Felicity auditioned for that 3rd Degree show and “got in, somehow”. That second incarnation proved successful at Sydney’s Big Laugh Comedy Festival as well as the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

On to the next stage

Someone who had noticed The 3rd Degree in Melbourne was comedian Glenn Robbins. He’d had a history of fostering up-and-coming talent with Headliners, a live stand-up show devised and taped for the Comedy Channel. He also had a history of sketch comedy, with Comedy Company, Fast Forward and Big Girl’s Blouse. When, he says, Channel Ten approached him enquiring if he “knew of anyone” worth developing, he pointed the network towards The 3rd Degree. Channel Ten liked the idea. Powers that be suggested Robbins ought to mentor the young comedians, and though initially reluctant – there was plenty of work coming through with the likes of The Panel, Russel Coight’s All Aussie Adventures and  Kath & Kim – he realised “it’d be unfair to block that opportunity” for the up-and-comers.

The ‘up-and-comers’ were selected by Chris McDonald from the cast of both shows: Dan Ilic, James Pender, Becci Gage and Caz Fitzgerald, who’d been in the show’s first incarnation; Jordan Raskopoulos and Felicity, who had been in the second; Heath Franklin, who’d helped create the show with Chris, had been in both. (In fact, prior to The 3rd Degree, Pender, Franklin, Gage and Ilic had appeared in a Melbourne International Comedy Festival show called The Beatification of Newt Berton and the Great Viagra Robbery, written and directed by McDonald.) But according to Felicity, news of Channel Ten’s interest came as a surprise:

“About three weeks after the Melbourne Comedy Festival had finished, we get this call: ‘Channel Ten want to give you a writing workshop’. It was unheard of; it meant we would be employed as writers. I was a waitress; Heath was a labourer; I think Dan was working in a computer shop; Jordan was working at his dad’s dry cleaners; Becci was becoming a teacher; Caz and James Pender were studying to become lawyers. This was none of our professions so that was really, really cool.”

For two months, the team just wrote. “‘Let’s see what the funniest shit we can come up with is’ – that was our job description,” says Felicity. “No promise of anything at the end: no promise of even an episode; of employment with Channel Ten; nothing. It was just, ‘let’s see what you can do’, which was so cool, now that I think back to it.” During this period, Robbins would spend a day each week workshopping their material. “We’d talk about how we could hone the characters and improve it. Because none of us had any idea about TV, or that there would be any kind of transition to make from the page to screen.”

Glenn says it was as much of a learning experience for him. “I don’t actually know how I do most of my stuff – I just write it and do it. Putting into words the reason why they should be editing something or doing something a different way was hard.”

After two months of writing, the day came to pitch to Channel Ten. “We just went in and said, ‘this is what we do’ and had all these different scene ideas and recurring character ideas,” Felicity recalls. “About a month later they were sort of saying, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna do something, yeah, we’re gonna do something’, and I thought, ‘It’s not gonna happen, but that’s okay, I had a really cool time’.”

A month after that, Channel Ten offered the team a pilot, which they spent a fortnight filming. “We handed the pilot in on the Friday and on the Monday, got a call saying we had six episodes of a TV show. And then got a call on the Tuesday saying, ‘Actually, you’re going to have 13 episodes’.” And so, The Ronnie Johns Good Times Campfire Jamboree Half Hour Show (Now On Televison) – to give it its full title – was underway. All told, Felicity calculates about “thirteen months in total” from her first performance, as a Sydney Uni Arts Revue ring-in, to her first day of proper work on a TV show. “It was… kind of inexplicable, really,” She says, and then corrects herself: “Not even ‘kind of’; it was inexplicable. Wonderful. All the superlatives. Because I’d tried for a really long time to be an actor and just couldn’t get parts in anything. But as soon as I started comedy, it was easier. Not ‘easier’ – Ronnie Johns was really, really hard work. But it just seemed to progress quicker.”

True enough. All the character roles Felicity failed to land while slogging away as an actor suddenly appeared more-or-less at once on Ronnie Johns. Some were her own. Some were devised by others, but brought to life by Felicity. Others still were people she just happened to notice.



There was the deceptively innocent little girl, Poppy, with the photo album, whose explanations were a little bit disturbing. It turns out Poppy grew out of the first week of writing workshops. The rule was, everyone had to arrive each morning with five things: “They could be a funny line, a joke, a sketch, a funny character, a concept, a clipping from a newspaper that you wanted to satirise, anything, but you just had to come up with five of them. Often, four of them were absolute rubbish.” Felicity, having trouble coming up with stuff, noticed her dictionary.

“I started flicking through. It fell open on the page with the word ‘macabre’ and I thought, ‘It’d be kind of cool if there was a little girl who read out really dark definitions from the dictionary.’ Messing around with voices and characters, she realised the definitions themselves weren’t so funny. But what if she had pictures… say, of animals… that she could define…? Then there’d be room for humour. “I showed it to a network executive and he went, ‘A six-year-old showing pictures of animals is cute, but it’s not really that funny; it needs a spin.’” So Felicity came up with the spin. In the pilot episode, Poppy shows us a picture of a woman snorting a line of cocaine off a mirror, and explains, in her cutest little girl voice: “This woman likes to look at herself through a straw in a mirror and she does that sometimes for money but she won’t kiss a boy on the lips because it means something.”

“I remember writing that and thinking, ‘That’s rather dark, Felicity; we’ll see how that goes.’ That ended up being a flagship character for me.” Poppy would go on to offer innocent explanations for photos of Ku Klux Klan members and prisoner torture at Abu Ghraib.

Underground Girl


Justin Heazlewood – also known to comedy fans as ‘The Bedroom Philosopher’ (and more recently, for playing the role of young John Safran in Race Relations) – served as one of the show’s ‘non-performing writers’ and he came up with ‘Underground Girl and Underground Guy’. These were a pair of emo kids who essentially talked about “how ‘underground’ they were”. Felicity played Underground Girl while Jordan was Underground Boy. The quality of Justin’s writing was such that, when she read it, Felicity reckoned – adopting the emotionless emo tone ¬– she “could, like, tell they were, you know, like, not really into each other”. Adopting, along with Jordan, the appropriate nonchalant tone, they “tried to out-nonchalant each other”. The sketch came at the end of the first season and proved extremely popular on YouTube – so much so that Underground Girl and Underground Guy became recurring characters in the second season.

Gretchen the Nihilist


Felicity’s favourite character was the Nihilist, Gretchen. Dressed in black and flanked by similarly clad Simon (Heath Franklin) und Sigmund (James Pender), they were a trio of emotionless existentialists who somehow end up where colourful, exuberant, larger-than-life characters ought to be: hosting kids’ shows, exercise shows, playing Santa Clause in department stores…. Although the Gretchen character wasn’t devised by Felicity – the Nihilists originated in the Macquarie University Revue that Heath, James, Dan and Chris were involved in – she took to it immediately. “For some reason, it was one of those characters that, as soon as I read it, I knew exactly what to do and where to pitch it. Sometimes you just read stuff and it’s like a present: ‘There you go!’”

The initial gift was a sketch in which the Nihilists host the equivalent Playschool. It appeared in the live 3rd Degree show as well as Ronnie Johns. Felicity loved the way they “got darker and darker” as the love story developed between Gretchen and Simon in subsequent sketches. “Well,” she corrects herself, “not between Gretchen and Simon; Gretchen was in love with Simon.” Her affections were not reciprocated. In fact, the sketches “turned into a big ‘shitting on Gretchen’ competition” as Simon and Sigmund set up Gretchen in order to cut her down. “It was so much fun to do,” says Felicity. “It was great.”

The Inbreds

Some characters didn’t make it from stage to screen, like ‘The Inbreds’ – hillbilly characters who were brother and sister as well as boyfriend and girlfriend. “I didn’t really understand the concept of things being ‘too big’ for TV,” Felicity says. “I had no idea it could be an issue. They were really funny and good on stage, but they were just too big for television.”

Judy de Groot

Another character who never made it to air was Judy de Groot, a school counsellor. “I’d written heaps of sketches for her. We would read them around the table and everyone was laughing and I was laughing. We’d do the scene, and that was fine as well. And then we’d put it in front of a live audience and it didn’t breathe – for some reason, in a studio it was just weird. So we thought, we’ll pre-record it on location somewhere. We did that, and then played that back to the audience in between the live sketches, and again it just didn’t work, and we didn’t know why. That’s something we really had to learn: we had characters that were hilarious in the room, but – I don’t know what happened between the room and filming – some just didn’t make it.”



One character who did come to life – and continues to live on for fans – was lawn bowls instructor with the serious speech impediment, Heidi. “She’s not a character,” Felicity insists. “I met her in real life. She was just ‘ready to go’.”

At a bowling club for a friend’s party, Wardy confessed utter ignorance of the ways of lawn bowls. “This bowling instructor stepped up – she was so awkward: about my age, and had that strange dichotomy of being very womanly while living just for sports – and said:

“‘Okay, we have four teamsh – you have to take a shilver band, or an oranshe band, or a…’.

“I was just looking at this woman, going ‘are you for real…?’

“She was wearing zinc, Steve Waugh sunglasses, blue knee-length shorts, and a blue polo t-shirt that said ‘rock’n’bowl’ – it’s all in the show. I just… it was… just incredible. There was nothing about the character that I made up physically.

“She went through and explained the rules about how this hilarious lawn bowls competition was gonna go for about five minutes, and then at the end, she goes, ‘of the two teamsh, the winner getsh the ashesh…’ – she had this little trophy of ‘the ashes’ – ‘… and the losher getsh the donkeysh arshe…’ – and there was this little picture of the donkey’s arse. And she lost it – she just thought it was the funniest thing.

“I didn’t think, ‘I’m gonna make a character out of her!’ I just went to work the next week and went, ‘My god, it was so funny – there was this chick… blah, blah, blah…’ and Chris said, ‘You should write a sketch about it’. ‘Oh… okay!’ We ended up writing about five or six more of those in the second season.”

I let Felicity know how much this reminds me of that story Garry McDonald occasionally tells of the airline stewardess with the ‘shot jaw’ and bogan accent who gave him and David Frost some grief. Her name was Norma Gunston…

“There are moments like those where my eyes just sparkle now,” Felicity says, “because I had no experience writing comedy or doing comedy before Ronnie Johns. It didn’t occur to me that everything that I see every single day is a possibility.”

On-Air Outrage

Like all successful television sketch comedies, some items were outstanding; a few were painful; many were somewhere in between. But like all successful television sketch comedies, few agree on which sketches fall into which categories. I recall 2GB talkback radio host Ray Hadley, who trades professionally in perpetual outrage, being particularly gobsmacked by a Ronnie Johns sketch. Specifically, he was flabbergasted that Channel Ten would put to air a sketch that involved the cast spitting food onto one another. Essentially, it’s a dinner party that falls to pieces with a food fight.

“That’s what he got worked up about?” Felicity demands incredulous. I take her point. When I saw it on DVD I found it ever-so-slightly reminiscent of the Australia You’re Standing In It ‘Chunky Custard’ sketch, and more importantly, utterly hilarious.

“This sounds sentimental and daggy, but that was the last scene that we filmed for the last episode of the first season, and at the end of that sketch was the moment where I looked around and went, ‘Oh my god, I get paid for this’. It was really one of the best moments of my whole life: just sitting there, spitting food at my mates.”

She elaborates: one of the team’s policies, established early on, was to avoid ‘corpsing’ – the breaking of character by laughing, or causing other cast members to laugh. “We didn’t like it. We wouldn’t film it; it wouldn’t go to air. Not to say that we never broke character and never laughed, but in the beginning, we were quite hard on that. We didn’t want the audience to think that we were having more fun than they were.”

According to Felicity, that was one of only two scenes ever retained featuring the team corpsing, and the DVD contains an extra thirty seconds of them losing it. “There was supposed to be this carry-on effect where someone said something offensive and Jordan spat onto James, James spat onto Heath, Heath spat onto me, I spat onto Dan and Dan spat onto Caz. There were so many disgusting bits – it was one of my favourite sketches that we did. There’s a bit where ham lands in Pender’s mouth – it’s so disgusting. It’s gross. So much fun.”

That was a gross moment in a sketch from the final episode. There’s a similarly golden ‘gross’ moment for Felicity in a sketch in the first episode, in which she ‘hosts’ a kids’ show with a puppet frog and they ‘get to know’ each other very well in the process. “I don’t know if I would do that again,” Felicity admits. “There was a lot of stuff that, if it made us laugh, we just did it. We didn’t really think of the consequences. I was a pretty big attention-seeker and I was like, ‘that’ll make 200 pople laugh in a sudio audience’, forgetting that everyone would see it.” Forgetting, perhaps, that ‘everyone’ included people she also knew. That first episode went to air with Felicity’s family watching proudly.

“My sister rang me the next day and went, ‘Grandma and Grandpa came over to watch the show last night, and I had to sit there while you received cunnilingus from a frog. I am gonna kill you!’” Understandably, Felicity avoided visiting her family for a while. “Poor Grandma! All she wants is to be proud of me. She wants to tell all her friends, but usually I’m doing things that she can’t brag about. Grandma’s not any less proud of me but she couldn’t go to a CWA meeting and go ‘my granddaughter’s on a lovely program called The Ronnie John’s Half Hour…’.”

‘Everyone’ also included people Felicity didn’t know. “About six months after we’d filmed it, this guy leaned over to me in a pub – it’s so clear in my mind; I don’t get recognised very often, which is good and fine and appropriate – but this guy leaned over to me and went, ‘Hey, hey, are you from Ronnie Johns Half Hour?’ I went, ‘Oh, yeah!’ He goes, ‘I loved the frog sketch’. I’m like ‘Oooooooh… Yuck, yuck, yuck.’”

Wardy on board

Ronnie Johns came to an end with the clearest path appearing almost immediately before Heath Franklin: his ‘Chopper’ character clearly had a life on stage beyond the show. And despite initially sussing Wardy out as a bit of a trouble-maker – (“I am a bit of a trouble-maker; he wasn’t too far off the mark!”) – Heath hit it off very well with Felicity, so Chris McDonald, as producer of Franklin’s Chopper tour. made Wardy an offer.

“I didn’t really have a job,” Felicity recalls. “Well, none of us had jobs – but Chris said, ‘You wanna be tour manager?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah!’ He went, ‘You wanna be stage manager?’ and I went, ‘Yeah, all right!’”

Despite utter inexperience, Felicity helped Heath and Chris organise a 90-city national tour. “It meant four months of living in each other’s pockets. And it was the first tour, so we didn’t know if it was going to be successful or anything, so often it would be me and the two boys sharing a hotel room. Not like a hotel apartment, where we’d each have our own room – we would literally be sharing a room. I was going through a tough period of my life and it was really, really hard work and we just knew each other inside-out.” The following year, Felicity served as production manager for Heath’s comedy festival Chopper shows.

That still doesn’t explain how she got back on stage. As a stand-up comic in her own right. In fact, initially, Wardy considered cobbling together a character-based show. But she gave up on it. “I’d started writing one but I just couldn’t get it together in time for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival because it would have been me producing, writing, directing, all of that stuff, and it was just too much for me.”

Enter. Stage right.

What happened next, Wardy explains, is that following the first Chopper tour, she travelled overseas and ended up in Edinburgh the year Phil Nichol was directing a production of Breaker Morant for the Fringe Festival (that is, 2007). In addition to Heath Franklin, the cast included the likes of Brendon Burns, Sammy J and Adam Hills. Hanging out with Heath meant, at times, hanging out with Hillsy. So Wardy got to know Hillsy well enough to be hanging out with him while he toured Australia subsequently with the live Spicks and Specktacular.

“We were out and at a pub with Adam and he said, ‘Do you want a drink?’,” Wardy relates. “I said, ‘No, I’m fine’. He said, ‘It’s on me’. I said, ‘No, I don’t drink’. He said, ‘Really? If you’re like this when you’re sober, we’re gonna get you on Spicks and Specks; If you can be half as funny as this…’.”

Hearing the words coming out of her mouth, Wardy checks herself with her customary modesty: “I sound like a real dickhead saying this. Sorry, I’m not trying to say I’m funny or anything like that. I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, sure Adam, nicest guy in the world, that’s a really nice thing to say’.” In Felicity’s head, Adam was paying her a nice compliment; she never expected to be invited onto the show. But she was:

“I get a call two weeks later saying, ‘Hi, I’m calling from Spicks and Specks, Adam’s recommended you, I’m just wondering if you’d be interested in coming on the show…’.”

Felicity finds it a bit hard to believe that she was asked onto the show for – she says – “no better reason” than she’s “a friend of Adam’s friend”. Sure, she’d appeared on Ronnie Johns, but she herself is the first to acknowledge that since it was “quite ‘culty’”, nobody really watched it (except Ray Hadley, during a slow week, when sport was rightfully getting more press than the arts, and for the right reasons). And furthermore, even if she was “a funny sketch comedian” (which she is), it doesn’t necessarily follow that she’d be “funny in real life” or “ enjoyable to watch” or “affable” or, she concludes, “any of those things”. (Felicity Ward is in fact all those things.) “So it was a pretty big risk.” (Actually, it wasn’t – not as far as Hillsy was concerned, clearly.)

“Then I went on and it was great. I had lots of fun. They got me back a couple of times and every time I finished there I thought, ‘Maybe it’s all right that I’m just me; maybe I don’t need to do character stuff.’”

Variety - the spice of taking your own life

That is the plain truth of it: some people really are natural born entertainers whose best work is pretty much whatever they do when they’re being themselves – but learning how to just be yourself on stage is one of the most difficult things to do; often it is other people around you who recognise the natural talent people you have just being yourself.

Hillsy wasn’t the only person who recognised Wardy’s talent and sought to include her in his show. Ali McGregor, the operatic soprano and singer of burlesque who has been hosting a late night variety show on the festival circuit for the last few years, encountered Wardy at Adelaide Fringe in 2008 and, with the Melbourne International Comedy Festival to follow shortly thereafter, asked her if she might “want to do something one night”.

“I’m like, ‘Um… yeah, okay, sure!’” Felicity relates, not having thought anything of it at the time. “Then I ran into Ali again in Melbourne and she’s like, ‘When do you want to come on?’ I’m like, ‘Um… oh… like… er… whenever?’ She said, ‘Well… just tell me when.’” A couple of weeks later, with the festival almost over, Ali saw Wardy in the street and said, “We’re running out of slots; do you want to do something?” Felicity had to agree, she says, “because I knew that if I didn’t, I would really hate myself”. So Wardy was locked in for the final night of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

“I didn’t have to do comedy or anything like that,” Felicity says. “I could do anything, basically.” Jordan Raskopoulos, Felicity’s old Ronnie Johns colleague and himself a veteran of several subsequent festivals, both as a solo act and as one third of The Axis of Awesome, had some remote control toy tanks that, when ‘fired’, resulted in giving the user electric shocks. “I thought, what I should do, I should order these electrocuting toy tanks online and use them in the show,” Wardy decided. “I will pick someone from the audienc, ask them trivia questions, and if they get them wrong, I’ll zap them – and vice-versa. I don’t know where that idea came from but that was the idea.”

Electrocuting tanks were duly ordered and arrived on the Friday. Felicity’s gig, as a guest on Ali McGregor’s Late Night Variety Show, was on the Sunday. But Felicity happened to be on the phone when the postman buzzed her, and even though she instructed him to “just bring them up”, it was ages later that she finished her phone call and realised he hadn’t come up. “I was staying in this little apartment in Melbourne,” Wardy says. “They weren’t outside my door, they weren’t in the foyer, they weren’t outside… he must have just stolen them. I was like, ‘Oh no! Oh no! What am I gonna do now?’ I just started freaking out.”

With twelve minutes to fill on Ali’s show, never having done stand-up before, and not much more than two days to write something, Felicity began to have a breakdown. Or would have, had she not been keeping notebooks full of ideas since her Ronnie Johns days. “I just started writing furiously – anything I could think of. I ended putting together ten minutes.” It was at this point that Felicity Ward began planning her own demise, as outlined at the beginning of this piece. It was her coping mechanism: it didn’t matter how bad her performance would be – and she was certain it was going to be terrible – because she’d already formulated her exit strategy. She was going to take her own life. And then…

“It was amazing. It went really well. I thought, ‘Why have I been waiting so long to do this?’”


Just like a Hollywood film

Two weeks later, Felicity decided to move to Melbourne, started doing stand-up and began creating her first festival show. Four months later she was the talk of Melbourne Fringe with her award-winning show Ugly As A Child.

“I figured out the other day, I did less than twenty stand-up gigs before the first show at Melbourne Fringe, which is not enough time to run-in a craft…” Wardy says.

Yeah, okay, Felicity. Shut up. Except that, being so humble, down-to-earth and modest, talk about it all you like. Wardy’s welcome to say whatever she wants about her comedy because she’s not only good, she’s also right: she did take less than twenty gigs before she was clearly being acknowledged as brilliant. And although it ‘should’ take more time to run-in a craft, it is a craft, not a science, so none of the laws or rules have to hold in every situation. You can know all there is to know about comedy before realising that irrespective of what you know, if you get in front of an audience and fail to make them laugh, in that moment, you know nothing…

Wardy, on the other hand, knows she’s onto something good. Or at least, she should. Ugly As A Child is hilarious, involving singing, characters, acting, absurdism, audience participation (with the trivia quiz-based electrocuting tanks) all based on an uncomfortable trawl through an awkward childhood. I can’t help wondering if I can detect autobiography done up as fiction.

“There’s nothing fictional about it! It’s just autobiography,” Felicity admits. And then qualifies her statement. There are a couple of elements that aren’t based on fact. Judy de Groot, the school counsellor character who never quite worked on Ronnie Johns, works a treat in Ugly As A Child. And in the first, Melbourne Fringe incarnation of the show, a segment called ‘Meat Dad’, that didn’t make it to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival version, isn’t real. Although it did grow out of a real element of Felicity’ life. “Basically, my dad used to go out west and sell vacuum cleaners for a living, so he’d be gone for weeks at a time,” Wardy explains. “I thought it would be funny if I had this puppet called ‘Meat Dad’ which was two steaks stuck to a ruler with a face on it, and I would talk to him while dad was away. That and the school counsellor were made-up, but apart from that, everything in the show is true.”


Ugly in Sydney

After a successful Melboure Comedy Festival season that saw Wardy make the shortlist for ‘Best Newcomer’ – the award she won at the Melbourne Fringe late last year – she brought Ugly as a Child to Sydney for Sydney’s Cracker Comedy Festival. “I was really nervous,” she admits. “I said, ‘Look, Grandma, I really want you to see this, but I have to let you know there is some really full-on language in it and I don’t want you to be offended. Come if you’d like; I want you to be there. But…’

“After the show, I came out and I was so nervous. She just came up to me and said, ‘I am so proud of you. I thought it was wonderful’. It was like, ‘It’s okay, Gran’s proud of me. Good.’” Of course, Gran also enjoyed Wardy’s turn on Thank God You’re Here – it’s a family show, so there’s no swearing.

The question, at the time of our conversation, is: what next for Felicity? She already had her next show planned. It was to be about hedonism. But before doing a hedonism show, she was going to engage in some travelling to the UK for pleasure. Which meant she wouldn’t have time to work on a new show for the 2009 Melbourne Fringe Festival and beyond. “I’m not comfortable having a half-baked show,” she says. Thankfully, ‘plan b’ made itself apparent instead.

“What happened,” Wardy eplains, “was I did this gig at a Bar Mitzvah. It was the worst gig I’ve ever done – excruciating from start to finish. The whole story of how it happened was a mess.” Despite going home from the Bar Mitzvah “devastated”, she decided to write about what happened. She ended up with a story, two pages long, which she delivered as stand-up. “And then I just started writing essays because I really like doing them,” she says. One of them was about the time she attended a poetry night. “That essay’s called, ‘I forgot to tell you, I hate poery!’” she says.

What’s amazing is that it took friend and producer Chris McDonald suggest “Why not just do an essay show?” After all, says Felicity, “ they’re crafted, well-written and humorous. I feel comfortable doing that. So that’s the next adventure.” That essay show was lovingly entitled Felicity Ward Reads From The Book Of Moron, and has served Wardy well: it was her 2009 Melbourne Fringe show, in preparation for the Aussie festival circuit of 2010. Meanwhile, the 2009 Edinburgh Fringe was impressed by Felicity Ward’s Edinburgh Season – the most recent incarnation of Ugly as a Child.

Meanwhile, that hedonist show may be developed down the track – which means Felicity can finally rest easy. Although she was once terrified that she’d “used up” all her “good stuff” early on, and now, unable to ever write another funny joke, it was time to “pack it up and retire undefeated,” she knows it’s not the case. “Things have been happening lately that I’ve been writing about and trying nervously, and they’ve been great. As in, the audience is responding very well. So that’s a relief I’m not ‘all out’ after thirteen months of stand-up.”

Indeed. Rest assured, even if she was one of the last people to realise it, Felicity Ward is here for the long haul.

Book of moron

Wil, latterly

Re-publishing old interviews always runs the risk of bringing back to light topics that have long been done and dusted. But while discussion of the Shannon Noll feud appears in this 2006 interview, conducted as Wil undertook his Wil Communication tour, so too does the fact that Wil was just leaving radio – something he did again quite recently. I present it here on the eve of the Sydney run of this year’s show Wilosophy – virtually totally sold out at the Opera House before it begins. (There was a[nother] late show added that still had seats available as I typed this introduction – try your luck!)

This interview originally appeared as part of Episode 35 of Radio Ha Ha, a podcast I used to present/produce/edit for a Sydney radio station when they thought that digital radio was going to explode. They jumped the gun, but should have stuck at it, as should have I – now everyon’s podcasting. This stuff was pretty good for its time. Don’t believe me? Listen to the episode – it was co-hosted by Judith Lucy, who was in town for her show of the time, I FAILED! (It’s worth mentioning that she’s about to undertake a return Sydney season of her latest show, Judith Lucy’s Not Getting Any Younger.)

I have, of course, interviewed Wil Anderson before, and since – the more recent one was about The Gruen Transfer, for FilmInk. I may bung it on this blogsite if I find it. Apart from that, I suppose, before we begin, I should offer some new element so that you can walk away with something new. Some new insight. I have nothing insightful – but I do have a ‘cute’ anecdote.

I love watching Wil in action – live on stage, and on the telly, and I’ve been doing it for years. We get on quite well. Wil used to introduce me to people as ‘Australia’s only dedicated comedy journalist’ which at the time was true. He really enjoyed being interviewed by someone who understood how comedy worked, rather than by, say, “the fishing writer” (that is, whoever the newspaper could be bothered sending, because they didn’t consider comedy so ‘important’; read: ‘lucrative’). For a time, his website linked to my blog with this lovely blurb:

“Dom Romeo is the best comedy writer in Australia. He is the perfect combination of fan and critic and his knowledge and honesty is legendary. The one critic I will always pay attention to.”

Thanks Wil. Knowing that Wil was aware of my honesty, early this year I made a little suggestion to him on the quiet, after beginning with a couple of disclaimers along the lines of ‘I was thinking’ and ‘just an idea…’. My idea was, maybe it was time for Wil to try something different in his delivery style. Instead of the break-neck speed, cram every possible gag in, make the audience laugh so hard they risk missing the next gag, perhaps it was time to slow down. I couched it in a cumbersome metaphor: ‘play the audience laughter like an orchestra, instead of like an electric guitar delivering the fastest solo…’.

Wil was very nice about it, respecting my opinion. Did he agree with it? Well, the poster for Wilosophy at the 2009 Melbourne International Comedy Festival carried this blurb:

“A higher laugh-per-minute rate than anyone I've ever seen before...‘Ando’ is a comic gem.” ThreeWeeks (UK)

Clearly, if it ain’t broke, there’s no reason to fix it. There are other outlets for which Wil delivers his comedy differently: radio, print, television… On stage, he’s still ‘Ando the Comedy Commando’. 


Saw the show. Hilarious, clever as always, but more mature and measured, it seems to me. And he’s slowed down a bit!


Dom Romeo: Wil, your comedy clearly has become edgier since you haven’t been doing radio; some people have described it in terms of being ‘like Rod Quantock, but for a younger demographic’. That you’re still getting the kids in, but actually giving them a message under all the comedy. What do you think of that?

WIL ANDERSON: I like to think that it’s like Rod Quantock, but that you’re talking to people who don‘t already agree with everything that you agree with. I love Rod, and I think Rod could work to any sort of audience, but you go to a Rod Quantock gig, and it’s preaching to the choir. Do you know what I mean? Everyone in there already agrees with everything you’re saying.

I would like to think that someone who voted for John Howard, and to be honest with you, listens to Shannon Noll’s music, could still come to my show and laugh for seventy minutes. I think all the jokes are there. Then I think there's that whole different layer to it, hopefully, that gives people an accessible way to get into things that they would normally tune out for.

Normally if you say the words ‘Australian Wheat Board’, people go, “it’s wheat; I’m bored”. What I try to do is get people interested in things, through comedy, that they wouldn't normally be interested in. And sometimes people go, “oh, you just did an ‘Amanda Vanstone’s fat’ joke”. Yeah well, sometimes you’ve got to do a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, you know? Occasionally, if you’re talking about immigration or whatever, chuck in another joke to keep it going. I don’t see any shame in that. In fact, I think, as an entertainer, it’s your job to be entertaining, foremost.

I always like to think that good comedy is like a Kinder Surprise: you can just eat the chocolate, and you can enjoy the chocolate. But there’s a little toy in there if you want that as well. I think I’m getting better at that. I’ve always tried to do that, but now that I have the time to think about that, and I’m getting better as a comedian, I’m getting better at making that work together.

Soundbite: A routine that begins with the Corby girls Schapelle and Mercedes, in order to construct an argument as to why bogans should think twice about what they name their kids, likewise, recorded at the Comedy Store

Dom Romeo: What I love is that there are people who are far too young to vote for John Howard, who like Shannon Knoll, who come to your show and laugh.

WIL ANDERSON: Yeah, well, that‘s nice too. I was talking to Andrew Denton about this one day, and I was saying that comedy was most important to me, in opening my eyes to how the world worked, when I was about thirteen or fourteen. When I was growing up in the country, we had two TV stations: we had the ABC, and we had one of those composite TV stations — you know, where they take the worst stuff of every channel, and combine it into one channel. It’s like The Young Divas of television.

So I used to watch the ABC all the time, and I came from a very conservative up-bringing, a very narrow point-of-view. When my world got open to issues, it was through comedy. It was through watching shows like The Big Gig, and watching Andrew Denton do shows like The Money or the Gun and Blah, Blah, Blah and shows like that. And I said, “It‘s really important,” because I was thirteen or fourteen years old, and I was looking at how I would view the world — on social issues, on political issues… you know? And it was comedy that brought me to that. So I love that my comedy goes to people of that age. That‘s really important to me. In fact, I’m much more interesting in appealing to someone who’s starting to make their mind up about things, than people who have already made their mind up about things. So it‘s really exciting to me that the kids are there.

Soundbite: Wil spots a kid in the audience who turns out to be only ten, and warns him that he’ll be encountering new words — and presents him with one pertaining to anatomy. Recorded at the Mic in Hand.

WIL ANDERSON: Andrew Denton said it to me when I was doing Triple J, and I suppose it’s less so now, but his great quote was — and I love this; he goes — “you know, you probably talk to more young people in this country than anyone other than Delta Goodrem” and young people do, in some ways, come to my work. So if they’re coming to you, you have a responsibility to… firstly, to entertain them. I’ve always said this, Dom, and you know this. If you’re a comedian, number one, it’s got to be about the jokes. If you’re doing a seventy-minute show, it’s got to be seventy minutes of laughs. If you ever lose a joke to make a point, then you’re a public speaker, not a comedian.

Dom Romeo: One thing that happened this year that I really loved, I really enjoyed it playing out, was the whole Today Tonight ‘going you’ for your Shannon Noll material.

WIL ANDERSON: Yeah, it was nice, because I always wanted to be on Today Tonight and I thought I was going to have to start a dodgy washing machine repair business to get on there. I actually haven’t seen the report yet, but I do believe the words “when comedy goes to far” were used, which I enjoyed quite a great deal.

Soundbite: Wil makes some observations on the lyricism of Shannon Noll’s speaking voice, recorded at the Comedy Store.

WIL ANDERSON: The joke in question — I did a joke about Shannon Noll’s dad’s name. And it was in the context of a routine I used to do about funny names, like Apple Martin and, you know, I had a girl at my school called Rachel Kuminmeyer and I had a whole routine about kids named after brand names that were all in last year’s show. And in that context, there was also a joke — someone had told me that Shannon Knoll’s father’s name was Noel — so I did a joke about ‘Noel Noll’; I thought it was a funny name. Turns out his name wasn’t Noel Noll; it’s Neal Noll, and we all know there’s nothing funny about that. But I’d been doing the joke for twelve months in my stage show, and I did it at the Melbourne Comedy Festival Gala. I had done this joke everywhere, you know what I mean? I’d even done it in front of Dicko, who’d said to me, “Shannon would think that was funny, blah-blah-blah…”

Soundbite: Wil does the ‘Noel Noll’ joke at the Comedy Store.

WIL ANDERSON: So I’ve done it at the Gala, which happened to coincide with the week that Shannon was releasing his single dedicated to his dad, and so it all blew up in the media. I should have got the name right; I’m always big on, if you’re going to talk about something, you should get it right. So I apologised and I said I should have got it right, I hoped the family weren’t offended by it and I kicked in some money to charity to show that I was genuine about that. But now he wants to punch me in the head. So now I have ten minutes in my show all about that. So it’s had the opposite effect. You know, he was on the TV saying he’d like to challenge me to a game of Scrabble just to get me in the same room, and I was like, “I’d like to play Shannon Knoll at Scrabble, seeing that none of the words he uses have vowels.” This is a man who named his album Lift. It’s lift music. Surely he has a sense of humour! What’s his next album going to be called? Mobile Phone Ring Tones?

I enjoyed it being played out in the media because it was kind of funny. I mean, I never intentionally go out there — and you’ve known me for years, Dom, you know this to be true — I never intentionally go out there to really hurt somebody. I like to rough things up, make some trouble, make sure people are still alive, keep it all fun-and-games, say something I should say — that sort of stuff. Because I think that’s fun. I think that’s what comedy should be about. But sometimes in comedy you know where the line is only when you look back over your shoulder and go, “Oops! It was back there. I should have stopped.” So, you know, I wouldn’t make any jokes about Shannon Knoll’s dead dad in the future; that was probably a mistake. But, will I make jokes about Shannon Knoll? Bloody oath I will!

Dom Romeo: Wil, thank you very much.

WIL ANDERSON: No worries, Dom, always a pleasure.

Worms from the Wise

My interview with Bill Bailey, in preparation for the Australian leg of his Tinselworm tour. We covered a lot of ground, but I failed to ask about the current show’s title or content, and how they relate. I read elsewhere Bailey’s response regarding the title, that a ‘tinselworm’ was a cheap type of silkworm – which hasn’t revealed much more about the show than my interview does. But then, Bill Bailey isn’t the sort of comedian you go to see after finding out what his topics are this time round. You go to see him because he is Bill Bailey and he will be funny, with a lot of brilliant musical material, to boot!

This is the second time I’ve had a long chat with Bill Bailey. The first time was on the eve of the first ever Sydney Comedy Festival, in 1998. This was a time when both the Comedy Store and the Harold Park Hotel – later briefly known as the Comedy Hotel, before being sold to finance the Comedy Cellar and the inaugural Sydney Comedy Festival - were two massive and important venues for the development of local comedy. Ten years later, neither venue currently exists. Oh, but in a good year, Sydney has two comedy festivals: the Big Laugh and Cracker. Pity they have to compete with each other… None of this has anything to do with Bill Bailey’s tour, however….

That first time we’d chatted, all the interviews prior to mine ran over time, and I was being forced to keep it short – so I snuck Bill into a pub in order to talk for as long as possible without getting interrupted. This time, I told Bill up front that I wanted to cover a lot of ground – the main thrust would be for GQ – for the ‘Words for the Wise’ back page section – but I was also going to get half a page in FilmInk and I wanted ask a bunch of ‘comics on comedy’ questions, as usual. Bill told me that he was home from work and had nothing else to do. I insisted that he tell me when it was time for last question. An hour later, I wound myself up. All in all, a good job, I thought, until the following day, when the publicist informed me that I’d prevented the Daily Telegraph from securing their interview. Oops. Sorry. I’ll try to be less selfish when I speak to Bill again in 2018.

What was brilliant this time around was that, when I reminded Bill of the last interview, in the pub, interrupted mid-explanation on the differences between beers in England, he was able, ten years later, to pick up the interview where he left off. I remember being impressed when Wil Anderson was able to do callbacks to earlier gigs at the Falls Festival one year. Callbacks across separate gigs over four nights is pretty cool. But Bill Bailey has called back a decade. That’s a pretty high bar for any other comedian to come and jump.


Dom Romeo: Hi Bill, it’s Dom Romeo here. How are you?

BILL BAILEY: I’m very well, thanks.

Dom Romeo: You may not remember this, but nearly a decade ago I spoke to you in Sydney. I smuggled you into a pub so that we wouldn’t get interrupted before time. Do you remember that interview?

BILL BAILEY: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Dom Romeo: We were interrupted while you were in the middle of explaining the differences between beer in England – you’d gotten to the point where ‘real ale’ was something that you have with a ploughman’s lunch – which consists of cheese, pickles and bigotry.

BILL BAILEY: And a sense of rural despair!

Dom Romeo: And a sense of rural despair, of course. So I think we should just pick it up from there, more-or-less.

BILL BAILEY: Well, nothing much has changed in the ploughman’s lunch. It’s still there, but it’s probably on a bill of fare with a bit of couscous, and some Thai sea bass. Maybe our palette has moved on a little bit and the standard bill of fare in a pub is a little bit more varied, but the ploughman’s lunch is still going strong and rural despair has only increased. And a general sense of agricultural malaise is probably worse than it’s ever been. So, yeah, things are okay!

Dom Romeo: So a decade on, we have more sophisticated palates. What has changed comedically?

BILL BAILEY: Comedically? I think that televised comedy has certainly changed in that time inasmuch as that naturalistic performances are the norm now and the kind of subject matter is very much about embarrassment and a sense of cringe-making and “I can’t bear to look at this… Oh god, what are they doing now…? Oh, Jesus!…” It’s actually just a mirror to what we feel about our own society. That’s what it is. Very much a self-reflexive, very personal comedy that’s the norm now.

Dom Romeo: How does that work with what you do? A decade ago, you had a lot of musical parody in your show. How has the change in televised comedy affected you as a live comedian?

BILL BAILEY: I think that the two have actually diverged quite a lot. There’s an appetite for performance of live comedy that has increased hugely in the last ten years, because the TV stuff is very different. The TV stuff is quite small and it’s quite studied. There’s no audience laughter. It’s quite theatrical. It’s moved away from what stand-up is. I’ve noticed the numbers of live comedy audiences have gone up. More people want to go see it and it’s taken on the role that used to be filled by musical audiences and festival-going crowds – people who want a different kind of performance. They like to see comedy in a different environment.

It’s quite claustrophobic, the comedy that you see on TV. It’s become very self-reflexive and very dark, and certainly there are elements of that in stand-up, but it’s become almost a sort of celebration, live comedy. And people like to see performance – they like the fact that my kind of stuff and other people’s stuff is almost a hybrid of a lot of different strands of comedy – a lot of music and parody and personal recollection and anecdote and observation – all that stuff you pick up on the way when you’re learning a trade, and it’s all fed into this performance which is live and spontaneous and happening right there, and it’s – hopefully – always a joyful occasion. You hope people are going to laugh.

That element of it is the key – people want a sense of community when they go out. TV is very much people sitting watching it at home, or watching it on YouTube, or watching it on the Internet, or sharing files at home… People not going out, people staying in and having their own personal connection with TV and the programs that they like  and sharing them around. The live stuff is a different kind of need – people wanting to be part of something: a larger crowd, be it a sporting event, a rock gig, or in this case, a comedy gig.

Dom Romeo: So hit comedies are the acute studies of humanity at its most discomforting – versus a room full of people sharing the experience.

BILL BAILEY: It’s almost as though the two can co-exist quite happily, but they’re very different – they feed on different parts of people’s comedy appetite.

Dom Romeo: You’ve mentioned in the past – and you’ve done comedy about – coming from the West Country. But you don’t seem to have a West Country accent. Why is that?

BILL BAILEY: Well the thing is that – I suppose – my parents didn’t really have the West Country accent. My father was from the north of Britain, so he had a slight northern twang to his accent, and my mother was Welsh, so she spoke with a slight welsh accent. So I suppose, really, it was so hard to do; I’d be really hard-pressed to do a combination of  Welsh/northern/West Country.

I was trying to adopt a very simple, very straightforward non-inflected accent that would do where ever I went – particularly when I went to London. When I left school, I went and lived in London and I was at college there for a bit and people make assumptions as soon as you open your mouth in Britain. We’re still riddled with class. And riddled with preconception. You open your mouth and you talk with a certain accent, people immediately – almost within the first sentence – they’ve already pegged you for background, social standing, tried to figure out how much money you’ve got, what kind of place you live in…

All these things come out in the accent, and it used to really bug me. And so I suppose I tried not to have an accent when I first went up to London. Inevitably, I did. There’s no way around it. You think you don’t; you think you’re talking without any accent. But people recognise various lilts and phrases. So I thought I was talking like this: “Hello, I’m from the West Country and it’s an awful pleasure to be here in London,” whereas what I sounded like was “’Ello mate, alroight?” like some blithering yokel. I resented that. I resented that preconception. I resented people thinking, “you’re some idiot yokel from the west country”. So I kind of tried on the idea of not having an accent and people have no preconception then. People have to take you as you are. It’s a simple thing, but if you don’t have an accent, people can’t quite figure you out.

Dom Romeo: It’s true. Traditionally, English comedians came from Liverpool because they were naturally funny, but to get work in London, had to lose the Liverpudlian accent. Your choice to ‘lose’ the accent is significant.

BILL BAILEY: Yeah. Now, of course, regionalism is encouraged and celebrated. People are encouraged to keep their accents and celebrate where they come from. For me, it was about the whole package – what I looked like; my appearance as well. If you look like a hippie, people assume you’re going to be like this, or they assume you’re gonna be like that. Most of the time, it’s not that. And I suppose there’s a bit of devilment, where I quite like that. I quite like people thinking it’s going to be one thing when it’s going to be something else. Already you’ve got a bit of an angle.

Dom Romeo: Isn’t a lot of comedy and show business like that, though? The professional misdirection. You think it’s going to be happening here, but it’s actually happening there, and part of the joke turns on the fact that it takes you by surprise.

BILL BAILEY: Well, for me, yeah, I think so. I quite like that. I quite like to be surprised by someone. You’ve worked out who this person is and what they’re gonna talk about – okay, this kind of thing… this is why, yeah, yeah, yeah, I see where we’re going with this – and then it’ll be somewhere different. It’ll be taken in another direction. or it’ll be confounding, or it’ll be surprising or enchanting… That I like. It’s a healthy exchange that you’ve had. Generally, in life, it’s a good thing: not to get drawn into pegging people, or things, or ways of thinking; not getting into a rut about things.

A great compliment was paid to me in a very downbeat, off-hand, almost-not-a -compliment-at-all way, in Los Angeles. I was doing a show there, and this head of a studio came to a show. He came backstage afterwards with his entourage and he couldn’t think of any sort of compliment like a normal person would say, like “well done” or “I enjoyed it” – that wasn’t in his vocabulary. He said, “I stayed to the end”. That was the greatest compliment he could think up. He’d obviously been trying to think:  “What am I gonna say to this guy? ‘I liked it?’ No. ‘I loved it?’ No. ‘I thought it was funny…?’ No, I know: ‘I stayed to the end!’” And that was it. “I stayed to the end,” he said, “because every time I thought it was going one way, you went another way.”

And so an hour and twenty minutes went by. Maybe this guy watched the first five minutes going, “Yeah, yeah, yeah… Okay, your girlfriend, something happened, you came out, she told you, you spun it round, blah blah blah blah blah… Right, let’s go…” It took him an hour and twenty-five minutes and he just couldn’t figure me out. “I can’t believe it, I’m still here!” That’s what I’m aiming at.

Dom Romeo: That is a compliment in the end, though, from that sort of guy.

BILL BAILEY: Yeah, I suppose. I take it wherever I can get it.

Dom Romeo: You  take the mickey out of a lot of music and you do it very well. It's said that at the heart of every parody is a kernel of tribute. So considering Chris de Burgh and Kraftwerk just for a moment – is there a part of you that likes these people that you claim to dislike?

BILL BAILEY: Well, certainly, it’s the truth of Kraftwerk. I saw a live show. It was terrific. It was a brilliant kind of weird art installation-like gig. It was unlike any other gig you’ve ever seen. Four guys who looked like bank managers, operating machinery, were hardly moving for two hours, and people would go nuts. Of course, you never see that – it’s so different and it’s so studied and it seems so incredibly modern and futuristic, the fact that they’re not moving or seeming to enjoy it in any way or imparting any emotion into it at all. In two hours, they just operated machinery. Who knows what they were doing? Was it a tape? Were they checking their emails? No-one knows. At the end they were just, ‘thank you!’ and that was it. Fantastic.

I was kind of getting slightly hysterical watching them. A kind of hilarity washed over everyone because you couldn’t figure out whether they knew how funny it was, or whether they didn’t know how funny it was, or thought they were really taking themselves seriously, or they were sending themselves up… There were all sorts of layers going on and you couldn’t figure out… whichever one you picked was great. They know they’re in on it… they’re playing it… they don’t know they’re in on it… Ah! I’ve got a big glob of affection for them. I’ve been a fan of their stuff over the years.

I don’t know about Chris De Burgh. It’s very hard for me to say. That is a serious accusation saying that I secretly like him. I don’t know if I can go that far. That’d be too far. That’s insane. I’d be rambling or raging, like some lunatic.

Dom Romeo: Of course. I apologise for that one. Take a step back then – consider other musical entities you’ve made fun of like Peter Gabriel and Genesis.

BILL BAILEY: Yes, okay.

Dom Romeo: A bit of admiration or none whatsoever?

BILL BAILEY: A bit. I do have a prog rock sensibility that I caught the tail end of in my early teens. That was my first experience of big rock gigs: people in cloaks and make-up and people playing trilogies with masses of keyboards with gongs and smoke and dry ice. They’re very powerful images,  steeled into my teenage brain. Better get ’em out. I was also blown away by punk, when I was older.

But you have to get to the nub of what it is that you’re making fun of, and in order for it to work, you have to really understand it and know what it is. Same with de Burgh: you’d have to know the kind of chords he would play and the turns of phrases and the mentality behind it. I think they become more affectionate tributes, in a way, like the Billy Bragg one  and the Bryan Adams one. In the new show I’ve got a modern folk song and a tribute to emo – you know,  the kind of  overwrought sort of black fringed, goth, hand-ringing: “Why me? Everything’s gone wrong.”

Dom Romeo: So the danger is there: for you to make fun of it as well as you do, you have to know it very well, and it’s only a small step then – you might slip over and start to like aspects of it.

BILL BAILEY: Very true. It’s a risk, there’s no doubt about it. You have to be very, very disciplined. If you find yourself downloading the whole album of Evanescence ‘for reference’ – “Oh yeah, that’s ‘for reference’, is it, Bill…?” – then you have to get a grip on yourself. And if you wear black too often… You need someone keeping an eye on you, some sort of ‘parody buddy’ watching you, checking your moves.

Dom Romeo: Earlier on you used to wear black, way before emo. But it had a different meaning then – when you had the Bastard Bunny t-shirt… you did come from a purely musical background. How did you make the transition?

BILL BAILEY: I was in this band in the West Country. We were gigging around the area in little clubs and pubs. These guys I was in the band with, they were wanting to take it more seriously. I was just a young kid, really. I was in my teens and I didn’t want to take it too seriously; I was only really in it for a laugh. And then I realised that these guys really, really wanted this thing to work. It was like a big deal for them. One of them was a hairdresser and another one worked in a garage and the band was a big thing.

I just wanted to have a laugh – turn up for a gig in a pub somewhere and then fall asleep on the pool table – which is what I did. The seriousness of the muso element was really starting to bug me – people arguing about who wrote what riff in what song. I thought, “oh god, this isn’t what I wanted to join a band for – arguing over chords”. So I started doodling around with a mate. One night we did a comedy sketch and  it was so liberating. I realised that you get locked into a kind of a routine in a band, if you’re not careful. It was like, “you are the keyboard player, this is what you do”. It was too limiting as a form of expression. I remember thinking, “Is this what I'm gonna do? Dance around behind a keyboard to try and make it look interesting, and not say anything?” I wasn't the singer… I realised quite luckily, very early on, I’d get bored and frustrated just doing that, and chucked it in very early. I made a conscious decision and I very clearly remember it. I was really young, 19 or 20, and I remember thinking, “Do I really want to struggle on with a band for years and years and years, or should I try my own thing?” It was very much a gut instinct that I had, and it turned out to be right. Although I would have loved to be the keyboard player in Talking Heads, I must admit.

Dom Romeo: Is there a form of music so base and so beneath you, so abhorrent to you, that you wouldn’t even download a version in order to send it up?

BILL BAILEY: Yeah, certain kids’ TV themes. Most music I can listen to, I can absorb and go, “yep, I can see what you're doing there but it’s not for me”. But if I hear ‘Barney the Dinosaur’, or any one of them, it’s like nails down a blackboard. I suppose it’s because I've got a four-year-old and heard them that many times now that I start to get a Herbert Lom-style twitch when I hear them. Just the eye – like when he says, “Clouseau? Clouseau? He’s here?!”

Dom Romeo: What about in comedy? Is there anything that makes you feel the same way?

BILL BAILEY: It’s probably an occupational hazard of all comics. It’s hard to enjoy it as a punter because it’s a bit of a busman’s holiday: “I like the structure of that; nice joke; ooh, that’s a nice joke, wish I’d thought of that…” If you start to analyse it, rather than just enjoy it, it stops being fun. That’s why I’ve always enjoyed American comics – they’re coming from a different cultural background, you can switch off that analysing button a little bit and enjoy it as part of the audience because of the ‘otherness’… the ‘differentness’. Can you say that? The ‘difference’… The ‘otherness’ of it.

But I suppose any comedy that’s just old retreads that I’ve heard for years that isn’t really moving it on at all, or the lack of ambition of it all – the leaden “here comes the punchline, clip clopping over the hill like a big, shy horse. Here it comes, clip, clopping, BONG!” That’s what’s depressing. You think, “but I heard this joke when I was 12…”. That’s what bugs me, I suppose.

When I hear jokes I grew up with, I think, “has someone gone over everyone with a neuraliser?” Maybe they’ve forgotten whole swathes of their childhood. Perhaps it’s endearing to be reminded of jokes. They like familiarity and something they can relate to. You can’t deny that and it’s no less valid if people are laughing – that’s the ultimate stamp of approval.

And the trouble is, naturally, I want to move it on and reflect more about where I am. You get older and think about things in a different way than you thought about them twenty years ago, and there are other things that you want to talk about and you want to keep things fresh so that you’re not getting bored with it, and you want to stay interested and stay challenged by it and at the same time you’re thinking about the audience…

“Avoidance of cliches” is the mantra I try to adhere to. You think of a joke, you think,“Has this been done before? Who might have done it? Is it new? have I heard it before?” You think “Maybe not,” so you move it along and try to mould subject matter into something that’s succinct or in a funny way or subject matter that isn’t really spoken about. Stuff like that is what keeps me going.

Dom Romeo: Do you consciously think of that when you’re coming up with material, or do you just find that if it makes you laugh, then it’s pretty much safe that it’s going to make your audience laugh? I mean, do you ever look at your material and think, “gee, all I’m really doing here is ‘the difference between cats and dogs’”?

BILL BAILEY: Am I now just doing the similarities? That’s the way! Let me just find the commonalities between all things…

It’s really just what’s going through your head at the time – what’s bothering you or what’s going through your head, and I’m hoping and trusting that my audience will be going with me on that. They’ll be the ones I’ve grown up with over the years, and they’ll know that this is the kind of subject matter that they’ll be talking about. You have to trust a little bit and take a risk, that’s the real trick of it.

If you’re not enjoying it, the audience will cop onto that pretty quickly. It’s in the eyes – if theres nothing in the eyes [they know you’re over it].

Dom Romeo: So what is the secret to longevity in comedy?

BILL BAILEY: I think you have to really want to do it. You’ve got to have the will, the appetite for it. Certainly with stand-up, you do. Because it only gets harder. It gets harder and harder as the years go on. Expectation gets higher, sitting down to write and focus on what is essentially a reckless, foolhardy occupation… your time gets squeezed.

There are other things to think about. There’s a family and responsibilities and reflection and all kinds of other things that crowd in the time you used to spend – the months you’d luxuriate in the time that there was to fashion an act and hone it to this beautiful, polished gem that could keep you going for a few years, and then you’d fashion another one, to be a show. The time’s just not there anymore. You kind of have to be very focused on it and know what you want to get out of it, but be sure that that’s what you want to do. That’s the key.

And don’t get distracted. If you really want to keep doing comedy, you have to keep working at it. You can’t let it go for a second. You don’t want to get distracted doing too much for TV or other things.

All  of that’s fine, it’s all part and parcel of it. If you’re a comic and if you’re reasonably successful, TV offers come battering through the door and you can’t stop them. Eventually you give in and you say, “alright, I’ll do some of this” and “that’s good” or “that might be good”. Undoubtedly, it can be a blessed relief after being on tour for years and years, working a solitary profession. Suddenly you’re on a team of people and it’s like turning up for work. You can kid on that you’ve actually got a job, you know: “I check in and get a special pass and then I go to my dressing room and people bring me pudding. Yeah, I get pudding, and there’s free fruit I can take – it’s free, have that – and there are biscuits and little sandwiches and a microphone and lots of lights…” It’s like having a holiday from your life.

It never felt real to me. I felt that stand-up was the real job; it’s the real graft. That’s you! Your thoughts. Your life processed into your – your reputation, whatever you want to call it. It's mentally stable as well. Don’t get carried away with it. That's the other thing.

Dom Romeo: Right. Given that, what do you do to relax? How do you maintain your mental stability? How you know when it’s time to take a step back from something?

BILL BAILEY: It’s good having a family. I think that’s great. I have a wife and a child and great friends and we have a great life. We travel a lot and go to great places. I think you have to go and get out of your little world you’re in. It can get a bit too claustrophobic sometimes. You have to get out of it and do something else – something that’s totally different from writing comedy. Something simple, physical… rafting or climbing… you find a lot of comics are into real ‘adrenaline’ kind of things. You need to get a hit from somewhere.

Dom Romeo:  So what do you do?

BILL BAILEY: What we do is we go trekking in the jungle and white-water rafting and volcano climbing. That tends to knock the shit out of your head.

Dom Romeo: Are you serious? Is that really what you do to relax?


Dom Romeo: If that’s the case, that you need a burst of adrenaline from those kinds of activities before you can relax, what sort of things actually scare you? What do you fear most?

BILL BAILEY: Losing my wits. Literally and figuratively. Not being able to be funny and actually starting to lose my mental facility terrifies me.

Dom Romeo: What or who inspires you most?

BILL BAILEY: I’m a bit of magpie – I pick up different bits of inspiration from different sources, sometimes from places I wouldn't imagine I would. From political leaders or writers and/or other comics, or even sometimes sporting figures who go through great strife and find some sort of mental strength to get them through it. And even people I know who have actually had to do that. Your friends and family who have gone through some strife and shown some sort of tenacity and not given up, who make you think, “god, that’s what I want to be like”. I don't know how that applies…

Anything like that I draw strength from because sometimes you do think about giving up – you’ve had a bad gig or your can’t think of anything new – and you think of someone who’s been in that situation in their own walk of life, and that gives you a bit of a sense of tremendous achievement that people have gone through.

Dom Romeo: When you have those moments of doubt, who do you think of? Is it a close friend who has been through those things, or is it a hero from history?

BILL BAILEY: You just think about some footballer who had an injury and was out for half a season and then he gets his chance in a game and it’s a big cup game, and suddenly he’s taking a penalty that could mean the difference between them being relegated or promoted. There’s a great honesty about sport where you can see the emotion. It’s right there on the face. Sometimes I vicariously enjoy that, that twirl of acting out and thinking through the mental process of that.

Dom Romeo: Are you a follower of sport? Do you barrack for a football team?

BILL BAILEY: Not really, no. I enjoy it in a more general sense of what it does, how it can elevate people. I love the fact that there’s a sense of community about people going to see sport and how it draws people together. There’s a tremendous sense of belonging that people crave. As humans, we need that. We need some sort of spiritual catharsis that sport can give us.

Dom Romeo: But if you don’t actually engage in that activity, what do you do for that spiritual catharsis, that sense of community, when you feel the need? [Duh! He does stand-up comedy! - Autocritic]

BILL BAILEY: I suppose huge events – huge, mass gatherings of people. You can draw on that. It could be a sporting event or a big gig… I suppose the big anti-war march in London is a good example. There was an incredible sense of shared feeling. That, I find, is inspiring. You get out there and see what people can achieve and you feel part of it. You think, this is great! There is hope! You can effect change! You feel helpless as an individual – what can you do? But thousands of people, millions, together – you feel empowered by it. You feel part of something. I always feel that that’s a very primal, human need. We’re very community-based animals, we like to be in a group. Modern life prevents that.

Dom Romeo: Can we talk about your television and film career? When you were first here ten years ago, you had just made a television breakthrough with the previous year’s Is It Bill Bailey? which involved sketch and stand-up. We’ve never seen it out here. Is there any chance it’ll be released on DVD?

BILL BAILEY: We were just thinking about that fairly recently. The director of that was Edgar Wright, who’s gone on to direct a few films like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. And Simon Pegg was in it, who’s gone on to do these films. I was talking to Edgar when we were doing Hot Fuzz and he said he’d like to get everyone together to do cast interviews and gather together deleted scenes and really spend a bit of time on it… making it into a proper thing, rather than just banging it out as just another BBC bit of merchandise. So that’s hopefully what we’ll do.

Dom Romeo: I’m really glad to hear that, and now you’ve also put everything into perspective, including the Simon Pegg relationship which I thought had begun with Spaced.

BILL BAILEY: Simon and Edgar and Jessica [Hynes, nee Stevenson] who wrote that thing, thought up this character and wrote it with me in mind – this kind of comic book purveyor. It’s great when something’s written for you. You just have to turn up and speak.

Dom Romeo: How much is that character like you in real life? Are you into comic books? I know you’re into Bastard Bunny to some extent.

BILL BAILEY: Yes, it’s one of those things that you think, “oh no, that would be too much of a cliché if that’s what I was like”, and then you think, “no, I’ll resist that…” and then you realise, “no, actually, I have bought some comics and I am quite into it”. And then people send me this stuff. I get sent all these kinds of graphic novels and stuff, and I guess I love it, really. But I’m trying not to become these characters.

Dom Romeo: So you’re not at all like Manny from Black Books?


Dom Romeo: I think I knew that. But you must have liked the role, seeing as you were there for three seasons and each season was better than the previous one.

BILL BAILEY: Well I think it was just one of those rare moments where there was a great chemistry between the actors and there was a very good relationship with the production team. Everyone had a very sympathetic and very supportive climate going into it. It was very much a case of the broadcasters letting the production team get on with it. There was no meddling, there was no interference from broadcasting. “You do it your way.” You were encouraged to be as individual about it. And from what I’ve experienced from television over the years, that’s quite rare. It was a very happy time.

The rehearsal period was great fun. A lot of things happened in the rehearsals that then ended up in the show. It had quite a rough and loose feel about it. It was never quite set in stone; it wasn’t rehearsed into the ground. We would rehearse it up to the shoot, then shoot it in front of a live audience and then something would go wrong so then we’d just improvise a scene then something else would go wrong with that scene – someone would put a coffee cup down in the wrong place – so we’d improvise another scene. There’d be four different versions. It was a very fertile environment to work in and it was great fun working with Dylan [Moran] and Tamsin [Greig].

Dom Romeo: You also appeared in Wild West, a strange little comedy vehicle for Dawn French which also featured Catherine Tate before we knew her here. It was set in the West Country, so it’s right up your alley. How was it to be a part of that?

BILL BAILEY: That was a project that Dawn French had been thinking about for a long time. It was very edgy and again very personal to her and quite different – a departure from what she’d done before. Quite dark and slightly surreal – it was actually a lesbian couple living in this sort of rural idyll. That’s a classic case of where there was a bit of meddling – the BBC getting involved and the focus groups having a go at it – “no, no, no, don’t do it like that, do it like this…” One of them had boyfriend and it was  all a bit wacky – it didn’t have the same clarity of what the thing was gonna be.

It was great fun to do it because obviously, we were filming in Cornwall, which is beautiful. And I had to try and speak with a Cornish accent, which is always a challenge.

Dom Romeo: You were in Hot Fuzz, on one level a send-up of The Wicker Man. What was it like working with Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright again, on that? Fun, I’m sure…

BILL BAILEY: Oh yes. What larks! It was terrific fun and it was a double-wigger for me, which is always a joy. Two wigs. “‘Wigs’ Bailey”, I was known as. And they’re great guys. Edgar is such a film buff. He knows so much about films and scenes and lines from films. You know that every scene he does, he’s thought about a hundred different ways – how he can reference some other film into it. And that, I think, particularly for myself and Simon who have absorbed so much popular culture into stand-up, it’s such a rich source of material, you’re almost speaking the same language as him.

Dom Romeo: Bill, I want to give you back to your family and your life – but I have one last topic to cover. Do you know what a ‘skullet’ is?

BILL BAILEY: I do, yes. I have knowledge of that and I’ve seen it mentioned with my name attached to it. I am delighted that somehow tonsorial laziness has actually now got a name. It’s actually been enshrined as a kind of a hairstyle. I didn’t even know it was a ‘style’, but now apparently it is. So I’m delighted.

Dom Romeo: Well, there are a whole lot of us, when our hair starts to go, we now have something to aspire to.

BILL BAILEY: Absolutely. It’s no longer just a bloke going a bit bald with his hair long at the back… No, it’s a ‘skullet’! It’s perfect. And also it’s an instruction to people to drink.

Dom Romeo: I’ll drink to that!

Bill Bailey, thank you so much for your time. I look forward to seeing you live again.

BILL BAILEY: You’re welcome. See you then.


For more details of the Australian leg of the Tinselworm tour, almost totally sold out before it begins, check out the website of Adrian Bohm Presents.

Now’s the Time

Continuing the project to dig up and re-publish the older interviews, here’s another one with Mr Ross Noble.

That strange Sunday catch-up with Ross Noble all those years ago began with a discussion of comedians we liked, before we actually tucked into the interview proper. At the time, I’d yet to secure a copy of Richard Pryor’s Pryor Convictions (and still have yet to do so). Ross owned a copy, he told me, in addition to many other books and videos fans of comedy would love.

“The comedy shelf’s this deep,” he said, demonstrating with palms facing each other, a considerable distance apart, “about this tall,” jumping into the air to give me an indication, “and from about here” – indicating a starting point in front of him, before taking a number of big strides – “to here”. We agreed that, should I ever get it together to head to, say, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I would get in touch with Ross first, and pop in on my way.

Of course, by the time I finally got to the Edinburgh Fringe – only a few years later – there was no way someone like me was gonna casually pop in on someone like Ross. Not that I didn’t try, mind. Just that colleagues – of his, not of mine; fellow stand-up comics – who’d have his contact details weren’t about to hand it over. So I knew Ross Noble had well and truly hit the big time… but I wasn’t sure to what degree. That is, until I actually stepped off the train at Waverley Station in Edinburgh and tried to hail my first minicab in that city. It bore an advertisement for Ross’s show that year – Unrealtime. (I apologise for the poor photo, below – and not taking the time to secure a better one.)

I certainly had an unreal time seeing the show and interviewing Ross afterwards in one of those chain coffee shops that had colonised the US and UK before they’d made inroads into this country (I’ll locate that minidisk and transcribe it – at the time, the sound recording was meant for ABC NewsRadio but my association with that station had ended before Ross returned to Australia and I could exploit the ‘exclusive’).

I was given the opportunity to talk to Ross again, for FilmInk magazine, for the Australian release of Unrealtime on DVD – which must have been some time towards the end of 2005. I used a fair whack of the interview – not represented below – for an episode of Radio Ha Ha later on, and I’ll deal with the transcript of that some other time. For now, enjoy this. I can’t for the life of me remember what it was called when it was published in FilmInk.


According to fellow comic Wil Anderson, just as filmmakers nowadays learn to make films by listening to directors’ commentary on DVDs, comedians will learn to do comedy by listening to Ross Noble’s commentary on his new Unrealtime DVD. Or at least, they would if they could get their hands on it; until recently, you could only get it from the UK or through Ross Noble’s website. Although the comic was launching it in person in selected HMV stores in the UK last October, it’s taken some seven months to make it to Australia.

“It was supposed to come out at the same time in Australia,” Ross Noble insists from his Melbourne home (having ‘settled down’ with a local lass, he has spent the last little while touring and living out here) “but unfortunately – what’s the best way of putting it? – the people responsible for actually physically getting it into the shops didn’t realise that Australia was such a long way away and it might take a bit longer to get it. It was the same in Ireland as well: there’s so much stuff on the actual thing itself that to get it certificated and produced and whatever else just took a bit longer than was anticipated, i.e. seven months.”

Now, the thing about Ross Noble’s comedy is that it’s never set in stone. Having first been a street performer who juggled and rode a unicycle, when he first took to the stage as a stand-up comic, the jokes were still the fillers between the tricks. But because this took place in the northern town of Newcastle, England, where comics were a lot thinner on the ground and the London variety proved too expensive to ship up, Noble got a lot of flying time as a stand-up comic. He’d MC a lot. When he finally started to ‘make it’ in London, it was as a warm-up guy for live studio audiences in-between and during the technical hitches of sitcoms.

“It meant that I got to the point where I was comfortable enough on stage going on and actually genuinely talking and genuinely being funny without relying on jokes,” Ross explains. As a result, he learnt to have faith that no matter what came up and where he took it, he could always end with a flourish, impressively tying all the loose ends together. These are the skills the comic still utilises on the stand-up stage, bantering with the punters and looking as though he makes it all up out of thin air as he goes along. Even when he starts to do the ‘same bits’ – which in Noble’s case, means merely attempting to revisit the same topics and usually ending up somewhere else entirely – he never does them the same way twice.

Why is all of this important? Only because you’ve got to wonder at what point you decide to record it for posterity. If you’re gonna make a DVD of a show that changes nightly, how do you decide that ‘this night is gonna be the one that nails it, that best sums up what it’s about’?

“To be honest with you,” Ross admits, “that was the hardest thing about the whole process, just going, ‘well, hang on, when is the best time to catch it?’ So, basically, I didn’t. The release is actually a two-disc set. There are two shows, filmed three months apart.”

The first show, Noble explains, took place at The Regent’s Park, an open air theatre “where they do Shakespeare and it’s all a bit ‘la-di-da’.” Having recorded that show, it was bunged on the shelf and duly ignored it. Two months later, Ross embarked on a month-long run at the Garrick Theatre in London’s West End, which culminated in a final night’s taped performance. “Obviously,” Ross says, “they’re two different shows. But they were basically recorded at the same time.” Rather than a document of ‘a show’, they form a snapshot, like a band’s live performance, of what took place on those respective nights.

So, okay. How do the performances differ?

“Oh, blimey!” the comic begins. “Well, one’s indoors and one’s outdoors, that’s the main one.” Because of the nature of performing outdoors – “it’s got no roof on it and all the rest of it” Ross elucidates – the performance is more driven by the venue. “Just ’cause of the nature of being outside, there’s a ton of stuff about picnics and cheese and there’s a bit about a fight that kicked off on a moped just up the road from where the gig was. It was the sort of thing where everyone was going, ‘well, this is a bit weird; we’re watching a stand-up show, but we’re essentially in a park’.”

The show at the Garrick Theatre is in fact the Unrealtime show proper, and, Ross insists, “is a bit darker; it’s a bit more about what’s going on in my head than what’s going on in the room.” He pauses before offering the definitive explanation of the differences between the two performances: “I say different words and people laugh in different places. That’s the main difference.”

In addition to two and a half hours of stand-up comedy – the Garrick performance goes for ninety minutes, while the open-air performance is an hour – Ross promises that the two-disc set is “chock-a-block!” There are the educational commentaries, the subtitles and pop-up trivia, even a standard ‘Ross On Tour’ featurette. And then it gets interesting: there is a Trivia Quiz To Unlock Hidden Extra Footage, so there are easter eggs as well. “Nine hours it will take you to get through everything,” Ross reckons. “There’s no room left on either of the discs!”

Radio Ha Ha Episode 35

What a joy Episode 35 was to do!

Judith Lucy agreed to come in and co-host. Now, Judith is someone I've been familiar with since her days on The Late Show on the ABC, one of the later members of the D-Generation, but one that didn't quite make it to The Panel. She always seemed to be part of a sub-unit with Mick Molloy and Tony Martin, so it's no surprise that she wound up as leading lady in their first films, Crackerjack and Bad Eggs, respectively (playing leading lady opposite Mick Molloy).

If you're a fan, you'll know that Judith Lucy is always a joy to watch - that each stand-up show is always better than the last, but that each show seems to grow out of great personal misfortune. In the past, her shows have involved: discovery of her own adoption, well into adulthood, at a family Christmas; the time she paid for the services of a male prostitute; how she dealt with her mother's death. This time round, she deals with a horrible year trying to succeed in commercial radio in Sydney; unfortunately, the breakfast shift she co-hosted with Kaz Cooke and Peter Helliar didn't rate sufficiently. Lucy and Helliar were moved to drivetime. Eventually, Lucy was sacked. And so her show is called I Failed!

This episode features an excerpt from I Failed! - as featured in Judith's set at the 2006 Melbourne International Comedy Festival Gala. (And, as previously played on Episode 32 of Radio Ha Ha – when we were showcasing the nominees for the 2006 Helpmann Award for Comedy, of whom Judith Lucy is one.) Judith discusses the process of preparing a set for the Gala, some of what may or may not go on backstage, and some of the issues surround I Failed!, the show, and the hell year that inspired it.

In addition to Judith Lucy, this episode also features a great interview with Wil Anderson who, between appearing at the Montreal Just For Laughs Comedy Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, spent five days doing ten sold out performances of his current show Wil Communication at the Newtown RSL. Like Judith Lucy, Wil Anderson has stopped doing breakfast radio and begun concentrating more seriously on his comedy. We discusses the effect of that on his work, as well as talking about his 'youth' audience and his Today Tonight-publicised spat with Shannon Knoll.

And to kick off proceedings, more of the stand-up of Mat Kenneally is featured at the beginning of the show. If you'll recall, some of Mat's material got a run last week. Then he was talking about terrorism and public transport. This time, he's talking about drinking.

Once again, there is a transcript of the episode available for perusal.


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Why we call it ‘soccer’…

What I don’t know about sport is a lot, but one thing I do know is this little factoid — and now is the right time to pull it out.

The question has been asked — how can we Australians expect to do well at a sport that we don’t even call by it’s proper name? How can we expect to be treated with anything but disdain by the rest of the world?

I remember Wil Anderson used to have a bit of material that dealt with that question. And, to be fair, he posed the question in a much more concise and less cumbersome way than I did, which enabled him to better deliver subsequent tags. He was talking about the ball sport that we in Australia call ‘soccer’, that the rest of the world calls ‘football’. (As it turns out, in the 1920s in Australia it was called ‘soccer football’ apparently; some later that century, it would have raised the question, ‘what is? Soccer, or football?’)

Fact is, we don’t really call it by a different name. Both names are abbreviations of the sport’s proper title. Its English name, in the UK at least, is ‘Association Football’. I don’t know why, but we’ve chosen a name based on the abbreviation of ‘association’ — ‘soccer’. Whereas in the UK, they’ve chosen the second word.

The real question is — why do sports that deal with kicking balls have to be bound in collectives — leagues and unions like rugby and Australian football, and an association in the case of non-Australian football?

That’s my contribution to your next ‘talking complete and utter bollocks’ session at the pub for this World Cup season.

Kill Wil


This is about the millionth interview I’ve done with Wil Anderson over the years, but the first I’ve ever done for radio, so, to be honest, I asked him questions to which I pretty much knew the answers, for the benefit of the listening audience who may not be familiar with him as a stand-up comic.

Wil is arguably the best stand-up comic on the Aussie circuit, although he’d tell you that Dave Hughes deserves that title. That Ross Noble currently spends much of his year Downunder may be cause for re-appraisal, and it would be folly not to acknowledge the likes of Tommy Dean, Tom Gleeson, Adam Hills, Subby Valentine and any number of other contenders who will curse me for not receiving a mention here when they read this.

Anyway, watching Wil Anderson live, and certainly reading his weekly column in whichever colour supplement of a Sunday paper it appears, I’m taken back to my misspent youth as a Doug Anthony Allstars fan, when to see them live or on telly usually meant that, whatever the (often contentious) topic of humour, we were likely to hear the entire gamut of gag about it — from intellectual humour to cheap and nasty vulgarity — all the while keeping it hilarious.

This interview went to air prior to Sydney dates about a month ago (the tour continues) and opened with some live stand-up taped at Sydney’s Comedy Store by Jesse Perez of RadioWise; I am grateful to Jesse, Radiowise and Wil Anderson for allowing me to use it as part of the broadcast.

WIL ANDERSON (stand-up):

I accidentally stepped on our cat’s tail. Accidentally, okay? To which my girlfriend has said to me,

“Right, that’s it! We are never getting married or having babies! What if that had been our baby? You would be the worst father in the world.”

And that's when I snapped. I went, “No, you would be the worst mother in the world, because you left out baby on the floor!”

Demetrius Romeo: Now Wil, why did you give up breakfast radio?

WIL ANDERSON: Because I’m a stand-up comedian, and I think that breakfast radio is the enemy of stand-up comedy. Stand-up comedy is night time work. It’s very hard to walk of stage at eleven-thirty or twelve o’clock at night, then try to chill out for a while so that you can actually sleep and then get up at four o’clock in the morning.

I mean, stand-up comedy is what I do. I’ve always said that stand-up’s my one true love and I just see TV and radio behind its back, but I looked around the world and I just couldn’t see one world-class comedian who had a five-day-a-week radio job so I thought that if I am genuine about wanting to be a world-class comedian, then I obviously have to do that more fulltime.

Demetrius Romeo: During all that time that you were hosting breakfast radio and hosting The Glass House on television, you were doing a major one-man stand-up tour a year and you were touring it to all the festivals. They all had distinctive names like Wilennium, Wil By Mouth, Who Want’s To Be A Wilionaire, View To A Wil… Why do all the titles of your shows turn on puns that involve your name?

WIL ANDERSON: It’s a long story. Look, there’s two reasons to it. One is that originally when I started doing one-man shows, they were for the Melbourne Comedy Festival. They ask you to put a blurb in and the name of your show in December, and the Comedy Festival is in April. Now comedians are essentially those kids at school who didn’t do their assignments until the night before it was due, so no comedian in the world really knows what his show is going to be about in December for April. To be honest, nobody knows halfway through the comedy festival what their show is supposed to be about. I see comedians write shows to fit their blurb rather than write what they actually want to write about. The title of the show just meant, ‘look, it’s a new show’.

Why the puns? I was talking to an American comedian called Will Durst who’s an amazing American political satirist, and he was doing a show called The Durst Amendment. I came up to him afterwards and I said, “I love the show and I’ve just started doing comedy; do you have any advice for me?” And he said,

“Yeah; always do a show that has your name in the title and has a pun or a play on words and people will remember that.”

And I thought, “that’s great advice!”

So I went off and did I Am The Wilrus the next year. And then I was in Edinburgh in ’99 doing Wilennium and Will Durst was there, and I went up to him in the bar and said, “you gave me this great bit of advice and I’m here doing Wilennium” and he said,

“Yeah? Yeah, about that: I was just trying to get rid of you so that I could go to the bar.”

So pretty much the whole thing is predicated on a lie – a man trying to blow me off!

Demetrius Romeo: But it’s worked for you!

WIL ANDERSON: Well, people always ask about it. But I think it shouldn’t matter what your show is called or what it’s about, because if people are going to come and see my show based on what it’s about then I’m not doing my job properly. When Billy Connolly comes out, nobody goes, “oh, Billy Connolly’s out; what’s he talking about this year? I’ll decide whether I want to go based on that”. You’re going because you think that Billy Connolly is really funny and you think he’ll be really funny, whatever he talks about. So that’s what I want to get to. I want to get to the point where nobody cares what my show’s about. “Oh, Wil Anderson has a new show; that’s what I want to go and see.”

Demetrius Romeo: Okay, but there has been a time when the clever, punning title has been absolutely relevant to the material therein. Who Wants To Be A Wilionnaire? dealt with jobs and money. Wilennium dealt with what if it really is the last day on earth, what if the world does end with the changing of the millennium?

WIL ANDERSON: I think more so when I was newer at it because back then, again, you need to sell your show on something. There are a million young comedians who no one’s heard of doing shows, so the way you have to sell your show is if your idea is interesting. Then hopefully you get to a point where you outgrow that.

And also, it’s easier to do a show about something when you’re doing it for about a month because in a month, you can deal with how much the world changes. I tour this current show for nearly six months, so the world changes a lot and the things you talk about change a lot. If you write a show that is specifically about one thing and you don’t have any room in it for growth and to change it, a) you’re going to get bored senseless, but b) your show is going to seem incredibly dated; the show you wrote in November or December is going to be really dated when you’re doing it in June.

Demetrius Romeo: Sure. The show could change from night to night. You don’t want to set it in stone before you set off on your tour.

WIL ANDERSON: Oh, well the show does change from night to night. There wouldn’t be a night on the tour, and I’ve done this show probably — I don’t know; at a guess — sixty or seventy times already and there wouldn’t be one night that was the same. There wouldn’t be one night that was ninety-five percent the same as another night. I mean there are built-in improvisational parts of the show in that there is a bit that every night is an improvised bit along a formula, but there are just genuinely improvised parts of the show as well, so it is different every night.

Demetrius Romeo: At this stage of the tour, Wil Anderson, what is the show about?

WIL ANDERSON: Dom, I think it is a really interesting question. The best way to explain it, for me, is that I find people boring if they just have one area of interest. I find someone who only knows about Lord of the Rings boring. I find somebody who is only interested in sport boring. I find somebody who is only interested in politics boring. I’m attracted to people who have well-rounded interests and who could have a conversation about anything. I like those people who could have a conversation about the AFL ladder and then switch to Australia’s refugee policy without it feeling like you’re missing a beat. So I guess my shows are probably reflective of that as well. I talk about everything from the war to abortion to politics to sport and Shannon Noll and some stupid things that have happened in my life and that couple in Perth who advertised their baby’s name for sale on the internet and celebrities naming their kids stupid things and… It’s really one of those things where I would think it’s stuff you would discuss at a dinner party: everything from sex through to politics through to sport through to friendship. That, also, is what my show’s like.

Demetrius Romeo: Wil Anderson, thank you very much.