HOLY MOLY. It has been a big couple of months for your friend and hero, Tom Ballard.
I mean sure, it’s been quite a big couple of months for the Planet Earth generally, what with Donald Trump actually emerging as some kind of contender in the race for the Republican Presidential nomination, Tony Abbott being exposed as someone who loves anal, the Border Force almost getting fully SS on Melbourne’s ass, climate change carrying on unabated and the Syrian refugee crisis and all, but please – let’s focus on me and my adventures in telling dick jokes. That’s what we’re all here for, yeah?
Since late July I have been in the Northern Hemisphere, spreading laughter and joy/greasily schmoozing my way into the US and UK comedy industries by whatever degrading means necessary. I was lucky enough to be invited to perform at the 2015 Just For Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal and forked over a shitload of cash to perform my hour show Taxis & Rainbows & Hatred at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
I am exhausted and sick of my own stupid voice spouting out my own stupid jokes but can honestly say that this has been the second most exciting experience of my entire comedy career (after that time I interviewed Abz from 5ive, of course).
Just For Laughs (or Just pour rire for you Francophiles) features the American comedy industry’s crème de la deme (or “most creamy” for you Francophiles) performing stellar shows in front of passionate fans in beautiful venues…mixed with hopeful nobodies (hello) doing shitty little trade fair-esque showcases in tiny clubs to humourless industry executives and confused French-speaking Canadians. I went from performing to 12 people in a tiny club on the outskirts of town (opening for the brilliant Kyle Kinane, MC’ed by the very funny Darrin Rose, pictured above) to performing for an enthusiastic audience of 3000 folks at a gala hosted by Wanda Sykes, filmed for Canadian television. My set had such an extraordinary impact on the night to the point that the Montreal Gazette undeniably mentioned that I was on the line-up!
But the highlight of my Canadian experience (apart from easting delicious bagels and being in the same room as Dave Chappelle on multiple occasions) was participating in Jeff Ross’ Roastmasters International show: a chaotic, late-night competition that pitted comics against each other in a “roast-off”, each trading brutal insults about the other in front of a panel of judges. In my first round I took on my Australian brethren Randy the Puppet and managed to take home the bacon by wittily comparing his purple head to a fleshlight. I celebrated by throttling his adorable little neck.
The next round I was matched against Tony Hinchliffe, an LA comic with the distinguished credit of writing Martha Stewart’s jokes for the Comedy Central Roast of Justin Bieber. Tony is hilarious, but just so happens to be a somewhat camp straight man, so I was able to deflect back any gay jokes he sent my way and imply that he has AIDS. Judge Michael Che announced that he was going with the “straighter gay guy” and I was through to the next round, to face some stupid nobody named Jimmy Carr:
Jimmy is a motherfucking joke machine whose comedic persona is so successful and cruel and vicious and wrong that it’s nigh on impossible to grasp onto a successful roasting angle with him. Sure, I tried (I claimed that he was “more of a faggoty robot than C-3PO” and had a few digs at his deceased mother) but the man’s just too good and emerged victorious, though getting major laughs on that night was one of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced as a performer. Mainly I wanted to impress the other British comics in the room who were desperate to see Jimmy take a hit, and I think I achieved that goal. Plus Rob Schneider said afterwards that he thought I was funny, so BAM.
If you’d like to hear more about what it’s like to roast Mr. Carr, I talked about it with Wil Anderson (who had to square off against Jimmy in the first round of the competition) on his FOFOP podcast.
Out of context, some of this stuff may seem harsh or gross, but I have to say, at that gig, over those few electric nights, it was precisely the opposite. The role of political correctness in comedy is being hotly contested at the moment, particularly in the States after comments were made by Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock and Bill Maher and some of Amy Schumer’s stand-up has been criticised. To me, the roasting tradition is a shining example of comedy soaring above all of that and just being about a room full of people being fucking outrageous and stupid for the hell of it and everyone simultaneously getting it. When it comes to roasting, everything – everything – is on the table: sexuality, gender, race, ability, whatever. It’s impossible to be offended by any of it because it’s all so ludicrously offensive and no one means any of it. Yes, the jokes are founded on kernels of truth, but the bigger truth is that we’re all shitty people in our own way and we all have shitty crosses to bear. On one night of the roasts I remember two comics trading horrifically barbed ethnic insults about each other, both of them laughing along with the crowd as each joke landed and thinking, “This is what we’re supposed to be doing.” Not just as comics or comedy fans, but as a species. We’re supposed to come together and laugh about the shit things out there in the real world. We are all equals here, bonded by a sense of our common crappiness; a force more powerful than race or nationalism could ever hope to be.
Then I went to a gay strip club with Joel Creasey.
After Montreal I had a week off and pottered around New York where apparently they eat children.
Then it was off to London to do a little preview of my jokes to make sure they would work in the UK (mainly just changing “Coles” to “Argos”), then ON TO MIGHTY EDINBURGH!
You get the idea.
The Fringe is, quite simply, fucking massive. There’s something like 3000 shows on across the whole city for the whole month, from 10am until 4 in the morning the next day. Quite a large proportion of those 3000 shows are white middle-class men telling jokes, so it’s safe to say I was considerably nervous about “standing out”.
Here’s the line-up of shows for my venue (FYI John Robins is a brilliant comic, check out his stuff here) and here’s the prestigious theatre/university lecture room itself:
A cosy 87 seats serviced with intermittent air-conditioning, I grew to love this little space, commandeered by my lovely techs Ross and Meghan and complete with uni desks for people to rest their beers on.
To fill those 87 seats, I was out on the cobbled streets for two and a half hours every single night, handing out bits of paper with my face on to reluctant passers-by. Was it slightly demeaning, you ask? Certainly not!
(This happened on the first night of the run.)
Thankfully I had help from my lovely friends and funny-people-in-their-own-right Rose Callaghan and Demi Lardner. Oh also David O’Doherty’s mate Tiny Beavs (who’s very popular on Instagram) leant us a paw:
The four weeks are something of a blur, to be honest. I saw and did and drank so much stuff I was constantly delirious, sometimes from laughing very hard, other times from exhaustion. If you fancy some recommendations for comedians you might like, strap in: Larry Dean, Lost Voice Guy, Andrew Ryan, Lolly Adefope, Mae Martin, Paul Sinha, Daphne, Bec Hill and Jessie Cave all blew me away and I highly recommend ’em.
I also saw Philip Nitschke’s insane show Dicing With Dr. Death and managed to sit him down for a chat for my podcast which you can hear for free here.
One of the best things I saw was Mark Thomas’ work in progress show, Trespass. Mark is like a British Rod Quantock: a cheeky, passionate, shit-stirring comedian who’s been doing this shit for a long time and who’s bloody well excellent at it. This latest show is about his rallying against the privatisation of public space and it was very funny but also really inspiring and moving in a profound way.
I was checking Mark’s twitter after the show and noticed this photo he recently shared, showing a list of things he reads to himself before he goes out onstage:
I like that a lot.
Anyway, in the end I did 24 performances of my show, sometimes to sold-out crowds, other times in a SLIGHTLY MORE INTIMATE SITUATION. I’m so grateful to everyone who made it along, from the ex-pat triple j fans to the podcast listeners to the folks just taking a random punt on a fresh-faced nobody, I had some of the best shows of my entire life during this run and I’m never going to forget the thrill of having my stuff work in another country for as long as I live.
The show ended up being nominated for the Best Newcomer Award in the Fosters Edinburgh Comedy Awards, which was bloody lovely. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, awards don’t mean much and it’s all about the work (ew) and making people laugh and a long-term career yadda yadda yadda, but if this means the good burghers of Britain are more likely to come along and see me live and I can keep coming back to the UK to build an audience, then I think that can only be a good thing.
Here I am with my nomination trophy, being very tired and trying to look mildly “funny”:
The prize eventually went to the tremendous Sofie Hagen who has to be one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Sofie is Danish and somehow manages to be original and hilarious IN A SECOND LANGUAGE and I couldn’t be happier for her. I eventually got to see her show in Sweden at the Lund Comedy Festival and it made me laugh and gasp and think about things, as all great comedy should.
This, along with Sarah Kendall’s nomination for that same prize and Ronny Chieng JOINING THE FUCKING DAILY SHOW FOR SHIT’S SAKE, makes this little Aussie comedian very proud and excited indeed. Cultural cringe be damned: our comedy is up there with the world’s best and the world is getting smaller every day and there’s no reason why
Antipodean riddle-making can’t make a real international impact. Go us and such.
Finally, there are lots of people who helped me get through this insane month of performing and I’m pretty sure I’ve managed to thank them appropriately privately, but here I wanted to publicly pay tribute to a man who helped me in a particularly special way:
I have been a fan of David DOD O’Doherty for ages and then somehow we kind of ended up being friends but I am secretly still a major fan and consider him to be my International Comedy Obi-Wan Mentor Master Man. A few years back Dave saw my show and gave me some words of encouragement and that meant the world to me and this year in Edinburgh he gave me a quote to put on my posters, he came to my show, he recommended my show to other people and even tweeted about it to the world so everyone could see that he liked it and it was a matter of public record and he couldn’t deny it.
I’m not trying to brag here, I just feel compelled to give him credit for doing such a nice thing and to ask anyone else out there who might be in a similar position to follow his example. Through all the lowest times of my Edinburgh run – when I was sick or reluctant to flyer and go through the same routines again or when I had low numbers or whathaveyou – the only thing I needed to remember to cheer myself up was this: David O’Doherty thinks you’re funny.
That was more important to me than reviews or awards or ticket sales: someone I really looked up to thought I was funny and took the time to let me know that.
To all senior comedians – or indeed anyone with a bit of experience under their belt who has a chance to help out newbies just starting out in your respective field – please take the time to give a few words of encouragement. It’s a simple act of charity that can really mean a lot.
After the Fringe wrapped up I went to Stockholm and my mum and dad and I went to the ABBA Museum and it was great:
Next week I’m bringing the show to the Soho Theatre in London for six nights, Monday to Saturday, 8:45pm. It’s a brilliant venue and after a wee break I’m ready to jump back into doing this show I love so much again, so please do come along if you can. Tickets are available here.
The show is about the worst taxi experience of my life, coming out, homophobia, being yourself and love. In light of all that, you might enjoy reading this piece I wrote for the comedy website Chortle about the future of comedy about being queer.
Congrats on getting to the end of this.