TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains two (2) embedded ska videos.
So, over the summer, I did some shows in Australia and New Zealand. They were great. I’m a lucky guy who isn’t lucky enough to be able to post much on this blog of late. [In fact, full disclosure: I wrote a huge chunk of this shortly after getting back from Australia, then let it sit in my drafts for over a month because relocating will do that to you, but dammit I’M GOING TO FINISH IT]. Also, I didn’t know if customs would be weird about it if they saw I booked shows. It would have only been an issue if they’d mistaken me for a successful comedian making thousands per show, but crazier things have happened. The time that Koch brothers accessory tried to convince me that Democrats were responsible for systemic racism comes to mind because he thought I was on TV and had influence, for one.
To be more honest, it’s a bunch of life changes that are coming up [UPDATE: They’ve already been happening]. For one, I’m moving to Michigan next month! [UPDATE: I moved to Michigan last month]. I can’t wait to join the many, many great Michigander jokesmiths I’ve performed with in the mitten. [UPDATE: I joined them, but I haven’t had a chance to see many of them yet]. I’ll write more about that whenever it’s relevant [UPDATE: I am now, but it’s still not really relevant] but for now, here’s some photographic evidence of my string of gigs dewn undah.
Monday, June 24th
SYDNEY – Cafe Lounge*
This wasn’t a gig for me (hence the *), but one I was excited to go and check out. I wasn’t able to land a spot on anything in my brief jaunt in Sydney at the beginning of my trip, so I dug up details on this one and headed to Surry Hill on Monday night. The place was the closest thing to Atlanta’s Star Bar I’ve ever seen outside of the United States – even down to the Monday night gig and the packed-in, mostly well-disciplined audience of cool yuppies. It gave me the chance to get a feel for Aussie standup before actually throwing myself to the sharks, so to speak. The show itself did not disappoint in the least. The MC, Sam Taunton, crowd-worked me because he didn’t know I was a comic, but it was fine because (1) he got big laughs, (2) he didn’t degrade me, and (3) he had no reason to know I was a comic. I had a great chat with him and the closer, Daniel Rath, afterwards. Very funny and nice dudes for what seems to be a fairly large, competitive scene.
Other than learning a few pertinent cultural/geographic references (e.g. Bonnie Tangey‘s “Bondi Junction Hot” vs. “Bondi Beach Hot” and another comic’s “playing the ponies out at Parramatta“), I discovered a couple of interesting features about stand-up comedy down under. Similar to what I experienced in London and Dublin (though not so much in Paris), an intermission was paramount. In the States, most comics view an intermission as crowd-poison, because it is. Unless our host venues demand it as an ultimatum, we’ll never do it. However, from what I witnessed across several gigs, the crowds either retained their sizes or replaced anyone who did jump ship. Though audiences in ANZ knew to expect the intermission, my American heart still winced whenever the MC mentioned a “break” or any variation thereof.
Second, unlike any shows I’d done overseas, I noticed a trend in that for booked showcases or mics outside of clubs (more on that when I get to Hobart), the MC was the face of the show. It makes sense, since even with a featured performer closing, the MC did about as much time cumulatively, between their opening set, their set returning from the break, and some interstitial work in cases where it was needed. In a couple cases, the MC was the show’s producer, heart and soul (wait til I get to Cairns). In others, it was a local comedy teacher (e.g. Wellington… shortly). At any rate, it wasn’t something I was used to. To be fair, even the shows I featured/closed (e.g. Wellington, again) wouldn’t have gotten a “boost” with my name/face attached to them. I doubt there were too many casual comedy fans down there (in the major cities at least) intrigued by the presence of an American. Yanks are a dime a dozen anywhere with big tourism cache like, oh, I dunno, most cities in Australia.
The Boardwalk Bar
Wednesday, June 26th
Now we get to my first time onstage and first chance to bomb in the Southern Hemisphere. Cy Fahey (who pronounces his name “Khy,” unlike the legendary baseball pitcher) set me up with a headline spot for the second half of the night, where the first half was a local open mic. I loved the chance to see some local ACT comics, so it was a fun time. The best treat of the night, however, was reuniting with my friends Riley and Codie Bell, whom I met in Knoxville in fall 2017 while Riley was spending his semester abroad and did a spot opening for Jake Head and Joel Walkowski. Riley and Codie have been on hiatus from comedy performance, but that didn’t stop them from giving my ass a ride out to the suburbs for the gig and being incredibly fun and supportive. They even filled in some of my references after my set (did y’all know that Aussies refer to pickup trucks as “Utes,” short for “utility trucks?” I sure didn’t before I did a lengthy joke about pickup trucks that got just an okay response!). The crowd was really fun, though, and I appreciated the chance to enter into Australian stand-up with a somewhat low-pressure, laid back gig.
The next night, Riley and Codie brought me to see Frankie McNair perform her Canberra swan song of her one-woman show ‘Frantasia,’ which split my brain sideways. I could quote a number of Frankie’s bits months later now, and I feel like I laughed the hardest I did across my entire trip. Riley and Codie were telling me how Frantasia was a bit more reflective of the general trend in Aussie comedy – the blending of joke-craft and show-craft. Honing that elusive hour with jokes, stories, and sketches (even A/V wizardry). Frankie even shows up again in this story when I get to Melbourne (I’m sorry about all of this foreshadowing, but you want me to apologize for it? You monster).
So, that was Canberra. I think it gets slagged on because it’s the capital city/district, kinda sterile, a smaller market and whatnot. Of course I have no idea what it’s like to begin comedy in a place like that. Seriously, though, I loved Canberra and want to go back sometime.
Laughing Heart Comedy
Monday, July 1st
Now we’re talking! Tropical North Queensland! Isolated and cool as hell. Local comedy wunderkind Peter James hooked me up with a spot on his weekly showcase in a cool little theater inside the casino that dominates the city’s waterfront landscape and extracts oh so much money from Chinese tourists. Like most of my favorite comedy scenes in the States, Cairns was clearly pretty small and insular, forcing comics to rely upon each other and experimentation a bit more.
Before the show, I met the bartender Billy, who latched onto my DIY punk references and told me that the Arrogant Sons of Bitches and Gorilla Biscuits were his favorite bands – two deep cuts to be sure. We wound up hanging out after the gig and he told me about his defunct band Jobstopper. I’ll embed a video here of them playing a GREAT song called “Is It Hot in Here, or is it Just You?” Billy looks absolutely nothing like this anymore:
The next day, my final one in Cairns, Peter invited me out to Hemingway’s Brewery for a flight of classy drinks, which was great. For you beer snobs, I sampled the Tunnel 10 Lager, the Prospector Pilsner, Mr. Wong Hefeweizen, Pitchfork Betty, and the Endeavor West Coast IPA. They were all solid. I never bothered asking any brewers I met if their ‘West Coast IPA’ style was named after the West Coast of the States, or if Perth has its own remix to offer. I’m gonna assume the former, but I don’t want it to be so. Australians already suffer from enough Cultural Cringe without needing to drink America in a pint glass.
Anyway, it was great to get to know a slice of one of Australia’s most unique comedy scenes. Also, despite his young age and upbringing on the other side of the globe, he knew a surprising amount about NCAA basketball. So, cheers to that.
Oh, and while I was in the TNQ I also went scuba diving for the first time and nearly died, got to pet and feed wallabies, and late one night on the boardwalk, I hung out for a bit with an Aboriginal fella who had been singing Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam songs (sounding freakishly like him). Cairns was just as cool as I’d been hoping, despite the legions of backpackers turning me into an old man yelling at the damn kids to get off my lawn.
Time to cross the Tasman.
The Cavern Club
Thursday 5 July
[EDITING NOTE: THIS IS WHERE I PICKED UP THE ENTRY, TWO TURBULENT MONTHS LATER. MY MEMORIES ARE FADING A BIT AND MY NOTES AREN’T COMPREHENSIVE. I’LL TRY TO KEEP IT TIGHT].
This was a doozy. I took a brief detour in Brisbane, mostly to seek out nerdy Go-Betweens related shit, then headed over to Welly for a few days to catch up with a couple old DC friends who live there now. We went for a couple of hikes in the country, drank as many of NZ’s amazing beers as could be deemed responsible, binge-watched Stranger Things 3 (because it dropped on 7/4), and enjoyed each other’s company. It certainly helped that I was invited to close out a booked mic at a cool-as-hell little bar called the Cavern Club right off of the CBD. Well, technically Te Aro, but either way it was around the corner from my friends’ place.
The Emcee for the evening was Neil Thornton, an American who was based in NYC with stand-up, but relocated to Wellington some years back with his husband. Since then, he’s established the New Zealand Comedy School and seems to be doing very well with it. I don’t know if Kiwis (and well-wishing tourists who happened to also be in the audience) are just nicer, but I felt like this may have been the best set I had, pound for pound, on the whole trip. The energy in there was immense, everyone seemed to really be enjoying themselves the whole night, and there was a massive picture of the early Beatles on the wall next to me I was able to work into one of my bits. Thanks to the Wellington Humo(u)rous Arts Trust for taking a chance on me!
Oh, and all that stuff Lord of the Rings tell you about Wellington really makes a lot of sense when you’re there. You can wander like 20 minutes on foot from the beehive (their Parliamentary building looks like a Dalek, but a beehive is also a good point of comparison) and feel like you’re in the Shire. It’s a truly wonderful place, and on my last day there I rode an elevator down with a pair of women speaking to one another in Maori, and it was the coolest. They were probably making fun of me, but I didn’t care and they were probably correct. Moving on…
Side Splitting Comedy (Voodoo Bar)
Tuesday 9 July
Jokers Comedy Club (Featuring for Charissa Bossinakis)
Wednesday 10 July
First things first: to put it bluntly, Hobart fucking rules. I don’t know how many American (or even mainland Aussie) comics make it to Tasmania in a given year, but considering how amazing the island is, it’s probably more than one would think.
Anyway, my first night in Hobart, I bundled up, power-walked down the hill in Sandy Bay against a gale-force wind and hopped on the bus downtown, where I would switch onto a bus that would take me up Elizabeth Street. I had the pleasure of sharing the ride with a bearded Irishman in a Motorhead jacket who, after muttering “y’can’t drink n’ droive now can ya?” as he boarded and stumbled by me, proceeded to pull out his phone and blast sea shanties at ear-splitting volume. I couldn’t not talk about the encounter onstage that night, considering what a metaphorically small city Hobart is, expecting somebody at the show to know him personally. No such luck. At any rate, I’ve thought about this man on a near-daily basis since then. I wonder if he’s doing okay, and whether he found his way back onto the Irish fishing vessel that booted him off in 1982.
The Side Splitting Comedy production team, Sally Rose McShane and Steve McNees couldn’t have been sweeter and more enthusiastic to have me there. They apologized repeatedly for a smaller than usual audience that night, but I meant it when I said “Shut up; this was a blast,” because it was (I might not have been that blunt, but I would have been ecstatic to perform in that space for am even much smaller audience than there was. The bathroom corridor that attached the bar with the Mexican restaurant had a secret passageway, too). Brent Watkinson, who started standup in Hobart but now [checks notes, sees I have nothing written down] hosts brekky radio in some SA town 4 hours north of Adelaide? I think, opened the show, along with Hamish Levis. Both very nice and funny dudes.
Night two, a feature set at Jokers Comedy Club (housed inside the Hobart Polish Club… a civic house with an elaborate art installation that name checked every good band from the 80’s and 90’s) was an entirely different beast. Sally Rose picked me up in her Ute (see? I’m learning) and we headed uptown. I went to the green room, were I met Gavin Baskerville, Simon Palomares, and Brittany Szlezak. The run-down: Gavin was the MC, Joker’s head brass, and the person whom I’d first reached out to when I realized I was going to be in Hobart. Simon was a Spanish-bred veteran comic with years of hardened cruise ship experience that got added to the show relatively last-minute. Brittany was a local mental health professional who unfolded a massive newsprint image of Sandy Bay as part of an elaborate bit about how discriminatory their housing prices were on that side of town. I was enjoying staying in an AirBnb over there, but either way, I was on board for it. Shortly before showtime, the headliner Charisa Bossinakis arrived. I was excited to feature for her, considering the fast-track to Aussie comedy royalty she appears to be on. 22 years old, a hit show at the Melbourne fringe, and headlining club gigs on cool islands already. The show was tons of fun, the crowd was great, and I couldn’t get over the gig art installation that featured EVERY GOOD BAND FROM THE 80’S AND 90’S. AND SOME FROM THE 70’S. JUST LOOK AT THIS. THEY INCLUDED CRIMPSHRINE, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE:
In a rare feat of cat-herding, I got everyone to pose together for a photo after the gig. Look at us!
Also, after the gig, a man who appeared to be a bit older than me walked over, leaned in, and said “The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.”
“Huh?” I replied, confused yet appropriately intrigued.
“I just thought I’d mention them,” the man said, “Based on your musical humour. We were the ones who shouted out when you made the reference to having a turntable.”
“Oh, hell yeah,” I said, starting to sense where this was going, “but what was it about the Mighty Mighty Bosstones?” I asked, not having even told my ‘ska groupie’ joke that night.
“My old band used to open for them when they played here in the nineties,” he said, “and one of my best mates and his band actually flew to Boston to play with them at their Hometown Throwdown.”
“Whoa! Who were your friend’s band?”
“Oh, they were from New South Wales. They were called the Porkers.”
“HOLY SHIT I LOVE THE PORKERS!”
And who wouldn’t? Just look at them, the token Aussie band on the Moon circuit back in the day, and harbingers of the Aporkalypse:
Anyway, David Moore (we properly introduced ourselves eventually) and I hit it off and grabbed a kebab, sharing 90’s stories. After I got back to the States, I reconnected with him and he shared some old music and tour photos with me. Dr. Raju were, in an entirely unshocking revelation, great.
I had to leave Hobart on Friday, but I didn’t want to. On Thursday night, my friend Josh and I went to hang out and grab some food at the Brisbane Hotel, a decade-old dive and one of the honest-to-god coolest bars I’ve ever been to. So, of course it’s under siege from a growing city. Thankfully, a substantial campaign has been underway to Save the Briz.
Afterward, I wound up wandering up to the Shipwright Arms Hotel in Battery Point, which gave me so many flashbacks to wandering around Mystic, CT as a child. At the pub, I sat and listened to the Dave Sikk 4Tet perform a sequence of lounge’d up covers, including a sublime adaptation of “Round Midnight,” and got schooled on Cricket by a couple of colleagues I bumped into. So, I love cricket now, and so should you.
Club Voltaire Comedy
Sunday, July 14th
Okay, Melbourne doesn’t need my testimonial. It’s a huge city with a ton of great comics, and Club Voltaire was a really fun, black-box show. The space itself was upstairs in a small building in what I think was an older man’s loft-style living space? It wasn’t entirely clear, but it worked. Frankie McNair, who had just moved to Melbourne, showed up and did a spot as well! A pleasant surprise. Murphy McLaughlin, who reminded me of so many comics I’ve shared shows with in the States, MC’d and the intimate space was packed to the brim. I think my phone was dead, so I didn’t take any pictures that I can find. Just that one to the right, here, which sacrifices visibility of the cool alleyway between Errol and Leveson Streets I had to slide down to get to the venue in order to recognize the sign. North Melbourne seemed like a cool neighborhood, from what I saw. It was Sunday in the first place, and the weather had been rubbish all day, so there weren’t many people out, and the Comedy Studio around the corner was dark for the night. The whole experience reminded me a lot of occasional showcases I would go up to New York for during my halcyon days doing this in DC. Even though my set went well, I felt out of my element, surrounded by people who’d moved to Melbourne to do the damn thing. Maybe it was just my exhaustion (equal parts mental and physical) at the end of three overloaded weeks 10,000 miles from home. Regardless, I’m grateful to have been able to wrap up the highly unofficial, completely under-promoted ‘Disparaging the Boot’ Comedy Tour in Melbourne, and I appreciate Firdi Billimoria for giving me the slot.
Okay, you’re probably all as exhausted from reading this as I am from typing all of it. I need to get back to my real life now, but I have a new article I wrote about comedy coming soon to one of my favorite publications, and a couple of my first shows as a Midwestern resident to announce soon.
Thanks for reading, and if you’re a comic reading this from Australia or Aotearoa/New Zealand, know I meant it when I said you should come to the States soon. Also, I hope you’re doing well and will be back down the next excuse I have.