Comedy is a funny business, no joke

Comedy

by Victoria Healy

A few weeks ago I was about to fall asleep and all of a sudden I jolted up, struck by a thought: “There is something funny about this.”

I remembered something that had been nagging at me. It was a memory of when I was young and full of confidence and had decided to defiantly make a statement about animal welfare at the Royal Melbourne Show. I was holding a sign in protest and wearing a T-shirt with the letter G on it.

As a stand-up comedian for the last six years, ideas for comedy routines pop into my brain pretty regularly.

I’ve spent many nights wondering, “Do I disrupt my perfect cocooned sleeping position to write down an idea, or do I go back to sleep”, convincing myself I’ll remember it?

In this instance I wrote in my notepad “Protest at Royal Melbourne Show”. Then I drifted off to sleep.

The following morning, I looked at the note and had no idea what it was about.

“How is this funny?” I asked myself.

The best way to see if you’ve got a good funny story is to perform it. So I messaged the promoter of a storytelling night in the city and booked a spot for the next week.

Nothing is a better motivator than a deadline. Just ask this publication’s editor. I found the motivation I needed to remember the story in more detail and wrote it all down.

A high-school friend of mine had joined an animal welfare group and convinced me to join a protest that she had signed up to. We would be protesting against the sale of goldfish in clear plastic bags at the Royal Melbourne Show.

The argument was that fish need to be in filtered water, not tap-water, and they should be taken home immediately, not carried around the show being harassed by big crowds.

For a young woman who’d recently purchased Geri Halliwell’s breakaway solo single ‘Look At Me’, goldfish seemed like the most important cause going round. Forget the Sudanese civil war — I had bigger fish to fry.

Looking back now, all I can see is the absurdity of the protest. We had to buy a ticket each to get into the show so we could even picket the tiny goldfish stall. We were next door to the main arena where farmers were being awarded for breeding cows for slaughter. In the end we were escorted out by police before I could buy a showbag.

I got a draft of the story ready to perform for an audience. I went to the Bazaar Tales Storytelling night at Horse Bazaar on Little Lonsdale Street. It’s one of my favourite venues to perform at in Melbourne, at least partially due to their generous pours of gin.

At Bazaar Tales Storytelling the storytellers get up one by one and tell a story based around a theme. It’s not always funny storytelling but, with the overwhelming supply of comedians in Melbourne, they dominate the line-up and there are plenty of laughs.

I performed my story and it was loose but I had intended it to be that way. I find if your work sounds too scripted the audience feel like they are being lectured by a dejected professor of sociology whose passion dried up after their second divorce. By performing it unrehearsed I get to discover more humour through my delivery.

It took me a long time to be confident in my humour. I knew I was funny but I never knew why. So on my journey to find out I started where a lot of Melbourne-based comedians start out — The Comic’s Lounge in North Melbourne.

Every Tuesday evening The Comic’s Lounge hosts a beginners’ workshop at 6.00pm, then a Young Guns comedy show at 8.30pm. It’s where everyone goes, but it’s not for everyone.

To say The Comic’s Lounge is intimidating is like saying the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel is a waste of money. It’s undeniably true but it is still there and serves a purpose. The difference is The Comic’s Lounge actually provides entertainment.

Everything at The Comic’s Lounge is daunting for a new comedian: the stairwell that is covered in sketches of Australia’s greatest comedians past and present; the giant dark room; the bouncers; the wide stage; and the sign out the back that simply states the venue’s only rule, “Just Be Funny”.

I attended many of the workshops and even had my first gig on that stage but it’s easy to be discouraged among the crowd of young men jostling for a spot. To develop my comedy, I changed my approach. I enrolled in an improv course. While it was much more inviting, it stripped me of my performer confidence.

In my first ever improv class, I was told to rethink my choices in the scene. This began the slow destruction of my confidence in my comedy.

I wasn’t aware how damaging it was because I was moving up in the company quickly. I tried to please them and be like them but every scene was picked apart; teachers and peers would second-guess my choices.

The confidence that I’d once had, the confidence to stand in front of an angry goldfish retailer, evaporated.

Two institutions that couldn’t get more different in their approach did not help me find my funny. There was only one other way. And that was to go out there on my own. Thanks to Melbourne’s exploding open-mic scene in the last five years, it was much easier than I thought.

It was and still is a lone-wolf game of writing jokes, crafting stories, booking spots and performing, all of your own accord.

I knew this Royal Melbourne Show protest story was good but to be included in my 2016 MICF show it needed some more jokes. I listened back to the recording of the storytellers’ gig and developed my ideas, trying to remember more details.

I booked another spot to test the story out some more — this time at a stand-up comedy night at Club Voltaire. Coincidentally, it is just around the corner from the place where I got my start, The Comic’s Lounge.

On Sunday night, The Comic’s Lounge would be expecting over 200 patrons to listen to some slick stand-up from Australia’s finest. A little bit down the laneway off Errol Street, Club Voltaire Comedy puts on a line-up of some of Melbourne’s best unknown comics in a slightly more intimate setting.

Melbourne’s underground comedy scene is full of great acts. Yet for the casual comedy viewer who tunes into the MICF Gala once a year many of these great acts remain unknown.

They wouldn’t know that in 2014 Laura Davis created one of the most heart-wrenching, gut-busting, funny postmodern shows ever.

They wouldn’t know that Dave Quirk onstage is more bulletproof than any armoured vehicle. He destroys every audience he faces and if they don’t like it Dave doesn’t care one bit.

They wouldn’t know that Alasdair Tremblay-Birchall producers more original ideas than Elon Musk and does it with pure joy. That Nick Capper is an oddball. That Kate Dehnert is a goofball. That Nellie White defines dry humour. That Matt Stewart is an all-time great.

These amazing acts remain unknown to casual comedy fans. So I count myself lucky to see this amazing work by Melbourne’s hardworking and too often unknown comedians.

Every night I’m lucky enough to perform alongside these geniuses and they continually remind me that I have the greatest job in the world — making people laugh.

My goldfish story went well at Club Voltaire but it can be further improved. I’ll work on it right up until opening night because I am pushed every day by Melbourne’s unparalleled comedic arena to write and perform the funniest stand-up comedy possible.

Victoria Healy is performing at Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2016 in The Vick Van Dyke Show, 23 March to 3 April, at the Imperial Hotel. Book tickets at http://www.trybooking.com/JVHR

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