By Anthony Bell
While Australia boasts some talented local performers, international acts often enjoy preferential treatment. Still, the Sydney arts scene, and those around the country, get by through the sheer determination of their professionals and the crowds who love them.
Out of all these performers, the stand-up comedian is arguably among the toughest. They may not be associated with an American ‘hit’ show, but they are not to be looked down upon. Lone and learned men and women of the business, operating on the street and behind the scenes, are constantly alert and prepared to reduce even the most powerful leader or star to a hilarious caricature.
So, how do the comedians feel about modern comedy and Sydney’s scene? Apparently, pretty good!
Tom Murphy is young and paying his dues. Starting out as a terrified teen in Adelaide who went on to host comedy nights and is now working his way about Sydney, Murphy understands just how strange the comedy industry is, and adapts to overcome the challenges facing both the scene and himself.
“It’s hard to get people out of their houses in Australia,” he says. “I can’t pin down exactly what you could say Sydney audiences are like. They’re different from room to room. But things like social media are a huge boon for comedians wanting to build their own personal audience. Chances are getting better.”
Murphy says it’s sometimes very hard to get gigs because the supply of comedians is so large and the accessible venues are limited to a centralised area.
“People are very intense about their work and the industry – but I wouldn’t say they’re disrespectful. If you go in wanting to do it and wanting to learn, people are professional and treat you well,” he says.
“[Though] gigs are pretty much centralised and there isn’t much happening outside of the city.”
The pressure is on for comics to ply their craft in Sydney, network and complete side projects – something Murphy, like his friend and figure of inspiration, Tom Ballard, sees as very important for all artists – comedians are working toward the goal they unanimously see as the pinnacle of their profession: getting “picked up”, be it at festivals or with agents who can take them to bigger and better enterprises.
These chances grow as new venues sprout up on Sydney’s streets. The Sydney Comedy Festival is just around the corner, which boasts a mix of international and local talent. New comedy nights are also being featured at venues like the Windsor on Park and Scruffy Murphys.
Not to mention innovative performance spaces like the Giant Dwarf that are opening their doors too. The Giant Dwarf, run by the infamous Chaser crew, is keen to help expand opportunities for comedians.
“You say ‘to help’. I say ‘to exploit’,” jokes comedian and member of The Chaser, Julian Morrow.
He explains how this new performance space came together organically to help solidify a whole number of creative endeavours.
“We’re different from the average comedy night. There seemed to be quite a few events that were going on for us, with performance nights like Story Club, Erotic Fan Fiction and Cut and Paste, and we thought having a home for things like that might help them cross-pollinate…that and help talented but vulnerable people become exploited in various nefarious ways. So far, both premises have been pretty well verified.”
Why shouldn’t it be going well? The venue is a performance space first and foremost, but it also has ambience and a licensed bar for the punters, as well as additional opportunity for performers – in and outside of the traditional stand-up comedy.
Add to that The Giant Dwarf’s regular shows which have tied into events such as the Sydney Writers’ Festival and Vivid, and it goes to show how individual efforts often coincide and combine with personal dreams to create something that nearly everyone can be part of. However, this creates a new question – how do budding comedians get involved?
“We certainly have looked into letting others hire out the venue, and this might include producers putting on shows. Because it’s a live venue, and because we also use it for our own filming, we’re not quite sure what the mix will turn out to be. We’re cautious of over planning,” says Morrow.
He continues: “If you want to get involved, come in and see a show. See what sort of things are being done and get in touch with the crew that are managing the events. Getting yourself and your ideas out there is really worth pursuing. Everyone is always looking out for the next interesting, new and talented ‘thing’. The Chaser are doing it just so we can keep our eyes on the competition and kill it, to preserve our own survival,” says Morrow.
All joking aside: “I’m confident Giant Dwarf will create more occasions and opportunities for new comedians to try out.”
Sydney Comedy Festival, Apr 22-May 17, various venues, various prices, sydneycomedyfest.com.au;
The Giant Dwarf, 199 Cleveland St, Redfern, giantdwarf.com.au;
Corona Comedy, 48 Park St, Sydney, free, thewindsoronpark.com.au;
Scruffy’s Comedy Club, 43-49 Goulburn St, free, Sydney, scruffymurphys.com.au;
USYD Revue at the Seymour Centre, May 9 & 10, City Rd & Cleveland St, $15-22, seymourcentre.com/events/event/the-2014-sydney-uni-revue