Arts & Entertainment

Sydney Comedy Festival Fostering Emerging Talent

Jack Gow, Becky Lucas, Matt Okine & Josipa Draisma PHOTO: Chris Peken

Venues across Sydney will be filled with sounds of laughter over the course of the next month as the 12th Annual Sydney Comedy Festival floods our city with some of the brightest stars on the circuit. However it is not all about the big name international acts, the festival will also allow Australia’s most promising homegrown emerging talent to share the spotlight with their idols.

For the curators behind the scenes of the festival it is “crucially important to develop Australian comedy and comedians.” Festival Director Jorge Mendis explained: “If we were purely running a festival where the only motivation was money then we’d run a 20 show event at The Enmore Theatre and that would be it; but we have gone out of our way to [assist] comedians through the various stages of their development.”

One program in particular that the Sydney Comedy Festival has implemented is the FRESH program, which is a carefully selected lineup of comedians that Jorge and his team believe are the stars of the future. “FRESH has been running for seven years now and people like Ronny Chieng, Rhys Nicholson and Matt Okine have all come through it, so it’s definitely proven to stack up to what we think it is,” said Jorge.

Speaking with City Hub, Matt Okine was glowing with praise for the Sydney Comedy Festival and FRESH for the impact it has had on his career. “Without being encouraged to be a part of the Sydney Comedy Festival I’d probably still be doing the same shitty 20 minutes about being half-African that I was doing for seven years on the club circuits,” said Okine.

The Festival also encourages fresh young talent by selecting a group of nominees to be in the running for the Best Emerging Comedian Award. Last year Josipa Draisma was one such nominee in the FRESH Program. She told us that simply being nominated was “amazing”, before explaining further: “I was being supported and endorsed by a major festival, which definitely gave me a confidence boost.” Since then Josipa says she has also “been able to use that moving forward, because people tend to take a bit more notice now.”

Even with the festival being so pivotal in both Matt and Josipa’s careers, Matt explained that it was also worth bearing in mind that you should go into it cautiously. “I would encourage younger comedians to do a festival show, but I also encourage them to wait until the time is right… [Waiting] seven years was probably too long for me, but at the same time I was learning how to ‘suck’ first, so I would hate for someone to throw themselves into the deep end too quickly.”

One young comedian who certainly understands those cautious sentiments is Jack Gow, who reflected on his first two gigs, which had extremely contrasting outcomes.

“It’s funny, the first gig I ever did I thought I absolutely nailed it. Then when I went back two weeks later to try again I had the exact opposite experience, no one laughed and it was just terrible. The contrast was kind of harrowing, but also made me want to get back to that place where I was making everyone laugh.”

With the festival bringing in some big established names, it provides our emerging talent a rare opportunity to witness up close some of their idols and learn from them. “It’s amazing seeing people who have been doing it for 10, 20, 30, [or] 40 years who have honed their craft to the point where every single word they say is funny, moving or poignant. It’s incredibly inspiring,” Jack said excitedly.

Finally, the festival provides emerging comedians who have been slowly building their own followings by making the rounds of the club circuit to gather all of those fans together in one room for an extended show.

Becky Lucas is a local Sydney comedian who is specifically looking forward to doing just that. “It’s cool because you gig all year round on lineup shows, so this a unique opportunity to perform a solo show with all of the people that liked you in one room, which should make it more fun. Usually when you do a show you only get five or ten minutes so you have to pick the best bits, but with the festival you have time to relax so you can get to know the audience while they get to know you and you can play around a bit more.” (JA)

Sydney Comedy Festival runs from Apr 18 to May 15 at various venues around the city. Tickets & info:

Becky Lucas – Baby
May 10-15. The Enmore Theatre 118-132 Enmore Rd, Newtown. $20-$27+b.f.

Jack Gow – Everybody’s Doing it! Dying That Is…
Apr 21-24. The Enmore Theatre, 118-132 Enmore Rd, Newtown. $12-$15+b.f.

Josipa Draisma – Shapeshifter
Apr 23-24. The Factory Theatre, 105 Victoria Rd, Marrickville. $25+b.f.

Matt Okine
May 7. The Enmore Theatre, 118-132 Enmore Rd, Newtown. $30-$35+b.f.

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