Interview: Rhys Nicholson

29 March 2016

Rhys Nicholson is a Sydney-based comedian who’s doing his fifth solo show Bona Fide at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year. Comedian and comedy enthusiast Ben Volchok sat down to talk to him about his show, his bowties, his influences and comedy in general.

So, how was your morning?

It was alright, I went and did another interview, at Hit 105. But yeah, pretty slow so far really.

Just waking up and reading all the praise on Twitter for the gala? 

I did do the mistake doing the whole “search for the hashtag” thing… but no, it was fine. I’m one of those people, I search myself too much… ‘cause I’m a narcissist.

Aren’t we all? So this new show of yours, tell us a bit about that.

It’s my fifth show – I don’t know what that means. It’s about lying I guess, that’s what I’ve been saying anyway. Definitely parts of it are about lying. And I think it’s the first time I’ve ever done – the closest I’ve ever done – to a storytelling show.

You had a lot more theatrical/musical/prop elements in your shows before, what prompted the decision to pare it down into more of a storytelling show?

Just so I don’t have to carry around a bunch of fucking props, pretty much! I remember last year was just a straight stand-up show, I didn’t have any props or anything, but the year before that I had inflatable llamas and flowers hidden somewhere and all that kind of bullshit. And I did a couple of shows in Perth months after I’d finished the show, so I had to then just carry all that shit to Perth again. And it just made me think, “I don’t ever want to have to do this ever again!”

Do you reckon once you get big enough to employ people to carry it, would you ever do that again?

It’ll all be insane sets. I’ll be one of those people where I’ll just have a giant set on stage but never make reference to it.

Right, just a giant bowtie or something.

Yeah yeah, something like that, exactly! A giant version of my head that talks in sync when I talk. But I never make reference to it.

Well that would help the people at the back I guess. So in terms of bowties… I just love the fact that you make bowties. When did that start?

It started probably about four years ago. I just wanted to wear bow-ties, like I always wear bow-ties, but they were too expensive. So I looked up a pattern of how to make them ‘cause I can kind of sew and then realised that they were easy to make and I could sell them for cheaper, then people can buy them after my shows. And yeah, just started doing it. A lot of my day has turned into sewing bow-ties when it comes up to festival season. It’s kind of funny that this minor part of the work has now become a big part of it.

So you actually sell bow-ties at your shows?

Yeah, afterwards.

Well that’s good merchandising. Do you have any bow-ties with your face on them?

No, I’ve thought about that before… And I’ve started doing a thing as well where I make brooches now, so every year for the past three years I make… like I did that llama show so I had llama brooches, and then l had sausage dog brooches, and this year I have reindeer brooches. And so people have started coming to my shows wearing the brooches from last year or the year before. It’s become this weird little cult.

Wait, so you make brooches and bow-ties, that’s pretty cool.

All of the accessories.

Yeah well you have to distinguish yourself somehow…

Yeah, exactly! And to be honest it’s just so I can have some cash during festivals. And it also gives things for people to take home instead of just a t-shirt or something like that. It’s a thing that I made.

Do the comedy and the craft now support you enough for you not to have other jobs?

Yeah, I haven’t had a job in a few years. The comedy’s supported me for a little while.

Awesome! So what are you most excited about for this year’s festival?

Hanging out with my friends, I guess. Daniel Sloss is a friend of mine from Scotland. I get excited about the shows but it’s definitely hanging out with these people after the shows – that has become a really exciting thing. There’s so many good people this year and I think there’s particular people who are going to have really good festivals too, like Anne Edmonds, I’m excited to see her new show. Oh and I’m running an event as well, I do lip sync battles. And I’m also involved in an event called “The Wedding” – we’re not talking about what it is yet but it’s very exciting and I can’t wait for people to find out what it is. That’s in the programme. So yeah, there’s a whole bunch of stuff that I’m excited about this year.

What would be your number one tip for navigating the festival? Especially since there’s 500+ shows.

I always recommend that people see people that they’ve never heard of, I think that’s the thing. You know, go and see your favourite ones obviously, but I recommend if you live in Melbourne, every day if you’re going to go see shows just take a flyer from someone and listen to the spiel. Because first of all, flyering is heartbreaking and it’s nice to talk to people when you’re flyering, and also I think it’s such a good festival and there’s so many good things on that I think just pick something you’ve never heard of and go to it.

Obviously the Comedy Festival is this huge aggregation of all of the comedy around Australia and internationally but what’s your view on comedy all the rest of year? I know a lot of comedians are saying that they’re struggling to get any interest from any people for comedy the rest of the year, getting awareness of comedy outside of the Comedy Festival.

It might be different in Melbourne, I know that I am able to work pretty solidly and most people in Sydney are, it might just be a different thing going on. I definitely think we’re in kind of a comedy boom at the moment. I think there’s a lot of interest in comedy on TV and stuff. You know, obviously there’s people who get angry ‘cause they’re not maybe on things as much. But I guess it’s one of those industries that you can’t really… like whatever’s gonna happen is gonna happen. Things happen for people that don’t deserve it and things don’t happen for people that do deserve it and it’s just one of those things – there’s a lot of anger around sometimes. I think in Melbourne though it’s a different kind of situation than Sydney cause you guys have got the festival and there’s not as many rooms the rest of the year. Sydney has quite a few devoted comedy rooms, so does Melbourne, but there’s definitely more money to be made year-round in Sydney than there is in Melbourne.

Okay, that’s interesting. I’d sort of never considered that. I think in terms of the free open mics around Melbourne there’s just so many of them, but I don’t know if there’s as many paid ones as there are in Sydney.

Yeah exactly, like there’s a lot of great rooms – I would almost say that the rooms are better, they’re more fun to perform in Melbourne – but you don’t make any money there.

Do you try and come down to the rooms in Melbourne when you’re down?

Oh definitely, yeah. I try and come about five or six times a year outside of festivals. And I’ll do Spleen and Crab Lab and The European Bier Cafe. I try and do as many as I can.

What about in terms of audiences, not just Sydney versus Melbourne, but I suppose all round Australia, how do they differ?

I mean these are broad generalisations but I guess Sydney’s crowds are very punchline-heavy. You need to be quite aggressive in Sydney. Whereas Melbourne – and again broad generalisation – Melbourne seems to like a bit more whimsy, I guess. You guys kind of like stories and stuff like that, so when Sydney comics come we tend to be a bit too aggressive early on and kind of freak out audiences a little bit but yeah I think that’s different. And then obviously regional areas are very different audiences than metropolitan ones. But yeah, I mean that’s kind of the main two differences between Sydney and Melbourne.

What got you into comedy?

I did Class Clowns when I was fifteen and so kind of got a taste for it and quite enjoyed it, and then I did RAW Comedy when I was seventeen about to be eighteen and I got to the grand final and just wanted to pursue it after that. I didn’t really think of it, I applied to a couple of art schools but didn’t get in and then I just moved to Sydney when I was nineteen with no money and just… really tried!

Did you have any particular inspirations when you were just starting out or even now?

I really loved Sarah Silverman. She was my favourite. I really loved Sarah Silverman and I still do, not that we do anything similar on stage. Her and Maria Bamford and Paul F. Tompkins, those are my three favourites.

Do you have any influences outside of comedy?

Well I mean I guess it’s not outside of comedy but I really love John Waters*. I like that he’s just stayed filthy, and he’s got good style but loves vulgarity, I really like that. And I like Amy Sedaris and David Sedaris. Anybody with good taste that makes disgusting things, I really like the idea of doing that.

Do you know Peter Greenaway, the filmmaker (A Zed & Two Noughts, The Cook The Thief His Wife & Her Lover)? He’s a great filmmaker ‘cause he sort of combines that same sort “high art” with total filth.

Yeah, that’s my favourite. It’s the same as the Jeff Koons approach to things, it’s just like, “I’m gonna spend a lot of money and a lot of craftwork on something quite tacky and disgusting”.

Could you give a few final words on the show? I know you’ve mentioned it’s a storytelling show.

It’s more of a storytelling show but it is definitely the same tone of… essentially my comedy is “penises and how they relate to me”, so that’s probably the easiest way to talk about it. I talk a lot about puberty and gross stuff that’s happened to me and all types of different things like that. It’s like the “Rhys Nicholson origin story”. I think last year I said it was like “vulgarity with heart”.

Did you have anything else you wanted to mention?

Um… tickets still available!

Rhys Nicholson in Bona Fide is appearing at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival from March 24 – April 17 at Roxanne and the Melbourne Town Hall. Tickets available at


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