Interview: Ben Volchok5 April 2016
Ben, what can you tell us about the show?
It’s a nonsense, late-night variety fact-style program, where I play the host and the guests. It’s pretty much centred around me making up facts… just a lot of nonsense and puns, really.
Now, this is a companion to your Fringe Festival Show – do you think prior knowledge is needed, given this is titled ‘Episode 2’?
Not at all. It’s more of a follow-up. There’s not much in the way of continuity, it’s a variety show. I mean, if you skip an episode of The Late Show, you’re not going to be any less the wiser.
Do you think the facts have any currency in the real world?
You’re free to apply them anywhere you like but I don’t know that they’d get you anywhere. They’re total nonsense, of course.
Where did you start with comedy?
I did my first stage performance in 2010, at the University’s comedy competition. I didn’t place, but I stuck at it for a while. I did a Comedy Festival show in 2014, which was just a mish-mash of jokes and characters. It was good.
Do you feel ready for this show
No (laughs). No-one’s ever ready. This one is significantly easier to prepare because I did the Fringe show last year, so I’ve got the format and the style ready. But otherwise, no.
Do you think not being ready suits your approach to comedy?
Umm… you need to know what you’re doing. You’ve got to be prepared for stuff going wrong or for going off track or whatever but you have to know what it is you’re doing and you have to be sure of yourself. I hope I know what I’m doing.
Who are your comedy influences?
Oh, there’s too many to mention. I grew up loving Douglas Adams. People like him were great because you could ‘read’ them, which sounds silly but my whole approach to comedy has come from a very ‘written’ perspective. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore are a huge influence, especially Peter Cook and I’ve always loved Bill Bailey. Chris Morris is fantastic and of course there’s the staples of Monty Python and The Comic Strip and all those big groups. There’s also Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, who are more of a recent acquisition, but who are very much an influence on this show. But really, I could sit here for hours listing people.
Where do you see your comedy taking you?
Honestly, I don’t know. I know that I’d like to keep doing it, in whatever guise it takes.
Fun question – favourite knock, knock joke?
I like the really annoying ones (laughs). But there’s too many of them. I think there’s a really important and great place for those kinds of jokes, but I love the ones that play with that traditional format.
And that comes across in your comedy, which is quite pun-based.
Puns are a very honest kind of comedy, which I like. My first show was definitely about three-quarters puns and a quarter nonsense but I’ve reversed that balance for these shows.
Do you think these kinds of jokes appeal to you because of your background in linguistics?
It stems from my love of language, certainly and I think comedy needs to be written well. I struggle a bit with visual comedy because of that I think.
But you have quite a love of cinema – you host Cinematic Static on SYN.
Yeah, that’s true. But my interest in film came from my love of comedy. The first films that I wanted to watch were comedy films. From there, I got interested in who was making these films and one thing led to another and, well, here I am.
And if people want a taste of your show, they can check out The Illustrious Fact Show, also on SYN.
That’s right. The premise there is that it’s meant to be a TV show but nobody’s airing it. But there’s a similar kind of format to the show. Half of me thinks it works better on radio than it does live, but the other half of me thinks they both work well.
Have you considered doing the show in the dark?
I haven’t, but I think that’d be a bit of a disappointment.
Can you give us a fact?
The CIA invented the colour blue in 1969, to make children spend more time reciting the rainbow. Oh, and crabs don’t poop.
Is that true?
I don’t know. I don’t fact-check.
Ben’s Illustrious Fact Show is playing at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival until Saturday 9 April.