Stand Up For What

29 March 2017

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival makes the air taste sweeter. The whole city seems to wobble with laughter as summer yawns its way into the colder months. It’s a good belly laugh. One that stretches the rib cage, chisels a six-pack or turns a bad day good. It’s a requisite for all of us in alleviating the apprehension and anxiety of a new academic semester. This year’s festival marks 30 years since Barry Humphries first announced the inaugural event in 1987. Since then, cackles, chuckles, giggles and all other varieties of laughter have trickled down Melbourne’s streets. I sought out three of our finest comics – Tom Ballard, Demi Lardner and Sammy J – to discuss their upcoming shows at this year’s festival.

Tom Ballard has the adorability of a baby elephant learning how to walk. His comedic prowess delivers witticisms to the left and right side of your head, until you’re stranded on the ropes with your face sore from smiling and accompanied with a new outlook on life. Tom’s smile dissolves any feeling of nerves I may have had before the interview.

Since I last interviewed Tom a year ago, he has risen on the comedy ladder to be there with the world’s best. His show last year, The World Keeps Happening was nominated for ‘Best Show’ at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and for the same award at the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the largest comedy festival in the world. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. Last year, Tom also undertook a second show, Boundless Plains To Share. It presents a comedic exploration of Australia’s immigration situation and its success can be seen in its continued running one year on. Tom explores topics ranging from our racist federation to Tampa, to lighter topics such as Johnny Depp’s dogs. I sat in to watch it. It provides the perfect mixture of thought and laughter. Without giving too much away, I heard one of the largest laughs of the festival provoked by a Cher inspired pun. The show itself offers tummy-nauseating hilarity. Tom brings a new show to this year’s festival, with one hour of completely new material. Problematic seeks to explore what the boundaries of political correctness are.

“Please come,” Tom begs. With his past success, I can’t help but laugh at the sincerity of this request. Throughout Problematic, Tom discusses what it is to be a comedian, and more specifically, what comedians can laugh at. Can anything be funny? Tom should know. At nineteen, he won ‘Best Newcomer’ at the 2009 festival. But as Tom states, “It’s such a complicated topic.” If your grandmother falls over, is it okay or not okay to let out a giggle? These are some of the toughest philosophical questions of our time.

Tom appeals to students via his intelligent humour, which does more than manifest laughter. He gets people thinking. He has used his platform to spark change for issues ranging from homophobia to refugee rights. On the way out of the interview, I dig at him for the nature of his dialogue with One Nation co-founder, David Oldfield, on SBS’s First Contact. Tom smiles, “That was an absolute nightmare.” I burst out with laughter, confident I’ll do the same at both of Tom’s festival shows.

Demi Lardner is an absolute gem of a comic. Her likeability and down-to-earth realness is contagious. “I don’t know what I look like, I’ve been here for as long as me,” Demi smiles. This kind of apprehension is quickly made redundant when learning of Demi’s accolades. Demi started comedy at the age of just sixteen. Three years later, she won Australia’s largest new comic’s competition: RAW.   Half a year later, and still a teenager, she won the most prestigious comedy competition in the world, taking out, ‘So You Think You’re Funny’, at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Demi laughs nervously, “Yeah it’s a lot of pressure, a scary amount of pressure.”

That early success has taken Demi to the Montreal Comedy Festival, as well as to a part of Foxtel’s sketch comedy series, Open Slather. Last year, Demi’s show Life Mechanic was nominated for ‘Best Newcomer’ at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Demi’s onstage presence is extraordinary. Her jokes weave through audiences like a feather tickling the back of your neck, convulsing into action an inevitable howling of laughter from the large crowds that flock to her shows. Having been in and around the Melbourne comedy scene, Demi is the comedian’s comedian. Wherever you venture, she is talked about and loved. It’s probably for the way she can connect with people, taking life with a grain of salt and always looking for the next laugh.

This year, Demi’s show – Look What You Made Me Do – is directed by Aunty Donna’s Mark Bonanno – someone who Demi both enjoys to rib, and describes as a “comedic genius.”  Demi thinks you “could kick her over a fence”, but this twenty-three year old’s talent at such a young age is worth watching now so you can add the time old smugness ‘I was there’ when Demi fulfils her potential as one of the most talented comedians in the world.

Sammy J was a law student at the University of Melbourne. He could be found in the library writing jokes, reading comic books and definitely not studying law. Sammy J’s long stretching career has been and seen everything in the world of comedy. This master of mirth may be remembered best for his comedic partnership with purple puppet, Randy. But an “amicable divorce” has seen Sammy J take a puppet-less path following the massive success of their Netflix series, Sammy J and Randy in Rickett’s Lane.

Sammy J, the musical comedian with two ARIAS is also riding the wave of his highly acclaimed Playground Politics on the ABC. This series saw him parody Australian politics in a playschool setting with the likes of opposition leader Bill Shorten giving the “gift of democracy…to all the boys and girls of Australia”.

This year, Sammy J’s show Hero Complex, veers slightly (still some wise cracks in there) from politics to 1996. This was the year that Sammy J developed a friendship with, and borrowed comic books from, his school gardener, which he assures me is, “Not as dodgy as it sounds.” This would set off a chain reaction that would eventually lead to the birth of his daughter and a crime committed in Canberra that ended with a federal policeman searching the attic of his home. Hero Complex sees Sammy J look at his diary from Grade 6 to Year 12 hoping for the audience’s sake that the “jokes have improved since then”.

Sammy J looks like a comedian; all his movements and sounds are comedic in nature. His eyes radiate a colour of laughter, which draw me in close until I’m telling him, “Sorry, I misread that horribly.” I can see the excitement in Sammy J’s eyes, as he details the new songs in his show, ‘What I Would Say To Myself When I Was 13’ and ‘I’ll See You in 17 Years’. His passion for comedy is what makes Sammy so loveable, and is fundamentally what comedy is about. He is a comedian who thrives on the sounds of laughter. He wants to see the world put aside its darkness and difference momentarily and get lost at his expense in the glories of nerdy existence past.

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