Interview: Ethan Cavanagh8 October 2018
Photo by Arts Centre Melbourne, provided by Ethan Cavanagh
All of us know a class clown, with their witty comebacks and laughable one-liners at the ready, but Ethan Cavanagh took it to the next level when he took out the Melbourne Comedy Festival’s Class Clowns state finals and came runner-up in nationals in 2015.
Ethan was only 17 when he was afforded the opportunity to perform at Melbourne Town Hall in front of 2,000 people, and he has continued to grow his comedy career over the years, while currently balancing university and three part-time jobs. Explaining that even in primary school he would be a joke teller, bringing only his funniest material for show-and-tell, it is no surprise that Ethan has ended up front-and-centre in the world of comedy.
“It was actually Tim Minchin who sparked my ‘obsession’. He was the rock star for me,” Ethan told me, describing how Minchin’s comical genius and influence over the engrossed crowd was something to be aspired to.
Sitting down for our interview within a small local restaurant, enjoying lattes like millennials do, it didn’t take long to see Ethan’s passion for comedy, and his natural comical prowess shine through. Talking with him was not only fascinating, but sidesplittingly hilarious. He is a comedian who I believe everyone needs to see, as his material is relatable, relevant, and quite simply, funny.
“Every comedian will have a hook moment … mine was in year nine, when we had the opportunity to do a stand-up comedy elective,” Ethan told me. Working alongside their beloved drama teacher, his class created a comedy show, which Ethan hosted and performed in, for around 150 spectators. Despite some of his jokes being admittedly poor, Ethan reflects “I got some laughs, and I was like, oh that’s the thing that I want to do! I’m going to chase that forever.”
And he did just that.
Ethan was encouraged to enter Class Clowns, but was unsuccessful in placing. “I thought, oh, well I guess I’ll go home then. And I did. I beat myself up about it for about a year.” Ethan then re-entered the following year, and was wildcarded into the state finals which he won. He then came runner-up in the national final, fast-tracking his dynamic comedy career.
“From there it was a mish-mash of luck and opportunity and chances, people taking risks on me and me taking risks on myself, and a lot of people’s efforts.” Evidently grateful for the opportunity and support he was given, Ethan was not going to waste it.
Three years on from Class Clowns, and not only has Ethan been able to return to MC the event with his signature bow-tie attire, he has also performed on a cruise ship, done a comedy set in South Africa, and continues to perform fortnightly in Melbourne and Ballarat. His latest project is working as assistant producer for the Up Next Comedy Room, which aims to showcase some of the best young comical talent each month, at its location in Southbank.
“This year I am gigging, I am performing as much as I can and booking rooms. By this time next year I want to not need a part time job that I hate. For now I am trying to be micro-ambitious, which is something I stole from Tim Minchin.” Tim Minchin, in an address to graduates at the University of Western Australia, said, “Be micro-ambitious… if you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye.”
While he isn’t getting caught up in his long-term goals (which include world domination and getting famous), Ethan does have some bucket list items for his comedy career. Clearly enthusiastic, Ethan revealed “I plan to make my festival debut in 2020. Obviously, like anyone, the ultimate destination is the Comedy Festival Gala. If I get there, I’d be a happy chappy.” Nodding and smiling, as if envisioning the event then and there, Ethan continues, “I’d be real peachy about that. Of course, there are all the cool things in between too, like a one hour special and Netflix, it’s all on my list.”
Ethan discussed how the comedy community is a highly welcoming, supportive and diverse group, and is pivotal in growing one’s career in such a network-based industry. This community, he says, was also highly affected by the attack on comedian Eurydice Dixon, who was killed walking home from a gig this year.
“Outside the industry it brought out all the societal issues. But within the industry I think it brought out the inequality that is prevalent with genders in stand-up. It is a really tough gig being a female comedian. They have to work a lot harder to make a name for themselves; these women have to work late, and take so many more risks.” Following the tragedy, Ethan stated, “I know some producers now who have offered to pay for a lift home after their gigs,” in an effort to keep their performers safe.
When he’s not on stage, Ethan enjoys being part of the audience. “Every now and then you’ll see a comedian and just go, what the fuck did I just watch? How the fuck did you end up there, and how did you think that with your brain?” Laughing, he says “It’s amazing. They’re people who just think different to me, and I really love a comedian when I think, I could never have thought that, ever.”
When asked what his advice to aspiring comedians is, “I would say fuck off, stay out of my territory, give me a chance before you come through with your relevant opinions, and do what I am doing to everyone else,” Ethan said with a cheeky smile and laughter. After thinking about it, he replied with some sincere advice. “You have to believe in yourself, which is so tacky, but no one else is going to. You will never be good enough for you, and you will always over-analyse your own stuff. But you need to be your harshest critic—it’s like a personality defect as a comedian. That’s your recipe: supremely critical of one’s self but also amazingly narcissistic and needs validation, and throw in some daddy issues for good measure. So, my advice, would just be, try everything, keep trying everything, and just remember to just try to be funny.”
Ethan Cavanagh is performing at the Up Next Comedy Room on 13 October at 6pm at the Arts Centre, Melbourne, and you can stay up to date with his Insta, @ethan.cav.au.