Warning: This blog continues the story of two lads in the exciting world of Adeliade Comedy back in 1994. For more check out part one on this page...
We’re standing on the side of the stage, waiting to be introduced. Boltz Café is packed with friends and strangers alike. The other comics are looking at Damien and I with a mixture of intrigue and a slight hope that we don’t fuck up the night. I’m looking at the stage and my buddy. He’s suddenly become nervous where as my nerves have melted away with the knowledge that we can’t get out of this now, we’re going to have to do it no matter what. We can’t call in sick. We can’t run away. This is it and it will probably be the only time I ever do this so just try your best not to suck and enjoy it as much as you can.
But how did we get here?
After drunkenly stating that we had an comedy act Damien and I went back to my place, passed out, woke up the next day and figured we’d better write something. I was still living at home with Mum and we told her the next day over breakfast. She was very positive in her reaction, which either meant she knew more about any dormant talent that I might possess or she is a village idiot who has no idea that her son is the least talented person in the world. Either way she gives us the two thumbs up and heads off to work.
Growing up my favourite comedy acts were Robin Williams, Woody Allen and the Marx Brothers. No Eddie Murphy or Bill Hicks for me thank you, I liked the quick and the surreal. These comedians more than anything influenced our first month of performing.
We had decided to call ourselves The Bunta Boys. The word bunta was originally a South Australian Aboriginal word for “crazy”, “mad”, “disturbed” and was one of our favourite words to throw around. Pronounced “boonta” it would lead to much gnashing of teeth later in our career when we performed outside of Adelaide and would find hosts introducing us at the “Bun-tah” boys. In hindsight, who gives a fuck? No one knew what the name meant when it was pronounced properly anyway.
We also decided that our characters would be brothers and our first names would be Jezza and Dougie. We took the names from a Farmer’s Union Ice Coffee ad where Jezza and Dougie were two construction workers who would sit on the end of a long seat, see a hot girl sitting on the other end, slam their ice coffees down in a way that would tip the seat so the girl would slide along and sit next to them. She would laugh, they would laugh and they’d all drink their flavoured milk. The advert was idiotic and immediately we thought that would be perfect for our act. So from then on I was Jezza Bunta and Damien was Dougie Bunta. I still have friends from those old days refer to me as Jezza and it is always gives me a buzz when I hear that name used for me.
Then we set about working on our characters. What type of guys did we want to be on stage? Damien had more experience performing than I did having busked in the mean streets of Mildura as a young man so he took the lead being the cool guy. I loved Woody Allen in the movie “Play It Again, Sam” and “Love and Death” so I played the nervous guy.
We wrote some jokes. One of our first jokes was a reference to the Freemasons where we would put out the Freemason distress call if a joke died, that way if Freemasons were in the audience they would know to laugh to save our arses. With one hand to the side of our heads and one foot pressed against the opposite knee we would say, “Who will save the widow’s son”. Looking back that is one crazy and surreal joke to begin with.
We wrote more jokes. Damien would be in charge and I would bluster my way through things with Damien making certain no one picked on his younger brother. Damien was a tall handsome guy with big features; I was a weedy young man with glasses that were way too big for his head. I would say we just looked funny right from the word go.
We also decided to finish with a song. Damien always had a great voice and I would always receive hearty applause whenever I was drunk and sang The Beatles’ “Revolution” or “Tainted Love” at karaoke so I figured I’d be up for it as well. Damien and I had already spent many a night writing songs and performing them into a little tape recorder just for fun so we figured we’d be okay at this. We used to spend nights either drinking and writing funny songs or drinking and ringing talk back radio pretending to be taxi drivers complaining about every topic under the sun but always just trying to slip the word “cunt” onto the airwaves. Damien did manage it once and I have never been more proud of my friend.
So we wrote and we rehearsed and on the following Monday we went to the meeting Jack Smith used to host before each show where he would go through each acts material and offer advice. That first meeting and subsequent meetings taught me a lot, stuff I still teach to young comics today. They were hugely influential and really put us in a good frame of mind for our first gig.
We seemed to get a few laughs from the other comedians and that was encouraging. There was only one-way to describe how we felt after the meeting: pumped! We immediately started inviting all our friends and they said they would definitely come along. It is one of the sweet ironies of life now that I am quite good at my job, it seems less of my old friends come to see me but when I was starting out and a bit shit, well, I swear they didn’t miss a show in my first two years of performing.
The only thing that was freaking me out was that I was freaking out. I was really nervous. Sure I’d read out amusing poems for friends’ 21st birthday parties and brought the house down at our regular karaoke nights but come on! Birthday parties are easy because everyone knows you and as long as you don’t stay for too long everyone will call it a success. And as for karaoke, the guy who hosted it had a mullet, wore happy pants and had a girlfriend that was way too young and hot for him. How could I not be a hit when compared to that guy?
Now I was so nervous I started thinking of ways to get out of it. I’m too sick. All of my family have died and I have to bury them so I’d better start digging. I could just run away and take up an assumed identity. All sorts of thoughts rambled through my head but luckily I had Damien who if the term “chillax” had been invented then surely would have used it every half an hour to calm me the fuck down.
The problem was I always wanted to be a writer; I didn’t want to be onstage. I wanted to write books, movies, TV shows, poetry…not jokes that would be judged in the split second they left my lips to the moment they hit everyone in the audience. This was too much but I’d invited a lot of people so I had to go through with it. Besides, I couldn’t let Damien down.
So on the night we arrive at Boltz Café quite early. It was a Thursday night, April 21st, 1994. We walk into the comedy room, have a look around, walk on the stage and get a feel for the lights, the way the stage is set up, how we will be introduced and when we will be on in the show. We nod a lot. We say, “That’s great” a lot and continue to pore over our script and rehearse our gags. All the other comedians arrive and we’re a little bit star struck. Dave Williams is easily one of the funniest dudes we’ve seen live; Alex Collins is just a gifted rubbery faced performer, Charlie Hill Smith is the coolest host you could ever hope for, Lehmo is massively popular with hot girls, Nick Haines makes jokes about political stuff we really don’t understand but we know it leans to the left so we’re in and Jack Smith runs it all very smoothly, calmly, in complete control. The impro act with Jo and Pete at the end will bring this puppy home and we know if we do our job correctly, that we’re just a cog in the comedy machine.
The show starts and it is packed. No one can move and it looks like if there is a fire we’re all fucked. We can see our friends who give us the thumbs up and each time they do I just want to throw up all over the stage. I am a fucking douche! Why would I put myself in this situation?
Then about twenty minutes before we’re about to head on stage something amazing happens. My nerve dissipates; just completely fade away with the realisation this is going to happen and there is nothing I can do about it. I feel an inner glow and I look over to Damien to let him know that I’m fine and as I see him shakily plant another cigarette in his mouth I realise that my nerves have jumped ship and attached to him. Damn you nerves! Just bugger off, would ya?
I tell Damien I’m fine and he tells me he just wants to get on stage so we can get this thing done. I am reminded of Mark Lee at the end of Gallipoli looking at another young soldier before they have to jump out of the trenches to face Johnny Turk, letting him know that everything is going to be okay. That tells me two things: I watch too many movies and therefore base too much life experience on them and secondly don’t send me to a war because I’d treat it like a gig and wonder why I didn’t get a second chance when I died on stage.
So we’re watching Charlie introduce us. My heart is beating. I can barely hear anymore. The blood is rushing through my head and I begin to swoon. Damien looks at me with a mixture of fear and excitement and I think I try to smile but my face is plaster. We’re introduced. There is a mighty roar from all our friends and we walk on stage. Our first joke gets a laugh. The body relaxes slightly. I say my first ever line onstage; a deliberately fumbled line that sets up my nervous character and that gets a laugh. We even get laughs for introducing ourselves as Dougie and Jezza Bunta. We finish our set with an a Capella song parody of Shai’s “If I Ever Fall In Love” which we hilariously rename “If I Ever Score Again”. Ah song parody, how easy it is and we love you. And we will always remember you one hit wonder Shai, don’t you worry about that.
Our 7 minutes on stage feels like it lasts thirty seconds. Then we’re finished, we bow and we receive the type of applause that is not totally warranted but consists of the genuine excitement of our friends who are in the audience. We stumble off stage and all the Adelaide comedians are so nice to us, pumping our hands, patting us on the back. Jack Smith congratulates us and asks us if we’d like to come back next week. Either he thinks we have real talent or he sees that we bring a lot of friends but we don’t care.
“Yeah, we’d love to,” we both croak.
Damien and I look at each other. We know we have experienced something amazingly cool. There is only one way to deal with it and that is to get totally hammered with our friends. We party until late and after eating some dodgy food at 3am in the morning I return home but I can’t sleep. I’m thinking about the gig. What we could do next time. All these sudden possibilities like electricity flitting over my brain and deep into my soul. I get back up out of bed and for the next two hours write three double sided pages of jokes and ideas that we will live off for the next six weeks.
The comedy bug had bitten me hard and there was nothing I could do about it.
To be continued…