Labels Schmabels

Last year my management told me that it is difficult to sell me to the Australian market because I don’t have an easily identifiable hook.  I’m not the nice guy asking you about where you bought your cardigan.  I’m not the bad boy tweeting truth bombs that land on the front page of the daily newspapers.  I don’t say, “Oh yeah” and talk about my private life within an inch of it’s minutia.  I’m not gay and call people cunts.  I’m not a woman.  So basically I miss out on work because you can’t easily label me with one pithy, throw away comment. How very depressing.

One of the reasons I became a comedian is because I like to create stories.  That is the one thing that drives me in my everyday life and has done so from way back when I was just a tiny lad living in West Croydon, Adelaide, South Australia.  I remember I was in grade three and my teacher Miss Burgess called Mum to tell her that I hadn’t finished my composition homework and could I please hand it in.  Mum was horrified.  I was a good boy who always did his work, why had I shirked my responsibilities and not handed in my latest assignment?

“No, you don’t understand,” Miss Burgess said.  “He had to write a story and it isn’t that he hasn’t started, he’s still writing and I want him to finish so I can read it.”

Mum promptly found me in the lounge room writing away.  It was a magnum opus of about ten pages and what I remember is that it was something along the lines of Boba Fett in a “Raiders of the Lost Ark” mash up tale of high adventure.  From grade three up until this very moment all I’ve ever wanted to do is tell stories.

As a teenager I wrote short stories and sent them out to publishers and received many rejection slips telling me thanks but no thanks.  In my early twenties I met Richard Fidler when he was touring with the Doug Anthony All-Stars and he was kind enough to read my stories and suggested I try stand-up comedy.  “It is a great way to get your writing out there without having to wait,” Richard said.  From there I formed a comedy duo called the Bunta Boys and after that broke up in ’99 I became a stand-up comedian.

I always loved the freedom of comedy.  I could be whomever I wanted to be on stage whether it was performing to a drunken rabble that tested my skills to performing at the Melbourne Comedy Festival where I could stretch my inner creative process and produce works like, “Three Colours Hammo”, “The Killing Joke” and “Goodbye Ruby Tuesday”.  I loved being creative and all I ever longed for was the opportunity to create more stories that would entertain people.

Now I was being told I’m not easily labelled, that there is no discernible hook.  I don’t blame management for telling me this.  I have the best people in the land behind me.  When I was told this it came from a position of frustration.  Of course they want me to succeed.  They would love me to be in a position where I could continue to grow and create more work.  The problem is the Australian market.  It is too small.  It is too conservative.  They don’t have a time and place for finding what makes someone tick.  They want to know right now because the market is so fickle that one roll of the dice could be the end of any opportunities in the future.

I’ve always been wary of labels.  The person who claims that they’re a “nice guy” has done some cunty things.  The “bad boy” is really quite sweet.  The gay guy has slept with women.  The woman has a massive dong.  (Ok, maybe that one isn’t true…is it?)  Once labels are placed upon a person you’re limiting their creative process.  It is difficult to break out from them.  Unfortunately they’re needed so you can be sold to the Australian market.

I have no interest in being labelled.  I like the creative process and will gladly live in relative obscurity if it means I can still do the things I want to do.  I have no interest in being reduced to a throwaway line that executives and producers can use without a second thought.  Will it make my ability to get my work produced more difficult?  Yes, without a doubt.  But I would rather that than find myself in my tenth year hosting some show I don’t believe in just so I can own a house in Toorak and have Australia’s minor celebrities on my speed dial.  There is a big world out there and that is where the future lies.  I have no patience or time to reduce everything I am to one easily digestible line.  I will continue to be as creative as possible and if that means I will never be a mainstream star then my fans and I will enjoy our little pocket of the world and will continue to thrive.

I am a person who has done things he is proud of.  I am a guy who has made mistakes.  I have laughed at funny things and wrong things.  I have been politically aware and a fool.  I have fought for the rights of the underprivileged and I have been an intellectual bully for my own amusement.  I want it all but have no interest in playing the game.  I have been a winner, a loser, a lover, a fucker, a nice guy, a cunt, a joker, a bore, an intellectual, a sports enthusiast.  I love Edith Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence” and I cried during Richard Curtis’ episode of Doctor Who.  I listen to Bach and Bowie.  I am moved by “Manhattan” and laugh at “Animal House”.  I have many nicknames:  Hammo, Hamster, Juzzy, J-Ham, J-Dawg and “Hey you, what are you doing in my house?”  I reject labels and am suspicious of those who are quick to label themselves.  And do you know why?

Because I’m a comedian.

Justin Hamilton

Fitzroy North

9th of February, 2011