Thursday night at The Rhino Room is now known as The Comedy Lab, a night where new comedians work to establish themselves and established comedians work on new material. When I helped reinvent the comedy night at The Rhino Room over ten years ago this was always my intention for the room. At the time Lehmo and I had a pretty sweet deal going on over at PJ O'Briens where we averaged around 200 people a show on a Tuesday night. When I was asked to take over the comedy night at The Rhino Room I was initially reluctant. I was friends with the owners Mick and Charlie but I hated their comedy night as it was a night of lost opportunity. It was full of people not wearing shoes, acts playing dull improvisation games and (without Charlie to oversee it) had degenerated into the type of show where if you didn't laugh at a joke it wasn't because it wasn't funny, it was because you didn't understand it. It was only a barrel of laughs in a derogatory sense. I immediately cleaned out the dross (with the blessings of Mick and Charlie) and slowly began to build it from the ground up. Our first few shows averaged about 10-15 people and in that time I hosted every show using the opportunity to write new material for every gig. I wanted to set an example that the Rhino Room was the place to come and let ideas flourish. I had to set that ethos into the very fabric of the room before I opened it up to any high profile acts.
After a month of gigs we brought Wil Anderson down to perform at PJ's and I cajoled him into hanging around an extra night to play at Rhino. Wil immediately jumped into the idea behind the room and that night we played to a massive 40 people who all paid their $5 entrance fee to watch the show. I remember the staff being unprepared for such an onslaught! That night we had the audience write questions on pieces of paper and then we riffed off those questions for the whole show, each question inspiring a new story or idea. It was a great success and with Wil's contribution I was able to invite more high profiled comedians to play at the room with the intention that this is the place where you can stretch your comedy muscles.
At the 2002 Adelaide Fringe we amped up the cult status of the room by hosting a late show where anything that could happen did happen. I started the Rhino Room Late Show as a means to help cover costs for acts at the venue that were having trouble selling tickets. With late show money I could funnel that coin into comedian's room hire and help keep them afloat. This late show revolved around me, Charlie Pickering, Greg Fleet and UK comedian Boothby Graffoe. To say these shows were mental is an understatement and that isn't even including the regular guests who began dropping by like Mickey D, Arj Barker, Adam Spencer and Wil. In fact one of the late shows with Wil, Adam and I started at 1am and finished with an improvised song to well over a 110 people crammed in the room. The 3am finish resembled a tripped out ghost image of John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance" video although I am certain the improvised song was nowhere near as good.
From that Fringe Festival onward the Rhino Room was the place to be and over time revelled in an innate coolness that attracted comedians from all over the world. The Late Show stamped its name on the Adelaide scene and it wasn't uncommon to turn up to see Frank Woodley, Ross Noble, Jimeoin and Meshel Laurie performing alongside the up and coming comedians at the time like Hannah Gadsby, Dave Thornton and Claire Hooper. Even from afar I have kept my eye on The Rhino Room and it would be remiss of me if I didn't state that it is my favourite room in the world, the room that I feel gives me 100% home court advantage. I can feel every nook and cranny onstage and feel confident that I can fill the room with my stories and routines. No matter what other comedians tell me they love about the room or why it is important or how it should work, only a handful of people will ever truly know the energy and promise from those early days that still bears creative ideas and productive comedy on the Rhino Room stage.
In fact last night one of the new comedians gave me a thumbs up for my effort as host and told me she had no idea who I was and had never seen me before. I love that. I love that someone who has no sense of my history with the room has found her way onto that stage and is now finding her way into the world of comedy. It puts a stamp on the fact that The Rhino Room is its own entity and still thrives with the potential that it always had. I would have been devastated after leaving Adelaide if the room had stopped producing comedy. Seeing young comedians finding their way on that stage is the perfect gift after all these years.
My setlist was as follows:
We're Dancin' Guy
Homeless in New York
Destroying a Nerd
World Wardrobe Nightclub
Afghanistan: Marching On Anzac Day
"Hey, Be Careful!"
Soldiers Are Funny
Port Power Supporters in Adelaide
Journey into Kabul
Afghanistan: The Worst Sentence Ever
Tripping and Farting
You're An Ugly Hooker
Glitter In Invitations
Adam Sandler: Royal Baby
People Wearing Your Glasses
It was an excellent show even though I was suffering from a headache for the first two brackets. I recorded four podcasts yesterday (three I was a guest on and one was my 100th podcast for "Can You Take This Photo Please?" which will be released next week.) and was also a guest on on two radio shows. I was more than happy to do all of these and had a lot of fun but I think by the time I hit the stage I was sick of the sound of my own voice! I stumbled a bit at the beginning of the show while my head pounded and I waited for the headache tablets to kick in.
Once again though I found that old Rhino Room magic that gives me the freedom to take some ideas and run with them in new and interesting places. All the acts on were in fine form and we finished the night with Tommy Dassalo playing around with some ideas that I think worked a treat. Another packed crowd was gratifying and this is turning into a very successful week.
It is easy when away from loved ones to forget your feelings. Life moves at such a rate that it is easy to be swept up in the minutiae of day to day routine and in doing so you can lose focus and thus lose sight of the things that make you happy. I am truly happy on the Rhino Room stage and it brought me much joy to see the new Adelaide comedians who are now discovering that same love.
26th of July, 2013