Now is when the year really kicks in for me. I had slowed down the rate of gigs at the beginning of the year for a couple of reasons. I wanted to give myself more time to work on my new solo show "Johnny Loves Mary Forever 1994" (Adelaide tickets here and Melbourne tickets here) and I also needed to get some rest in since I barely had any time off over the Christmas break. It isn't the greatest feeling in the world to start the year tired but by about the second week of January I was ready for a break. I deliberately slowed it down knowing that come mid February the game would be on and my next proper day off now is (at this point) the 22nd of April. Time to be smart or I'd be exhausted by the first week of the Melbourne Comedy Festival.
On the 15th of Feb I joined fellow comedian Kate McLennan, tour manager Michelle Wild and all things technical Stu Symes in flying to India. Together we're putting on India's Raw Comedy competition and will find a winner who will fly to Melbourne for the Raw Final. This is the second year that India has been a part of the comp and it is a mutually beneficial situation where everyone involved has an opportunity to not only learn new ideas but also exchange cultural awareness in a world that appears to become more conservative by the day.
The Indian scene is in fascinating place as stand up comedy is quite new to the country. It is beginning to take form and hungry acts are devouring any acts they can have access to. It has so far reminded me of when I started performing in Adelaide way back in 1994. The only access I had to stand up or "live" performances until then was The Big Gig and I was shaped by the acts that I saw on that show like Wendy Harmer, Glynn Nicholas and of course The Doug Anthony All-Stars. Before our first gig Kate and I ran a workshop with the contestants. It was fascinating to hear where the influences were coming from. Eddie Izzard, Chris Rock and Simon Anstell were the main comics mentioned and we quickly bonded over routines that we all shared an affinity for.
Before we get into the show I should mention a few other experiences. You will be pleased to know that I was the first person scammed on the trip. We had traveled down to the "Gateway of India" to have a look around. Here is the view:
We had all been told not to be seduced by anyone attempting to sell us anything and I was doing quite well avoiding the tricksters who approached me. It was here that I was taken by surprise by one particular man who took me by the wrist gently but firmly and held me in his grasp. I don't know my father so I'm unaccustomed to such a feeling and found myself stopping in my tracks and listening to his story. He tied some thread around my wrist, gave me some extra thread for my pocket, a flower, some lollies that could have been anything and smudged something on my forehead. He told me I now had good luck and would soon be married. All for the low price of $10. Scammed? I don't think so. That was money well spent for this guy!
We're staying at a beautiful hotel that overlooks the sea and it has been a calming view considering the rest of Mumbai is delightfully chaotic. Traveling in the tiny little autos (or to paraphrase fellow comedian Michael Chamberlin, "petrol bombs on wheels") is so exhilarating as you dart in and out of traffic that makes no sense to an Australian. I can't quite work out the way it all works but it is possibly the most fun I've had in a while. There is something very surreal about the whole experience and I have a disconnect with the real world when in these tiny vehicles. I feel that if we were hit we'd just reset like a video game and have to return to the beginning of our journey.
The first heat in Mumbai was filled with five contestants and a local comedian Raghav Mandava who is helping out with the shows. Kate and I held a workshop before the gig and then hosted the Raw Comedy Heat together. We then sat down and helped Michelle judge the heat. Lots of bouncing about in the one show and it was a lot of fun. Here's the material that I used onstage with Kate:
Fix Your Flaws
Invite To Parties
"I Don't Give A Hoot!"
Hushed Angry Conversations
I Stopped A Fight
Glitter In Invitations
People Wearing Your Glasses
The majority of this material worked well. With Kate and I sharing the stage what it does is makes the routines more conversational and allowed room for the two of us to have fun with our rapport. The intention was to attempt as many different styles of routines to see what would stick and what didn't have the same impact due to cultural differences or even a change of words. As an example the piece I perform about "Stopping A Fight" has a reference to steaming hot pie that I had at my disposal. In India a pie is more like a hot apple pie where as a pie you would find at Pie Face is a quiche. Turns out that routine loses a little bit when that word is substituted. It might also be because only Pie Face makes pies that can burn your face off too.
The level of contestants was quite good. Considering some of the acts have little experience they already understand the rhythm of a routine and performed with a confidence that was quite intoxicating to watch. I have to point out that some of the comedians had up to four years of gigs under their belts but as they still perform in a slight vacuum there is still much to learn. Once again it is like starting out in a small town or city and everything is going well...then Fleety or Judith Lucy comes to town and you're hit with the thunderbolt that you still have a lot to learn. I think it is exciting times here because a lot of these acts have the opportunity to help create a scene and there is a possibility we're seeing local legends in the making.
After the show we hung around and talked about the acts to all the comedians throwing around some ideas and jokes. Everybody has been so polite and engaging that it has been a true delight to spend time with not only the comedians but the people who work behind the scenes too.
I'll leave it here for the moment. Jet lag has been a bitch and I am currently living on about four hours sleep a night. With press to sort out here and continued work on my solo show for back in Australia (not including extra work like the podcasts and of course this blog) there hasn't been much time for rest. I knew this was coming though and I'm glad I slowed things down earlier in the year because from here on in it is all systems go!
18th of February, 2014