Tickling Brisbane’s Funny Bone
By Emma Filippi
Photo Stylist:Aizha Poynton | Photographer: Alvin Yang | Makeup and Hair: Kathrine Watts | Models Starla Martineer, Brandon David Christensen, Dean Paxidamas, Logan Arnott and Lisa Hu
With the uprising of media conglomerate Netflix, it seems as though audience engagement with comedy is at an all-time high. The popularity of Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, Dave Chappelle’s The Age of Spin and Jim Jefferies’ Bare indicates that audiences are tuning in to entertainment, whether it be home grown or international acts. However, for the Brisbane comedy scene, the effect is surprising.
Fedele Crisci, owner of The Sit Down Comedy Club in Paddington, says that the weekday competition for getting people through the door is increasingly more difficult. “There is far more competition than we’ve ever had, you’ve got men’s sports, women’s sports, movies, Netflix and Uber Eats. There’s so many options for entertainment now”. It is fabulous for the consumer; new age luxuries mean there is no reason to get dressed up when you can have food and a laugh all for the cost of delivery.
However, as those who have had the pleasure know, home entertainment can never replace the experience of sitting in an audience watching live comedy. “With comedy, you can watch it at home and have a snicker, but if you see it with a big group of people, there is this energy that happens that can’t be replicated at home,” Mr Fedele says. But, for people who are so content with lazing on the couch and watching The Bachelor, how can venues compete?
Kate Rudge, who runs Heya Comedy in Fortitude Valley, found that audiences are watching television and connecting with comedy yet are not willing to venture into their own local scene. “People are watching television and going to see specific acts that they have heard of because they know what they are getting,” says Ms Rudge, “but, they aren’t willing to take a chance on new acts”. This is particularly evident when she attends booked out performances at The Tivoli or The Powerhouse during their comedy festivals and sees completely new faces in the crowd. “When I used to go to the comedy festival, I would look around and go – who are these people? Because the room was packed, but I never saw them at other rooms,” Ms Rudge says.
So what does this mean for Brisbane comedians?
Early into The Sit Down Comedy Club’s career, Mr Fedele realised that, despite the infrastructure and momentum within the scene, Brisbane will never become the cultural capital of Australia. “I realised very early on that Brisbane is never going to be the epicentre of comedy, but it could be the Seattle. What Seattle was to the music in the 1990s we could be to stand-up,” he says, referencing the rise of popular grunge bands such as Alice in Chains, Nirvana and Pearl Jam just before they hit the big time. This is certainly the case for Queensland comedians Josh Thomas, Matt Okine, Becky Lucas and Mel Buttle. Each of these acts carved their name out in the Brisbane scene but ultimately moved to Sydney and Melbourne to find further work.
The success of these comedians has inspired others to start a career in comedy. “The interest in stand up as a career has increased considerably. People see it now as an actual job. The reality too, is that the development in Brisbane has pushed out some very strong people,” says Mr Fedele. Despite the limited range of opportunities, many strong voices have been established in the Brisbane comedy scene.
This is due to the wide variety of unpaid gigs that litter the comedy scene, primarily in the form of open mic nights. The benefit of open mic nights is that the skills comedians are learning on these evenings are helping to carry them through their careers. Open mic evenings are for aspiring and established comedians to practise their new bits, re-work old content and engage with audiences. Ms Rudge found that open mic nights allow comedians to “learn the skill to bridge their sets and think on their feet and read the room well,” helping them to develop their acts from five minute sets into longer more established pieces, that will allow to secure more paid gigs at rural or corporate events across Australia.
This was part of the reason why Ms Rudge launched Heya Comedy three years ago. She saw the potential to help new voices and different faces work on their set to strengthen their skills. “I don’t doubt there are more rooms down south, but there are bigger pools of people and less paid gigs,” she says, inferring that Brisbane’s limited resources are not necessarily the worst thing for aspiring comedians. Ms Rudge believes that for comedians in Brisbane, there is the potential for more paid gigs at home. “Within the last 18 months, there has been more growth in this industry. It’s easier than it was to be up here,” she says.
Despite rooms being limited, every year there are new avenues opening up for Brisbane comedians, with The Sit Down Comedy Club’s recent partnership with P&O Cruises. “It has completely revitalised our industry,” Mr Fedele says. Over the past few years, The Sit Down Comedy Club has channeled a lot of their energy into flourishing this partnership, so much so that it is now like a second business. “P&O are looking for new and fresh voices, they want people who are at their peak not at the tail end of their career,” he says. Due to Brisbane’s expanding tourism, it is likely that homegrown talents will get first run of the list… and they do. So far, local and interstate acts have carved their way into the cruise liner scene, opening up new audiences for the comedy industry.
Mr Fedele believes that it is a fantastic new way of opening up a door to new audiences, who will experience the value in paying for comedy and taking a chance on different voices. This could prove to be a major factor in Brisbane comedians being able to find local opportunities. But for now, as the competition between live performance art and streaming conglomerates continues, think about picking up a local gig guide. The next Hannah Gadsby could be hiding on one of those pages.