Patrick Marlborough Talks the Art of Killing Rove, Australian Comedy, Modigliana the Cat, and a Whole Lot More in This Interview

Patrick Marlborough (they/them) is a writer, a comedian, a Rove stan, and bipolar autistic whose new show Killing Rove recently played to sold out audiences at Perth’s Fringe Festival. Before heading East to Melbourne for a run of shows, they play at Perth’s Rechabite Hall on April 1st at 7pm. Tickets are a super affordable $25 and can be purchased here.

In this deep-dive interview, Patrick talks about their process as a comedian, disabilities, identities, being stuck in the weird early 2000s Howard-era, 9/11 whirlpool of the world, and the push back that they’ve done against one of the biggest arts festivals in Perth: Fringe Festival. Patrick’s writing can be found on The Guardian, VICE, Rolling Stone, Meanjin, and more, with links to these pieces and more available on their website PatrickMarlborough.com.


You’ve done a few Fringe shows over the years. What goes through your mind when you come up with an idea for a Fringe show?

Too much at once, usually. Or it’s like, “How can I make this very niche, specific obsession of mine into a thing that is going to appeal to an audience?”. “How can I keep my level of insanity which is – I’m not using that word lightly here – how can I project that in a way that people will like?”

I hate saying this as a comedian because I think a lot of Netflix brand comedians will say stuff like this, but to me, it’s like, ‘who can I shit stir?’ I don’t mean like who can I offend, I like punching up, and I think in Australia, it’s a very easy country to punch up, and our defamation laws make it a bit of fun, where you’re like “I can get in real trouble for this just for saying somebody sucks”, let alone in saying something horrible. I can get in strife for saying that “Fringe is sponsored by Boko Haram”, which I was saying in this show. I like that fun factor.

I think I have a pretty essayistic approach where it’s like, “Here’s my thesis”, and it’s kind of academic, and then when you see the show, it’s not academic at all. It’s pretty much just jokes. How can I make this academic thesis, this academic abstract, very, very funny? How will people leave with a thesis in their head without them knowing that I snuck it in?

Do you get that joy of incepting ideas into people’s minds then?

Yeah, I like tricks. I like tricking. I think I’m a pathological trickster. As a smart arse, it’s not even the intentional thing, It’s like a classic ADD kid, it’s like “No, I can’t turn it off”. And I think as someone that likes to bullshit a lot, it’s the one thing that I learned from my dad was just how to spin bullshit. So I got addicted to it. And I liked that feeling of luring people in with comedy.

The kind of stuff I do, especially the persona I often take on stage particularly in this show in the last show (Killing Rove), he’s an objectively awful person. If I was anything like this person, I should be in jail for by all accounts.

I hate comedians, as a people. I hate the idea of the philosopher, King comedian, which we have everywhere. It drives me nuts. Because if you know these people, even if you look at the work, nine out of ten of them dumb as shit. Everybody’s got George Carlin and Richard Pryor (as heroes) over the last fifty years without having any of the smarts of those guys, or what was the originality at the time, and so you’re stuck with people who like to pontificate. And it’s everywhere at the moment. And I think especially in the Fringe format, which encourages the genre of the moment “Here’s my show about trauma, my show about depression”. And now it’s even gone beyond that of “Here’s my identifier packages”, like a serious narrative with a little bit of jokes sprinkled out. To me that form is wide open for taking the piss out off. And the kind of comedian that takes themselves very seriously, I find very funny.

And I like nothing more than, especially with Australian audiences, which are very, despite what they think of themselves, very sincere people, very literal, because we don’t have a big tradition of anti-comedy stuff here. When I used to do mics, I used to play this character as straight as I could, and people would get sucked into you, and then you can pull the rug out of them the final third of the bit.

I’ll give you an example. Seven years ago, I did this bit in response to that woman. She somebody sent a child to school in Perth in blackface as Nic Naitanui for book week. And I was saying that I sent my son to school in black face as Abubakar Shekau who was the head of Boko Haram and took his female schoolmates hostage. Absurd silly stuff, but you just play it as straight as possible. And then after the show, this woman comes up to me and she gave me a card. She was like, “I’m a child psychologist, if you ever might want to bring your son in and like talk about it”, and I was like “Yeah, I don’t have a son, I wouldn’t send him to school in blackface.”

With that, your Instagram is genuinely entertaining because of the fact that you go out to places you know, whether it’s Perth events and stuff like that, and your posts are about “caught up with the ex” and it’s and it’s always you with a bizarre figure of some kind.

A little troll or something, like a weird statue. Yeah.

And it’s obvious comedy. That is joke. But we take things very literally as well.

Social media or on stage, there’s’s two very different ways of playing it. I tried to establish the rules with these longer shows and with Killing Rove especially because it is so much and it’s so manic, the idea or the show is to replicate a manic episode in a way and autistic thought. So it’s hyper detailed. It’s hyper referential. You’re being barraged with a collage of jokes and visual gags. There’s nonstop stimuli while I’m also in front of you, having what seems like a nervous breakdown. And I try to in the first minute of the show, with stupid jokes, before I’m even on stage let the audience know “This is the silliness level”. I can hear backstage when people laugh or don’t laugh or mutter at those bits, and I’m like, “Oh man, I’m in for a bit of a hard night if I hear people going ‘Oh, I wonder what that means’, if people are I’m taking it seriously, and I’m like Jesus Christ, fuck.

Because those are the people that think that when I come on stage, I start acting as this person. They’re like, ‘this man is a dangerous lunatic, and he’s genuinely frightening me’. When I start this show, I have a bit where I have the audience clapping like someone hyping up a talk show, and I’m like, “We’re gonna thank our sponsors, Boko Haram!” And if the audience don’t clap along with me, I stop the show, and I get genuinely angry, and I seem like I’m gonna actually walk off and snap at them. Which is an old comedy bit.

I think a lot of Australian audiences that don’t know me are like, “What the fuck? Is this guy actually losing him right now?” But it’s not audience’s fault. It’s bad comedians fault. Because if you’re a normal person, and you see comedy, you’re going to see a loser comedians have those hissy fits. So often. I’ve seen it a million times. To me, that’s not funny. My tragedy is whenever I go to an open mic, and I see a guy that in any other country would be a school shooter, and I see them bomb here, and they have those like, *angry voice* “Pearls before swine!” kind of moments. And I always stupidly have the benefit of the doubt in my head, “Oh, this is a funny schtick. This guys doing a pretty funny thing.” And then my friends are like “They’re not That’s not a joke. That’s yelling.”

Years and years ago, I went to a Sunday family night at The Comedy Club in LA. And it was supposed to be nice, clean comedy. And then Bob Saget turned up and did his whole thing. And somebody had brought their kids along and was shouting, “No, it’s got to be nice and clean!” And he’s like, “How old’s your daughter?” And they responded, “14”. And he was like, “Oh, it’s maybe just a bit too young for me. But you know, come back in a year’s time, and I’ll see you again.” And it’s like that level of comedy, and that pushing against (the audience).

He was ruthless. He was ruthless. I think the power of expectation is something for comedians. It’s an amazing trick where a comedian that’s kind of famous, people know them to be funny, people are so much willing to laugh, unless the comedian is really bombing, they can come through and do pretty middling material, because we all know “ah, this is a funny guy, I know they’re good”, everyone’s gonna have a good time. With a complete stranger who has no expectations. It can go either way. And you can do anything. But someone like Saget, whose brand was post-America’s Funny Home Videos and Full House, and then he comes out and does that absolutely degenerate X-rated stuff, that’s a lot of fun.

One of the things that you’ve been doing lately is bringing out a Hannah Gadsby character. Now, with (her show) Nanette, that’s changed comedy in some capacity. Do you feel that? Do you feel that people just expect something that’s really serious now?

I don’t want to get too inside baseball with Nanette, but heck, I will. I was in Brooklyn when that hit. And it was this cultural phenomenon in Australia for maybe like six months or a year beforehand that was suddenly in The New Yorker, and it was on Broadway. And so I’m in the scene in Brooklyn, that’s the old comedy scene, it’s like all the guys that work on Adult Swim, a lot of them get hired as SNL writers now, and it’s the experimental stuff, but it’s also the fucking volcanic core of what is new in comedy everywhere at the moment. It’s a lot of fun.

And it’s very diverse. It’s very queer. It’s a lot of people of colour. It’s not just cishet white guys like the comedy scenes is in Australia. So all of those guys were like, “I don’t understand that people think this is radical”, because in America, that form of stand up the narrative, Fringe stand up show isn’t so much of a thing, but it does already exist there. Mike Birbiglia would be a recent popular example doing something very similar. I think that sincere one person show thing that Nanette was in the Australian Fringe context even is not very unique, that kind of show existed.

I think what separated Gadsby from the others was that she was very polished in the serious side of the writing. I’ve got nothing against Hannah Gadsby, but I don’t find any part of that art radical or interesting. I don’t find it particularly bold. But it can come off as bold in a country that is bigoted and narrow-minded as Australia is. Our comedy has not evolved much past 1960s form confessional stand-up.

In the same way that post modernism almost didn’t happen in Australian fiction until the last five to ten years, thirty years behind the States. We never really got anti-comedy, which I hate that phrase, but post-modernism comedy that boomed in America in the late 70s, and 80s, and then really in the 90s. That never really hit here in the mainstream comedy world like it did in America. We have observational stand-ups, really, that’s all they do, and joke stand-ups, but it’s very observational. And we have The Office style Christopher Guest’s documentary type TV shows which we’ve had since Rob Sitch made it popular work here, and then we have the weird Paul McDermott cabaret brand of whatever the fuck you want to call that stuff. There hasn’t much else.

So I feel like something like Hannah Gadsy being a phenomenon here is for very specific cultural reasons, and I find it very fascinating to me how uninteresting it is, formally, and comedically. I think Nanette is a good show, I don’t think it’s good comedy, because it’s not funny. It’s not because of the trauma stuff, it’s the actual structure of the jokes.

I’ve spent years on stage, especially when I was younger, I used to be a bit more sincere when I talk about mental illness, mania especially and suicide, but then it would bother me. Because when you talk about trauma and serious stuff for audiences like that, you’re doing it on their terms, in a way. You’re almost reading a Wikipedia entry, when you’re being sincere like that about yourself. And then the joke comes and the end. Whereas for me, it’s all about form and style. So ‘why would I talk to you about mania? And here’s the thing that happened to me while manic’. Instead, I could actually replicate (it), “this is what this fucking looks like”, and not let you in. But you can have that experience and jam as many silly jokes into it as possible at the same time. I guess that’s what interests me.

I will say in the Killing Rove, not to spoil anything, but Nanette Gubsby as she’s called (in the show), the joke is that she’s famously a very nice person, and very like PG comedy, (here) she does Bob Saget style comedy, and she’s roasting me pretty hard. She’s calling me all kinds of slurs and shit like that. And I’m just like, “What the fuck?”

I want to bring it back to Rove and the comedy of Australia, because one of the things which I love in the video that you have to sell the show which really links together a what Rove is about, it ends with him going, “Who would you turn gay for?” And that feels like the level of comedy that Australia has gone to. It’s not that long ago, how has Australia moved from this?

No, it’s not. Man, I have thought about this too much. And it’s a lot. I keep asking myself, why is it Rove that I honed in on, and I think it’s because he’s the blank avatar for a particular era in Australian culture that late-Howard years, 2004 era of the world, which was so schizophrenic immediately post-9/11, and the culture was just odd in a way that has no recyclable value. I know, Gen Z are going back to early 2000s fashion or whatever, but they’re really missing out on this chunk of banal weirdness that is almost alien.

I watched hundreds of hours of these old Rove episodes, which included the ads and everything like that, and I honestly felt like I was going fucking insane watching this stuff, because it’s like, God, yes, this was the weirdest time in human history. And I think Rove works so perfectly as the middle ground of what that culture was, as a talk show host who has to absorb it and reflect it, and be a relative level of benign while he was a little bit cheeky, right? And I don’t think Australian comedy, mainstream comedy has evolved much from that time, if anything, I think it’s gone back.

So the “Who would you turn gay for” stuff? Obviously, we hear that now and it’s like, “Well, that’s an absolutely fucked question to ask at the end of an interview”. And honestly, you could see in even the mid-2000s, when he’s interviewing Americans especially and he asked that question, there is a moment on their faces, it’s not so much offense of like ‘that’s homophobic’ – which I don’t think Rove was being to his defense, he cut that out of the show in 2005, and said publicly, “I realised that that’s not a nice thing to say. It’s not funny.” – but you can see the faces on like Anne Hathaway, and she’s like, “What the fuck”. There’s one where he asked John Travolta and Hugh Jackman. It’s like, come on, man, be careful, you’re gonna get in real trouble here. He asked Tom Cruise and in the early 2000’s “Who would you turn gay for?”, and it’s just like, and *laughing* Jesus Christ, this is so risky, for reasons that he doesn’t understand.

It’s that kind of FM radio bro humour, which I honestly think he sits to the – for the want of a better word – ‘left’ of, he’s like the most small L liberal comedian I can imagine in Australia. Like any good talker, he’s so good at neutrality. It’s weird having rewatched much of the stuff and having seen him live immediately after I did my show, he’s definitely slightly left leaning, which for as Australian comedian as big as he is, is actually quite, quite strange. But he’s amiable.

I think his whole thing was that he was this little boy, and he seemed 14 the whole time. And it was a very enjoyable 14-year-old guy to hang around. I watch all of his shows. I loved it as a child. Absolutely adore it. I’d tape it and rewatch it and rewatch it every week. I would memorise the ‘What The’s and stuff like that. But watching it again now, I don’t find him funny at all, but I totally understand that he is funny, watching him as a comedian. This guy is good at what he does. But at the same time, without sounding like I’m the Zodiac Killer, you can watch this era, you can watch this man, and you can see this tight era reflected back at you. And it’s pretty stark, pretty frightening stuff.

He was so dominant for so long.

The biggest. He had three gold Logies. 1999 to 2009 he was on air, and he had Rove LA briefly somewhere in there.

I want to touch on that in a little bit. Because that does tie into a significant thing that who Rove is as a person, but I’m curious for you, how did you manage to revisit a lot of those old episodes? Was it just the fact that you had them taped? Or is there an archive?

So this will interest you as an archivist, they were mainly on YouTube, and they were mainly people that uploaded them on strange YouTube channels were like 40 followers, would they be ‘retro Aussie TV’. And they almost had this ambient quality, where you’d find ones that were like 10 hours of Australian TV, or like every ad for Channel 7 in 1997. And it’d be this five-hour video where you could just sit and watch a rip of a VHS, where somebody has not only ripped it, but ripped multiple VHS to edit all these ads together. And there’s one that are ‘Primetime Channel 10 2001 block’ and it will be like from Neighbours to an episode of Rove on Tuesday night. So you can just have this like relapse if you want. Again, almost nobody had viewed these with not many likes, and not many comments on most of them. But with Rove there was a few that are full episodes. He had his own YouTube channel, and he had been uploading old segments himself in the last year or so I noticed.

But what killed me was how inaccessible a lot of the stuff was. And all of this stuff is Australian history right? Trying to get the original Kevin Rudd interview… I couldn’t get the footage of the original interview anywhere. I can get the second one in 2009 and him on Rove’s 10th Anniversary Special which he opens, it’s the cold open is Kevin Rudd talking to the camera. Can you fucking imagine? It’s so crazy. It’s so crazy.

Saturday Night Rove lasted for one episode two years ago, it got cancelled after one episode, Kevin Rudd was a guest who played a handball tournament.

This is when I started feeling like I was going really insane because that narrative of that video is when they’re doing the transition of power when Rudd wants to be king and Rove has to like make him seem like he’s king, I found this fucking handball picture of Rudd putting a crown on Rove’s head and I was just like, “Man, this is frightening me right now”. But the classic Rudd interview which people say bumped him over the line into PM, and it made him the youth Prime Minister in that part of the Howard-era, here’s a guy talking to fucking Rove. I couldn’t get that 5–10-minute clip anywhere. And I was desperate for it because that’s the one where Rudd says he’d turn gay for his wife when Rove asked him ‘who would you turn gay for?’

I never saw that, that would be gold.

So I found these articles about it and people on Twitter reminded me of it when I was asking for strange moments in Australian TV. That was one of the first ones we came up with Rudd saying he’d go gay for his wife. And I’m just trying to find it anywhere. And it’s amazing what I couldn’t get. It’s funny, say, if I wanted an interview with Beyonce, you’d find some Beyonce fan had scanned it in America, they found it somewhere, and they uploaded it. Channel 10, when they had a digital launch in 2016, they apparently uploaded the entire archive, and then that platform died in two months. I mean, it’s all gone. And so it’s a huge loss to not be able to find that. And honestly, a huge missed opportunity. If you had all the old episodes of talk shows online for watching, it is so fascinating for all kinds of reasons.

What got me on that history level was there was a connection in the show in my head, the root of this joke, if you don’t mind me going on a tangent. I don’t know why I got obsessed with Rove, but back in 2018, I was walking around my neighborhood in Brooklyn, I had this idea for a show called Rove Lives. And the idea was that he was living in exile like a wanted terrorist of some sort. You’d never knew what exactly we’ve done. And he was living on a small dinghy, like a barge kind of thing called McManus Island. And he was doing his old show as a podcast. And he had Peter Hellier there and Peter Hellier was clearly in distress, like he was maybe being held hostage, and he was trying to convince Rove “You’ve gotta to come back and face justice”. And I had the army helicoptering in special guests to again trying to convince him while he’s interviewing celebrities.

And I had this idea of him being a wanted terrorists kind of thing, and I think it’s because the imagery of Rove is so tied up in the early 2000s to me, and the Howard years and the W Bush years especially. And so my memory of watching the show as a kid was watching Sandra Sully immediately afterwards, and you’re having a scene interspliced with the invasion of Iraq, and Bush talking about WMD’s ‘Mission Accomplished’; all this stuff is tangled in my head and then being in a topical talk show, he’s also joking about this stuff. So I had this 9/11 connection in my head really clearly and for some reason, I swear I was watching when 9/11 happened as a kid, and then I found out that 9/11 happened during Rove Live and it cut to Sandra Sully. And he had to explain it to his studio audience live, which I find just fascinating and surreal that that actually took place.

That’s the thing that I find so fascinating as well, for anybody who’s gone to the US and actually gone to a live screening or taping of a Late Night Show, it’s not filmed late at night, but Australian stuff was late night.

It’s actually live.

I know they cut away from him. Who knows what happened in the booth. If I could ever interview Rove, I would honestly ask him, “What happened then?” From the descriptions I read, it was a news article, so he had to break the news to his studio audience. But was there a camera rolling still? Just imagining that footage is, that’s my The Day the Clown Cried… if I could get my hands on that, bloody hell.

The closest I could get was Seth MacFarlane telling his story of how he was meant to be on one of the planes on 9/11, but he slept in, and the first public telling of that story that I could find was on an episode of Rove LA.

Okay, so Rove LA started on the 19th of September 2011, and I remember that because I’d had Foxtel at the time and just being excited by it because “Oh, look, it’s Rove doing The Graham Norton kind of thing. And it’s unplugged, and it was gonna be, not filthier, but an unplugged version of Rove. I remember being excited about watching it. And I watched most of it because it was just this bizarre thing, where it almost felt like a lot of the guests who are on there were like, “Who are you? And what are you doing?”

Exactly. It’s very strange to watch. He had been off Australian TV maybe only two years, but Rove Live really had its peak around 2007. I think he had a brief break when his wife, Belinda, died in 2003. But the early 2000s American celebrities, they recognised him when they were back on the show. Because he’s the only talk show host here in Australia. It’s like, “This is the fucking Australian Conan, I know you”. But then seeing him in that context, you’re just like… whoa… This was airing on Fox 8 Cable Channel in Australia, it did not have many viewers. That was the hardest one to find clips online, presumably for copyright reasons, I guess.

I wonder if there was ever a discussion about the timing of that as well, with his show being interrupted by 9/11 and then launching this new version, effectively, almost 10 years to the day afterwards. I just wonder if there was a conversation that took place about that at all.

I’m very curious about how they pitched him into the American zeitgeist. I think the only way it could have existed because it was a Fox show that was for Australian audiences, but they’re putting him in America, where obviously the live audience is American. But it was it just easier for them to get celebrities obviously in LA there. But was that it? Taking him away from the elements of the show, by the end of Rove Live there was like 10 people on stage with him every episode, they had all the other comedians who would sit on the couch. And there was towards the end was so many other Hamish and Andy Peter Hellier, Dave Hughes, Corinne Grant. But it was just Kate Langbroek being a fake news anchor on Rove, and then became a real anchor because he produces The Project. And he was one of the original hosts, briefly (in 2004), and then he decided to handball it off to other people.

He’s produced some of the biggest TV in Australia in the last 20 years. It’s strange seeing him live doing stand-up comedy.  never think of him as a stand-up comedian. And I don’t find him funny. But the audience really liked it. So that was after I’d been working on the show for like four months, and then one very intense month of writing it and putting it all together, right after the 11th hour. By the time we did the first performance, we hadn’t even had a complete run through yet. Thank God it went smoothly. And me pretending to be somebody who is having a manic episode where they think they’re this man, potentially, a week later, I was watching him live and I felt like my mind was just splitting. I felt like I was in a Wonka tunnel.

Everyone around me was laughing, and I was sitting so dead eyed. I went to turn to the woman next to me and be like, “You have to take me to the hospital”. After the show, I was like, I’m gonna try to like get a photo with him, because I thought he would be doing autographs. And it was just me on the street. And I was like, I look so much like Mark David Chapman right now, the energy that I’m putting out. A guy with a show called Killing Rove.

Have you had any feedback at all from Fringe or from anyone in the Rove camp about that?

I’ve tried very hard with Rove to get any kind of attention, and no success yet. I’m trying to get Peter Hellier and Rove to wrap the show, because despite the show’s title, it’s actually got nothing negative to say about Rove. He’s really just the framing device, he’s not in the show so much, as the show follows the structure of an old episode of Rove Live.

Peter Hellier’s in there more because I made this thing called the Peter Hell A.I. which is this floating deep fake Peter Hellier head that co-host the show with me. It’s on screen pretty much the whole time animated, it’s got 10 pre-recorded phrases so that when we press one of the buttons it seamlessly goes from moving around to talking, it’s very off putting. But I’ve developed a bit of Stockholm syndrome with the Peter Hell A.I. and me and my friend who runs a tech both really fell in love with him because he’s like a big puppy dog the persona I gave him. I rewrote the entire ending of the show and kind of the thesis to be much more positive and happy, because I was like how can the story help Peter Hell A.I. get what he wants. So funny that I rewrote the show to please this fictional floating head. But no responses from those guys.

Fringe were very… I heard they weren’t happy about me suggesting the Fringe World was sponsored by Boko Haram repeatedly, apparently they took offense to that. It’s true. I don’t know why they’re upset. Don’t take their money. So a funny thing happened on the show last year, it had a joke where my career rival in the arts was the Irishman from the iiNet ads. The joke was that he wasn’t actually Irish, he was Swedish, and he was taking Irish parts. And at one point in the show, he calls in and berates me with a very thick, Swedish accent. And so he’s my career rival, and the show last year was all about Fringe sponsorship, all about the Woodside sponsorship.

So then I find out this year that iiNet is the new sponsor of Fringe, and I was like, “Oh, that’s an insane bit of continuity for me”. So we have this joke right at the front of the show, “Fringe World is brought to you by iiNet and Boko Haram”. And then we have this deep fake of the iiNet Irishman, and he’s like “I’m loco for Boko”, in a thick Irish accent. So apparently, that concerned people.

Your piece, Fringe World is One Great Big Hustle for Meanjin, which is a great read, it really caused a major stir, and a lot of people, particularly a lot of older white dudes, were just like, “How could somebody write this?” They were very confused by it. What’s your perspective on the fallout of that?

Fringe are very good at ignoring critics and complaints. There’s two Facebook groups, there’s the official Fringe Facebook group, and there was until this week, I think they said they’re shutting it down because it just got a bit too toxic, an unofficial Fringe Facebook group. And that’s where artist can be posting like, “Hey, I’m getting screwed here” kind of stuff. Or there’ll be calling Fringe out directly and then Fringe will reply on the official page in a very backhanded way that undermines any complaints and kind of makes them invisible. They barely even addressed the Woodside sponsorship stuff, they just changed how it works. Now the money from Woodside is going through another party before it’s going to them, but it’s still flowing through them, essentially.

The complaints I was making in that piece, which was literally the thesis of the show last year, the show last year had that essay in the middle of it as a breakdown. It was funny, but it was my character arguing why that’s a good thing, while he’s clearly a victim of a pyramid scheme that anybody else couldn’t see. They can’t really address that because then the whole house of cards falls down. And it’s not like it’s just them, this is how the arts works in Australia now for the most part. The difference with Fringe is that they have such a monopoly in Perth on independent artists because in Perth, there’s not many opportunities. Where else you going to go? How else are you going to put on a show? How else are you going to make money?

The reality is a certain kind of show at Fringe can be very profitable. For every one that is profitable. There’s nine people that are losing a lot of money or barely breaking even. I wrote that piece and people messaged me saying, “Oh, you’re just complaining because you had a bad season”. Actually I had a sellout season. I had a great season this year. Only ended up with like 1,500 bucks in my pocket with all the expenses of my props, let alone like the man hours and everything like that. It doesn’t amount to much.

The risk of putting on a show and how much work goes into it and the hours and stuff to come away with nothing… People sent me stories of their personal experiences, and some of them were genuinely harrowing, because there’s no support from the festival. Especially if you’re not in a Fringe venue, which a lot of people are, like I was independent venue, then you’re just kind of left to your own devices.

And there is this vulture economy of media. And it’s one thing to the advertisers and publicists, that’s their business, it’s to charge you $1,000 to do that job. But when someone’s asking you to pay them for review, or to be to be given a (spot in) a newsletter or listicle. It’s one thing for a critic or a blogger to go and see ten shows and then send out a list like that, but it’s another to be like, “Hey, you give me 500 bucks, and you’re topping the list”. They’re recommending shows that way. That’s just an advertisement.

And there’s no clarity there. There’s no ethics of actually putting that at the top of the piece.

It’s the Payola scandal problem from 1950s radio. Where a lot of the people that were angry at me, or the people that were concerned about that piece, don’t understand that I’m coming from two angles. I’m coming as a performer, but I’ve worked with journalists and critics a lot longer, for over 10 years. And so what really got me was that side of irreverence, the ethics of even a small journalist, asking for money, and presenting it as objective journalism. It doesn’t sit right with me. And of course, the last part of that is how Facebook has changed how for blog journalism, any kind of journalism, arts journalism where we’re really just encouraged to re-publish a press release, with maybe a framing device around it.

When it comes to me personally, I work a full-time job. And I know a lot of people do this, and so having the time to be able to reword, or rewrite, a press release which is only going to be relevant for that short period of time… I don’t have the time to do that. I’m better off doing an interview or writing a review or something. But on the same hand, critics, journalism nowadays has had the guts ripped out of it. How do you make money out of it? It’s impossible.

None of us are getting paid. Everyone’s been turned into a hustler. Everyone’s got their hands in everybody’s pocket. And, I get so upset about it and angry about it, especially. We think about X-Press, even just 10 years ago, when X-Press was a street magazine, and it had this healthy, semi-healthy ecosystem of blogs and the like. In cities like Perth, which have really good independent artists, really good DIY scenes, and every medium of art, the stepping stones for independent artists have disappeared. Now, you have to be wealthy to have a publicist to get you to, not just a midpoint, but an up-midpoint, and not necessarily in career experience, or work you put out, there’s a certain level of focus to have somebody at a smaller magazine, and let’s face it, we don’t really have any mid-level press anymore, that that whole chunk of the ecosystem has disappeared.

I worked at X-Press very, very, very briefly, as a 21-year-old hand. It was a full-on office with like 150 staff. And now it’s what, one guy or two guys running it? It’s so bad from every angle for artists, for journalists, there is no ecosystem, there are no stepping stones. I’ve written for some pretty big publications, but I don’t have a journalism degree or anything like that. I worked my way up the chain. And that was brutal to do from Perth years ago, and I just can’t imagine now, there is not the first step. There’s not the second step. You’re going to really take a leap right for the end who can repeatedly make that jump?

That’s it. It’s depressing. And looking at the status of arts criticism in WA is sad. Seesaw are doing a good job, they at least pay people and have the ability to get some good coverage out there. But then on the same hand, it’s the same old people. And there’s not much in the way of new blood. It makes it very hard. And that’s part of the reason why I am doing what I wanted to do. But it’s a case of even that’s hard. If I had money, I’d be able to do a lot more things.

There should be more funding for this. I think there should be government funding for it, because think people realise that the economy of the arts is collapsing for this reason. By taking out small and middle acts, you will eventually have no big acts, there’s gonna be no breeding ground eventually, where no one except for the insanely rich can go into this industry, and you’re gonna have nobody experimenting and have nobody doing anything interesting. You’re gonna have nobody paying attention to DIY artists, all that stuff that was huge, even just 10 years ago, during that DIY boom, there’s no way for it to break out.

This is anywhere. I’m talking about any city in the world right now. But especially in Perth, the most isolated place on the planet, it’s so hard to get to that next step. And I just think somebody has to step in, I prefer it to be the government than a mining company, and bolster some small publications, small blog, smaller artists, and not just give all that money to someone like Fringe, which allegedly supports smaller artists to try to get the ecosystem going. But at the end of the day, this whole argument is back on the problem is capitalism. It’s either make art or pay rent. And it’s becoming a decision that… I’m 10 years into this career, and I’ve had relative success and I’m relatively well known, I guess. But I’m at a point now where I’m just like, man, I don’t know if I can keep going, because it’s just kind of unfeasible. I know that I want to be able to live a life.

It’s hard to get to different cities, you’ve got to self-fund all of those expenses.

I’m putting all my own money into the Melbourne show, I’ve booked my accommodation and flights and stuff. And it’s money I’ve saved over the years, but it’s money that I don’t know how I’m going to get back even if things go well. I’m currently in thinking about the COVID gamble. You kind of despair at it. I feel like the only people making money in the arts in Australia right now are arts management types. There’s like a whole new ecosystem of the people that are the administrators, which I think Fringe is very much a breeding ground for. We need them obviously. But it does worry me when the only people making money admin and publicists, because I’m just like, what do you guys do once the artists stop making art? What are you going to be selling then?

Move on to something else?

NFTs.

NFTs. I get emails about from companies going, “Oh, can we put in you know, gambling links or NFT links if we write you a piece and pay you have 500 bucks to publish it? If we can put these links in there.” And it’s like, “No, thank you”. I would love to $500 but I don’t want something that is tinged with that kind of stuff. Like it’s wild. It’s insane.

It’s weird. It’s the thing as a perpetual freelancer that I don’t see so much of the horrors that go into the sausage writing for the bigger pubs, writing advice and stuff like that, where it’s like, all these people are email addresses to me, and I don’t interact with the culture of what’s going on in the industry on any other level. And I’m the most unprofessional journalist I know. What success I’ve had, has been much very fluky in a way because I never really wanted to be a journalist, I just wanted to be a writer. And that was the only way I could make money writing in Perth for a long time. And it just just kept snowballing until I’m accidentally writing for international publications. But, I always feel like “I shouldn’t be here, I don’t know what’s happening”. And whenever I talk to the pros in the industry, I’m just like, Good gravy…

Imposter syndrome?

Oh, imposter syndrome is one thing, but it’s also just like, man, this industry is fucked. It’s so much more fucked than people realise. I think in the last few years of all the amazing writers, editors I’ve worked with who have lost jobs at big publications, because some billionaire tech company has bought out a company that bought up the publication, and fired all the staff that made the publication what it is, leaving a skeleton crew behind. And then they shut the shop up in 18 Months, “Oh why doesn’t anyone go to the website anymore?” You fired everybody’s reason for going to this website!

Look at what happened to the AV Club.

Oh, God, a fucking tragedy.

It’s insane. That was a great place and then all of a sudden all of the great writers are just gone.

I’m curious, when you introduce yourself to somebody, what job do you say that you do?

I say I’m 31, I live with my parents. *laughs* I usually just say writer, because at the end of the day that’s the thing. I try not to put on a journalism hat, or whatever. The thing that binds everything I do is writing. I don’t differentiate the act of writing. A song is not super different from writing an essay to me and writing the novel.

I think what it is, I’m getting back to what I first said, I’m a bullshit artist. My grandfather used to always say, you can slide around the world on bullshit, you only get to the front gate on gravel, and I think I internalised that a bit too much. And so all these things kind of blurred together to me to just be that. I’m gonna bullshit. And the process isn’t that different?

I think what has made a difference, again, is capitalism. So I find with the journalism stuff, I’m a guy that gets hired for their voice, and not much else. I can write on any topic if you give me a day or two. But I’m more known for style than substance. And there’s not really room for that anymore. When everything is pivoting to content, and I don’t just mean journalism, this is in comedy as well. You can see stand-ups conscientiously writing bits that can be shared as a minute long clip on Instagram or TikTok, with little subtitles and stuff like that, that is how you break out and go viral now, and it’s so transparent to me. And so dull, because it means that everybody is uniformly taking on the same voice. And in common terms, no one’s got a schtick anymore. The schtick is “I want to go viral”, or it’s like a identifier.

A big part of this show, I’m on the autism spectrum, and a big part of the show is criticising the markets demand for neurodiversity and marketing your autism as a brand, as a personal brand, which I just find boring. It’s not that I find it distasteful or anything, to me it’s just dull, I don’t give a shit. It’s the same as being non-binary. People ask me why I don’t talk about it much, and it’s honestly that I don’t find it very interesting. It’s like my asthma like, I don’t care, whatever it just is.

But with the Asperger’s stuff, especially in comedy, you go to do the comedy festival, you go to do Fringe Festival, you read it’s ‘a show about autism’. Like that’s the angle. And it’s everywhere. And this is the same with depression, five years ago that was the big one. And, the one they very rarely touch on is bipolar, because it’s a bit too scary. But, it used to be in the content of a lot of my acts, but even then it was trying to subvert that confessional, truth telling stuff. So I think with this show, I start out by bringing up Hannah Gadsby and saying, this is not a show where I’m talking about neurodiversity or autism. This is not that kind of thing.

But then what comes after, even though I don’t say the word once throughout the whole show, it is the most much autistic show you’ll ever see. People leave it, and they’re like, “What the fuck, my brain feels exhausted because there’s just so much information being thrown at you at any one time”. I’m just like, ‘that’s what it feels like’. But I never say it. I don’t. People come to that conclusion themselves.

But the idea of having to stamp it on myself like a scarlet letter and be like, “I’m an autistic comedian”. All my press releases say it because it’s the only way to get journalists to pay attention, because the content algorithm, that’s what it craves, these weird identity signifiers. Which is rough when you’re me, and like, I don’t give a shit.

It feels like the Twitter bio thing all over again, where you have to have everything in your Twitter bio.

Poly, bi, ASD…

Okay, that’s got a place and all this kind of stuff. It’s important but on the same hand…

We all know. We all do it cynically, I don’t mean in a sinister sense, but we all know all as artists, we’ve all had that stuff in our bio at one point, we do it because we need to get work. The people that this is being pitched to, it’s not other autistics, it’s not even people that are interested in diversity of any kind. It’s people in PR. It’s for the algorithm and publicists. These are the fucking entities that want to be fed this stuff. It’s not like we introduce ourselves talking like that.

And it’s why I find so funny talking to people in the disabled communities and queer communities, the discourse doesn’t work this way. It’s so much more malleable than how we package it.

I’ll tell a story about a performer I used to know quite well. And I’d see a lot of their work. And all this stuff was about their identifiers. And it used to be about being bisexual, and it would change with trends. And then they came out as autistic a couple years ago, and they put on a show about being on the spectrum. And everyone’s got different experiences with it. But I’ve known this person for decades, and I’ve seen them perform for a long time. And then I’m watching them in this show, and they’re doing this (imitates tics) and they’re rubbing their hands, and they’re like Rain Man. And I was like, “What is this?” I’ve had dinner with you, and I’ve been out drinking with you. I know what masking is, and I know what putting that away is, but you don’t do this. This is like pantomime almost. And the reason you do it is because that side of the industry laps it up.

It’s also a great shield from criticism.

Do you feel that sometimes the audience’s they want that diversity tick? They want that “I just went out and I saw this autistic non-binary show” feeling?

Totally. It makes them feel good. Or it goes both ways. It either makes them feel good, or they’re like an ornery asshole, “I just went and saw some fuckin’ thing, and it’s just as bad as you think it would be. It’s so fucking woke.” That kind of energy.

My aim is to offend both those people. They’re my target demographic. As an artist it’s so hard not to get caught in that trap, because it’s so easy to get attention, it’s so easy to get plaudits that way. I’m not undermining anybody’s experiences. I’m really just talking about my own. We all know it’s a hustle. We can all sense it. Everybody is being thrown into the deep end.

I talked to my Indigenous writer friends about this, about how hard they’re requested to represent an entire group of people. And with disabled people, it’s funny because we all get lumped together on a panel, “Yeah, but he’s got cystic fibrosis, I have Asperger’s, we do not have similar experiences at all.”

Exactly. At work, when I talk about being disabled, they look at me, and most of the time I present able bodied. And then there are people who are in wheelchairs, and they’re like, but “You’re not the same”. And no, we’re not the same. We’re very different.

It’s always funny with Asperger’s or autism, you’re not allowed to say Asperger’s anymore because he was a Nazi. But autism itself, because it’s a spectrum, I think people forget, “Oh, but you’re so good at talking”. I can present as very charming and charismatic, but I’m just like, “Yeah, but that’s kind of my masking”. I got very good at impersonating social graces, and I can’t shut up that’s half of the problem is I learned how to be kind of charismatic in a way that it’s like a thing I have to consciously turn off. But at the same time, I’m not making eye contact with anybody. I’m bobbing around. My head is fucking bubbling over with OCD triggers and stuff, and I’m missing out on every social cue that is not signposted.

I just think people don’t appreciate like how diverse and weird our experience is. I think that goes with any that goes with any kind of disability and illness when we’re asked make it our brand. Say something like cystic fibrosis, two people have different experiences of that disability. But what the market wants… I don’t know who it is that wants it. Is it the algorithm? You hear that demand, but you’ve never met the person. You’re told about it, but not once in my life have I ever met the person.

I think people want a box. I find it most when I pull up and I park in a disabled bay, and I get out and people look at you, and they’re like, “He’s not disabled”. And so some days I’ll be able to ascertain “Okay, I can tell that that person right there is going to be like that. I don’t need my walking stick today, but I’ll take it out just to shut them up.” And they want a box. They want something to see people in.

I’ve heard my friend who had an Acrod sticker here and they presented with an invisible disability and they would almost would do like a Keyser Söze limp to and from the car, just limp out of the car and straighten up. He’s like, “I can’t be fucked dealing with the fucking hassle”.

Yep.

I think it’s the thing with comedy as well, because nobody is asking you to solely make your schtick like and “make it funny”. Whereas for me, being on the spectrum or being manic is funny because of the things that your brain leads you to are funny, not the actual disability or the thing itself is not so much as bleak, but it’s kind of just like more a little bit dull. It’s just funny that that’s the representation they want is they almost want you up there reading a Wikipedia entry.

I want to ask as we wrap up, how do you find the path to allowing the audience to feel comfortable to laugh at these kinds of things? Because on paper, they will probably sit there and go, “You want me to laugh at somebody having a manic episode?”

Oh, that’s a good question. I think it’s a bit of an instinct thing with me. And I think a bit of a cheap trick I pull is making that version of me on stage so essentially unlikable. He doesn’t think he’s autistic. He doesn’t think he’s manic. He’s not using these terms in any proper sense. And he’s such a dead shit in a way. I make sure that I’m the butt of every potentially cancelable joke it that show that could get me called out. The butt of the joke is always punching at me. It’s never punching at somebody that’s not wealthy and powerful, right. And I think that works to get people on your side to make them feel that they can laugh about this stuff.

There’s a couple of jokes where I’m like, “Oh, man, how are they gonna react to this one”. The first Nanette Gubsby one always scared me a little bit. So you make it so cartoonish where she’s speaking with cockney accent, where she’s like “This fucking little rat fuck”, it’s so cartoonish. Okay, if people accept it on those terms, they’ll accept that as harmless.

There is one where I list all the ways I’ve been canceled. And I’m talking about how I got in trouble because I was asked to be a guest speaker NAIDOC week, and I turned up in blue face as one of the Avatar because it was the only Indigenous culture I understood. And I was gave this speech in Na’vi. And then I was talking about how I was on a Dating at First Sight, that autism dating show, and my date was nonverbal, and it was the semifinals of my karaoke duets night and we’re doing Islands in the Stream, and she wouldn’t do the response, and I like flipped out at her. Stuff like that, like a horrible person and such cartoonish circumstances, and I think if you crank up…

My biggest comedic influence is Bugs Bunny. Bugs Bunny is a horrible person. He does terrible things to people. He’s history’s greatest monster other than, you know, being Hitler. But, when you take things to such an extreme and you make the terms so cartoonish, I think people have to laugh, and if they’re offended, they’re sucked into the silliness a little bit. If you’re offended, you’re take it on the terms of me in blue face at NAIDOC week as a NaVi. Think about what you’re offended about for a second and the extreme stretchiness of how silly that is. And it’ll fall apart.

Weirdly, in this show, I do actually joke about having a stalker for a few years. I haven’t really spoken about it on stage yet, but the twist is – spoilers – that it’s Modigliana the cat from The Ferals that has been stalking me. And I have a list of her leaving messages. And it’s like an imitation of the DMs that my (actual) stalker would send people. But again, it’s on such cartoonish terms, but I knew I had a lot of friends in the audience at Fringe that received these messages, received these very traumatic messages, and one of my friends afterwards, she was like, “Honestly, I just like I teared up during that segment, because I was remembered how fucked that whole time was. It ruined everyone’s lives.” And I was just like, “Yeah, but it was pretty funny, right?” She’s like, “I guess”. It’s Modigliana the cat, it’s fine. It’s not real.

What’s the thing? Comedy is tragedy plus time?

Oh, I was thinking of the old Mel Brooks. Tragedy is me stubbing my toe. Comedy is you falling in open manhole and dying.

That’s much better. That’s much better. It’s having the space to be able to laugh at these things.

I honestly believe that like nothing is sacred. I don’t mean that in that ‘you should be able to say the N word’ kind of way. The people who get truly offended at things are awful people. The only walk out that I had in my shows, was when I was doing a bit where I was going really hard on John Howard, I don’t even remember what it was, but a bunch of these old baby boomers gut up and stormed out. I had joke about Cardinal Pell bursting naked out of a cake and chasing a child around at a birthday party or something.

The conservatives have this imaginary person in their head of a Gen Z with an ear piercing, “Oh, my god, you misgendered Garfield”. That person doesn’t exist. The second night of the show, the only night that I felt any tension, there was a lot of baby boomers in the front row. The only negative review I received on the Fringe feed was from them. And the opening video that posits that Paul McDermott did 9/11 and John Howard was a dictator. As soon that played, I could feel the tension.

As they say, you can’t joke about Australia. We have very sensitive audiences. And I’ve made my whole career as a comedian joking about Australia. And mainly playing in pubs full of pissed off middle aged people, so I’ve become acutely aware of their fucking limits with their patience. When I think about something like the Ben Robert Smith stuff, like that’s the kind of thing I would have been doing stand up about non-stop five years ago, but I’m too tired these days.

As you’re saying, Australia is so precious.

Australians are the opposite of what they see themselves. The opposite of larrikins. I’ll say this about doing comedy in Australia. In Ireland, everybody is funny, doing comedy that you feel redundant because everybody is making jokes that are funnier than what you’re saying, you can feel it. In Australia, there’s a lot of people who think that way, but are actually angry. And it’s a real different feeling. Whereas in America, a very sincere country where nobody is sarcastic and comedians work so well, and stand-up comedy is such an American form, because they because they like sorcerers over that. You’re doing an actual magic trick where Americans like “Oh, You’re saying one thing but you mean another thing! That’s incredible to me.” People here hear that, and are like “You fuckin double tongue, I’ll end you.”


KILLING ROVE

DATES AND TIMES: April 1st, 7pm

VENUE: The Rechabite Hall, Northbridge

TICKETS: $25 at megatix.com.au

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