2016 is the year Chris Widdows, aka Steady Eddy, celebrates 25 years in the business, so what better way to bring in the new year than with a comedy legend!
Steady saw his sister performing comedy and decided on the spot to get up one week later and do his first open mic. Not overly extraordinary in itself, but Steady has cerebal palsy, and at that time views towards people with disabilities and attitudes towards their accessing normative life outcomes weren’t the same as they are today. This makes Steady not just a very funny bloke, but something of a pioneer.
‘When I was about to leave school at 16 they had my name down to go into the sheltered workshop – without telling me. Mum’s reaction was “over my dead body”
– and mine was: ha, I’ll just go to the beach!
‘I went to the Spastic Centre of NSW. It wasn’t that bad. At one stage I think I was probably the bully! I look back on it on now and go Oh Shit, I wasn’t real happy in those days. I had a life outside school: I was in nippers, surf club – Boys’ Bridgade… I had a life – so I suppose at that age I knew more then they did and there were conflicts about it with my other schoolmates.
So how did that first gig go?
‘I was shaking so much that some bloke gave me his chair from the audience – so I had to sit down – it went pretty well. I got laughs on my first go out; you don’t normally get too many laughs on your first five minutes and that kept me going. I had just turned 21.’
Steady was well and truly bitten.
‘I did five minutes whenever I could wherever I could. Sydney in those days had a lot of venues – Club Cack at Bondi Junction, Harold Park, the Store, all these comedy venues popping up in pubs so you could do five minutes most of the week from Monday to Thursday. I started out with people such as Alan Glover, who was a mentor, and Graham Pugh, and we used to hang out at the Comedy Store, if we were working or not, to see what everyone was doing. It was like a community; you don’t really get thay any more.’
About three years in Steady’s career took a sharp turn upwards and suddenly he was a household name, this gutsy young bloke boldly reframing social stereotypes and smashing some pretty impressive gigs at the same time.
‘It happened for me because of the Midday Show and Vizard, and probably the Big Gig and Bert Newton, all of those programs – and copious amounts of drugs and alcohol – yeah people were just throwing everything at me, here have this have this don’t worry – go out after a gig and there’s a $300 bar tab and you end up having no respect for anything because it’s handed to you and if you are 21 or 22 and you think you are six foot four and bulletproof. I was an arrogant prick!’ laughs Steady, who admits it was his success that stated to bring him undone.
‘You have your golden year and then things start to drop off. You are not the top of the pops but you are working and you have to work at it. When you figure you have to work at it I think you become a little bit more grounded. Because you realise that the audience aren’t just tools. They are people and people make up your career and if you don’t look after them you are finished.’
The Steady Eddy I talk to today is very different from the bloke who crashed through two marriages, subsequent leaving him ‘bitter and broke’.
The Eddy of today is reflective.
‘It takes two to tango, and from my side of the street I was blind and I was drunk and that’s not really good to live with and not good for a marriage – and that’s basically what happened – twice!
‘I decided to get sober after the second wife walked out and I thought there could be a problem here! I was living on a farm with 30 acres and all sorts of animals, some days I was blind at 6am doing the morning feed, and that’s how I would stay all day.
So what was the defining moment that changed things for this comedian?
‘As Mum says, I scared the shit out of myself – it was what I had become. You have a moment of clarity – you go with not eating for a week – and not having a shower, and stuff like that… and no-one wanting to employ you and it hit me all at once, maybe they aren’t all arseholes, maybe it has to do with what I am doing – I think should get some help.’
So the bent man of comedy got straight – and he hasn’t looked back, branching out with humour that goes beyond disability into his passion for politics and people.
‘I got to the point where I went, fuck it, I might as well tell people what my views are – I think they can tell you are bullshitting – if it’s something passionate about your life or what you have been through, they love it even more. It mightn’t be a riotous laugh all the time, but it’s funny; they will still listen and enjoy it because it’s real.’
Steady Eddy – Keeping it Real – is the featured comic at this year’s New Years Eve Comedy Gala and sit-down dinner at the Ballina RSL with Chris Radburn, Anne Howe and Mandy Nolan as MC. Stukule and Miss Amber provide the dinner music with dinner and show at 7.30pm. $69.90 includes two-course dinner and show. Tickets at the club.
(Also at the club for NYE is Boardwalk Blues from 8.30pm and the Kevin Borich Express and a fireworks spectacular on the river at midnight!)