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March 3, 2021

Comedy in the Raw

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No, we don’t mean nude – although sometimes when you’re up there in front of that many people it feels like you might as well be.

This coming Monday some 17 local comedic hopefuls front up for the Byron heat of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s Raw Comedy Competition. One of the national judges for Raw is comedian and TV personality Dave O’Neil.

O’Neil believes that although there are a lot of opportunities that can come a new comedian’s way through RAW, they should keep the whole experience in perspective. After all, some very successful people entered RAW and flunked out.

‘You have to remember it’s a competition – you can have a bad day,’ says Dave.

‘I have seen so many people go through RAW and not do anything. I hosted Peter Helliar’s heat. He didn’t get through and neither did Adam Richards. Or Tim Minchin. He came up to me and said, ‘You hosted the heat I was in,’ and he didn’t get through and I told him he was funny – he did a rock ’n’ roll priest… Of course as we all know Minchin has gone on to claim his own comedic notoriety at a national level.

One of the major criticisms levelled at RAW is that the winners are usually very young. Do older comics even stand a chance? Or is comedy, like everything else, a game best played by the under-30s?

‘I hosted last Saturday and I agree; it is youth oriented, but I suppose it’s the way any industry goes. In saying that, one of the people who got through was a Japanese woman of 45 who was hilarious, but she’ll appeal to RAW judges because she’s different. I think it’s being different rather than young that catches the eye of the industry.’

Dave believes that too much of the same sort of material and the same sort of comedian just becomes plain dull.

‘You need variety, you need a double act, musical comedy and all that jazz.’

With the competition scouring the country nationally, the judges get to see the best and worst of what Australia has to offer. Dave has certainly witnessed some spectacular performances.

‘The competition attracts all sorts, amongst those some do counselling on stage; at a heat last year a guy got up and put a wig on and did an impression of his ex-wife and there was a lot of anger there; you do get that, you get people who turn up and blitz it up, or burn out and never come back. If you want to make your mark you need to be performing something sustainable and different, original, and you don’t do other people’s material.’

Comedy, like any other mode of performance, relies heavily on X factor. You might have the best jokes in the world but if the audience doesn’t like you or you don’t have very good stage presence then you are going to bomb out.

‘It takes years to find your stage persona. You can’t decide; it’s funny what you think you are and what you are – they are usually very different things.

Personally, having children has helped define me as a comedian; before then I was another slacker comic doing the same sort of stuff as everyone else.’

So what are judges looking for in a RAW heat?

‘I like a good persona, and some good jokes to back it up. I like people who talk about their own life, and it turns out to be unique… ’

And avoid sexist commentary on women’s bodies.

‘There’s always a young guy talking about women and their bodies, an 18-year-old boy being really disgusting, and I’m like, ‘Dude, I don’t think you’ve ever seen anyone naked except your mum… ’

So why does Dave O’Neil keep at it?

‘I just do it because I can’t do anything else. It’s been more than 20 years now. I don’t really want to do anything else. I do standup. I do corporate gigs, festivals, footy clubs and then I do TV stuff. I am doing Adam Hill’s show at the moment, doing his live crosses; I’m doing Andrew Denton’s new panel show and I do some writing for radio. It’s the new rock ’n’ roll… everyone wants to be a comedian.’

Byron Bay’s RAW heat is at the Byron Services Club on Monday with special guest judges Ellen Briggs (local comedian and previous national finalist), Robert Grayson and ABC Radio’s Bruce MacKenzie. Mandy Nolan MC. All tix $10 on the door. Show starts at 8pm.


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