For Col Elliot, one of Australia’s most successful comedians and entertainers, becoming a comedian was never on his bucket list.
‘It was one of those things that evolved with me,’ says Col. ‘I never planned it; I always had a bent sense of humour.’
Elliot credits his time in the navy with giving him a taste for performing, particularly when he got paid in beer.
‘There was this place in Singapore and I and the mates formed this band every other week when we’d run out of money and we got a free beer and a dim sim! There was no Asian port that was ever exempt, and we went to all the bars and got free drinks!
‘When I got out in 1972 I had a basic knowledge of bingo and could ask for beer in 10 languages, but that was it. It didn’t take me long before I was broke and Karen and I were having our first baby, and we were living in a flat, driving a 1953 Anniversary Ford.
This car was so bad that it was navy ship-side grey because a tin of paint fell off the ship… and it had Angry Anderson tyres – bald, with bits of rubber and wire hanging off; it was really a bad car and I got pulled over by this copper who ended up saying, ‘Son you have to get this car off the road’.
I put it on chocks and didn’t have a car and I saw Kevin Dennis’s New Faces and I decided to give it a go. I cleaned up the navy story, and I won the finals. I only went on to get tyres for the car and now I have a garage full of the buggers!’
It wasn’t long after his New Faces appearances that Elliot was contacted by a footy club and he thought, ‘I might have to put my price up to $20’. Elliot laughs about finding someone selling bootlegs of his shows. It was all the impetus he needed to make his own recordings.
‘EMI took me on and I did a gold album!’
With twenty albums to his credit, and 13 of them gold, I guess you could say that Elliot took to the whole industry like a fish to water.
Life on the road as a comedian can be tough.
‘I don’t go as hard as I used to. I had a heart attack at 37 and it knocked me round a bit. But you know I love walking on stage and venting!
‘I can talk about anything. Pretty soon I’ll be coming up 65 and I have been doing this for a lot of years… Carl Barron come up to me one time when we were picking up a gold DVD each and he gave me the biggest compliment: he said, ‘you are the reason I am in this business’.
It’s no wonder Elliot has been inspiration for Barron. They are both quintessential Aussie blokes who’ve cut their own paths in the industry, taking control of their creative products and making an industry out of their comedy. Elliot believes his success can be attributed to his willingness to work wherever they want to see him.
‘I have worked on dirt floors in Cooktown and their fanciest casinos. I still go to places where they still vote for Menzies. I have been to Papua, London… in fact I had another great compliment in London. I love doing characters and my favourite is Chooka the Roadie. I used to do the voice in the navy and he became Chooka Dennis. I was doing a show in London in the East End.
I had the curtains closed. When we lowered the lights everyone sitting there waiting can hear me do the two voices backstage and then I come out dressed as Chooka the Roadie, and arguing with myself. Anyway the guy from the Daily Mirror comes out and says, ‘I thought you were great but I would like to have a word with the roadie bloke’. I said, ‘He’s out the back loading the truck. I went and got dressed as Chooka and went back out and did the interview. When I was doing the Edinburgh Festival the same journo comes up and says, ‘Oh, I feel like a berk!’
Characters are one of Elliot’s strengths, and they turn up, sometimes in chance meetings. Take Slugger Mulligan for instance.
‘Slugger Mulligan – I met him when I was up in the Northern Territory and went into a bar to do a piece on the bar; in the corner was this old guy called Mick and the bartender said, ‘He’s your biggest fan; all he wants to do is tell you a joke,’ so I go up to him and he has this old hat with bat poop and a big beard with tobacco stains, and I thought what a character; all he did was bitch he didn’t tell me the joke. The way he went on and on and never told me the joke was classic.
‘I thought I have to recreate this character and so I made him read out the winner of the poetry comp but he never gets to announce it.’
Elliot has just released his new book In Between the Laughter, and a re-release of Col-fessions. He performs at the Ballina RSL on Friday. For bookings call 6686 2544.