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February 25, 2021

Interview with Austen Tashus

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Everything you wanted to know about Austen Tayshus but were too afraid to ask…

For nearly four decades standup comedian Austen Tayshus aka Sandy Gutman has been terrorising the Australian public, using his original style of humour to entertain, agitate, and provoke. It’s a one-man comedy mission, it’s an Austen Tayshus show! He spoke with The Echo ahead of his shows in the northern regions.

Why did you choose comedy? I sometimes wonder if it’s not a joke, if you actually are too smart for comedy.

My first choice for a creative life was cinema. After I got my father’s hopes for me out of my system, I wanted to be a filmmaker. I found it so challenging and tremendously stimulating and still do. So I went to AFTRS and graduated with a direction diploma and then realised how impatient I was and how incompatible that was with the filmmaking process. After wasting time on drugs etc I got into standup in 1980 and never felt I was more suited to something. I just love it.  

What do you love about the form of standup; what has kept you at the craft for over three decades?

I love the stimulation of improvisational performance. The unpredictability of the moments on the stage. It’s never been about fame or money or friendship or girls for me. It’s just about the job. I love to fuck with the audience, to push them to the farthest reaches of what they can take and then push harder. Strange things happen.

What has changed in the way you approach your work from how you started?  How has your comedic voice changed or evolved?

I have always tried to lift the bar to defy expectations and to just be great at the job. I’ve now been nearly 40 years at it. Still a great learning experience. I am much more relaxed in even the most difficult environments. My audiences are so old now some do ka ka on the chair. Or piss themselves literally. As the years go by I have become more revolutionary in my thinking. Not less. Still very few venues will have me back, so I have to keep finding new ones.  

You are known to create a stir. Do you want to do that? Why do you think you get under people’s skin?

I just love to move a crowd in any way possible. Give them an unparalleled experience. Piss them off, bring them back, fight with them verbally – whatever. I need to shake it up. It’s probably something to do with the total horror of my dad’s Holocaust experiences messing with my DNA. My life has been a journey to make sense of something that is impossible to understand. I know everything that happened there. My marriage broke down because of my holocaust obsession.  

What’s the most full-on reaction you’ve had?

I was attacked by a dickhead in Wardell because of my reaction to his wife throwing wine all over me. That’s what happens when people are shit-faced and take things too seriously. This is a violent alcohol-fuelled culture. And I stand on the toughest stages, because I like to.  

I know why they get upset but I touch the deeper nerves. Prejudice and condescension, inebriation, violence, misogyny. Anglo-Saxons are a troubled lot with many monkeys on their backs.  

Do you ever think of your hit single Australiana as a blessing and a curse? It garnered massive success but seemed to attract an audience who don’t get you.

I’ve never understood why the  ‘Australia’ that you send up often turns up at your gig and then gets upset because  they work  out the joke is on them? Shit! Is it a trap? Is this some sort of cultural deprogramming?

Australiana made me a household name. It got me out of small comedy rooms and put me in front of everybody. It was such a massive hit and it appealed to all Australians. Smart, dumb, yobbos, and wankers. I was suddenly super famous and coked off my head. But it wasn’t something that truly was about my deeper self. I had no intention of being a comfortable easy-listening Jerry Seinfeld type of performer. I need to provoke, to dig deeply to figure out what is really going on. A big hit like that does essentially and eventually bring the wrong audience to see you. But a lot of people have seen the real Austen and probably wouldn’t again. 

How would you like the  rest of your  career to play out?

I just want to drop dead on the job. In another 50 years. Like Henny Youngman. Maybe in Gunnedah or at The Bargo Sports Club.  

What about love? Retirement? Inner peace? What makes Austen truly happy?

Satisfying my curiosity makes me happiest, and shit-stirring South Africans.  

What should we expect for your upcoming gigs this summer? Why do you love performing in Byron so much?

My shows will be pushing the boundaries of political correctness in a politically correct kind of a way and taking the piss out of Hannah Gadsby and laugh-free comics. And maybe a little masturbation.  

For some reason Byron Bay is my favourite place to work. They just get it. They don’t take it too seriously. Could be the eclecticism of the place.

Austen Tayshus performs at the Byron Services Club on Monday 7 January, Currumbin RSL on Wednesday 9 Jan, and Lennox Bowlo on Thursday 10 January. Kicks off at 8pm except for Currumbin at 7.30pm. Mandy Nolan MC.

Tix are $30 at the clubs or on mandynolan.com.au.

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