Interview | Kieran Eaton
I am here with Colin Ebsworth. He is doing a show for Fringe World 2019 called Ebz Disperser. So, what is it about?
It is a brand-new hour of comedy. It is the best stuff from last year. It is the same way that I always do it. I take hours, hours and hours and cut it all down. I then take it to Fringe and give them something new that is very, very funny, I hope. It is just exciting because this is the biggest venue in terms of the number of people I’ve got coming, the number of shows I am doing, the material I think (I hope) is the best which is great because last year was really good – you guys [Fourth Wall] reviewed it and gave it four stars, which is really good, I am happy about, that really nice. I think this year will be even better and I am having lots of fun already.
Yeah, I’m excited – saw your show last year and was at a Greek place (Yeah, The Helenic) ?
Yeah, I think I bitten off more than I could chew, that was a very big venue and I my hungry little eyes saw more than what I could do.
So where now? You have moved on from that spot, haven’t you?
Yes, so I don’t think that venue is running any shows this year, but I managed to have a complete fluke this year. I got sent over to London by the Comedy Lounge and which was great. When I got back, all then venues had been snapped up and I was like I don’t have a city venue. I had all these hubs but no city and then The Laugh Resort Comedy (Australia’s oldest running room) establishment came out of retirement and hiatus with a venue smack bang in the middle of Yagan Square which I later found would be fifty feet from the main box office, and they did not have anyone because everyone had locked in their runs so I applied and they said, “Yes of course, it is a local thing and we want to provide for local artists.”
And I love the guys who run it, it was just nuts, a complete fluke.
What is that venue called?
The Shoe Bar, it will be at the back venue. The have a really nice, sweet setup because that is run through The Laugh Resort which is the comedy club. Then I have the Balmoral which is in Vic Park, which is on the 20th. I’ve got the main run in Northbridge which runs from the 21st to the 3rd of Feb. I’ve got the 7th of Feb which is in Fremantle at the Sail and Anchor. Then Scarborough is a giant two hundred-seater tent which I did last year, which was unreal. That one in Scarborough is at The Sunset Veranda which will be on the 15th Feb. The last show is the 16th of Feb and that is at Midland and I maybe, maybe, if I’m good will have another sneaky show, but I can’t talk about it too much right now. The hype is there, it will be cool.
How many shows are you doing?
So this is eight. Last year, it is down four from last year but still this is the biggest in terms of number of hubs because I found last year I found the hub venues were great. I had a lot of fun at Fremantle, Scarborough went like gang busters so yeah, I ‘ve been doing a lot of hub stuff and I see. I’m finally in a position financially where I can have a fun Fringe and not just stress about things, I’m really looking forward to it. It’s really weird, isn’t it weird when the onus and impetus of money of money is removed you can become such a better performer.
Would you say that is one of the hardest things of festival shows?
Absolutely, the money is awful. If we could do, a lot of people have spoken about things – there is a few things that would be good in the short term. Things like reducing the comp ticket price – in Adelaide it is 30 cents per comp ticket, over here it is a dollar so even if you even if you decide that you know what I am not going to make any money but at least I want people to enjoy my show, it will cost you money to even just give it for free.
If you really want to have an inclusive festival on top of that I’ve heard that small venues are given a mid-season payout, which would be huge for international acts and being able to go over here and get at least half their profits or half their money they have earned back sooner. If Fringe World Could do something like that it would be great.
I guess FRINGEWORLD is not as old or established as Adelaide?
Well Adelaide was in a pickle, they had a lot of problems and it only took a max exodus of the international and interstate acts coming in for them to go, “We are going to change it up.”
I feel like Perth kind have had that last year but whether this year will be a continuation of that or enough has changed, we’ll see. I know it is bigger and I am excited for it personally. I know a lot of less acts are coming over, but it has been difficult.
I guess the key is numbers, right?
Yes, we will see how the artists are doing and we will see how many know about it. It really comes down to: Does the city know that it is on and if they do know and go, do they go and have fun and the artists make it financially viable, will hopefully lead to a successful, fun experience and their efforts to provide that.
There is three things; visibility, you know it’s on because of visibility; how much fun the audience has because of course it is the audience because if they are there and we are not doing anything; and if it is viable for the artists, mentally, emotionally and financially.
Yeah, the less stress the better?
Yeah, I completely agree. There is always going to be stress at the festival, it is just about minimising that. Like this I have a producer and she is doing such a good job, so it such a weird kind of divergence, where it now like, “You send this email, not me.” But yeah, it’s been a breeze this year, so I guess more of that management side of things.
So, is it your first time, having a producing?
It is the first time! I was explaining to a friend who is in theatre what I did, and she was like, “That is insane, what do you do?”
I was like, “I send a couple hundred emails out, visit a couple hundred venues.”
She was like, “That is crazy.”
That was the first year I factored in my time, which is what a lot of artists don’t do. Which is where on paper it appeared that I was making money – not a lot but enough to get by. As soon as I added my time as an asset or an expense, I realised I not making as much money as I thought I was.
Yeah, because you are losing time that you could be doing other things?
Yeah, even putting up posters this year. I used to be vehemently against poster distribution because they are making it harder for us. Then I paid for some more recently last year and not only were they friendly, good, very quick and very cheap; they took the time out where you talk to venues and worry if they are going to be taken down. It was a completely worthy experience for the one hundred of two hundred dollars that I spent, to see posters that I see everywhere and now I can run promotions where I am like, “Hey, take a photo of my poster and send it to me on your Instagram, tag me and blah, blah, blah, get a free ticket.”
You are just building so much more traction with it.
You sound like you are in an improved headspace?
Yeah, I can’t wait, it these new meds baby!
Do you talk about your well-being in this show?
Big time, yeah, so last year’s Fringe show you saw?
Yeah, last year’s one you mentioned about being diagnosed with Bipolar, right?
Yeah, which turned out to be a false diagnosis, which is great because now I have a whole new bit where I talk about a new psychiatrist that I met, and he is hilarious! He is an incredibly intelligent man, but he has the thickest Ghanan African accent and it is so funny because I am a huge marvel fan and as hard as I try, I can’t get it out of my head that every session with him I’m in a dream sequence, speaking to Black Panther’s dad. He speaks in a way you are like, “You are being ridiculous, you are quoting Lion King, I know you are doing that.”
He’d like to say these ridiculous analogies, crazy colloquialisms. You be like, “You are making this up to mess with me.”
That bit might not have been finished when you saw it last year and now, I’ve done a continuation of the story with different material, you get to see how it rounds out.
Yeah, it seems like last year you were only freshly diagnosed with it.
Yeah, I did not think of it like that. That’s a very astute point.
So, you have gone on a bit of a journey, last year?
Yeah, I am more excited this year and my perspective on comedy has kind of changed. It is not [now] the be all and end all and that is good because I have more fun with it now and a more relaxed vibe means I am not stressing myself out to get laughs. I enjoy the material more. I have removed the self-imposed limitations or restrictions that I have had: How long a bit should be; how many laughs it had to get; how it had to be deconstructive; how much energy to put in, etc. Which was after a while very strenuous, so now the pressure is off, and I think the audience likes it more.
It is almost more natural, ironically?
Yeah, completely. It is the stuff that I find funny. I think I went overboard, I overcorrected. In the past I did not write very much material and I was like how I get more in and I started writing a lot quickly. As the years went by I wrote a lot but I got these ideas that I had to write so much, like x amount before a bit is finished and now I kind of redirected and reorientated myself.
I am now like no longer has the writing of previous years help me find what I find funny but I now don’t have to write it to it’s fullest 100% extent because I end up cutting it down to the three jokes that I liked anyway. It is like this interesting efficiency that I’ve hit where I can go straight to the jokes that would have made the final cut, without having to do all that waffle to write all these long bits. So, I’ve satisfied both criteria, the creative side of the writing because it has been better able to reach the points that I want.
So, you get to the good bits quicker?
Quicker than when I first began. Yeah, you are never going to get straight from point A to point B in any creative endeavour because you are will be always wondering if there is something better out there, so I had to explore the whole map to realise that there was a straight line possible. But if I had of had that straight line, I would have been wondering is there a better way of doing this. So, you must do everything wrong before you can find out what is right, it’s a paradox.
It is kind of like life?
Yeah, that’s why sometimes wear different shoes, I’ll walk backwards, I’ll talk in different languages. You’ve got to do everything wrong, I’ll stab my toes on any corner, sip a coffee too hot straight away, people who go for a hand shake I high five them straight away. Everything wrong!
Living life in the moment?
Exactly! Get fired from one hundred jobs so when you don’t get fired you appreciate it!
Your whole brain will work out what is best for you anyway!
Perspective on these things is the key. Anyway, I think it is going to be a relative experience.
So, you evolved psychologically, philosophically, and comedically?
I hope so, or maybe I just bought a dictionary and learnt some new words.
What would you say is the main difference between club room comedy and festivals?
I very much enjoy Fringe shows for the artistic freedom that is offered. In comedy rooms, Perth especially because we have a less evolved comedic sensibility, purely for the fact that it has been for a less amount of time. You can see the quality of the scene and judge it based on purely how long stand up has been around. The UK/US scenes will be a lot better than Eastern European scenes which have had comedy for literally long as the end of the Soviet Era and even more recently you see places like Lithuania and Estonia starting to get comedy room, having them for a couple of years. In that regard, Perth has an alright comedy scene because it is part of Australia and Australia is (pretty) developed.
We have an interesting mix of American and British styles that results in some interesting satire and delivery, narrative and storytelling, act outs. Perth as part of the scene is the least evolved, I’d say Perth and Adelaide. Perth is doing very well but the actual – the comics are doing good but the audience and what they want. That is where the disconnect is. We have some phenomenal comics here, great with crowd work, great everything, but the audience just is not clicking. You can be the best comic in the world but if the audience is not laughing – I think that is that understanding. If you are a good comic, you will be able to make it work. The compromise is that WA acts must do some simpler comedy, some less flourishes that they personally like. There are a lot of act out that I really like because they are super silly, and I love fully committing to a ridiculous scene. The audience goes that is step too far, we don’t understand. I must give them – let’s say the first couple of pages of what would have been a funny chapter of comedy but because of the audience and the way Fringe being like this artistic expression to its fullest means when people come to the Fringe show I can give them the full chapters and experience.
What I usually do is write a bit up, write it for ten, twenty minutes – however long it takes. Then I cut it back to the five I like. That five then goes into Fringe but a club set takes the best two minutes. Because that best two minutes are going to have jokes that are steady and it is not going to have the longer, more dynamic stand-up that might be offered to me at a Fringe – for people who are coming to see me. The compromise I am trying to get now is how do I get the Fringe stand up as good as the club set, in terms of the hit ratio laughs per minute. How do I get my club set as artistically explorative and as dynamic, as the Fringe set?
I guess you just are learning the more you do it?
Exactly, because Perth is a small scene and this a big opportunity for us to make money and get seen, but it is for us to see other people – so many acts here. In terms of what I can view outside of Netflix specials or sometimes touring people, I get to see so much acts so it is great for us to it because it can be done. We often think, no you can’t do some long winded political piece in Australia, especially Perth because of the political apathy that is rampant in the scene because you don’t want to bore audiences or get them angry and then you see a touring comic do it and you see it is possible and they do it very well. I was wrong and it was one of those things that until you see it you won’t believe that you are wrong. You must see it for it to be done, which is great.
Because you went to the UK, didn’t you?
Yes, John McCallister from the Comedy Lounge jumped on stage after a set that I was hosting and just said, “Hey, Colin has been doing very great here, here is a gift voucher.”
I was enamoured, it was so nice of him. I love the guy and they have given me so many opportunities. Shout out to those guys, Brandon The Lounge for making it happen. So, he handed the gift voucher I thought it was like one hundred dollars, and thought it was cool and I could use it in Melbourne but when it was like five hundred, I was like, “Oh geeze, I’m going to Europe baby.”
So I went to London and man, I was born and raised in America, raised by an American mum, got a lot of American centric comedy I was raised on. So, I always felt a fondness for that and a defensiveness when they said there are other comedy forms. Like, I can appreciate that Monty Python is funny but I just have never super clicked on to it but I have had so many people over the years say, “Oh, your comedy style is like the English comics.”
I would just get defensive and be like, “ No, you are wrong!”
Then gradually I’ve been exposed to it and I’ve been like, bit more UK, bit more UK and I have found that the James Akisses of the world, the Phil Wangs – I like their stuff. Going over there was the final push that I needed to go, “Oh, I love UK comedy.”
I still love American, but it still resonates with me more, the UK. I feel that I’ve been living this double life. I’ve been in the comedy closet, so to speak and now I’m out and now I love UK comedy it almost aligns with me more – in terms of what they do with stories, in terms of satire, the wit and the dryness in the material, the beats.
How many gigs did you do there?
Only a couple because I was just trying to get a feel for the scene, but they were all great. We had Open-Mikes that had about forty people, which was is a good crowd, but they were like apologising to us, saying, “So sorry that there is only forty, usually there is about eighty.”
That is like crazy – there would be Open-Mics that would do donations at the end, a model that hasn’t successfully transitioned to Australia yet. People have mixed feelings about it here but in the UK, it works, in a lot of the venues.
They do it in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival?
Yeah, they have tried to do it Perth and people are like, “We don’t understand it.”
It is either you pay for it or you don’t, but don’t say it is for free and then ask for money. Perth audiences have a weird – Australians are weird.
It is like how we are with tipping?
Yeah, it is like how we are with niceties. I think Australians like a very clear arrangement. They are like you have done this and I’ll provide you with this. You know, X is Y.
They don’t want to think too much?
Yeah, it is like, “You said it is free and now you want money? You lied to me!”
No matter if they enjoyed it, they would be like why you would lie to me like that. They don’t understand that it is whatever you feel. What they feel is hurt and betrayed. Donate, your masculinity is not going to be threatened, everyone still thinks you are funny at the construction site, and this no way reflects on your moral character.
We need more place like the food donation ones, like Annalaksmi?
We need more Hari Krishna comedy – is what we need. It is comedy that comes with a 5 out of 10 Chickpea Masala but you give twenty bucks anyway because you feel bad – I won’t be stingy,
I love Annalaksmi.
Yeah, Annalaksmi is great. Let’s give a shout out to Annalaksmi, sponsoring this. You do great food, I don’t know what you put in that orange juice, I am hoping it is orange because it really is the bees knees.
Yeah, so the rooms are great for the open mikes. They even gave money to the acts, so they got home safe – a spilt from the money they take from the donations, it crazy, I loved it. As you know, from Melbourne, New York, Toronto, places that give you stuff over the years in the scene function – when you get a big concentrated group of artists together the price bottom falls out and you end up with shitty rooms, no punters, no pay. London was a complete 180, an anomaly that I was so pleased by it.
Have you done any other Fringe venues, other than Fringe World?
Oh, Adelaide Fringe. So, I have done Adelaide Fringe and Melbourne International Comedy Festival and done my own travels around, but you can go to a scene and check it out for a fraction it would cost to invest in a show – time and money, and contacts, energy. It is so much more demanding to say I am going to do the festival in Sydney or in Melbourne, or Toronto than it is to say that I am going to do gigs.
As they say in China, you are in the long plan?
Are you referring to Mao’s grand plan? That is funny because I was reading about the history of the centralised plan to modernise agrarian China. Man, that’s the kind of reference I’d like to do in one of my shows.
Maybe we could workshop on that.
Next year coming at you, 2020 – Colin Ebsworth: 5 Year Plan.
My metaphor is that you are not too focused on time, anymore. You are more about getting it right?
Yeah, everyone has got to do their own thing and I’ve found it really daunting and not worth the energy in terms of the financial, creative and emotional outlet to do other places. I love Perth. People say Perth is small, Perth is this – but that is the trade off for a scene that pays as well as it does, gets crowds the ways it does, with opportunities that we have. We have three huge festivals every year.
I mean, it is insane that we have that. We have a regional circuit, a dedicated comedy room that is the best in the country – it’s nuts. The trade off is that you can’t do five average gigs in one night that you’d be able to do in New York, to only comedians for no pay. I’ve don’t that scene and you know what, five gigs a night, you pump out less material because you have less time to write, less time to reflect and less money because you can’t work, as you are waiting for two hours for them to get back to you.
Yeah, I’ve heard some interesting stories.
It doesn’t work. If it made better comics the ratio in the world would be 90:10 to New York. Everybody should be from New York. I should be from New York, statistically. If the New York system worked, judging by the number of people there and start comedy, all of them in America should be from New York.
Yeah, it just that they have the history, so people come near and far to go to it.
Every comedy room that I ever performed in would have been New York comedians, if the New York system worked and it doesn’t. You go to New Jersey, Perth – there is great comics from Adelaide!
Yeah, the world is like a smorgasbord, where you can look all around it and say I like that one.
It all goes down to writing, performing and watching. Those are the three things – you can be strong in one but you can’t completely avoid one, and you have to do all three to some extent and you’ll get better. Whether that is one gig a year or one gig a month or whatever, you make your opportunities. [Rodney] Dangerfield did twenty years not doing standup but he wrote every day, selling door to door rollershutters. He still wrote it all, put it in a chest and so by the time he returned twenty years later, he had twenty years of material. So he really bulked down on that one thing but if he did not complete that trifactor and started performing he would have never become famous.
You can be anywhere. Look at your friend, Sami Shah?
Yeah, Sami Shah’s first gigs were on the computer program, second life! He’ll perform on virtual comedy rooms, online, with microphone and headset on his computer, performing to a bunch of NPCs and other characters from around the world – who would laugh at a delayed reaction because of slow internet speeds. You make your opportunities – you totally do it.
He must love comedy.
If you are funny, you are funny. Bill Hicks started doing skits in the middle of his high school, while he was waiting between transfer from classes. During his timetable he would do skits with people – it’s totally feasible.
Are those people who go against the grain of finding success your inspiration?
Yeah, I have got a lot of respect for them, for people that can do it like that. I guess I get down on myself, like any artist would thinking that I’ve not done enough, blah, blah. Then I look back and go I’ve kinda done a gig but even if comedy wasn’t there, I’d still be doing silly things. Even before comedy I was writing dumb skits and filming them – they were so bad, but I was doing it because I enjoyed it.
You pretty much know if somebody wants to be a comedian, even if they stopped doing it after a couple gigs?
Yeah, they are hooked. Everyone always said it to me [do stand-up] and I’d be like no, I don’t see it. I was afraid, I was terrified. I did not know to write material, either. So, I was like, “No, I won’t do it!” but you gradually come to the idea and you do it and you think of it more.
Do you think they [comics] are people that need to embrace their inner quirkiness?
Yeah, totally – but there are hilariously funny people off stage, terrible on stage, and vice versa. There are people hilarious on stage who are just boring, reserved. What I do know is there are people that should be doing stand-up, if they had more confidence, support, pay structure throughout their entire lives – reinforcing that it is ok to be funny and two, that you are funny and that you are better for it because it is another form of expression of who you are and what you see.
The bottom line is we recommend anything creative.
It is the same with writing. People say if you can’t write material, just write anything, whether it a diary entry, whether it is poetry, whether it is rapping or music. Whatever you do, get the words out and the brain rolling and moving because – it is like one of those paintings where you put a blob of paint and roll the marble through it and tilt the canvas and that makes a thing. It is not where it goes, it is just the fact that it is going that will make the art.
It is part of the human condition, the need to be – to explore your consciousness.
Absolutely, it the same way we have the need to move because our body was designed to move – we have a need to think and explore these things. Otherwise we’d just lie in bed all day just breathing.
Bam, we’ll wrap it with that! Your show in three words?
Dynamic, energetic, creative.
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