Havin' a Laugh with Chris Wainhouse
With a slew of shows coming up at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, BLUNT tapped into their funny bone and tracked down comedian Chris Wainhouse for a quick chat about his place in the politically incorrect shows and what it’s like to battle drunken hecklers and play to a crowd of seven angry tradesmen in the back of a ute. Needless to say when the man revealed his skater past and penchant for the heavier side of music, we were stoked.
Chris, what have we interrupted you doing?
My wife’s just started a new job so I’m at home babysitting and playing dad right now. You know, pulling play dough out of the DVD player and doing those sorts of things.
Now at what point did you stop and think, “You know, I’m funny, and people may just pay to see me do this”. Was being a comedian a childhood desire for you?
Not at all. Look, I always loved comedy. I was in Brisbane when I first started, and I didn’t even realise it was a thing. A friend of mine who I was working with at the time asked me to come and see a gig and I just assumed he was a musician, as I was before I started, and I turned up and it was a comedy club and I just loved it. So I signed up for two weeks time from the date I saw it and it was my birthday, so that was my birthday present to myself: open mic, die-in-the-ass in front of a couple hundred strangers.
You’re from New Zealand, but I’ve watched you… Well, you openly poke fun at yourself. Does this flip to paying out Aussies when you do shows over there?
Absolutely. Australians and New Zealanders are quite cool with laughing at themselves, as are the English which is quite nice, the Americans not so much (in my experience, anyway). Aussies don’t mind having the piss taken out of them and nor do the Kiwis.
With playing shows overseas, do certain audiences tend to react differently? How’s the Aussie sense of humour received abroad? I’m guessing not too well in America then…
I don’t really do that many shows in America because they don’t really pay that much unless you’ve really cracked it, so it’s a lot of free work and I tend not to go there, but the UK is great fun and they’re all very much based in irony and word play and they love that sort of stuff and you can get quite subtle over there. They’re very switched on, comedy-savvy crowds.
I’ve actually read that you’re considered to be a “comedian’s comedian” so that’s gotta mean that you’re doing something right, but what comedians inspire you personally?
I never really know if that’s an insulting reference [laughs], but I tend not to watch comedy all that much. I would never sit at home and pop on a comedy CD or DVD, I see enough comedy when I’m performing on the night and I sort of leave it at that, but every now and then someone will come along like Doug Stanhope. I saw his show when he came back a few years ago and he was excellent.
I remember watching an interview Andrew Denton was doing with Billy Crystal, and Billy was saying how he actually gave up stand-up for about 20 years as he hated waking up and thinking, “At eight o’clock tonight, I have to be really funny”. How do you deal with that sort of pressure?
I really love the stage, I love getting out there. I almost dread waking up and not having a gig that night. I could work seven nights a week, 365 days a year, it doesn’t worry me. I never get tired, I can do it sick, drunk, whatever. I’m very comfortable jumping up on stage.
That seems like the toughest part. The ‘getting up in front of people’ and not knowing how the audience will be.
I’ve got a few tester jokes to see where their heads are at, so if they don’t get those, I know where to go and if they do get those, I continue along that track. Festivals are a different story of course, I kind of dread festivals. Getting out there fliering is a tough slog, but this one’s kind of nice because I’m not putting on my own show, I’m just part of another show, so I don’t have to flier. That’s really soul destroying [laughs]. Checking how many tickets I’ve sold for the night, don’t have to worry about that, so that’ll be nice and of course to just enjoy Melbourne for what it is. Catch a few shows, catch up with my friends… comics where we cross paths only once or twice a year, it’ll be good to catch up with them.
I’ve always wanted to know this about comedians. How do you combat heckling? Is that the sort of thing you learn in “Stand-Up 101”? Or does everyone react differently to it.
It depends on the heckle. I mean, some punters will give you a really funny heckle and that kind of adds to the show, but if they’re drunk assholes just yelling out the first thing that comes to their mind, it gets kind of annoying and if that’s the case, just give them a pair of smoking shoes and it sort of stops the next guy from wanting to try it.
What’s the marker of a good show for you?
Oh, there’s sort of a roll of laughter that you can get and if you can get that at the beginning and just keep that going the whole way, just by the sound when you’ve wrapped it up and if they’re just going crazy then you know you’ve done a good show. I really like big theatres though, I don’t often get to play them, but there’s something about a 1,500 seat theatre that’s a lot of fun. Most gigs I do are only to a couple hundred people; comedy is not overly “big”, the clubs are all quite small, so I like big shows.
And where would playing in the back of a ute to seven angry workmen slot in?
[Laughs] Oh that was horrible. I’d just started and some genius, they weren’t gonna pay these tradesmen for some reason, so they thought that a comedy show might be a nice way to break it to them, so I was stuck up at the back of the theatre, I was really new to comedy too, and these guys were just… They were very furious as you can imagine, not getting paid, and they just wanted to know so they just kept asking me how much I was getting paid for this, so it was terrible. Needless to say I never worked with the guy who booked that one again.
With these Politically Incorrect shows you’ve got coming up at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, it’s all about the Aussie tradition of taking the piss. How did the whole Politically Incorrect movement come about?
I guess comedy has started to get a bit wowzery and everyone has started watching their Ps and Qs and all that sort of thing, and there’s a few topics you don’t touch, it’s not gonna be politically incorrect as in totally racist or anything like that, we’re just gonna hit any topic we wanna hit and you know, there’s a rule in comedy that’s: the darker you go, the funnier it has to be, to get away with that of course.
With shows like this, is there anything that’s “off-limits” material-wise?
I really don’t know many racist people in the comedy industry, most of them are very free-thinking cats and kittens so there’s not a lot of that that comes up. Obviously there are jokes that can be racist, I think you can say a racist thing, but if the joke is on you or your ignorance, like you might not understand something, that sort of thing… But I tend to steer clear of it. It’s like the old mother-in-law jokes and the old Irish jokes, they’re all very dated. Stereotyping different cultures, it’s all been done a billion times. That being said, a joke’s a joke. I have the feeling that you should be able to go anywhere with it, comedy’s kind of the last avenue of free speech. People will be offended in this show, but I have a feeling some people just go to shows to complain. I’ve had people telling me I was drunk on stage. I’m just standing there talking, it’s not like I’m gonna kill anybody [laughs]. I got a bit slurry and that’s normally because of the free alcohol that you get at a club. If you’re on at the end and you’ve gotta wait like four hours, you’re just steadily drinking as soon as you get there and it catches up with you.
With gathering material, what’s your biggest inspiration? Do you tend to draw from past experiences? Or do you make an effort to keep on top of current events.
I’m big on the news, I like keeping up to date with what’s happening, but to be honest, I don’t really give a fuck about actors or pop stars. The kind of music I like doesn’t really get to radio and I don’t follow the Kardashians and things like that. I used to be a skater back in the day, so I got into a lot of sort of heavy and punk style music, so I like that and I follow that still.
(Catching us completely off guard, BLUNT excitedly filled Chris in on the mag. He has a soft spot for Marilyn Manson and we have a new fan)
Do you ever think you’ll have one of those moments of doubt where you think, “Am I still funny? Do people still ‘get’ me?”. Is that what wakes comedians up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat?
I’m sure it wakes some of them up [laughs]. I’m sure there’s quite a few of them waiting for something to pop their bubble. I think if you just keep rotating your material and you keep coming out with new stuff, it’ll be fine. But then again, I have jokes that I’ve been using for quite a while. If I have trouble writing, I will just add to old jokes and just fill them out a bit and explore them, so you turn these little one-liners into ten minute bits with about 20 to 30 jokes sprinkled through it. That’s what I do, it doesn’t always work and some jokes take longer and longer to sort of nail; I’ve got a few jokes at the moment that are just taking it in the ass, they’re just not working, but I know there’s something funny there. It’s just sticking with it and seeing where you can go. Sometimes it gets a bit dark and it can sort of stop becoming funny, but if you just keep pushing it, it gets there and becomes funny again.
Catch Chris and a world of other politically incorrect comedians as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival:
Venue: The Evelyn Hotel (18+) – 351 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
Tickets: $30.00 Full │ $25.00 Concession │ $25.00 Thursday Laugh Pack
Bookings: Ticketmaster.com.au 1300 660 013 │ Comedyfestival.com.au
Dates: Thu-Sun, 29th Mar-15th Apr
By Emily Swanson.