Dan Ilic (Hungry Beast, Ronnie Johns) : Exclusive Interview
Dan Ilic is a man of a thousand talents, and one “gypsy gift” which we simply won’t get into. From writing, to singing, sketch to satire, he has managed to cover the gamet of comedy in the last few years.
WATCH OUT FOR | COMEDY‘s Sean Lynch caught up with the star of Andrew Denton’s Hungry Beast, cult skit show The Ronnie Johns Half Hour and controversial musical satire Beaconsfield : The Musical to talk all things comedy, Hitler, and how to spend other peoples money…
You’ve had a different lead into Comedy & TV than most (not doing a great deal of traditional stand up), were you ever worried early on that sketch and live impro wouldn’t get you as much exposure as stand up might?
All the time. It seems that traditional stand ups got most of the gigs. Even today, stand up is still seen as the better way. I’m not a great stand up, but I’m trying to learn the craft, and it is a totally different craft to learn to.
It’s an amazing skill to add to your comedy bow. If there is such a thing… that is to suggest that there are comedy arrows too.
When it comes down to festival shows as long as you’re writing your own gear, whether you’ve written one hour of stand up or you’ve written one hour of a musical or one hour of your own sketches, then you’re in the business of show my friends.
I plan to take some time off next year and disappear overseas to work on my stand up a little more, it’s too valuable a skill not to be able to do well.
How did “Comicide” come about?
I was watching Jimeoin on DVD, and the opening titles has Jimeoin, Glenn Robbins and Bob Franklin piss farting around on stage in a pub. I got to thinking – that’s all they’re doing, that’s how they’ve been writing this stuff. I think I can do that.
And so I started a fortnightly sketch comedy night for writer / performers. There was only one rule, if you wanted to perform, you had to write.
I gathered a whole bunch of talented Sydney sketch and improv people together and we started the show. It was terrific, it was a place where good ideas really thrived, and the smallest idea could be built up by the writing workshops held on the weekend for the Tuesday show. We never rehearsed too much, so the idea had to stand on its own two feet.
The door money from the Tuesday night performances were saved up to take the entire show down to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (MICF), and we did that… and now it happened again this year… without me… so clearly I wasn’t the secret to the success of that show at all. In fact they made a lot more money this year a MICF without me… but then again.. last year.. I did buy a company yacht…
But when I did start it, I tried to foster a safe environment where writer / performers could feel good to come and have fun. Because if you weren’t having fun… then what’s the point.
You are no stranger to controversy, where do you draw the line with comedy?
I don’t do jokes about kids with cancer, kids with rickets.. sure… but not cancer..
What do you find works and what doesn’t?
If Beaconsfield : The Musical has taught me anything, it would be if you give people a decent structure / narrative they’ll be fooled into you doing something incredible. Also… end on an uplifting song.
What is your favourite skit or gag that you’ve written, but for whatever reason, never ended up being aired or filmed?
Probably, my work with GetUp! has been the most rewarding… I have to say “David Hicks Cribs” is my favourite, and from the old Ronnie Johns Half Hour days… “Hitler Buys A New Mobile Phone”. It’s a good example of where characters meet with lots of jokes.
Young comedians always hear the success stories, but very rarely do the success stories explain the “middle part” of the process. What was your method to infiltrate the industry (EG: the schmooze, being around the live comedy scene, etc)?
No secret… It’s really just working hard, you won’t get noticed if you don’t have the body of work to back yourself. Buzz is good, but jokes and ability are better. You have to make heaps of mistakes. I still make them every day… I can’t believe sometimes that I have a job because I make so many bad judgements.
I also know funny people to bounce off, I’m a collaborative writer and need good ears and heads. With Hungry Beast, anything I’m proud of on the show has often taken a few phone calls with experts in that topic or with other comedians who play in that area to help me get it over the line. Like the “Masters of Outrage” sketch presented by Dan Keogh… it’s probably the most interesting thing I’ve written.
I interviewed Commercial TV exec Paul Leadon, The Chaser’s Julian Morrow and master of structure Gerard McCulloch before writing the piece… and because it was already an Ilic heavy episode I couldn’t exactly allow myself to perform it.
Just pick your medium and run at it. Ever since I was on Romper Room in ’85 I always wanted to work in TV, so I got my first gig when I was 20 working for NBC during the Winter Olympics as a logger.
However, I probably made the mistake of giving up my gig hosting Breakfast Radio on FBi in Sydney to work at Funniest Home Videos …
But… I did learn the term “ball-tearer” and also some fundamental comedy lessons there, lIke how a Grandma falling off a skate board is “funny”, but a kid impaling his arm on a fence whilst stoned is probably more an “ouchie”, either way there are tears and broken bones… but only one will make a family laugh.
How daunting is it working for Andrew Denton. What’s the atmosphere / writing style at Hungry Beast like compared to your other work?
Andrew Denton is very rigorous, and hard working, whereas I’m sloppy and lazy… so it’s a challenge, but thrilling. He’s got a terrific sense of structure and is able to hone an idea down so it’s near perfect. It’s great to get to work with him everyday, even though we get paid in left over Enough Rope books and David Tench DVDs.
If anything, by the end of Hungry Beast, I hope my writing process will be more refined and I’ll be able to make people cry on cue.
Any development on This Week In Shorts (the pilot you shot with Heath Franklin & Tom Gleeson)?
This Week In Shorts was the simplest, and easiest, pilot for a TV show I’ve ever made. It was just great to work with former Ronnie Johns gang members and comic genius’ Heath Franklin and Chris McDonald again. It was the first time I got to work with Tom Gleeson too, he’s man with a giant brain, and knows how to hit a target with a single sentence.
Could you explain a little about the TV Pilot process in your experience (from ideas, to writing, to pitching, to filming, etc).
This is a pretty simple thing, a network executive wants to see a show like this on air, comes to us and says : “We’ve got $20k to make a pilot, we’ll stick you in a room for 10 days, we record in 14 – see you at the other end”.
And so Chris, Heath and Tom Gleeson get stuck into conceptualise and have a bit of fun spending money that’s not ours… It was terrific fun to do and incredibly low pressure from the network. And that’s the story of how The 7PM Project was born…. haha.
An old producer once told me, and it still rings true, is that it’s not so much about a great idea that you have, it’s about the kind of show that the network needs. So in a commercial network environment you’re idea needs to fill their gap.
We love our Viral Videos at WATCH OUT FOR | COMEDY. Do you have any particular favourite internet viral video?
Well at the moment I’m all about Bangs:
And here’s one I made back in 2006 that still gets heaps of comments every day.
Finally – a question we ask everyone – if you were about to die a horrible graphic history making death and the last words you heard was someone yelling out to save you… what would you like this unfinished sentence to say “DAN, WATCH OUT FOR…..??? “
“THE FLAMING BALL SACK OF DOOM!!!”. Apropos to end on a ball joke… pointed satire.. yes sir!
Dan Ilic can be seen every week on Hungry Beast, Wednesdays 9pm, ABC1