Sammy J : Exclusive Interview
Sammy J is fast becoming one of Australian comedies most recognisable and beloved musical comedians currently alive or not-dead on the circuit. With regular appearances on “Spicks & Specks”, “Good News Week” as well as a swag of awards for his Melbourne International Comedy Festival and Edinborough shows, “Sammy J In The Forest Of Dreams”, he is a veritable powerhouse of comedy.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Sammy J is set to tread the boards once again with his puppeteering pal Heath McIvor (aka. Randy) for their new show “Swings & Roundabouts” at Melbourne’s Butterfly Club.
Sammy J took some time out of his busy schedule of feeding the homeless and saving orphan babies from a burning house (which, in fairness, he does set fire to) to talk all things comedy with WATCH OUT FOR’s comedy nerd Sean Lynch… these are the words that were said and subsequently written down, followed by being read by you… thus the circle of life begins.
You are teaming up with Randy & Heath McIvor again – do you genuinely love performing with him, or is it just a strange sexual puppet fetish?
I think you limit your options by confining fetishes to those of a sexual nature.
I actually have a fabric fetish. Doonas, couches, carpet – you name it, I’ve licked it. But puppets really are the ultimate when it comes to engaging with fabric. For example, a doona can’t speak to you. As for Heath McIvor , I can’t stand the man.
When working with a puppet, what are the three most important comedy rules to remember?
1. Write, 2. Rehearse, 3. Perform.
Rather dull, I admit, but just because you’re working with a puppet doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still respect professionalism.
Your foray into comedy wasn’t the traditional stand-up route, was that always the plan, or it just panned out that way?
Like a lot of people I formed my sense of humour back in school. I think I still find the same things funny now that I would have found funny then. And for me, the funniest things are unexpected or absurd. At its heart, I think that’s the appeal of musical comedy – whether it’s Tripod singing a really sweet song about dumping a body, or Tim Minchin elaborating on really deep religious themes through an upbeat piano number. You can sort of do the unexpected. And I think that’s why I started doing songs.
I wasn’t ever really musically inclined, but I liked the tool. I guess as I’ve become more confident I’m moving more away from music now and trying other ways of creating jokes, but it’s always been the same sense of humour behind it. To illustrate, this answer is an example of unexpected humour. I started with two smart-arse responses, then got really deep and reflective on your arse.
You’ve traveled the world and successfully performed at every festival under the sun. 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 pros / cons to infiltrate the industry (EG: the schmooze?, being around the live comedy scene, etc? )
This is an interesting question because although I’m not a new comic I really don’t feel like I’ve “made it” in any sense. So I’m very much still living the “middle part” that you referred to, trying to challenge myself to do different things. The most important part is really the self-promotion, that is, thin veneer of professionalism that everyone has to project to the world. Perhaps I’ve done a good job of projecting that. But it’s mainly a ruse.
I was never good at schmoozing, I was never in the “cool” comedy crowd when I started out. I just tried to write good material and found that the industry was generally friendly and supportive and I chipped away rather single-mindedly, which is what I’m still doing I guess.
You and Heath are two of the most likeable, and respected, comedians on the circuit today. Is it all just an act? Do you secretly shank puppies “prison style” when no one is looking?
There’s nothing secret about it. We put the videos on Youtube.
Who was the first comedian you ever had a “humour” crush on, that shaped your way of your own “comedy thinking”?
Definitely an equal tie between Lano and Woodley and Shaun Micallef. I was addicted to their shows on ABC in high school, and I owe a huge amount to them as far as the influence they had on my sense of humour goes. To use your words, they shaped my way of thinking. They were both doing stuff that wasn’t straight stand-up, but involved storylines, send-ups, theatrics, the works.
I’ve always admired Heath’s beard, the finest trimmed this side of Texas (or Albury). Is there ever any tension between you two on the road when you start to spout some facial hair?
Heath has been known to shave my face while I sleep, just to maintain his “beard-holder” status within the relationship. It’s pathetic, really.
Highest point / lowest point in your career?
Oh god I was about to make a joke about how the highest point in my career was last week, when I did a kids show up on the top of the Eureka Tower, and the Eureka Tower is quite high, so…
I think that answer, even though I aborted it, was definitely the lowest point of my career. I did do the kids show though. I may not be funny but I don’t tell lies.
As a comedy fan (I know this happened to me) but what were your first reactions when you finally saw “behind the green curtain”. When the mystery of the performer and the actual person collided (and didn’t quite match up to your hopes). What was the biggest surprise (cutting to the chase – who was better than you originally thought)?
I remember seeing Rove McManus at Bar Open when he was trying out his new stand up a few years ago, and I was really blown away. Like most people I’d only seen Rove on TV, in more of a presenter role than as a stand-up comic.
Who was the biggest letdown?
Ricky Gervais, but only because I couldn’t hear anything as I was one of 8,000 people watching him at Edinburgh Castle and there was a lot of echoing. I’m sure he was very funny though.
I’m a bitch for politics. It’s all very Shakespearean. So I love this video of the UK Opposition Leader (as he then was) avoiding a question:
What is your favourite song / gag that, for whatever reason, has just never become part of your act – but you secretly still love?
I wrote a seven minute epic about Britney Spears turning up on my doorstep, having finally tracked me down in response to a love letter I sent her as a teenager. The whole joke being that now she’s a mum and not necessarily as attractive as in her early years, but because she’d made all this effort I feel obliged to engage with her, and slowly over many months we form a deep emotional connection. Then Germaine Greer finds a copy of the letter I wrote and tracks us both down, and it gets ugly.
I sung the song twice. The first time it went OK. The second time it bombed, horribly. I’ve never had the balls to do it again.
I’ve mentioned this to you before – but every time I see you, you are always suited up and the sharpest man in the room. You’re response is that “you only go outside once or twice a year, but wear a suit, that way everyone always thinks you are a sharp dresser”. What does Sammy J wear on the other 363 days of the year?
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 “SAMMY, WATCH OUT FOR…..??? “
“SAMMY, WATCH OUT FOR MY MATE BARRY! HE DOES SECURITY FOR HEAVEN AND CAN SNEAK YOU IN ROUND THE BACK.”
Sammy J & Randy – Swings & Roundabouts
Fresh from return seasons in Edinburgh and London’s West End, Sammy J & Randy return to their spiritual home at The Butterfly Club for more musical puppetry shenanigans! Expect songs, sketches, and sneaky glimpses of their upcoming Comedy Festival season.
‘Sammy J and Heath McIvor are fiendishly talented writers and performers’ – The Scotsman
Dates: Late-night Fridays and Saturdays in December: 4&5, 11&12, 18&19 (6 performances)
Time: 10.30 pm
Venue: The Butterfly Club, 204 Bank Street, South Melbourne