'There's a lot of tension in the comedy industry right now...'

Brendon Burns interview

Brendon Burns talks to comedy columnist Tommy Holgate about living clean, wrestling and why Michael McIntyre is absolutely brilliant...

It's interesting you're the first major comedian in Europe to release their own special for download. It's staggering what technology can lead to...

Well, there's never been a better time to be a comic, because you don't have to pander to anyone. There are enough vehicles out there, and more people touring arenas. Broad stand-up shows’ ratings are through the roof.

On the flip side of that, if that's not what you want, you can be the niche guy, releasing your podcasts, taping your own shows.

I was involved in every aspect of the production of this special, which meant I didn't have to take anything out, I just did it the way I wanted to do it, and put it out there.

You can find your audience that way. There's a lot of tension in the industry now, and I think it stems from people feeling like they've been robbed of something.

Who feels like they're being robbed?

I don't think there's one guy, you know, I think niche guys are complaining about McIntyre's Roadshow, which is almost so adolescent it's become hack to slag McIntyre off.

They should have luchboxes with anti-McIntyre logos printed on for them to carry around.

I think, 'How is this fucking with your life? How is this stopping you from reaching your goal? Your audience? What is being taken from YOU that you somehow feel that this is an injustice. It's preposterous and childish. The bottom line is, the guy is funny!

I think the reason some comics don't like him is that he's a far more honest depiction of what an English guy is. And it is very empowering to the working classes, to see a posh guys tearing himself to shreds.

I even wrote something about it in this year's show, about how I've never met a middle-class English guy who didn't think he was cooler than he actually was.

Then there's this posh English guy going: ‘I don't understand anything, and my cock doesn't work!’

That's the world's view of English people. That's the perception. Effectively as a nation, you throw like a girl. That's the best metaphor I can give!

I tell you who probably doesn't throw like a girl, Mick Foley. Hey, speaking of Mick Foley, you're touring with him now...

Seemless. You're good. Yeah he's my boyhood idol. I'm a huge wrestling fan, so that's a bit surreal – and he is a great guy, we get on famously.

Just being able to get up and do jokes about wrestling is amazing, because it's such a sub-culture.

Mick says he wants me to help non-wrestling fans to get into wrestling. I don't!

I think it's such a niche thing, and we're ostracised enough, I want anybody who's there who ISN'T a wrestling fan to be completely baffled by what we're saying, because for once I don't have to do any sort of backstory or anything.

There are days now where Mick's even talking to the WWE about bringing me on board as a writer. And the very idea that my name is being banded about in the WWE headquarters... I'm still not sure I haven't come off the mushrooms.

If I did that, then we shoot the film based on the book [Fear Of Hat Loss in Las Vegas], then I'm done. You can put a pin in me. I'll have achieved everything I might even retire.

I can't imagine that...

No, actually I don't think I ever could!. But I think if I did that, and made enough money to be financially secure I might take a bit of time off to spend some time with my son.

Every year has several focusses now, and one of them is trying to get back to Melbourne to see him.

If you're in the business of building a man, you can't be doing it every second weekend.

I read your book back when I was boozing heavily. To be honest I can't remember much, other than that you seemed to be having a pretty good time - and put my own consumption into perspective. You must be a better father now...

Definitely. Without a shadow of a doubt.

It was fun though.

That was the whole point of the trip, in that I was living my life like it was some sort of movie. I was searching for some magic button, for some perfect ending, hoping everything would be all right. But that's not how life works. If you're really looking for finality, then that's what happens. You die.

If you're living your life that way, that's the only way it can end. It ends, and you don't have to deal with any outcomes, and that was the discovery in writing the book. The week itself turned out to be a worthwhile adventure because it was without doubt the funniest week of my life.

[The Aristocrats director] Paul Provenza has got people in place now and we're shooting the film ourselves, which returns me to my original point.

There's never been a better time to be someone who wants to create their own work and find their own niche. You can just go and produce it yourself.

So the latest release is, like, your ninth comedy album. And there have been a few tales. What is the next chapter, Home Stretch Baby. about?

This one is an abandonment of cynicism, and it's about the glory of middle age from an ex-rock and roll comic.

It's largely about how in your forties, life's struggles are all over, and if you're not who you want to be and doing exactly what you want to do by the time you're forty, then you've really fucked up. Everyone seems to think that 'home stretch', means the home stretch to death, but it's not.

A great friend of mine, Scotty Newman, put it best. He's an Aussie fisherman, with a real slow drawl. That kind of character. After seeing the show, he just goes: ‘Nah mate, it's not the home stretch to death, it's just that during your childhood and your twenties, and your divorces and break-ups and everything... you've gone thorough all the battles in life, then you hit forty and you get the chance to decide whether or not you're gonna run or not.’

So now you’ve cleaned your life up, has it affected your working capabilities?

It's saved SO much time. My director, Paul Byrne [brother of Ed] also stopped a couple of years ago. He's like a brother to me as well Our level of communication now that we're both sober is just through the roof.

We can immediately analyse a show straight away afterwards. What would usually take people hours of back and forth, we can fix in about five minutes.

There was only one point he disagreed with, and I had a perfectly logical answer that he understood straight away.

What point were you deliberating over?

It was a funny one.

He said: "I don't think you can make the assumption that everybody in your audience is going to be aware of the porn website Spankwire and I went, "Yeah I can, I think over-explaining it would be hack. Spankwire is quite specific.'

And he went, ‘Yeah, I suppose if anybody knows their audience, it's you!’

Which is true, I'm on a first name basis with most of them. I recognise the crowd to the extent where I recognise a guy who keeps getting dragged along by his friends, even though he doesn't like it. I even know that guy. But he keeps giving it a go You know when you see somebody try to rub a headache away through their eye sockets? That's him.

He's like that, shifting around, rubbing his palms against his head, like 'shut the fuck up!’ Maybe he just doesn't think I'm funny

But he'd be wrong though, wouldn't he?

Well no, that's the price of the niche guy. The whole point is that, for me, building an audience is all about percentages.

If I play a broad room, I would rather put off 75 per cent of people, and make a fan for life with the other 25 per cent.

It's been a long, laborious process, but that's why I'm so thrilled with how it's going at the moment.

Back in the day, the only time I would be able to build a crowd was by playing a broad room, then act like some sort of town cryer/market stall trader, handing out flyers and then recoding stuff. In the early days, there were very few unsigned copies of my album!

It's interesting that you use the 'town cryer' analogy because you do have quite a shouty style. Do you think that can sometime put off that '75 per cent'?

Possibly. But I'm also quite hard of hearing. Hence all the yelling. Sometimes people think I'm just trying to be noticed, but I just can't hear myself that well, and I can't hear the crowd that well.

That's also why you'll always see me standing right near the front, patrolling the stage, because - sadly - unless I can see their faces, and they're making a lot of noise and reacting to me, I don't even know they're there. And the way to get people to react is to go big. Then the louder they get, the louder I get.

But I'm very visually aware to the point where I recognise the same guy who doesn't even like me! ‘I'm like, you're that guy. Thanks for giving me a second go, but you hate this!' and he pisses himself in recognition. It's odd. But comedy is so subjective that if somebody doesn't think you're funny it doesn't mean they don't have a sense of humour.

So what makes YOU laugh?

If I'm honest, the thing that makes me laugh the most is silly noises.

Terry Alderton is great for that, isn't he?

Yeah, I know a lot of comics who were critics of Terry, then had to go on stage after him. It's not an easy thing.

And that's why I get so annoyed by new comics having a go at Michael McIntyre, With their lunchboxes. If he's so shit, try following him on a Thursday in Cardiff, before he was famous. Because that guy used to kill it, and he still lifts the roof off It wasn't an accident!

Here's the thing. Everyone has a bit when they play in Cardiff about paying to get in on the bridge, and everyone has a bit on the town called Barry. But that motherfucker had twenty minutes.

It was the most complete bit about his sense of panic you get at the fact there's no marking on the road to divide the lanes once you go through the toll bridge. And he did this whole thing for TWENTY minutes. It was so much more than just the gag about, 'Why would you pay to get in?'

It's true. I pity those who waste time making themselves feel better by slagging off another...

The thing is, if you're going to make a living by slagging off another individual comic, your act had better be bullet proof. BULLET proof.

I remember reading an interview with him, and if it was any lesser comic it would've made me wretch. They asked him what he'd been working on, and he goes, "I've got quite a good salt and pepper joke".

Any other comic, I would've thought it was lame, but all my inner monologue – and to the extent where I was surprised by my own inner monologue – went, ‘I bet he fucking does!'.

Then I hear he's got TWENTY minutes on salt and pepper!

But some comics don't adhere to his style do they?

No, they don't. But nothing makes me more sick than when a comic says: ‘I don't do that. I don't do jokes.’

I say, ‘Well then you suck, because it's the hardest part of the job.’

It involves a level of communication, and an understanding of wordplay seldom understood or appreciated.

It can involve distraction, misdirection, detached irony, Socratic irony, and when done well, and when done right and a joke is written so apt and so well and so concise, it takes on a life of its own and makes its way around the world to the extent that nobody can even tell who the author was.

Now if somebody wants to talk about that sort of shit like it's somehow beneath them Just be honest and say, ‘I CAN'T do jokes,’ not, ‘I DON'T do jokes’

  • Brendon Burns: Home Stretch Baby is at the Pleasance Dome 22:00. He’ll be talking to Tommy Holgate again in the chat show Tommy Talks this Friday alongside Jim Jefferies. Gilded Balloon, 11:45, Aug 2-12 only.

Published: 31 Jul 2012

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