Let's praise the unsung superheroes of comedy

...and their goats, says Bob Slayer


Australian comedian Jimbo Bazoobi and his best mate Gary The Goat are all over the world media today. Their fine of $440, imposed when Gary was caught by police eating grass in a park outside Sydney Museum of Culture, was dropped and the charges of ‘destruction of vegetation’ thrown out of court. Hear us chant: ‘Gary The Goat is Innocent!’

The conclusion of this case means that we can now go into post-production on a documentary that I have been making (with assistance from Brown Eyed Boy productions), about touring with Jimbo last year. There are many stories that can be told here. One angle is a cute goat tale, another is all about a billy-goat standing up against the ‘Nanny’ state and then a third is how inspiring people like Jimbo are for the world of comedy...  

As the top earners in comedy are able to turn over staggering amounts of money, so the industry seems to increasingly resemble a conveyor belt, churning out the next identikit pretty boy or girl in skinny jeans that will hopefully make themselves and importantly their agents, managers and promoters the big cash...

The path is clearly laid out and all acts need to is line up and attempt to jump through the right hoops in order to progress along it. From comedy competitions to TV panel shows, TV presenting, their own TV vehicle, arena gigs and then a DVD and book out at Christmas.

There are, of course, interesting acts that can fit alongside the mainstream and retain their own identity. Stewart Lee has brilliantly made this position his own. Tony Law, Dr Brown, Paul Foot are all acts that are increasingly embraced by the industry while retaining their own very distinctive style. 

But what about acts that are not quite so readily accepted? I believe that Jimbo, just like Kunt And The Gang (the mastermind behind the ‘Cockgate’ scandal of penis-shaped stickers appearing on Edinburgh posters last year), is one of the true unsung heroes of comedy, and a real inspiration.

Having spent years on the fringes of the industry forging his own path, it is great to see nearly 10,000 recent results for his name on Google News. Jimbo really deserves the break that this will hopefully bring him... but the important thing is that whatever happens, if he decides to embrace the industry or if he elects to carry on doing his own thing, he can make these decisions on his own terms. 

Eight years ago when Jimbo was told not to tell one of his jokes at Sydney Comedy Store, he asked if anyone had complained about it the night before. Apparently no one had, but the fear was there that they might do. Jimbo ignored his would be censor and opened that night by saying: ‘I have been told not to do a particular joke because it might offend, but I think you should be the judge of that...’ and went on to deliver the joke in question. The gag addressed the sensitive subject of sexism, but it did so from the right perspective and importantly it was funny. No one complained, but still he got banned. 

Jimbo took this as an opportunity. He slung all his possessions in the back of a truck that he had converted to run on vegetable oil and he drove around the outback putting on uncensored gigs in small country town pubs. Touring with Jimbo in mining towns, farm towns, sheep stations, I have seen him handle some of the most difficult comedy audiences imaginable and yet end the night smiling, having given them all a great night out. He has filth and shock in his arsenal but behind that there is also an extremely high level of skill and a brain that is quite simply hardwired for comedy. 

When in most comedy rooms, for example, you stand up and do material that points out that racism is perhaps not the greatest idea in the world, then you can expect to get the support from the audience, who you can be pretty sure will agree with you. But really this is shooting fish in a barrel. How many acts that do jokes on these subjects could go into a room that made the Klu Klux Klan seem a moderate organisation and not only make them laugh, but also actually get them to think about their world view? That is exactly what I saw Jimbo achieve. 

In one particular outback gig that Jimbo and I did together a woman told me how proud she was that her family had ‘driven the Abos over the cliffs...’ There are not many things more shocking than when someone casually shares their racism with you in a way that indicates they just expect you to agree.

That night Jimbo decided it was the right room to tell his 'award winning Aboriginal joke'. If he told you the joke you might not laugh. Like a lot of race jokes it is only funny if you are racist. But unlike these jokes Jimbo's is not in itself racist. It is in fact the exact opposite. Let me explain...    Jimbo sets up the gag by telling the audience that Australia should be worried about the Chinese invading Australia in order to exploit the country’s natural resources. They would be likely to try and use the local population to do all the work down the mines. The sort of audience Jimbo would deliver this joke in front of would get riled up. 

‘But you wouldn't stand for that would you?’ he asks them

‘No...’ a few reply 

‘You wouldn't work for foreigners who have taken over your country would you?’

‘No..’ more of them reply

‘Exactly. We would tell them wouldn't we? - fuck you... you have taken over our country and we are not going to be your slaves... We would rather sit in the sun drinking piss all day than work for you..."

‘Too right Jimbo!’ they agree

And if you think Jimbo might be kicking off some sort of unsavory rally, he delivers the twist: ‘And then we are going to sit in the park having our first swig and we are going to look at the Aboriginal guy next to us and we are going to say, “Crikey, mate I think that maybe I might just know where you are coming from brother..."’

And you know what happens, people think about it, they laugh and some of them agree with Jimbo. He has a variety of different toppers that invariably sends the reaction into applause. He has genuinely managed to get a bunch of people to look at their fellow countrymen in a way that they have probably never done before. 

I once explained Jimbo's joke to another comedian who is currently doing a whole show based on race. He looked at me disappointed and just said: ‘I wish I had thought of that...’ But I just don't think he could have done. Because he performs comedy in the safe bubble created around the industry.

I like to think that he realised that preaching to the converted is one thing, but actually going out and making a racist laugh in a positive way about race issues is a whole different thing and is truly powerful. 

People like Jimbo are undercover superheroes trying to put the world to rights and I think that the comedy industry would be a much better place if they realised that.

  • Bob Slayer is currently taking applications for acts to perform at Heroes Of Fringe, his venues at Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Information here.

    Published: 24 Jan 2013

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