Every night this week, from October 27th to the 31st, Til is heading out to comedy venues around the Melbourne CBD to try and understand just what it is to be a working comic. There’s no special occasion, no festival. These are your regular weeknight comedy rooms and the people that perform there.
Off Little Collins street, down an alleyway, up some stairs, up some more stairs, past the bar and down some more stairs, is Chevrons. It’s a room nestled in the bowels of The Butterfly Club, a cabaret venue and bar. The building is tall and narrow, making for a lot of nooks and steps. The décor is mismatched, vampy and endearing, and everything has been hammed up for Halloween.
The performance space of Chevrons is unusual. The stage is set up directly under the stairs so that the audience sit in three long rows down the width of the room. There’s space to stand in front of the bar and $5 Boags. The night is designed to foster young talent and new material. In fact, if a comic is performing old jokes they’re required to hold a rope to signal it. There are ten five minute sets in the hour and a half show; it’s an intense experience. The rapidity helps keep spirits high so that a bad joke or a poor set doesn’t influence the atmosphere. MC Dave Warneke also works to maintain that atmosphere, politely chatting to the audience. He brings a nice mix of prepared material and improvisation to hosting. The prepared material is necessary given the frequency with which Warneke MC’s, “it’d be twenty minutes of new material every week”, he says, and besides, you need to have a solid joke to pick the mood up if things go seriously wrong.
Chevrons recently introduced a new mode of cheeky professional development – every time a stand up makes a racist, sexist or sexual assault based joke, the cost of the Boags goes up by a dollar. It’s designed to help young comics know where the line is, but often the bar is so busy that the bell doesn’t get rung. Warneke enjoys the set up of the room and the way it forces people to the front. At 24, he’s completed a performing arts degree and has been practicing comedy for five years. He likes any room with a crowd and has done sets at Spleen, Public Bar and the Imperial Hotel.
Greg Fury performs as Randy Starman, a relationship therapist from LA and a character Fury has only recently developed. He finds the character work provides a nice contrast to his stand up, giving him an outlet to be a bit less “bogan and blokey.” Starman is a hit, though it helps that Fury’s day job colleagues are in the audience. “He widens my demographic a bit, and he goes interesting places,” Fury says. They’re comments that throw light on both the potential of the character as a warped masculine exploration of feminine gross out humour and the contrast between Fury’s male and female audiences.
Tim Clark is happy with his set. “It was fun and relaxed,” he says, relieved. Like all of the night’s acts, Clark is testing new material. “It’s loose but structured, I’m trying to build more ‘bits’ rather than stories.” Clark’s bits pay off, he successfully tops the topper through his use of comedic repetition. The pop culture references he deploys help get the crowd onside. “It’s scary when they’re chatty,” he admits, and when audiences come in large groups it can make them harder to read. Luckily, they’re friendly, and for the most part the stand ups are comfortable and trusting. Daisy Berry even jokes about material hitting the cutting room floor just after a line falls flat, her confidence and flippancy making the audience giggle self-importantly.
Chevrons is, in essence, the stage in which comedians hone their material, turning it from a story they’d tell their mates into a comedy routine. It’s also an ‘up and coming’ space. Warneke recounts the story of hanging out with Lawrence Leung in front of a kebab shop and having drunks repeatedly point and squint at Leung, “eventually we realised we were standing in front of the menu, which is not a good place to stand if you don’t want to be recognised by drunks.” Hence Warneke’s definition of fame “[it’s] when people in a fast food joint vaguely recognise you,” he says firmly.
I’m going to step in with the first person for a moment to explain why I picked Chevrons to wrap up this series. The other option was the Athenaeum, whose Friday night line up was Mandy Nolan, Richard Heath and Paul Brasch. The Athenaeum is a much more established venue, a theatre rather than a room. It has smaller line ups, longer sets and bigger names, and I can’t help but feel ending there would return the reader to the kind of place they started in. Chevrons is a totally different experience, and it’s the sort of place you might find yourself after visiting a series of week night comedy rooms. The camaraderie present between comedians at the other rooms is laid bare here, as are the comics themselves. By reading these articles, maybe you’ve realised that you’re the sort of trustworthy person whose laughter can be useful feedback. Also, Chevrons is free.
Chevrons is a room inside the Butterfly Club, located at Carson Place. Entry is free and the comedy starts at 8:30pm on Thursday and Friday nights. The line ups can be found on their Facebook page.
BONUS Review: FNC at the Butterfly Club.
FNC (Friday Night Comedy) happens two flights of stairs up from Chevrons at 10:30pm. Like Chevrons, the show is designed to help stand ups improve. Unlike Chevrons, FNC is improvised.
The show is a series of short form improv games which the audience influence by texting in. The parameters of each game are laid out by MC Geoff Setty. Setty is a stand up too, and MCing for FNC is very different than MCing for Chevrons. “Here, it’s not about me at all. I just explain things,” he says. He brings less of his comedic persona, instead focusing on keeping things upbeat and fast paced.
Despite the structure of the show as a competition, it’s actually more about camaraderie and skill development. Improv is totally different style of comedy, and all of the performers at FNC are stand ups: Corey White, Alasdair Tremblay-Birchall, Nellie White and Sonia Di Ioria. “There’s much less self censorship,” Setty says, “it’s free wheeling, a silly hour.”
The performers feel pretty uncomfortable about the show when they get off stage, despite there being clusters of genuinely funny moments. Their job was made difficult by the small audience, limiting the pool of prompts. FNC has only been running for six months, and as the audience grows so will the night’s energy, which already has a solid baseline.
FNC is on every Friday night at the Butterfly Club. Line up details can be found at their Facebook page.