When it comes to offbeat theatre offerings at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone odder and more gleefully different than Tomás Ford. Having thoroughly wowed his home state of Western Australia, not to mention around the rest of Australia, with his live shows featuring cabaret, electronic beats, projections and costumes, he is bringing his show Electric Cabaret to the Comedy Festival.
He’s following that with Crap Music Rave Party, which is exactly what it sounds like – an after hours party featuring crap music. We found some time to chat to Ford about his shows, himself, and what the crappiest song of all really is.
The life of an independent artist is glamorous, especially this story about driving back from Adelaide Fringe and hitting a kangaroo. Tell us more – is the kangaroo okay? Can we expect some new material out of the experience?
I decided to drive to Adelaide Fringe from Perth in my little Hyundai Getz, stacked full of my gear and my transvestite comedian pal Ayden Doherty. It was against all advice, but being nocturnal comedy rock star types, we drove at night. My car took a hit to the front from an enormous roo on the edge of the Nullarbor Plain. Completely crumpled it. So many emotions.
The kangaroo itself is quite dead. I think. I never did see it again. Except the pieces of its fur wedged into the exposed parts of my engine.
The desert itself was a bit scary at that point. It took forty minutes until a truck even came past… no phone signal, just the desperate hope that someone would pick us up before the blaring desert sun came out. Laughing hysterically at the stupidity of the situation the whole time, obviously.
After a couple of days of trying to find any cheaper option, we ended up on a regional flight back to Adelaide, and then to Perth. It was a very expensive way to take my show to the next closest city to home… still, even a misadventure is a kind of adventure, isn’t it?
There’s definitely a show in here somewhere. Or some kind of epic poem.
Your show/s sounds ridiculous and amazing. What should someone going along do to prepare? Bring glowsticks? Tease their hair? Hydrate?
A bit of liquid courage beforehand is important. I think that’s probably the case for all kinds of comedy shows. Nothing weirder than a 100% sober audience.
But DO NOT TAKE HALLUCINOGENIC DRUGS.
My show is already twenty kinds of screwed up, you don’t need ‘em. Though I can’t stop you. And your bug eyes will amuse me greatly.
Your main show is Electric Cabaret, which by all accounts is a cult hit and very strange. Do you get strange people at your shows, or do they come in normal and leave strange?
The great thing about my audience is that I really like them – what I do is so idiosyncratic that people who really connect with it are generally on my wavelength.
I’m always drinking with really kickass people. Not that there aren’t a few strange people. Strange people are my people, I guess. And part of the point of being a late night act is so I can meet those strange people.
That said, my audiences tend to be pretty diverse nowadays. I like that too – the show feeds off different audience reactions.
Can you tell us more about what exactly Electric Cabaret is? I get the feeling it isn’t exactly traditional cabaret (if there is such a thing).
I croon my strange little songs about what’s happening in the show over throbbing electronic music, while I project video and… uh… have a full scale nervous breakdown. It’s an intense hour, leading up to a beautiful, ecstatic, super-joyed-up catharsis via some seriously twisted stuff.
I built this batch of songs by dragging them around the live music pubs and punk warehouses of Australia for a decade.
Once I’d had jack of that, I took them to Edinburgh Fringe, where I was told I was a kickass cabaret act. I’d never considered myself to be a “cabaret guy” before, so I reacted to that in… interesting ways. One of which was to make this show, which was me kind of exploring what cabaret meant, when it came to me and my material.
It turns out it doesn’t mean much in terms of how I present myself as, yeah, they were right; I’m a cabaret guy.
Now that I know what it is, there’s heaps of cabaret that I love – outside of all the songbook-style, jazz hands crap that I hate. There’s people like East End Cabaret, Geraldine Quinn, Michael Griffiths, Claire Healy… obviously when I look at their shows, I’m a bit more raw and punk rock in my approach, but I still feel like it’s my scene. There’s a lot of wiggle-room in cabaret.
Naming your dance party Crap Music Rave Party makes me think you have some experience with crap music. Is there a particular story behind this event? What is your favourite crap music?
Crap Music Rave Party is the dumbest, most successful idea I’ve ever had.
I only play bad requests, while running around like the hyperactive idiot I am, igniting party fever. I have a rave-ey video projection setup, some stupid DIY disco lights, and a pile of dumb ideas. It gets pretty wild.
It started as a late night excuse for me to play bad music and get people to buy me drinks at Adelaide Fringe. It’s evolved from that basic level of dumb idea into the being really, really stupid. And it goes nuts – it sells out basically everywhere, people are always looking for an excuse to party down.
My favorite crap music is the stuff that really makes me cringe. I’m a bit of a music snob, so a lot of this stuff remains physically painful for me to play, and that’s when it’s most fun.
I love seeing that moment of realization in the crowd’s eyes when they hear a lost chart song they had been lucky not to hear since 1993, and I’m playing it for first time.
I’m avoiding the question though. The real answer, obviously, is ‘Funky Junky’ by Peter Andre.
We all know the best acts at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival are the local Australian acts. Are there any, apart from yourself, you recommend?
If you’re on my wavelength, and are looking for an hour of madness, you could do worse than Penny Greenhalgh’s Pop Pop and Josh Ladgrove Talks To You For 52 Minutes In Exchange For Some Of Your Money. Both are brilliant disasterpieces. Josh Ladgrove was already great in his Neal Portenza and Come Heckle Christ shows, but this one really takes it to the next level. There’s a dark absurdity to what he’s doing that tickles me.
I’m always amped to see Die Roten Punkte, so their Sunday night Haus Party at the HiFi will be fun. Famous Sharron’s show at the Melba will be fun, too. That’s a huge show in Perth, it’ll be great to see it kick ass in Melbourne.
I missed Clara Cupcakes’ The Merchant Of Whimsy at Fringe World too, and she is really one of the best in the game when it comes to burlesque, I can’t wait to check that out.
Basically everything though, I love seeing a BILLION SHOWS every festival. Especially the bad ones. If you know any terrible shows, let me know. I live for ‘em.
Tomás Ford’s Electric Cabaret runs from the 9th April (preview) to the 19th April (no Wednesdays), at Tuxedo Cat. Tickets start from $10, available online or at the door.
His late night Crap Music Rave Party only has four dates: 10th, 11th, 17th and 18th April, at the European Bier Cafe. Tickets start from $15 and are also available online or at the door.