“It’s always a good time” – Ben Russell on working with Xavier Michelides, making the absurd accessible and Nö Shöw
Two veteran festival performers have come to a crossroads. It’s opening night of their brand new show and no one has purchased a ticket. With an empty room and 55 minutes to fill, the duo analyse their professional past and contemplate the future of their act.
Ben Russell and Xavier Michelides are two pretty damn experienced comedians. With a slew of performance skills of all styles under their belts and a Golden Gibbo nomination each, their solo shows have consistently been highlights of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Combined, there’s no telling what laughter they might unleash on an unsuspecting late night crowd. We tried to get Ben Russell to give us an idea of what exactly Nö Shöw is…
So, together at last. What made the two of you decide to do a show together?
Xavier and I have known each other for a very long time. We both came up through the scene in Perth and even lived together. We’ve worked with each other on other projects and it’s always a good time. So last year we just decided we should create something new together and here we are.
Tokyo Hotel and Bad Accents and Inconsistent Mimes were two pretty different shows. What happens when you mash your comedy together?
They are different in terms of one is a stand up and one is more sketch, but our styles are still very similar. We have a similar absurd, character based style and both improvise heavily in our performances. So it wasn’t that much of a stretch to work together.
What can we expect from Nö Shöw?
You can expect a very stupid yet highly original show. We try to not take the easiest road of the first choice in terms of characters and material. Instead we’re trying to take the fourth or fifth choice and find the comedy in unexpected places.
The premise is two professional comedians with no audience on their opening night. What lead you to that idea?
We needed a vehicle that was flexible enough so that we weren’t too tied to the set up. Something to give us freedom to have as much variation as possible. I also really enjoy the show within a show aspect as well as riding that slow decent into madness that comes with the realization that we are alone in the theatre.
It’s pretty meta, really. What do you think of self-referential, self-aware comedy?
The trick is making it approachable enough so that the average audience can understand and find it funny. We try not to satirize any one person directly and instead aim for comedy and performance as a concept. We focus on creating a fictional world where the audience doesn’t need to be down with what’s cool in the real world for.
Having an audience can sometimes be the most difficult part of comedy. What’s the strangest thing someone’s yelled out at you during a gig?
One time this guy yelled out ‘what are you all doing here’. Turns out the guy was lost and really drunk. I asked for everyone in the crowd to pitch in a dollar for a cab fare and we got him home safe.
What’s the strangest (unplanned) thing you’ve witnessed in someone else’s gig?
At last years festival there was a late night showcase in the next room. One time after my show it was still going so I popped my head in to find Corey White and the audience in a chair circle doing a support group style talk. It looked like Corey had started a cult.
The show is on pretty late – 11pm. What’re the pit falls and benefits to that kind of timeslot?
The show is definitely more suited to a late night spot. Last year my show just kinda had to go late night but this year we wanted it specifically. It means we will get people who have seen something already and want to kick on with something a little different. The main pitfall is that it will be brutal in the first Wednesday as I’m not sure people want to see two chuckle heads at 11:15. But the good outways the bad in my opinion.
Nö Shöw is on at the Imperial Hotel from March 23rd until April 17th, with no shows on Monday. Tickets range from $15 to $20, and are available online, at the door, and at the MICF box office.