“They’re always replying like ‘Hey Gavin, thanks for your thoughts on our soy lattes…’ ” – an interview with Mel Buttle
Mel Buttle’s had it up to here with… well, quite a lot of things. A whole show’s worth of things. Her previous show, How Embarrassment, nabbed an MICF Director’s Choice award and Best Comedy at the Sydney Fringe. Her new show, Up to Pussy’s Bow, sees the comedian, writer, radio personality and co-host of The Great Australian Bake Off take on a new challenge – getting angry onstage. Or, at the very least, dispensing with the need to please and letting loose on modern-day frustrations like hipster bars, parking fines and even complaining itself…
What’re you up to today? I saw you’ve just finished up shows in Brisbane?
Yes, today is my day off after finishing my run in the Brisbane Comedy Festival, so… I posted Anne Edmond’s iphone charger back to her today, she left it here, and I went and borrowed Top Gear DVDs from the library, and then I ate lunch in the food court at a Westfield shopping centre. So just non-stop glamour, as you can imagine, the life. It’s very similar to the life of a Miley Cyrus or something, I imagine.
You’re probably sick of this question, but what’s it like being a Queenslander in comedy?
It’s really good. It’s really good, because I get to live here, where I know where everything is, and people just fly you where you need to be, so you can never predict where you’ll need to be in a year. Last year I did Bake Off, so that’s filmed in Sydney, but the year before I had to move to Melbourne for like three months for another show. So I figured, instead of trying to guess if it’s going to be Sydney or Melbourne, I’m just going to live in Brisbane, enjoy the weather, and just fly in and fly out of where I need to be. Because wherever you go, someone needs you somewhere else.
I haven’t heard as much about the Brisbane comedy scene – what’s it like these days?
The Brisbane comedy scene, compared to when I started – when I started it was just pretty much one main comedy club, everyone that was on there was a bloke who was white and in their 40s or 50s. And now there’s lots of people opening rooms, and they’re all different kinds of rooms around Brisbane, and their not just in this 80s comedy club, their in cool little Japanese whiskey bars and stuff, and they’re run by, like, a girl in her 20s who knows about comedy and has her finger on the pulse and stuff. There’s a lot more tiny rooms now that you can do where the audience looks more like you, and feels a kind of constant age to you, rather than just the one sort of central club where everyone there’s on a hen’s night.
What happens here though, that I guess is unfortunate or to be expected, is that people get really really good – like Corey [White], like Becky Lucas, like Josh Thomas, there’s a whole list of people – who get to a certain level and then they move to Sydney or Melbourne. Which leaves a hole in the scene, and then someone else needs to build up over the next few years, and get up to that level. And they’ll leave. But I stayed. I stuck it out.
So you’re the veteran now?
You know, in a weird way I feel a little bit like I am. I just like, I actually really like that sort of watching, and every like 2 or 3 years someone really good will come along and you’ll go “Yes you! I want to be your friend, I want to help you, I want to tell you everything!” So I’ve seen that cycle a few times now, and actually I really like it. It probably says… It’s kind of a grandma thing to say.
So your promo for Up to Pussy’s Bow says you’ve “had enough”. What have you had enough of? And what made you decide that you just weren’t going to take it anymore?
Well, in my previous festival shows, when I was a bit newer, I was trying to please everyone, and not offend anyone and not say what I really thought. This is not the most political thing and all, it’s not like that. What this show is, it’s me saying: I hate going to hipster cafes and sitting on a crate. It’s really cutting edge, I hope people are able to keep up.
Just things that have annoyed me. Instead of holding my tongue on things I’ve decided, I thought maybe I’m not the only one who didn’t enjoy getting a $227 parking fine. Sooo political, no one’s ever heard these topics before… It’s more of a thing for myself to allow myself to be a little bit angry on stage, because I’ve always tried to be kind of happy and upbeat and very pleasing.
“Up to Pussy’s Bow” is a pretty grouse title for a show. What’s your secret for rehabilitating awesome slang?
You’ve just gotta say it, and you’ve gotta start saying it to everyone, like the person who makes you coffee in the morning. You’ve just gotta. My parents had all this language and all these things they used it say that I used to find so cringe-worthy when I was little, like my Dad, if I stuffed something up, he’d say “You mucked it, you mucked it up” and I was like “Who says that?” But now I’m saying it half-ironically, sort of half tongue-in-cheek, but it’s sort of fun to say “Aw grouse, thanks for the beer, that’s ripper.”
My mum says “Up to pussy’s bow”. So that’s the original – like, my mum will just come home from work and I’ll go “How was work, Mum?” and she’ll go “I’m up to pussy’s bow with Maryanne, I’ve had it up to here…” She uses it to mean she’s really annoyed, but I think a lot of people also use it to mean they’re full, like they’ve had enough food to eat. So I’ve taken it’s other meaning, I’m full up with everyone’s crap, basically.
You’ve got a new episode of The Minutes up, after a bit of hiatus – can fans expect to hear more of yourself and Patience in the near future?
Yes, we’re actually making another… We had a big break because Patience had a baby and, whatever, bought an extra bar – she’s doing really well! We’re going to record another episode tomorrow, so that should be out fairly soon as well. We’re having a guest, some music guy that Patience knows, but he used to date one of the Veronicas or something, so we’re like yep, get him in.
In addition to The Minutes, you’ve got a pretty diverse social media portfolio – if you had to recommend just one of your youtube videos to a new fan, what would it be?
There’s one if you go looking for it, unless Tom Ballard has taken it down. I think it’s called ‘Tom and Mel take a bath’. And that’s my favourite one. I love making those with Tom – we used to go on a holiday every year. I think they’re my favourite because they’re just silly. They’re the best ones, I reckon.
So you were writing ‘Strongly Worded Letters’ before Yelp became a thing. Do you feel like the art of complaint has changed in the last few years?
Yeah I do. You used to, if you didn’t like something, you’d have say it right then and there in the restaurant, or if it was more complicated you had to write a letter, and go and buy a stamp, and find a post box. And maybe it wasn’t worth it. But now it’s so instant, Google reviews or yelp or Facebook. And I don’t know why, even though I know it could be written by any idiot, I take the stuff seriously. So I am looking through some cafes for breakfast, and one’s only got 3.6 out of 5 starts on Facebook, I’m like “Hmmm, better look into that…” Who cares? Why’d they take points off?
The thought that goes into complaints isn’t there, I think.
I agree. I think it’s too easily available – I think if companies said “We won’t take anything you say seriously” in writing I think then the world would change. But they’re all so keen to have everything positive about them online. They’re always replying like “Hey Gavin, thanks for your thoughts on our soy lattes.” I don’t think it’ll ever end. I think there’ll be some app called like, ‘Complainr’. It pushes the complaint to all the apps that business has. That’d be nice. That’s a good idea.
Do you find yourself writing/acting/performing differently across different media (e.g. live, podcasts, television, radio, etc)?
The differences I think in standup, when it’s a live show, like in Melbourne for example, you really have to come out really strong. You’ve got to convince these people from the first minute that they’ve spent their money well, you’re funny and they’re in good hands. And make them feel comfortable, and that you’re gonna be in control and you’re gonna handle this next hour with them, and it’s gonna be fun.
But when I filmed Bake Off, it’s six weeks on set with these bakers, ordinary people, never been in front of a camera before. You’ve actually got to be really delicate, and treat it like a conversation with someone you don’t know very well. You can’t just go up to them and say “Hey Suzie, do you miss your husband?” You’ve got to be “So… how’s it going away from home?” and you’ve got to build up to things, and treat people sort of gently.
The core of all of it, radio, standup and writing is “Is it in your true voice, and do you have an emotion of some kind behind it?” So are you really being yourself, and are you genuinely like happy or frustrated, or whatever it is, are those two things happening, and then it should be hopefully be entertaining. Hopefully.
So you’re feeling pretty happy about your own voice at the moment?
I think so, yeah. I think I’ve started to be way more myself – not that I wasn’t myself previously – but now I feel more comfortable out there on stage, and I think that hopefully comes across and the crowd feels that they’re in for a good show because I’m more relaxed instead of being nervous. Which I think maybe in previous years they might’ve been able to pick up.
What’s the best piece of MICF advice you’ve been given/wish you’d been given?
The best piece I’ve been given, from a lot of comics, you sort of get told “Don’t drink for the first two weeks of the festival, if you can avoid it”. And do something in the daytime that isn’t comedy focused, so go to a café, go for a walk, go to the zoo. And it’s obviously hard to not treat it like a big party, because that’s kind of what it is – it’s all your friends that you haven’t seen for like a year, and it’s great, and of course you want to go out and have drinks with your mates, and go and dinner at midnight. But you’ve got to try and normalize… If you treat it like a party for every night for 22 shows, you won’t feel very healthy.
There was a point at last year’s Comedy Festival that my bedtime was 7am, and that’s pretty fucked. And note even because of drinking, it’s just that you’re not tired. You’ve got so much adrenaline after the show, maybe you’ve had a nap, maybe had to have a coffee at 8 o’clock to wake up to do the show, to give it all your energy. And then you’re not tired, so you’re out eating dinner with your mates at 1am, and then you’re like “Oh, let’s watch something on youtube” and before you know it’s 7am and you need to go to sleep. And I’m not doing that this year. I’m going to try really hard to have a normalized day/night pattern.
Up to Pussy’s Bow is on as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival from March 24 until April 3, with no shows on Mondays. Tickets are available online, and at the MICF box office.