“Audiences never remember what you say, they only remember how you make them feel” – an interview with Frank Hampster

After getting a cease and desist letter twenty four hours before his comedy festival show last year, Frank Hampster is back with The Cardinal Sins Again (and Fart Lab 3, but no one has asked their lawyers to intervene in that show, yet). The comedian, former intelligence agent and sexual abuse survivor has honed and polished both shows in preparation for this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival. With hugely successful runs in both Perth and Adelaide already this year, he chats to Til Knowles about why he’s more confident this year, what drives him to tell his story, and of course, why farts are funny.

[Content Warning: This interview discusses sexual assault, suicide and systemic child abuse]

Diving straight in, what’s different from last year’s show? How has the year helped you prepare?

A lot of things are different. I now have a lot of the legal constraints removed from what I can talk about, and who I can mentioned. Also, a lot more evidence has been publicly presented to the Royal Commission that I can basically take the piss out of. Especially things like the percentages of orders of Catholics that are convicted rapists, how much money the Catholic Church has given to survivors compared to what you get for slipping over on a banana at Aldi, that kind of stuff. I can talk about a lot more – I can name names, and the show is a lot more polished than it was because my head is a different space. I am now through giving evidence to the Commission and I’ve also given evidence against my own abuser who is now in jail. So I’m in a lot better headspace to get comedy out of such dark subject matter.

And no one’s going to reach in and stop you at the eleventh hour?

No, no. There will be no eleventh hour stoppages. I actually spoke to my lawyer this morning, and although she said there are some risks associated, Pell’s lawyers can now no longer make an application to the Commission that I am only doing this to make money, which is what their intention was last year. I mean, they’re only acting in the best interests of their client, which is Cardinal Pell, but it seems funny that he’s got $100,900 per week to spend on lawyers but they’ve got no money for victims. But I don’t care, I will keep doing this show until people stop raping other people, simple as that. And if that means that I have to do it until I die then that’s what I’m going to do. I want to end sexual assault, not just against kids at catholic school, but all sexual assault, because so many of society’s problems come from that.

So you’re feeling stronger post Royal Commission? How was that, emotionally, because it was kind of happening at the same time Comedy Festival last year.

It was, and I put on 20 kilos during that time because I wasn’t looking after myself. It was really emotionally draining and it was taxing on my nerves. I was full of so much self-doubt as to whether or not I was doing the right thing by “telling on people” because that’s ingrained in you, especially in all-boys schools. “Don’t dob, don’t be a dobber, don’t be a lagger”, I mean “don’t lag”, that’s the language of Ned Kelly. Here we are in Victoria and we still use the language of one of our most brutal mass murderers. Some people think he’s some kind of legend, to me he’s a criminal. But that was always playing on my mind – am I lagging on people? But when you see the solace that it brings to survivors, then you know that you’re doing the right thing, and I still have people coming up to me on the street going “do I know you?” and they’ll ask “is your name Frank?” and I’ll go, yeah, and they’ll say “ah I just wanna shake yer hand because you’re doing a great thing bringing those bastards to justice”. So that’s what inspires me to keep doing this show, and to deal with appearing before the Royal Commission because it was never my intention. It was never my intention to speak to them, I would’ve gone to the grave knowing what I knew, it was only that I was subpoenaed.

So you had to speak.

Yeah, yeah. I love the justice system we have in this country – for all of its faults and all of its failings I think it’s a good system, the Westminster System, the separation of powers, and the justice system that we’ve got is a beautiful thing. Prime Minister Gillard staked her entire reputation and her Prime Ministership on setting up this Royal Commission. I owed it to her to do the right thing. She managed to pull a billion dollars out of the Attorney-General’s Department to fund this, I just owe to her, our childless, atheist Prime Minister. I owed to her to give my evidence as frankly and honestly as I could. It was overwhelming but we’re almost there. No more evidence is being taken about the Church, they’re now in deliberation mode, and final findings will be out in December this year. And you may just find that you know, Justice McClellan might recommend that the Catholic Church is now a criminal organisation and should be treated as such, which would be a good thing.

An image from the Herald Sun’s coverage of the Commission. Picture by Jeremy Piper.

My focus is always to protect children into the future and to stop survivors from killing themselves. One of the things the public doesn’t know is in the year 2015/16 there were 156 suicides in Ballarat. Now the national average is 12 per 100,000. Ballarat has got a population of around 95,000 maybe not quite that much – that’s 13 times the national average, and there is no 24-hour CAT (Crisis Assessment and Treatment) Team in Ballarat. There are very few resources for people that are contemplating self-harm to actually reach out and get some help. Ballarat is the Federal seat of the shadow Health Minister Catherine King, and she seems rather disinterested, which is unfortunate, given that potentially, next election cycle, she is going to be the Health Minister. So one of the things I do as a member of the survivor group is gently remind her that she has great responsibility to her home town, not just to her portfolio. This is the thing about politics, most politicians I’ve met in my time, and it doesn’t matter if you’re Liberal, you’re Labor, you’re Green, you’re Nick Xenaphon, you’re Palmer United Party, Hanson, whatever, virtually none of them are worth more than a pinch of water, and they’ve failed at something else in life, which is why they’re in politics. That’s just my opinion, mind you, I’m yet to meet one that’s really worth anything. Even Andrew Hastie, the so-called SAS hero from Perth – he’s an arsehole! I’ve met him, he’s a misogynist and he’s a fundamentalist Christian. He’s one of those people that thinks the Earth is 12,000 years old and that God buried dinosaur bones here to test our faith. Crazy stuff.

Have you noticed a difference in audience reactions from Melbourne last year and Perth and Adelaide this year?

Oh my god yes. Instead of getting little pockets of laughter, I’m now getting wall to wall laughter. People are now seeing the absurdity of the whole crime and cover up and everything that’s occurred. Where I’m drawing the laughter from is by presenting the evidence that the Catholic Church has given themselves. I’ll present my side of the story, and then I’ll go, well look it’s only fair I give the Church their right of reply, and then I’ll give the answers that they gave to very specific questions like “why were there so many paedophiles in Ballarat?” and the answers that they gave are ridiculous. One priest said the reason there were so many paedophiles was because of the contraceptive pill. So because women were given the right to choose, that made priests wanna go out and rape little kids. Now if you believe that, then it’s easy to believe that they’ve also got the ability to turn wafer biscuits and wine into rotting flesh and blood. That’s where I’m getting the humour.

One of the reviewers that came to the show in Adelaide kept referring to Cardinal Sins as “the performance”, and it was a performance. I can’t just stand there or sit on a stool and talk into a microphone about this stuff. It requires action and facial expression and imitation and things like that to get the jokes across. Delivery is everything. There is a big performance element to it, but it’s very much a pure stand-up comedy show. One man on a stage, that’s it. That’s how I like to do it. It works, it cuts through. The laughter is just incredible. One of the most amazing things that happened in Adelaide was there were two audience members from Perth and they said “oh me and my friend we went to 35 shows for FringeWorld, and we missed your show. But our best mate went and said it was the best, most amazing comedy show he’s ever seen in his life, so we’ve flown over just for tonight, just to see this show, and we’re flying back in the morning.” So I said I better not fuck up then. At the end they said, “yeah we agree with our mate, this is the greatest comedy show we’ve ever seen.” And I’m like, that’s a big call, you mustn’t get out much, but they’d seen a lot of comedy shows! That to me, that’s worth more than giving me a million dollars. To hear that, from these two guys, they totally related to it. Also in Adelaide I had people from England that came up to me after the show going “that was one of the best I’ve ever seen, we were raised by Christian Brothers you were bang on about everything”, so if the jokes work internationally, I must be on to something. It’s not just an Australian microcosm here, it’s anyone in the English-speaking world gets these jokes that I’m doing now.

The last show I did in Adelaide was a very special night too. It was one of those nights where everything was clicking and I just got wall to wall laughter, and the audience wanted to stay behind and continue to ask me questions. Everyone left there feeling really good. This is one thing I’ve always found with comedy – audiences never remember what you say, they only remember how you make them feel. You go to enough open mic rooms, and audiences are made to feel uncomfortable at the best of times and downright disgusted at the worst. You’ve basically got middle class white men doing jokes about incest and paedophilia without any reference point, they’re just trying to shock people. There’s no shock factor anymore in my show. There was a shock factor last year because the evidence was very raw, and what I had to say was very raw. But now, people want to laugh at this stuff, they really, really do. So I am very much looking forward to this year’s comedy festival, I think I’m going to have some beautiful shows. I’m very very excited. The future is wonderfully mysterious for me at the moment, I can’t wait to see what the next few weeks are going to bring.

You’re also doing Fart Lab again this festival.

Yes, I’m doing Fart Lab 3: Following Through. Professor Frank has been doing some research over the summer on the concept of too much farting and the consequences that has. It’s a completely different show.

What’s it like doing both shows?

Well here’s the thing, the reason I do both these shows, from a very personal stand point: all I’ve ever wanted to achieve as a comedian is to bring joy to the lives of children, and bring joy to the lives of adults that weren’t allowed to be children. It’s kind of a double-edged sword for me. Doing Fart Lab allows me to regenerate, recharge the batteries. On a more intellectual level, and I spoke to Corey White about this the other day, we had coffee last Monday and actually he said, “Frank, to me a good fart joke is up there with a good paedophile joke, and you’re doing both, so go you!” I’ve always viewed that the same, to get that kind of humour from what are essentially functions of the body. Farting, which is not really socially acceptable and kind of stinks, and rape which is a crime. They are both functions of the body, and to derive humour from that is difficult, but if you can do it, if you can punch up and blame the perpetrators and not the victims, then that’s where the joke lies. And who doesn’t love a good fart joke anyway?

Why do you think farts are funny?

Well for two reasons, they sound funny and they smell funny. They’re the two main reasons. Then, on a more esoteric level, they feel funny. It’s just one of the strangest things; before a human being has even learned language, they laugh at their own farts. To watch a nine-month-old baby fart in its nappy and burst into paroxysms of laughter is one of the most incredible things. To me, that’s what separates us from the animal kingdom: it’s not opposable thumbs, it’s laughing at your own farts. To me it’s a big thing. Of course, I haven’t done a PhD on any of this stuff, but one day I might! Given enough time, and money.

Are you thinking of taking the show [Cardinal Sins] to Edinburgh?

At this stage, it’s 50/50. I don’t think I’ll do it this year, but I’ll definitely take it to Edinburgh, possibly next year once the Royal Commission has handed down its findings. I’ll take the show to Edinburgh with the findings under my arm, and I’ll try and make jokes about the Commissions that have happened over there. So I’ll do a Cardinal Sins show that’s specifically tailored for the UK. That’ll possibly be next year. I’m thinking of going to Edinburgh this year anyway just on a bit of a fact-finding mission. I did get an invite, but I’m 50/50 about going. I’ve got a few other things going on.

On what’s next (and also lawyers):

I’ve studied law, and I studied law not because I wanted to be a lawyer, but because I thought it would help my comedy. A lot of good comedians are lawyers, it takes that analytical mind, that sideways thinking, that paradoxical thinking, of being able to see things from above, not just from one angle but from both angles and then some, looking at a situation from above, that’s where you find the humour. Most people, they make jokes simply by playing on the victim, as you say in the industry, punching down. If someone makes a paedophile joke they make it about the victim, and that’s not funny, not under any circumstances is it funny. But if you make the perpetrator the victim, you put yourself in their shoes and hit them from the side, then you really get people laughing, and you get people laughing for the right reasons. Who doesn’t love to laugh at an authority figure? It’s kind of cheeky, it’s kind of nasty. They used to do it in Roman times, of course back then you’d be crucified for it, but now you don’t get in any kind of trouble. We’re lucky we do live in a country that does have free speech. Especially thanks to clause 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act. You can’t have 18C without 18D, and people don’t read 18D. Andrew Bolt, I hope you’re listening. He’s going to be my next target. I’m going to start to do stuff about Andrew Bolt.

In what sense?

Well I’m planning a short YouTube series on Andrew Bolt, because he went after me. He went after me last year in his defence of Pell, so I’m going to go after him. It’s only fair. Again, I will use humour to go after him, and I’ve got another comedian and she’ll join me and go after Miranda Devine. We’re going to do a Bolt/Devine debate. Hopefully that’ll happen in May. I’m going to keep doing Cardinal Sins until people stop coming and people stop raping each other, that’s the thing. My comedy, next year, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ve got ideas for three different shows, but I’m thinking of going after the absurdity and hypocrisy in the Government and the small military industrial complex we’ve got going on in Australia from my perspective of being a former intelligence agent. We’ve got so many bad politicians, just really bad. When Joel Fitzgibbon was the Defence Minister, that man did not know the difference between a fix wing and a rotary wing aircraft. We had to change all the defence writing and remove references to fixed wing or rotary wing and replace it with aeroplane or helicopter.

Couldn’t he just learn what the difference is?

No. No, he’s not that smart. He does have the ability to send people to their death, but he’s not that smart. So we had to change all the writing. It cost over $100,000,000 to change the writing, and then when he got arseholed, we had to change it all back, because these are manuals that sit on shelves, and they had to be rewritten. It’s like, at the time, the Attorney-General Robert McClelland, he didn’t know the difference between an IED and an IUD, an intra-uterine device. An IED, an improvised explosive device, he kept referring to it at Defence briefings as an IUD.

Well, I guess it’s one form of contraception…

Well that’s what I said! I said “Minister, I hope you don’t ever take your long-suffering wife to the hospital to have an IED inserted by mistake, she’s going to blow up.” That’s worrying. These are the people that hold high office, get hundreds of thousands of dollars, get chauffeur driven cars, get all their holidays and meals paid for, can fly up to the Gold Coast on the tax payers’ money and buy apartments, like Susan Lay did, but if you’d spend the extra $2 to buy a train ticket and have your concession card, you’ll get fined $270. It’s absurd. That’s who I’m thinking of going after next.

Finally, who else are you looking forward to seeing at the festival?

*gasps* oh there’s so many! Look, don’t tell her I said this but I’m a big fan of Rose Callaghan. I really want to see her show, Will You Accept This Rose? Because she has got a unique perspective on the whole online, Tinder dating thing. People think it’s passé, that kind of material: not from Rose’s perspective. I’ve seen people try and pick her up when she’s doing an open mic five minutes, it’s ridiculous, that’s her work place. So she’s someone I really want to see. The other person I’m really going to try and get to is David Tulk. He’s doing a show called Love Tap and it’s all about domestic violence. We’ve had the Domestic Violence Royal Commission here in Victoria, thank you Daniel Andrews, so David Tulk is writing this unique show, and that’s something I really want to see because no one has had the balls to take that on. And again, I think he might be doing from the perspective where he has direct experience with it.

 

The Cardinal Sins Again is on at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival from 29 March until 9 April, no show on Monday. It’s being performed at the Elephant & Wheelbarrow, and tickets range between $15 – $20. Head to the festival website to buy tickets & get accessibility information.

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Til Knowles

Writer, radio maker, aspiring academic (read: student). Geeky for comedy, podcasts, science fiction, books, comics, television, film and theatre. Til is the Melbourne editor of Popculture-y.

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