“Comedy is the only form of expression that can break down barriers” – an interview with with Andy Saunders
Comedian Andy Saunders is a busy man. Between hosting this year’s Deadly Funny finale, performing as part of the Aboriginal Comedy All Stars, and preparing for his fourth child to arrive, he’s a hard man to get a hold of, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. He took a breather to have a chat with Til Knowles about fatherhood, being on stage, and the power of comedy.
The Aboriginal Comedy Allstars (Andy Saunders, left)So, baby on the way, comedy festival show to host – it’s all happening!
Look, I love the pressure. It just keeps me going, keeps me on my toes. I think the best thing about it for me it’s an opportunity to perform at every given moment. I love everything about it, and I don’t think I’m ever going be any other way. I think I’m always going to be that guy that wants to get on stage. I used to sing in a band and when I gave up doing all of that sort of stuff, I was that guy that was in the audience watching bands thinking “ah man, all I want to do is get on stage”. When I found comedy, and I’d always had comedy, but when I found comedy it was just a whole different feel. I can pretty much do comedy in any space of my life, and usually the worst audience is at home. Well, when I say the worst I mean the hardest audience to impress. My family will be very honest; sometimes it can be a really shit thing, but sometimes it can be a great thing. It’s really weird though, my wife may not like a joke but then I’ll do it on stage and it will kill. It happens with a lot of comedians in a relationship, and they say you shouldn’t really bounce too much comedy off your partner. But I do, because she’s human woman, and human women are very very smart.
When you’re trying to impress your wife or you’re making jokes at home, is that the genesis of a lot of material?
No, because my stuff, I do a lot of dad jokes, because I’m a dad first and foremost. There might be occasions where I’ll do a joke that is fitting for family, but then I’ll do a variation on stage because I know it’ll work. So, I’ve got a lot of friends that always know when I’m trying to test material on them, and they say “you might as well just stop, Andy, we know what you’re doing”, and I say “but you’re getting free comedy! You know people pay for this? So just sit, shut your mouth and listen, buddy!” There’s always places where you can test material. A lot of comedians go do five minute spots, and do a little bit of a tester. I’ve never really done that. I’m working a lot, so I wait for the next gig to do a new joke, and then I’ll tweak it for the next time, and then I’ll tweak it again until it’s perfected. I just don’t have time, if I’m not on stage or doing similar stuff, I’m feeding mouths and wiping arses. I don’t have time to choose stuff, to choose whether I want to be a vegan or a vegetarian or pescatarian. I wish I had time to be one of those, but if you come to my house you’re getting a ham sandwich on white bread and I’ll make you eat it. When someone comes to my house and says “I’m a vegetarian” that translates to “make your own food -arian”. I wonder how vegans would’ve lasted in Aboriginal times; “hey where’s that chick Sally who didn’t want to eat the kangaroo?” ‘Oh she’s dead’, ‘you didn’t spear her did you?’ ‘No, no she choked on a yam’… Anyway, oops I just tested a little bit of material on you then. See? I take so many opportunities to test material.
Any time you can! What do you think drew you to comedy in the first place then?
It was a natural progression for me because I’d always done professional MC’ing and I’d always been that guy in the family. My family is massive, it’s a huge family, like the numbers in my family are probably around the same numbers as Donald Trump’s inauguration, not Obama’s, but easy Donald Trump’s. And that’s most aboriginal families in Australia, we’re big families. I’m the one in the family that used to make speeches on behalf of people, and I was doing it at a ridiculously young age. I think I’d always been able to put a very funny spin on someone or something that happened in the family. I was able to inject that into my speech and also relate it to the particular person the gathering was about, whether it was a wedding, a twenty-first, an eighteenth. I remember as young as nine making speeches and doing funny characters in front of this massive family that I would be able to demand attention off. I’d always find an opportunity to try and make people laugh. I had a grandmother, rest her soul, she was amazing, and she was a real leader, but I remember I was four or five years old and I was always really good at dancing and singing and I’d never had the opportunity to get in front of an audience. We were poor so we couldn’t afford even entry into a talent quest or anything like that, so I used to do it at home. My grandmother, when a party would get boring, she’d sort of look at me and she’d wave me over and say “oi, Andy, can you sing a song or do a dance or tell a joke?” At that age I was telling very inappropriate jokes, but when you’ve got jokes coming out of a human of that age that aren’t appropriate for that age, it makes it even more entertaining. I’ve got a seven year old doing the same thing right now. I was never out of a performance space, I was always on some sort of platform where I could deliver some sort of performance.
Are you still doing hip-hop?
I will never stop dancing. I will always put lyrics together, I will always dance. I teach my kids to dance, I teach my kids to put together words to say something. We’re always doing music, we’re always dancing. It’s all about trying to let out what’s inside. It doesn’t always have to be onstage or in front of a heap of people, it could just be the six of us at home and just battling the shit out of each other to like, Justin Bieber. It’s embarrassing, okay, but I said it. I dance to Justin Bieber, because I’ve got a seven and a twelve-year-old. We’re always doing something in a performance space.
Do you think that hip-hop and comedy have much in common?
Yeah absolutely. I’ve always said that stand-up comedy is one of the purest forms of expression. For me, comedy is the only form of expression that can break down barriers, and I know music does the same thing. If you provoke thought in people, it can really change mindsets. There’s no form of performance that can make a human being more vulnerable than when they laugh. That’s why I used to make Mum laugh before I asked her for money back in the day, she was easy to get money off when she was laughing. Unless a human being’s having an orgasm, but I can’t make a full room do that at once, it’s just way too hard, especially with a joke. I would be so famous if I could do that! “Did you go see Andy the other night? Oh my god, I feel dirty but it was amazing!”
Do you think because of that vulnerability and because comedy is a space that can change minds, do you think comedians have an obligation to highlight certain issues like racism, sexism or homophobia?
I think as a comedian, especially if you can portray a message through words, physicality, an expression of any type, you’ve gotta use this power to its fullest. It’s alright to joke about observations, that’s cool, I love observational humour, it’s hilarious. But if you’re smart enough to do observational humour, you should be smart enough to address things that are unjust to the human race. As a minority, I don’t focus fully and target aboriginal issues but I’d do my people an injustice if I don’t address a couple of things. Like 18C at the moment is massive, and I’ve got a joke that is like “a lot of conversations about 18C at the moment, I’m pretty sure you’re probably all aware that it’s a nasty food additive in white bread. They’re trying to get it taken it out, because apparently, it makes people heaps fucking racist.” So, I mean, that is a joke that is associated with a people, I try not to make things too targeted, but it’s just to prompt people to really think about it. There’s other variations on that joke I use, but I want to actually do a skit on that so it’s a little more visual. There’s actually a lot of jokes that stand-up comedians think about but they won’t do onstage because it needs to be acted out. That’s where your two and three piece acts like Tripod, the Umbilical Brothers, the brilliant Aunty Donna, they have an opportunity to be able to relay what they want to say through a full skit on stage. It’s fucking amazing. I get asked who I love and who I’m influenced by a lot, so believe me when I say this: I love every human that gets onstage and tries to make a bunch of random strangers in a room laugh with what’s in their head, because I know how hard it is to do that. So if you’ve got the balls to get up on stage, even if you want to tell a street joke, that’s fine by me. I love you for it. It warms my heart, it really really warms my heart when just anyone wants to get up on stage and just talk and try and find their way and weave their way through vocabulary until they find something funny. I’ll listen to that all night. I don’t care how much you ramble, as long as you try and find funny out of it, it never gets boring to me. To be in an audience and see that that person on stage is human and they’re making mistakes, they’re not getting their mouth around their words right. Even people like Dave Hughes still do that, and they make a bit out of it. It’s just hugely entertaining and its sheer brilliance. We’ve got a lot of really amazing comics in Australia, and my advice to anyone going to Melbourne this year: just see as many people as you possibly can. That’s all you have to do.
Are there any particular people you’re looking forward to seeing?
It’s not about me going to see acts, I just can’t wait to see people again. We all go in different directions a lot. Some of us tour together, and some of us have shows together sparsely across Australia and across the world. We see each other and we just can’t wait to get back together because we’re all clowns. We all like to jib each other and take the piss out of each other nonstop. It’s just a constant burn. And it’s the most amazing thing to be a part of. It’s brilliant.
Andy Saunders is hosting the finale of Deadly Funny, a showcase of new aboriginal comedic talent. It’s on at 4:30pm at the Arts Centre on Saturday 8 March. Tickets are available through the festival website. He’s also performing as part of the Aboriginal Comedy Allstars, on the 6, 7, 8 March at 9:30pm at the Trades Hall