“How do I act myself?” – a conversation with Lawrence Mooney

Stand up comedian, television host and podcast guest Lawrence Mooney is about to embark on his 20th Melbourne International Comedy Festival sojourn. Lawrence Mooney Like, Literally is bound to be yet another winning combination of anecdotes, cautionary tales and humour that has made Mooney a stalwart in the Australian comedy scene for over two decades. Mitch Cunningham spoke to him about the new show, his audiences, and the weather.

So this year’s show is called “Like, Literally”. That’s an interesting figure of speech, isn’t it? How does it relate to your show?

Like Literally is about me, so it reads ‘Lawrence Mooney Like Literally’. I was recently asked if I’d like to write a memoir by a publishing company. And the idea of it actually left me quite cold. Firstly, because I’d read biographies of some of my heroes, and I don’t really think I hold a candle to them. You know, if you’re thinking Richard Burton, Hunter S Thompson, Jack Kerouac… And so, left with the idea of trying to write a memoir, I decided well, why don’t I take some stories and see which ones work, and try and work out, you know, what you would do in a biography. That’s the large brush-stroke of the show. And essentially the minutiae of it is stories about me, and where I’m at in terms of writing that memoir.

But the term ‘like literally’, I’ve been trying to define it. You know, people use ‘like literally’, but if it actually happened, you don’t have to say that. One of the definitions of literally is ‘using an exaggeration that is non-literal to describe a situation’. So if you go ‘I went along to that comedy show last night, and we literally killed ourselves laughing’ – well you didn’t actually kill yourself. But that’s the correct English – to emphasise, with a lie, essentially.

So do you think people take comedians too literally these days?

That’s a very good question! I think you have to remember that it’s comedy, you know, it’s not Q and A or a government white paper, so I think that comedy is a place where tall tales and hyperbole and exaggeration should feel quite at home. Having said that, there’s also political comics that like to skewer an idea precisely, and they should be taken literally.

Is it different when comedians have a brand outside of the comedy room?

A lot of comedians do, and that’s a very interesting thing where our persona gets a little bit split. And to an extent, you know, to a greater or lesser extent, every comedian up there is acting or wearing a heightened version of themselves. And then when you get across to electronic media, mostly television, that persona has to be tidied up a bit, in terms of what they can and can’t say. Particularly their language and their behaviour, it’s like ‘OK well, which one’s the real you?’ I’m challenged by that all the time.

In your TV work, you’ve played different versions of yourself – for example, your character in Moonman, or your role as talk show host on Dirty Laundry Live. Is there a different Mooney for every occasion?

On television, particularly when I’m playing myself hosting, I’ve tried to stay as true to my comic self as possible. And I think I was happy with who I was on Dirty Laundry Live – I think that was pretty close to the version of Lawrence Mooney I’m happiest with. It was weird playing myself in the sitcom Moonman, because yeah, I’m acting, alright, but where’s the challenge for the actor here? How do I act myself?

‘What’s my motivation?’

Yeah! But because I was so close to the subject matter and the writing process, with Scott Taylor, I was able to serve the script. which is essentially my job as the actor.

You’re also involved in a number of podcasts – I’m a big fan of your appearances with Fiona O’Loughlin on the Little Dum Dum Club. How did you first get involved with the podcasting world?

Well I think it was probably Green Guide Letters, or maybe it was Dum Dum Club, that kind of opened up the world of podcasts to me. So I’d heard the term ‘podcasting’ on ABC radio, you know, ‘Download the podcast!’. So I understood what it was, but I’d never made one. The whole philosophy of it to me, kind of blew my mind – so you make, you know, an uncensored, true-to-yourself recording, and it’s out there for everyone to access. And I just love the freedom of it. And the form has just been so well-exploited by, of course, now thousands and thousands of people. There’s so many podcasts out there, it’s unbelievable, when you just get onto Apple and start flicking through.

There’s not enough time in the world to explore it.

No! There’s not enough time in my life to read all the unread books I’ve got. That’s quite depressing, isn’t it?

I know, I’m surrounded by them all right now

Yeah same, and they’re staring at me, mocking. From my IKEA Billys, those IKEA bookshelves that are about six foot two. Everyone’s got them. It’s funny, because we all like to think we’re original and got our own cool, and everyone’s got the same bookshelves, probably stacked with the same books. Oh god…

Do you see a difference between your own standup crowds and a podcast or TV audience? Is there crossover?

There is crossover, because I worked at the ABC. Previously I’d been on commercial radio, in the early 2000s, and there wasn’t really much crossover – the demographic was 30-55, skewed women, so they were at home or at work so they didn’t really come out to comedy. But the ABC audience goes out to see live stuff, regardless of what age they are. So there’s this huge sweep of people that come to my show from the ABC. And the team that produce me, Alias, said ‘Well done mate. We can’t nail your demographic. The mish-mash of people here…’ Which I kind of like. I appeal to all ages, there’s a pretty good gender mix… Women my own age really like my stuff, I love that.

It’s your 19th MICF – how have you and your shows evolved over the years?

Ohhhh god… Is that right? There are some years that I have missed along the way. Not many, like when I say ‘missed’ I haven’t done my own show. I’ve performed at the Comedy Club in a line-up show, or the Comic’s Lounge some years…

And one year I didn’t do a show, I think it was 2006. But I played Dancing Boy in Jimeoin and Bob Franklin’s Cooking Show. I don’t know whether you’ve ever seen the Cooking Show? But there’s a guy that’s just side of stage, and sometimes music starts and he comes out and, he’s Dancing Boy. I did that.

So I actually haven’t missed one since 1998. And every year I do the Mirabelle Foundation benefit Music, Mirth and Mayhem, which looks after children who have been orphaned or abandoned due to parental drug abuse. That’s a nice thing to be able to do.

So ’98 was my first festival, and that would make this one – hang on, how do the numbers work? – that would make this one the twentieth! Happy anniversary to me.

Do you have any survival tips for festival comedians this year?

Get to bed early in the first week – this is advice I give every year but never take myself. Make sure you eat lots of vegetables, and stay hydrated. Because most comedians, and comedy festival staff too, because they work pretty hard during the festival, end up with the ‘festival flu’ afterwards. You stop, and all of sudden your body gets really sick. Because your immune system’s been smashed.

And an adrenaline crash too, I imagine? Having to be ‘on’ for so many weeks.

Yeah it’s actually, you can get the blues afterwards, because the tent’s been pulled down and it’s not going to be here for another year. It’s a really great festival, and a really great time in Melbourne too. Autumn’s my favourite season, I just love autumn in this city. Whereabouts are you in Melbourne? Is it still? Look out the window – are there leaves blowing? That’s autumn in Melbourne, completely still. It’s a very windy city we live in, but just take note over the next three months how still it is.  Particularly if you’ve got a view of the Bay in your travels – it’s like a pond in autumn, just beautiful.

And finally, could you recommend any up-and-coming comedians at this year’s festival?

Yep, Karl’s two rooms – European Beer Café and Spleen – become stalwarts. And Tommy’s also got a room too, Catfish, on Tuesdays. My advice for an up and coming comedian, especially around this time of year, is get out see some internationals. You know, it’s an international festival, so you can see what the best of the rest of the world has to offer. But also, you’ll realise that – it’s a little demystifying too. Because they’re not superhuman, they haven’t got magical powers, they’re just people up there with ideas, being presented in their particular style. So it helps to demystify it, to not be so intimidated by the spectre of, you know, getting into the comedy world.

 

Lawrence Mooney is bringing …Like, Literally to Adelaide between the 6th and the 19th of March, and to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival from the 30th of March to the 23rd of April, no Mondays.

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Mitch Cunningham

Mitch Cunningham is a Melbourne-based writer and academic, currently completing a PhD on the short fictions of David Foster Wallace. Mitch enjoys alt comedy, psychoanalysis and David Lynch, and also writes songs in the band Martians of Error.

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