Justin Heazlewood, perhaps better known as the Bedroom Philosopher, is back, and this time with songs about cats. We spoke to him about cats, cats, and also Dave Eggers.
Starting with the obvious, your show this year is called The Cat Show. Which describes you dressing as a cat and singing songs about cats. Can you give us any more information about what exactly audiences are in store for during the show? If the show is then, just songs about cats, is there a challenge within to keep the attention of the audience and to make the show compelling enough?
Like Trump, you should take my blurb seriously but not literally. The show also includes two powerpoint presentations about Lost Cat posters and the ‘History of Cats’ project I did in grade three. There’s a dance routine to Beyonce and some physical acting from my NIDA days. (National Institute of Daggy Aloofness).
Also, where did the inspiration for this cat filled festivity come from? And, was it hard to find songs that mentioned cats? (I’m honestly trying to right now and I’m coming up pretty blank).
Cats are the reason for the season. Try harder mate! Kitty, Presidents of the United States of America. ‘Cats In The Cradle’. Right Said Fred ‘I’m Too Sexy for this Cat’, and old nerds can enjoy Al Stewart’s ‘Year Of The Cat.’
I should point out that I am only playing my own songs that mention cats. I was offered money to do the Coburg Carnivale last year. (Most people have a ‘get out of bed’ fee – I have a ‘get into bed’ fee.)
I suffer indecision about what songs to play. I worked out that if I created a rule where the songs had to mention a cat, the setlist (and show) would write itself. It turns out I easily have at least ten songs that mention a cat. (eg New Media – ‘Cat on a piano.’ Love Theme From Centrelink “let out the cat.” Middle Aged Mum “sends me forwards of funny cats.”) This is no doubt due to the fact that I am a cat fan and grew up with cats and don’t like dogs (there I said it.)
As an aside, I’d forgive you for finding it difficult to come up with ten Bedroom Philosopher songs about cats. That level of superfandom would alarm me.
I have also written new songs about cats just for the show.
You’ve previously won the Director’s Choice Award at Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Is it challenging to attempt to top a previous show that has already been the focus of such attention?
No, not once you roam off into the artistic crossroads of yourself at four in the morning and scream bloody murder to the gods of pop culture that you know you will always be “hipster guy” and that you don’t care anymore.
(Industry secret: you do!)
Along with performing at numerous festivals, you have a huge discography that you’ve released over the years – most notably and recognisably ‘Northcote (So Hungover)’. Do you find your shows during festivals tend to lean a little more to the musical side as opposed to the somewhat norm of stand up and improv that is found so commonly throughout the Comedy Festival?
Yes. That said this show probably only has six songs in it, which is like, half as many as Songs From The 86 Tram so……no. I’ve gone full circle. With Wit-Bix (2011 MICF) I was on a mission to prove to everyone that I could do straight stand-up. In 2012’s High School Assembly, I only performed two songs and did a bunch of acting and had an ensemble cast of twenty. This time around it’s more of a balance. I know I’m not a straight stand-up. I know I’m not Josh Pyke. I think I’ve been doing it long enough and had enough of a break to find the second wind of confidence to say, “I am my own genre.”
On your (very informative) website you have the long story of your life, including that you read Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius in 2001. You said you agree with his philosophy of “more is more” when it comes to sharing. How does this philosophy apply to comedy?
I guess being honest and revealing and fearless about the quirks that make you most vulnerable. Honesty and truth are universally appreciated by audiences. Provided they are pitched with lightness and self-respect.
I mean, I can’t stand male comedians going on about masturbation. 99% of all “dick jokes” make me ill. That’s not the kind of honesty I mean. I’m also interested in originality. Please, oh dear god please make me think about something in a fresh way. Most comedy is not interested in this. Perhaps that is where the line between ‘Entertainment’ and ‘Art’ lies. Most comedy is entertainment. Dave Eggers’ book and “more is more” refers to Art. Entertainment, like advertising, is about appealing to as many people as possible.
Comedy is best understood as a service industry. We’re there to make sure people laugh like a masseuse makes sure you relax. I can’t think of another artform that wields such conservative forecasts of audience intelligence levels. Like, comedians are so often ‘winking at the audience’ and making sure they are okay. If they do anything weird then they have to instantly acknowledge it – “Whew, that was a bit out there wasn’t it?” which is just fear that the audience might reject them coupled with a pervasive sense of being the ‘driver’ and needing to reapply for your own position and convince everyone (including yourself) that you have control of the wheel.
I’ve always found that pandering approach in direct conflict with the punk ethos. Being cool is not giving a fuck. I’ve gone out of my way not to ‘wink at the audience.’ I hold their gaze for lengthy periods. I’m the ghost of 4AM silence inside a bearded Cate Blanchett.
I’ve been accused of being too aloof and too subtle and too ironic and too pretentious and too ‘a poof.’ That’s why I’m not allowed back in Launceston.
In my first year in comedy I was making Radiohead jokes because I wanted to appeal to my small pocket of alternative types. If you were on TV they’d be like “Don’t mention Radiohead because not everyone will get it.” That’s the difference I’m talking about. You could expand this right out to “are you doing it for money and appeal or are you doing it for the craft and yourself? Do you have to decide? Can it be both? Can it be neither? Who is Daniel Kitson?
You’re also a prolific writer – any more books in the works?
Do you mean I’m a pro-life writer? That could be #controversy
I’m finishing a childhood memoir. Then an erotic 3D cookbook set in space.
Funemployed dealt with the reality of being a working artist in Australia, and you spoke to over a hundred artists to get their insights. What was the most common experience across the board?
“I’m alone. I’ve fucked everything up.”
Finishing up, are there any shows at this years Melbourne International Comedy Festival that you are keen to see or would recommend?
Josh Earl has a show about music festivals at the Malthouse. Josh and I continue our Blur v Oasis rivalry. Actually, it’s more like Pulp V Supergrass (I bags Pulp). We are solo musical comedians hailing from Burnie. Josh beat me to the ‘Wall Of Honour’ at our high school with his Spicks and Specks turn. He’s also joined me on the ‘notable people’ section of Burnie’s Wikipedia. We’re after the holy grail – Rage Guest Programmer.
The Bedroom Philosopher is performing The Cat Show til 9 April. Tickets start from $25 – buy tickets at the MICF website.