‘Our shows are made up of material we want to see during a performance’ – Elliott Gee talks anxiety, anti theatre & late night hosts
Ever wondered just how those late night talk show hosts hold it all together and still come off looking so cool? So has the Very Good Looking Initiative. Honor Wolff, Patrick Durnan Silva and Elliott Gee return to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, this time plumbing the depths of anxiety, masculinity and show business in Let’s Get Practical! Live. The trio, who met studying at Federation University and describe themselves as ‘the trolls of independent theatre’, return with their award-winning, thought-provoking antics. Elliott Gee took the time to answer some of our questions about trolling, working through anxiety and the power of the late-night talk show format.
Your press release describes you as ‘anti-theatre’. What’s anti about your theatre?
We are all trained actors, but at times struggle with particular aspects in relation to the theatre, as well as the acting industry itself. Our work is a reaction to this as well as aspects of society we don’t understand and seek to explore. It is theatre but it’s also comedy and it’s dark. It’s surreal and there is a lot of moments that go on for longer than is comfortable. We want to continue to surprise audiences right until the end of the show. All of the bad pieces of theatre we have seen and all the bad things that should never happen during a live performance are exactly the moments we want to explore.
Our shows are made up of material we want to see during a performance.
The Very Good Looking Initiative is made up of yourself, Honor Wolff and Patrick Durnan Silva. How do the three of you write together?
We take an idea or concept one of us has and develop most of our material by physically getting it up on the floor. We do this mostly through improvisation and try out everything to really see what is the most extreme place we can take it. Ideas will always be brought into each rehearsal and we’ll always experiment with them to see what we can flesh out. We use material from a range of different mediums such as music, youtube videos, performance, dance, etc.
Let’s Get Practical! Live deals with the pressures of anxiety, toxic masculinity and men’s health. What drew you to this topic, and to examining this topic onstage?
I was drawn to this topic because of my own experiences with anxiety. Early in 2015 I was a part of several shows and working full time, by the end of it I decided I’d had enough. It all didn’t seem worth it anymore and I decided to take a break from acting.
After this decision I struggled a lot with anxiety and overcoming thoughts I was having. It took me a long time but I eventually went and spoke to someone from headspace and continued seeing them for the remainder of the year, and into 2016. My girlfriend at the time helped me a lot with my anxiety, and then encouraged me to make a show about my anxiety. After seeing someone I realised I had been dealing with anxiety most of my life but never knew what it was.
I was inspired to start a conversation about it and make a show. I was also inspired to make a show about my anxiety as we can never understand it, but we can show one persons experiences with anxiety on stage in hope that it continues into a larger conversation.
You call yourselves the ‘trolls of independent theatre’, but trolls are something often associated with toxic masculinity. What do you think of that contrast? What does trolling mean to you?
I don’t think we’ve actually considered this contrast but in the context of the show I don’t think we ignore the obvious things associated with toxic masculinity. Before we get to the parts of the show focusing on the actual idea of anxiety we show these aspects of the toxic masculinity and take them to an extreme place.
Trolling for me means taking a subject or idea and not ignoring its darker elements and the parts of it that are not nice. In a way we want to make fun of something like toxic masculinity, but while also showing you how wrong and dark it is. We also call ourselves ‘trolls of independent theatre’ because all our shows are often a direct reaction to other performances we have seen. It’s about taking trying to get away with things you shouldn’t be able to get away with in front of an audience.
What’s the most toxically masculine thing you’ve ever seen?
I must say it is quite hard to pin point one particular thing I’ve seen in my life, as most days I think I witness it in some way.
What can we do to counter toxic masculinity?
I think the biggest change we can make as males is to talk more about our feelings and emotions. We have to lead the conversation and make those changes in being able to express how we are feeling and also ask for help. In my experience it took me until I was 24 to be able to see someone and talk about what was going on, but it has made so much of a difference in how I can express myself and talk to anyone about myself. I think as males we just need to encourage each other more to talk about our feelings. This simple act can definitely counter toxic masculinity, and once you do it you realise how great it feels.
How do you deal with your own anxiety before getting onstage?
The anxiety I get before going on stage is always the same and not necessarily a bad thing. I constantly try to play out what is going to happen when I get in front of the audience, but as soon as I get out their none of those thoughts matter. The main backstage practice I use to deal with any anxiety I’m having is to concentrate on my breath, and then I usually like to have a good groove to some good music to get into the zone.
The show is otherwise nominally a late-night talk show. What drew you to this format?
Late night talk shows have it all; the best guests, entertaining segments, live music and the host who holds it all together. The host wears the flashy suit, cracks all the smooth jokes and is also relatable for the audience. I thought it was the perfect format – especially with a show about anxiety – because the host of a talk show always has it together (or appears to), so what would it be like to witness this host actually have a crippling anxiety attack.
Who are your favourite late-night talk show hosts?
To tell you the truth I probably don’t have one. I had watched talk shows before and know them all; Jimmy Fallon, Jay Leno, Conan Obrien, David Letterman. But I actually took my influences for the characters from game show hosts like Larry Emdur on The Price is Right, Andrew O’Keefe as well as a range of hosts from American game shows. These programs are so bizarre at times and the host is always the one to hold it together while using their good looks, wit, and charm. But, at the same time, they’re is also something so fake about them -especially their huge smiles.
Who else are you looking forward to seeing at this year’s MICF?
I cannot wait to see Tom Walker. I saw his show last year and it blew my mind. The Travelling Sisters are a great all female comedy trio who we shared a space with during Fringe, pretty excited to see them as they have been absolutely killing it. I also want to see Becky Lucas, and so many more.
Let’s Get Practical! Live is on at the Malthouse Theatre at 9:30pm from 10 – 22 April (no Mondays). Tickets, accessibility information and show details are available from the Malthouse Theatre website.