Ben Volchok discusses radio plays, the ghost of Peter Sellers and throwing bagels at the audience
Award-winning performer and founder of the Mudcrabs comedy group Ben Volchok is back with his new solo production, Ben Volchok Presents. Katherine Back sat down to talk to Ben about his show, free sausages, and fighting the ghost of Peter Sellers.
Your new show has been described as “fast-paced, hilarious extravaganza”. Where did the idea for this show come from?
Early last year I began to write and record “episodes from completely fictional radio shows from history” as a podcast. Eventually, I realised it would be cool to do it live, so I wrote two more of these and here we are. I realised that words and voices were my two greatest strengths and so I figured I’d create a show that hones in on and amplifies them.
What can audiences expect from it?
Fast-paced dialogue, silly voices and many, many puns. (Seriously, I dare you to count them.) And it’s all done live on stage by me and me only, including the sound effects, which I control from my laptop. There’s a 40s British supernatural mystery and a 70s Australian spy thriller. They all have a whole range of characters and it’s all a load of fun. If you’re a fan of old-style radio comedy like The Goon Show and even just absurd, gag-laden comedy, you will love this show. Even better, if you’ve never seen or heard anything like this before, try something different! I’ve had so many people come who don’t know what radio plays are but it’s just such an accessible format that it’s so easy to get into. I mean even my dad came to the show and he didn’t hate it, so I feel like that says a lot. (Wait sorry I thought this was therapy.)
This is the sixth show that you’ve written and performed in the last few years. How is this show different from ones you’ve done before?
This is my first show where I’ve chosen an established medium or structure – radio plays – and written directly inside it. It’s also narrative-based comedy, which is something I’ve been starting to do more of recently. My previous shows were still pretty heavily scripted but they were a lot looser than this one, for better or for worse. I’ve also included some proper lighting cues for the first time, if that counts for anything. It’s also the longest run I’ve ever had. Please come.
You’re performing at Tasma Terrace. Can you confirm that it’s definitely haunted?
Yes, haunted by the ghost of PETER SELLERS, who is IN THE ROOM WITH ME WHEN I DO ALL THE DIFFERENT VOICES. He is sitting in a chair and judging me. Or maybe that’s my dad. They look nothing alike so I’m not sure why I’m confused. Although I can’t really see much from the stage.
How does solo work compare to collaborative performances? Is there one you prefer?
There’s nothing quite like the creative frisson of writing and performing with others – accessing that special creative ether with someone else is definitely truly exciting. But there’s also nothing quite like launching into flights of fancy within your own mind and making work that is just the way you have envisaged it. I am naturally a control freak so solo shows naturally appeal to me, but I’ve been getting way better at enjoying both equally. (Is this definitely not therapy right now? Are you sure?)
What other shows are you keen to check out this festival?
Some shows that are still on that I’ve seen or want to see are: PO PO MO CO, Neal Portenza, Laura Davis, Andrew McClelland, Zoe Coombs Marr, Rob Hunter, The Travelling Sisters and Gillian Cosgriff. Unfortunately many shows will be over by the time this goes out but I also would have recommended Rob Caruana, Viggo Venn, Sci-Fi Sketch Comedy Experience, Tim Key, Lauren Bok and Martin Dunlop. Please go back in time and watch their shows and take me with you so I can watch them again. Also the hundreds of other people I am forgetting or don’t know about. This year I’m trying to go to shows by people I’ve never seen and sometimes never heard of before and I encourage everyone to do the same.
Which comedians do you think you could beat in a fight? Who would you never take on?
The dead ones. They don’t move or anything. It’s so simple. But I’d also never take them on because it’s fairly unhygienic and I might catch a disease. I also probably wouldn’t take on the ghost of Peter Sellers because his great-grandfather was a boxer (this is true) and so I wouldn’t stand a chance.
What’s been your worst audience moment?
I used to have a routine where I would throw bagels into the crowd. Once I did it to a group of very drunk and rowdy students and one of them threw the bagel back at me. Luckily I caught it and it looked extremely impressive but I suppose the underlying principle of literally having my own material thrown right back at me is still there. I also have harrowing memories of performing outside while a student barbecue was going on. I was less interesting than free sausages, and that hurt.
And finally: What’s one joke you wish you’d never told?
There’s a few but since I wish I’d never told them I’m not going to repeat them. One of them involved Richard Nixon doing unspeakable things to kittens. I’ve said too much already. I’m truly sorry.
Ben Volchok Presents runs every night at 7pm from 9 – 22 April at Tasma Terrace as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets available through the Comedy Festival website.
Episodes of Ben’s podcast, The Illustrious Fact Show are available here.