“It is a comedy time capsule experiment, that’s what I would call it”: Sammy J on ‘The 50 Year Show’
Sammy J has been performing comedy for at least 16 years, and he plans to keep performing it for at least 40 more. Perhaps best known for his ongoing love/hate/roommate friendship with Randy, Sammy J has released multiple CDs of comic songs he has written. More recently, he’s achieved the prestigious feat of licking every Parliament House in Australia and managing to convert current political events into a format every Australian can understand (
Playschool Playground Politics). In 2018, it’s time for the return of his 5 yearly 50 Year Show. Started in 2008, the show will continue until 2058, showcasing comedic talent, breaking out the time capsule to add to it something particularly 2018. Sammy spoke to Mel Barrett about his 50 Year Show, Australian politics, his inspirations and his favourite juice box flavour.
First off I just want to say congratulations on your success with Playground Politics and of course your first book The Long Class Goodnight that came out earlier this year.
Thank you very much, I appreciate that.
Do you have any plans on writing another book in the near future?
I have a contractual obligation to write another book. Which is just as well, because I want to. So, I’m just deciding / working through ideas as to whether it will be a sequel or whether it will be a new world with new characters. I just did a writer’s festival this week. It was really cool meeting primary school kids who have actually read my book, because I haven’t really been out and about that much. That was very cool.
Hopefully the new book comes out quite soon.
Yes. I mean, it has to be written first. It was nice because the book came out in April and then you know things get in the way and then I start doing other things, but to actually meet the kids and have them all asking me questions about the book got me totally re-inspired. So, that was nice.
Favourite juice box flavour and why?
Ooooh, tropical. Back in the day in my formative decade I would not be able to decide between apple, blackcurrant or orange, but tropical just gives you a bit of everything, so you feel like you’re looked after. But I think I’m almost allergic to it now and I had juice boxes stored in my cupboard and they would always go out of date and I would grab them for a gig and I would feel a bit funny in the tummy afterwards. It’s more a motif now, more than an actual act.
You seem quite interested in Australian politics, were politics something you had always loved as a kid?
Not as a kid, but probably in high school I started getting into it. My dad was a politics teacher which undoubtedly influenced me and he is still my main source of political wisdom. I will bounce ideas off him and he’s been a keen observer for many many years. I remember the 1996 election, I was in Year Seven and that was the first one I was really aware of and following and enjoying the stories. When I was at school it sort of became my sport, I don’t have any sporting teams, but I liked following the plays, the statistics, the wins and the losses. I guess that was a precursor for what I do for a job, in a way.
But it’s interesting…politics, a lot of people don’t understand it.
Yeah, and a lot of people don’t care for it, which is fair enough. With my stuff I try to have that balance between explaining it enough so people who don’t follow politics closely still enjoy it and it is also rewarding people who do follow it pretty closely and can appreciate some really specific jokes.
You’re described as a musical comedian, were there any specific performers that you took an inspiration from to have this comedic musical style?
Definitely. There was one moment in my life that changed it and that was my Year Seven music teacher playing a song by Tom Lehrer who was an American satirist, he used to sing political songs on piano. This is ’96, which was the same year I was following that election, so I’ve just realised in saying it out loud where it all began. He sang political songs on the piano and that changed my life, it was really funny and I thought, “that’s something I want to do in the future”. There I was listening to all these songs about 1960s American politics and there were all these references that flew over my head, but I liked the rhyming and I liked the stupid jokes. That was definitely the start of my musical comedy love and then moving to high school, getting into Lano & Woodley, Tripod, those sort of groups were equally influential for me.
You’re very connected with your fans through Facebook. I think it’s quite important for artists to connect with their fans. Would you say that social media has helped further your career?
It definitely has, and I say that almost reluctantly as I’m not big on social media. I’m not on Twitter, my instagram page is just a joke of me licking buildings. But, having said that, Playground Politics started as a Facebook show and that’s how it became popular. So, I’m really grateful for that and as you would be aware, in the last few weeks I have started a private members’ lounge on my Facebook page. So, that’s been genuinely fun, I started it just to take the piss out of Facebook. But now it’s become a really fun thing. I realise now there are all of these people that I have met and have come to my shows over several years so there’s a bit of a history there, and that’s been nice, because I do feel like it’s building your audience and finding people who share your sense of humour and that’s what it’s all about for me.
So, tell us a little about The 50 Year Show, what made you come up with the idea?
I had the idea in 2008, ten years ago. I think I got to that point in my career where I wasn’t having any big breaks, I had a few opportunities and probably squandered a little bit. So things were going okay, but I was watching colleagues get bigger opportunities than me and mainly because they were funnier than me and I was thinking ‘where can I apply my skills specifically?’. It was a very calculated thought, ‘well hang on, I quite like time and I’m quite good at committing to things’. So I had this idea, ‘what if I created this show that went for half a century?’ and that was all the hard work. 2008 was hard work because no one really knew who I was, so trying to convince people to get on board and committing to the idea was quite a challenge. The first show was so fun that it sort of set off this chain and I knew I’d come back. 2013 was the next show. And here we are 10 years later and once again I’m freaking out.
Why every five years for a show?
I just decided it was enough time to let things change. Like for example every five years there’s normally been a new president, there’s certainly been new prime ministers. It was a good amount of time to see the world changing. It will really feel like an event for the people who went to the first show or second show.
Did you have any specific comedians in mind that you wanted to include when planning the show?
Originally I certainly did, people like Adam Hills, Frank Woodley, some of my heroes at the time. These days I’m more interested in variety, I’m keen on to get some younger performers in the show. Someone like Jude Perl for example, because I’m sure these people will be household names in a few short years and so it’s really cool for us to be able to look back on the show and say ‘look, they were there when they were really young and fresh. not as many people knew who they were’. For me it’s more about variety than specific names.
How would you describe The 50 Year Show for people who haven’t been to the last two shows?
Firstly, I would describe it as sold out, so that’s a shame for any readers who didn’t get tickets. There’s always next decade. It is a comedy time capsule experiment, that’s what I would call it.
The 50 Year Show is on for the Melbourne Fringe Festival on Thursday the 27th of September at the Northcote Town Hall. The show is now sold out – for more information check out the Melbourne Fringe Festival website.