Australian born Brendon Burns is one of Britain’s most notorious comedians. His act is loud mouthed, clever, occasionally challenging and always funny. You don’t so much go to a Brendon Burns show as witness an event. Martin Walker caught up with him as he busily prepares for the Edinburgh Fringe.
What are your plans for the Edinburgh Fringe?
“I’m going to the free fringe this year. Plus I’m returning to the Stand for ‘Brendon Burns and Colt Cababna sit in an 150-Seater’ at 10pm and Provide the Commentary to Bad Wrestling Matches’. Due to it being such a sleeper hit last year The Stand have moved us to a bigger room and a better time slot. Plus they’re allowing a limited amount of weekly passes as so many punters last year wanted to come more than once.
“On top of that I’m making my own online series thebrendonburnsshow.com – a mix of stand up, interviews and sketches. To be filmed, edited and uploaded two to three times a week and once a week thereafter. So I guess I’ll be mixing it up a lot, it’s a bit of a kickstarter programme. We’re about eight years behind the States when it comes to comedians producing their own online content. A few guys are ahead of the pack in the UK like Richard Herring, Robin Ince and Josie Long, Carl Donnely and Chris Martin. I think Peacock and Gamble were ahead of everyone in Europe on that front. But that’s now how comics find an audience internationally now. And there’s no limit to how far that can reach. I was in Holland earlier in the year and Russell Peters and Bill Burr were selling tickets a thousand times faster than Judah Friedlander and Russell Brand. So a podcaster and a stand up with practically a billion youtube views were selling faster than the guy from the long-time number one sitcom in the US and a bona fide movie star. TV is still king in the UK but everywhere else people want to feel like they’ve discovered an act all on their own as opposed to a system set in place deciding who’s funny and who’s not. As long as TV keeps trying to sanitise this art form, the sooner the general public will turn their back on it entirely and then perhaps start pursuing something a little more subversive on their own.”
You’ve toured all over the world. Tell us your best, worst experiences on stage.
“Easily the worst was the mental breakdown I had when handing out ten kilos of mushrooms at the Glastonbury festival. I’ve talked about that at length before so no need to rehash it here. In terms of the best you kinda have a top five of all time in your first ten years and then after two decades it pretty much happens about five times a year. That feeling that you’re really communicating with people. For my money funny is a language and not everyone speaks it. But a couple of times a year you hit those really special nights where there is a trust and understanding between you and an audience. In those moments – laughter, real, gut busting, uncontrollable laughter is the sound of comprehension. It’s understandable why there is a modern trend of over-explaining jokes in pursuit of that comprehension because it’s just so magic when it happens. It’s frustrating because as they say if you dissect the frog it dies. If you try too hard to manufacture that situation with every room full of people you find yourself in front of, it becomes disingenuous and you ending up doing yourself and them a disservice. I was talking to comedian John Gordillo about this very idea only recently and I agreed with him that it’s easy to see why people compare that moment where you really feel you’re connecting with people to something close to a religious experience. You’re completely wide open, hiding nothing and there is an acceptance there that’s hard to replicate. When you find that audience that speaks your language nothing can top it. I think that’s what I’m trying to do now, find an audience, on my own, that speaks my language.”
So what’s with the wrestling? It’s seems massively popular amongst many stand ups. Why’s that?
“I don’t know that it is. But since I came out of the closet – so to speak – more and more stand ups have too. And every guest we’ve had on Colt and I’s show the show has had a blast. It’s not really work and more of a hang out.
“Stand ups and wrestlers are essentially the same people. And they’re the only two art forms that adapt based on the audience response. If there’s a long laugh a seasoned comic knows to wait. Sometimes if you’re hitting them too hard up top you’ll wear them out and you’ve got an hour so you have to slow down a little. That’s exactly how it is with wrestling. When we’re starting comics endure public humiliation in pursuit of love from strangers wrestlers do the exactly the same only with them it’s physical. I first learned this reading Mick Foley’s book “Have a Nice Day” where he shared how the first time he got a reaction from an audience member by the blood trickling down his face and he liked that feeling. It’s about getting reactions, being noticed and then, when you’re older you simplify it to what it always was; love from strangers. No one is remotely surprised that Mick started doing stand up and that we’re now friends and it would seem our friendship has spawned others as more and more comics and wrestlers are hanging out and swapping road stories. Glenn Wool was over the other day telling me Colt set up a “blind date” between he, Luke Gallows and a couple of other wrestlers in Japan and they all had an exit strategy but actually got on like a house on fire. I can’t claim pioneering the inevitable melding of the two worlds though as I think it was Chris Brooker, Jim Smallman and Billy Kirkwood that first reached out to wrestlers and talked them into Q and A’s around the UK. But yeah, the similarities between us are stark. “
You’re famous for the way you deal with hecklers. Do you enjoy heckles or do you wish that they shut the fuck up?
“Am I? I’d wish I was rather known for constructing a narrative or a fairly decent hand at wordplay. But I guess I don’t shy away from addressing a situation. Bottom line is I know more about nuance in comedy than the heckler. I just do, and anyone else who’s been doing this as long as I have does too.
“So I guess it depends, sometimes there’s no malice and it’s just an excitable dude who thinks you’re speaking to him. Which has such an innocence to it it’s hard to get mad. He might carry on a little too long But even then you don’t really tear into that guy as he’s really just excited. At some point you have to let him know, ‘Look mate you’ve misread this situation… Adorably, but you’ve still misread this’.
“Most will tell you pretty, young, drunk white girls are the worst. In fact female comics generally hate them the most. But I always think there’s a mismatch more than there is a threat. Because when you look at it it’s never a fair fight. Because if you’re a pretty, young entitled drunk girl, you really have swung well outside your weight if you’re taking on a female comic with comedy chops. Plus every other woman in the room is sort of embarrassed by you and is really hoping you’ll get what’s coming to you. So if I was a female comic I’d welcome that situation. I’d squash it but I’d never see it as particularly challenging.
“But definitely my least favourite is the heckler with sanctimonious outrage. I’ve had a rule for quite a few years now that if they’re genuinely so outraged they must stand up and explain the subtext of the joke to everyone. If they’re right I’ll apologise but if they’ve missed the point completely and I can prove it they must apologise to the entire room for presuming themselves better than everyone who understood it. They’re almost never right. I’m not necessarily a thinking man’s comic but there is an emotional depth there that not everyone gets. So I definitely understand what I mean better than anyone else ever could. And I make no bones about saying that to any sanctimonious cockhead. Jesus this interview is descending into something way more confrontational than I’d intended.
“‘Do you enjoy hecklers?’
“‘Hey fuck you buddy and everyone reading this! You don’t get me or my music!’
“I sound like a petulant tit.”
If you were curating a stand up show for television, who would be your guests?
“I’m working on something a little like that just now with Dave Hadingham, Ben Norris, Barry Castagnola and Adam Bloom. They are all guys that make me laugh on and off stage. I can’t really say too much as the idea is still in it’s infancy. Not that I’m the curator per se as we’re all equal partners in it. It was originally an idea floated by Ben Norris during a game of poker. It’ll be an insight into our little world seldom ever seen and probably one of the best bad ideas anyone’s ever had.
“I’d like to replicate something similar to Patton Oswald’s ‘Comedians of Comedy’. Comics that make other comics laugh but are difficult to segregate into any certain group. This is always a tough kind of question as any comic reading it wants to know why they weren’t mentioned.
“I like a certain worldliness you can only find from the globetrotters. I love watching Craig Campbell, Glenn Wool and Andrew Maxwell. To fully appreciate those guys and what they do it’s best to see them away from festivals with polished shows etc.. You really want to catch them in Asia or Europe or somewhere away from the pressures of industry where they’re really just telling the audience about their day in a foreign land. Maxwell in the Alps is fantastic. And Craig in particular is renowned for telling an anecdote backstage and then finishing it on stage. Reginald D Hunter is another guy who’s craftsmanship is something I really enjoy. I saw him at the Hammersmith Apollo and he used silence as well as anyone I’ve ever seen. To the untrained I’m sure that sounds like an insult but it’s really a massive compliment. Tom Rhodes is another guy whose literal actual voice is something I just like. Oh and I could listen to Scott Capurro say just about anything. That guy has a sing-song tone in his voice that really can make anything sound pleasant.
“What I’d really like to do is something a little like Tom Rhode’s online show with a bunch of comics, but gigging in Asia, Africa, all over the globe. Performing to different cultures, races backgrounds etc… For the most part we don’t really get to show people in the UK what we actually do for a living.
“Oh and Kyle Kinaine and Tom Segura are two guys from the States whom I’ve just been turned on to. Chuck Doug Stanhope in there and if I could take all these guys on a tour around the World I think that’d be really something. I know I’m supposed to chuck some female comics in there but I really don’t think they’d enjoy the bus rides very much. If it was just the show I’d like to talk to Hannah Gadsby, Flick Ward and Sarah Kendall. Oh and Fiona O’loughlin is probably the only woman I know that could handle that tour bus without wanting us all dead.
“There’s no way this was three minutes, but I’ve only myself to blame.”