INTERVIEW: Ronny Chieng

Published in The Music (WA, SA, NSW, VIC, QLD) and on theMusic.com.au, Feb-Apr 2015

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Avoiding Controversy

Loudly dishing out abuse for a living, Ronny Chieng has also copped his fair share. Daniel Cribb finds out what the lawyer-turned-comedian now has in the crosshairs.

If we’re led to believe everything that comedians do and say onstage reflects their beliefs and habits off it, then Ronny Chieng might just be the most frustrated person alive. From Twitter to indecisive friends, it seems there’s very little that doesn’t enrage him, and an interesting Facebook message out of the blue last year almost joined that list. “I was opening for Dave Chappelle at the time, and [Bill Burr] sent me a message on Facebook out of the blue… I didn’t believe it was him; I thought it was another comic friend of mine playing a prank on me but I just went along with it. I was actually going to say, ‘Yeah, go fuck yourself,’ but I went along with it on the off-chance that it was actually him,” a calm and collected Chieng tells. Perhaps he’s not angry all the time.

The message from Burr was legitimate and saw Chieng tour big theatres around the country once again, allowing him to test out material from his new show, You Don’t Know What You’re Talking About, once again dealing with conflict, to a wealth of people.

It’s not that he’s trying to resolve the world’s problems, though, rather commenting on how trivial a lot of them are, a heated joke surrounding the iPhone/Android debate being a shining example. “My biggest thing is, if you don’t know what you’re talking about, you shouldn’t talk and that applies to me as well. And that is the irony of the show I guess, because I am calling people out who are calling other people out.

“I don’t think I am a very controversial comedian, I just rant a bit. I try to avoid those more divisive topics. I don’t really talk about politics or anything, so I don’t think I’m near that line, but I appreciate that line and people will draw that line and people who try to not step over that line, and people who do step over it on purpose. Comedy’s weird, man.”

The whole show isn’t just about conflict, though. Only being in the game for six years, Chieng’s had a swift rise into the spotlight, which saw him temporally fill a prime-time slot at triple j. “I thought I liked music until I started working at triple j and then I thought, ‘Apparently I don’t like music,’” he laughs. “I am an undeserving piece of shit with no taste in music, so I really expanded my music horizons on triple j.

“The biggest thing is opening yourself up to that national level of feedback, and criticism on the internet. I learned how to deal with that a lot better. People who listen to triple j have very strong opinions about what should be on it, including what voices should be on it and obviously the music… You’d have to be some kind of terminator to be able to take all this shit directed at you and just really brush it off.”

http://themusic.com.au/interviews/all/2015/02/16/ronny-chieng-daniel-crabb/

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INTERVIEW: Matt Okine

Published in The Music (WA, SA, NSW, VIC, QLD) and on theMusic.com.au, Feb-Apr 2015

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Stepping back from “superficial jokes”, triple j star/comedian Matt Okine tells Daniel Cribb why he was scared to perform his new material at first.

If you saw Matt Okine doing stand-up comedy in 2014, you were probably delivered a healthy amount of “killer bread jokes” and observational pieces on the trials of sharehouse living.
That material was penned when the breakfast co-host was still adjusting to his new position and figuring out his life in the spotlight. A year into the job and a lot has changed for Okine. While he was hosting a carefree and fun on-air attitude, things were a little more hectic behind the scenes. “I’m in a different position now,” Okine tells. “I’ve broken up with my long-term girlfriend, I am getting more comfortable in my job, and I am also starting to enjoy being able to afford little extra things in life. Like, I can fill my petrol tank up every time… every one of my shows is where I’m at a particular stage. A lot of things can happen in a year.”
But the luxury of a full tank of petrol comes at a price. An increased presence in the public arena also meant a rise in hatred and hurtful comments, something that Okine still struggles to simply shrug off. “It never stops hurting,” he admits. “I started work the other day at 6am and the very first text that came in just said, ‘Shut up, Matt. You’re not funny. Piss off.’ Imagine if you walked through the door of your work and the first thing you were told was, ‘Mate, shut up, you’re shit. Get outta here.’ It feels kind of weird. You either have to get upset by it or you have to start embracing it, and I’ve learned that being divisive is a lot better than being ignored.”

While his previous shows have been done in retrospect, the new show, The Other Guy, focuses on the present. And dealing with such hatred and a hectic 12 months has helped Okine open up more on stage. “It’s a really full on show, and I’ve done a few trials and people have come up to me afterwards and been like, ‘Holy shit. You say a lot of deep stuff in the show, and then manage to keep it funny.’ And that is something that I am exploring, being funny and being light-hearted but, I think I’ve moved past just doing superficial jokes and I want to talk about things that people wouldn’t often talk about on stage. I want to bring that sort of honesty to my shows because I just can’t joke about vacuum cleaners forever.

“I’ve kind of got to do what I’m scared of because that’s the stuff that people really connect with… When I say something that scares me, that I am scared to reveal about myself, all it is telling me is that there must be a million other people who are going through something like this who are also too scared to say it. I feel like it’s my duty, as someone with a microphone, to talk about things that other people might be going through.”

http://themusic.com.au/interviews/all/2015/02/13/matt-okine-daniel-cribb/

Show Review: Bill Burr 27.01.15

Published in The Music (WA) and on theMusic.com.au, Jan 2015

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From Louis CK to Doug Stanhope, there’s something about Boston that creates the perfect environment for comedy legends to flourish.

Bill Burr sits high on the list, and Perth became a “test crowd” at the beginning of his third trip to Australia, as he dished out local references better than most Aussie comedians do. A quick stab at the fundamental flaws of the recently passed Australia Day celebrations led the way for controversial material that didn’t sit too well for one front row punter.

Failing to comprehend the basic premise of stand-up comedy, said punter became the brunt of a solid 20 minutes of punch lines – most of which revolved around sandwiches. Any touchy subject matter to do with women’s rights was balanced out by equally brutal attacks on males. A self-proclaimed “advocate for murder”, jokes at Burr’s own expense and the general downward spiral of humanity, all delivered in a “Bwoston” accent made for A-grade comedy. He’s one of few that can give negativity charm. Thinking on his toes, interacting with and abusing the audience, and having an overall easygoing demeanour, Burr encompassed everything great about stand-up comedy. One could easily forget they’re in a packed-out theatre, his set having all the characteristics of an intimate comedy club set.

Riverside Theatre, Perth Convention & Exhibition Centre, 27 Jan

http://themusic.com.au/comedy/reviews/2015/02/03/bill-burr-daniel-cribb/

INTERVIEW: Kevin Smith

Published as the cover in The Music (WA, NSW, VIC, QLD) and on theMusic.com.au, Feb 2015

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WALRUS AT HEART

Only actor/director Kevin Smith could have you laughing while consumed by suffocating horror. Daniel Cribb dissects his latest comedy horror offering, Tusk, its two planned sequels and the pending Clerks finale.

Although it’s a fairly basic concept, few have nailed the dialogue-heavy film format like Kevin Smith has, and since he burst onto the scene with his debut, Clerks, back in 1994, he’s honed the skill to perfection.

With a cult following keeping a close eye on his every move since that black and white classic was released, it’s no surprise feature film, Tusk, the first in a trilogy of comedy horrors, came to fruition through a sea of Twitter encouragement following an episode of Smith’s podcast, SModcast, in June 2013. In the episode, titled The Walrus And The Carpenter, he discussed with co-host Scott Mosier an article on Gumtree where a homeowner was offering free accommodation to anyone willing to dress up and act as a walrus every day for a period of time. “Tusk, you know, went from a podcast to a movie in six months – a dopey conversation with my friend to me standing on a set going, ‘Action!’, and there’s Justin Long dressed like a fucking walrus,” a spritely Smith tells.

“This was a stupid idea that came out of a podcast and we literally could’ve let it die like so many conversations you have with your friends, but instead we took it all the way, motherfucker! All the way to a movie theatre. To a legit fucking cinematic release and shit.”

Tusk tells the story of podcaster Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) heading to Canada to interview a kid made famous after he cut his own leg off making a Kill Bill video. Bryton arrives to discover his interviewee has taken his own life and then sets out to find another interestingly weird and marvellous story for his show. He stumbles across a handwritten flyer that offers free accommodation from a gentleman named Howard Howe (Michael Parks), who has a lifetime of worldly stories on offer. Howe, however, is an insane psychopath who has spent years trying to turn people into walruses to fulfill a sick fantasy, and Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp) has been hunting him for the majority of his killing spree.

“It’s a weird fucking movie,” Smith admits. “It’s a stupid movie that shouldn’t exist, but it’s fucking fascinating to watch, either ‘cause you’re rooting for it or because you see it as a train wreck. But it’s just bat shit, and that makes me so happy.

Tusk was a real fucking educational experience. It felt like I didn’t really have the college experience. I didn’t really do the whole school thing, I dropped out, never really had an experimental period to figure out who I was as an artist, just hit the ground running with Clerks and all of a sudden I had a job. So now, later in life, it’s nice to be middle-aged and fucking shake it up. It’s the shit I might’ve done as a stupid kid, and now I get to do it as a stupid middle-aged guy.”

But a solid cast didn’t quite yield a box office success. “Tusk didn’t do well over here theatrically,” Smith admits, surprisingly proud. “A lot of people were like, ‘Who did you make this movie for?’ And that’s the weird thing, like, you’re making a movie for an audience that doesn’t exist… Tusk, to me, never seemed like much of a big theatrical proposition, I didn’t think it was going to reinvent cinema, but the fact that we got into a movie theatre is the fucking triumph.

“The home video aspect of this is way more exciting to me than theatrical, ‘cause theatrical, I never score big at. I didn’t think it was going to be it. But now, an audience will get to see it – far more people than who saw it theatrically.”

Tusk is only the first instalment in the True North trilogy, with its follow-up, Yoga Hosers, currently in production and the finale, Moose Jaws, set for release in 2016. “With Yoga Hosers we’re basing it on two little girls in a convenience store – one’s my kid [Harley Quinn Smith], one is Johnny Depp’s kid [Lily-Rose Depp] – and Johnny Depp is playing Guy Lapointe again, and I’m in it too.

“Originally it was going to be Jason Mewes playing all the little rubber villains, but he couldn’t wear the rubber. When they put the prosthetics on, he freaked out and tore them off, so after a couple of hours it was kind of clear that he wasn’t going to be able to do it. He’s got claustrophobia issues and whatnot, because when he was a kid, his mum would go to the heroin house and lock him in a closet while she’d go off and dose, so he has real claustrophobia issues… I was all, ‘Alright, I’ll do it!’ So there’s rubber in that movie, and I’m buried in it; it looks fucked up. I look so weird in it, it looks so funny.”

Despite never being a hit at the box office, Smith’s got a steady career and is married with a daughter, obviously, which is great, but as he points out, it also means he’ll never be able to produce another film like classics Chasing Amy or Dogma. “Happy people don’t make great art, it’s just that simple. They can make weird art, though, and so that’s where I was like, ‘Fuck, maybe I’ll start making weird art.’ I can’t make the kind of movies I used to make when I was a kid, I’ll never be able to make another Chasing Amy… Fuck, I hope not; Chasing Amy came from a place of terrible pain and trying to come to grips with relationships and whatnot, and I hope to God I don’t make another one because that would mean that something happened in my marriage.”

Turning away from personal experiences for inspiration allowed Smith a new sense of creativity to surface and experiment with different special effects. “I realised at a certain point that not every director works like I do, they don’t just sit there and coast on shit from their real life and change all the names. Some people make things up, like George Lucas didn’t go to high school with a bunch of Wookies – he made them up.

“One of the things I always wanted to fuck around with a lot was rubber. I loved prosthetics and stuff like that – rubber special effects. We did a little bit in Dogma but I never got to do as much as I wanted to.”

Love or hate the direction of the True North trilogy, it’s what’s funded the third and final Clerk film, which is set to begin filming mid-2015 and deviates from the first two films’ themes, finding a darker anchor around which to revolve. “Clerks III is about middle age and how dreams don’t always come true and the ones that do don’t always wind up being what you want… The aspect of Clerks that I now find most interesting is Dante and Randal ageing and trying to fucking maintain their identity as they get middle-aged and closer to the end.

“Just as Clerks and Clerks II were snapshots of who I was and my life – those two Clerks being me in my 20s and me in my 30s – this one is definitely me in my 40s, kind of getting to the point where the fun is over. How do you maintain who you are in the face of a world that changes so fast that it left you behind a long time ago?”

INTERVIEW: The Rabbits (Kate Miller-Heidke)

Published in The Music (WA) and on theMusic.com.au, Feb 2015

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Performing in a New York theatre with protesters arrested mid-show and smoke-filled European venues, Kate Miller-Heidke brings a wealth of experience to Perth Festival for the world premiere of The Rabbits. Daniel Cribb gets all the details.

“I haven’t really been home in about six months or something, so I’m kind of dazzled by the Melbourne sunlight,” a jet-lagged yet spritely Kate Miller-Heidke begins.

She’s travelled the world since the release of her latest record, O Vertigo!, earlier in 2014, and seen more than most would in several years. Miller-Heidke’s first destination on her mission to dominate the globe was New York City, where she performed in The Metropolitan Opera’s The Death Of Klinghoffer. An international operatic theatre experience isn’t, of course, anything new for the Brisbane singer, but the controversy surrounding it was.

“[On] opening night, there was a little bit of fear, because there was NYPD swarming around and the whole building was quartered off because of the protesters outside and people were coming in to disrupt the show. We had people come into the theatre with smoke bombs and people getting arrested during performances. It was very electric.”

The excitement of the theatre continues, when Miller-Heidke ventures to Perth for the world premiere of The Rabbits – only this time she’s been more involved with the production side of things, composing the music as well as singing live onstage. “If it gets terrible reviews I’ll take it a lot more personally,” she laughs. The Rabbits is a book written by John Marsden and illustrated by Shaun Tan. The tale begins somewhat optimistically, led in by curiosity and friendliness, but quickly turns dark. “Shaun Tan is an incredible illustrator who actually just won an Oscar for short film The Lost Thing, and The Rabbits is this gorgeous, powerful allegory about colonialism in Australia; about what happened when the first white people landed on shore in this country, and how the Indigenous people might have felt about that and their encounters.

“It’s a book for kids, but it’s pretty disturbing, serious subject matter, so the show is pitched at families, as well as kids, and I think there’s a lot adults will get from it as well. That’s about all I can say.”

While theatre isn’t Miller-Heidke’s primary focus, her operatic singing voice and quirky onstage vibe fit the environment perfectly. “[Theatre] is not a life that I’d choose for myself full-time, but getting to dip one toe in it every now and then – especially if it’s a challenging and interesting project – is something I feel very lucky about. There’s something about a show coming together and how impermanent it is, you know. You put all this work in and then a few weeks later, it’s gone forever, and there’s something I really love about that.”

WHAT: The Rabbits

WHEN & WHERE: 12-16 Feb, Perth Festival, Heath Ledger Theatre