By Jeeves Verma
Ladies and Gentlemen! Hopefully you are aware that the Sydney Fringe Festival is happening around Sydney RIGHT NOW! The Fringe Festival is such an important part of Sydney culture for both emerging and seasoned artists, but the best part about it is that YOU get to experience all these amazing performances for very little money!
A big part of the Sydney Fringe is the Sydney Fringe Comedy Festival. The hub for Fringe Comedy is the Factory Theatre in Marrickville – if you haven’t been there, put down whatever instant ramen bowl you’re eating out of, AND GO CHECK IT OUT NOW!!!
I had a chance to catch up with Shane Smith – the comedy festival’s director who has been working tirelessly to bring you an entire world of NEW live comedy! Listen/read the interview then go out and get some comedy culture up ya!!
Shane Smith: Hello, Shane speaking.
Jeeves: Hi Shane, its Jeeves! How’s it going?
Shane Smith: Good, Jeeves. How are you?
Jeeves: Not too bad. Thanks for talking to Blitz Radio – thanks for taking the time.
Shane Smith: That’s ok.
Jeeves: So Shane, I don’t know if you remember me but we’ve communicated a lot with each through email…
Shane Smith: Yes!
Jeeves: …yeh, on a number of occasions because you’re actually the general manager for not only Sydney Fringe but Sydney Comedy Festival and Perth Comedy Festival.
Shane Smith: Correct. So yeh, I’m the GM for Sydney Fringe Comedy Festival which is a part of the broader, bigger Sydney Fringe. So Sydney Fringe Comedy is a part of the Sydney Fringe festival’s program so I don’t work for Sydney Fringe but basically present a big comedy program within the Sydney Fringe called ‘Sydney Fringe Comedy’. So it’s a part of the annual comedy events we run each year in Sydney – so yeh, its very fun.
Jeeves: So it’s safe to say, you’re kind of into comedy.
Shane Smith: Yeh, definitely. I’ve been working now for the Sydney Comedy Festival since, god I dunno… 2010, I think it is so yeh, I’ve been doing it a long time and it’s been really fun to watch Sydney Fringe Comedy and Sydney Comedy Festival kind of grow over the years and for comedy generally to become more popular and I think it’s very strong in Sydney all year round so it’s really nice to see that happen and also to be a part of it.
Jeeves: That’s really great! So you’ve said you’ve been doing this for a few years now – how much work and how long does it take to organise a festival like Sydney Fringe Comedy?
Shane Smith: Look, Sydney Fringe Comedy is a bit easier than the bigger comedy festivals. Sydney Fringe Comedy happens just at The Factory Theatre in Marrickville so we run a hub down here for the month of September, basically; where we run five venues, we run Tuesday to Sunday and typically three or four shows a night in each venue. So we run a whole different bunch of venues within The Factory Theatre so that makes it a bit easier ‘cos it’s contained. And really Sydney Fringe comedy is about giving new artists a chance to present their first full-length show and giving more established acts a chance to do their new shows or new material, or even just try an idea that they might have. For that reason it’s a little bit easier to organise because it’s really just about people doing new stuff. Yeh, we try and program as much as we can and we try and fit in as many show as we can into the program and let people do some new things – its very fun.
Jeeves: So you’ve sort of touched on my next question, actually which was… I just wanted give our listeners a bit of context about the difference was between the Sydney Comedy Festival and Fringe Comedy. You’ve already mentioned that Fringe is a great place for new comedians to come out into the public space, but are there any other differences?
Shane Smith: Yeh I think the big major difference with Fringe Comedy over Sydney Comedy Festival is Fringe Comedy is exclusively new shows, as in… it’s basically new stuff, completely. Like you have someone who may have been doing spots around the Sydney scene for a few years, done RAW comedy, or a bunch of different things, they may have been part of an ensemble group or something like that, and them they’ve decided to do their own hour show for the first time – and so that’s what Fringe Comedy is about. Not even just solo artists, as well we have lots of groups doing shows as well but that’s what Fringe Comedy is all about. In terms of established acts – they’ve just finished the festival season, as you know, which finishes up in May, and then they start writing up their new hour or new show for the next festival season. And so this is often the festival where established acts will debut their new hour or new show, basically. What we see is a lot of Fringe acts do their shows for the first time and then they might work on their shows and develop them over a few months and then you’ll see them re-present the same show at the comedy festival but it might be completely different or its been polished. Fringe comedy is very cheap – so we keep all tickets between $10 and $15. $10 during the week and $15 during the weekend. So what we really encourage people to do is just come down to the Factory and you can just see what’s on that night – you can see three or four shows in a night for $30-$40. It’s what we encourage people to do – come down and you might see someone you know – check out their new show, then have a go on some people you’ve never heard of… It’s a good way to check out new comedy.
Jeeves: Yeh, that’s great. Personally I see Sydney fringe as a kind of springboard or training ground where you can really interact with people and refine your own show, so you find a lot of comics do that?
Shane Smith: Yes, definitely. And I don’t want to say that the quality’s not good. The shows are still great…
Jeeves: Oh, absolutely!
Shane Smith: ..they’re amazing shows here at fringe because a comedian may have been working on their hour for a few years and this is their time to present it, so the standard is excellent still, I don’t want to make it sound like it isn’t. But, yeh you definitely see new comics use it as a springboard into the touring/professional circuit with the bigger festivals later on in the year and you see the established acts use it to test their new shows. And we’ve seen heaps of people come through the ranks over the year – I mean, a good example is last year Aaron Chen debuted his solo show at the Sydney Fringe and then went on to Melbourne Comedy Festival and Sydney Comedy Festival the year after and won Best Newcomer. I saw the show at Sydney Fringe and it was great.
Jeeves: That was Chenny Baby, wasn’t it?
Shane Smith: Yeh, yeh. And Corey White is a great example – he did the same thing. The first I saw him was at Sydney Fringe Comedy, I think it was the second time he’d ever performed the show and again it went on to be this hugely successful show at comedy festivals around the country the next year. So it’s definitely a good chance to catch hot, new acts, basically.
Jeeves: So a lot of comics come out of the Sydney Fringe. I think Tom Walker, Reese Nicholson, Ronnie Cheng, are there any other stand-outs in your mind that you’ve enjoyed seeing their progress through the comedy industry?
Shane Smith: I think what I’ve enjoyed the most, is not the individuals, but the comedy program in general getting stronger every year. I think the standard is so good now that even for people coming out with their first shows, I’m often surprised at how good people’s… it might be the second time that they’ve performed their show and it’s great and I just think that that’s, for me, that’s what’s really exciting about it – we’re seeing just the standard of comedy really lifting, and all the artists are going to see each other’s shows and seeing what their styles are and it works to kind of encourage people to work on their craft and get better and present good shows, so I think that the real achievement of it all – to get everybody a chance to do new stuff and try out ideas and just kind of… I feel like the whole standard across the board has really lifted over the last few years.
Jeeves: That’s amazing to hear, actually! Have you tried stand-up comedy before?
Shane Smith: No. And never will [laughs].
Jeeves: Why not?
Shane Smith: No, it’s not for me.
Jeeves: Shane, I can tell you the Sydney Fringe Comedy is a great place to start that sort of stuff so maybe you should think about it.
Shane Smith: Yeh, I know! I’ve seen it. Yeh [laughs]. No that’s not for me, I‘m happy to just, sort of stay in the background.
Jeeves: Ok. So I want ask you.. I want to get you opinion on this: a lot of people say that Sydney doesn’t really have that culture for comedy that Melbourne does. What are your thoughts on that?
Shane Smith: I think that’s wrong. I think that Sydney is probably Australia’s best comedy city! Melbourne, obviously has the Melbourne International Comedy Festival which is the biggest comedy festival in Australia but I feel like Sydney has a very strong, year-round scene and a lot of great acts have come out of Sydney and that’s not to say that there’s a lot of great acts that (don’t) come out of Melbourne, as well. But I really feel like Sydney’s comedy scene is really strong and for me, I feel like it’s the best in the country but I’m sure those Melbourne acts who would say otherwise [laughs]. I think both cities are great and they’re both are doing a lot to contribute to comedy in Australia and you know, we are doing our best with Fringe comedy and other events to try and do that.
Jeeves: So I’ve been doing comedy in Sydney for about 10 years now and I think that the culture is definitely there for comedy – there are tonnes of live comedy spots around Sydney and I think the Sydney Comedy Festival and Fringe have done a lot to harbour that culture as well, so I think I agree with you, Shane I think that is a wrong statement.
Shane Smith: Yeh, just as I said, I think both cities make a big contribution, as does Brisbane and Canberra, Perth and you know, every city make a contribution and some amazing acts have come out of all of those cities and scenes and they’re all different, but yeh, I think definitely we’re seeing a rise in the popularity of comedy, especially in the last few years to be something that more people are going out to do and enjoy – instead of music or theatre – they’re going out and seeing comedy so that’s really good to see.
Jeeves: Yeh, that is great. Shane, tell us about this year’s festival – what are you excited about in particular?
Shane Smith: Well, so I don’t like naming individual acts – I don’t feel like that’s the spirit of the Fringe Festival but the program this year, I feel like, is probably our best program we’ve done: we’ve got over 100 shows again this year and we’ve got people from… lots of acts from Sydney, lots of acts from Melbourne and interstate, a couple of international acts as well, and so again, I think the best way to enjoy the Fringe is to come down, pick a night and come down, and just see a bunch of stuff. We’ve got a nice outdoor courtyard here, you can grab a drink and food, hang out, see a bunch of shows – that’s really the best way to enjoy the festival.
Jeeves: It really is! I think it’s good night out, isn’t it? It’s a lot of fun with a group of friends.
Shane Smith: Yeh, exactly. And cheap as well, as I was saying you can spend $30-$45 to do three shows.
Jeeves: Is the number of acts that you guys have, is that growing every year?
Shane Smith: No, ‘cos we kind of run out of capacity – like, we physically can’t fit more people in ‘cos we run out of rooms. But it sits around, over 100-120 shows is what we can fit into the venue and that’s what we program. As we say, we try and fit in as much as we can but that’s about as many as we can fit in.
Jeeves: Sure. How about another shipping container? I know you brought in the ‘Terminal’ – was that last year?
Shane Smith: Yeh, I think that was two years ago? Yeh I don’t know, maybe.
Jeeves: I love the Terminal! It’s a good space! It’s amazing what you can do with a shipping container.
Shane Smith: Well, its two shipping containers…
Jeeves: Yeh, you’ve also got the ‘Container’ (as well)…
Shane Smith: Yeh’s it’s a really great spot, It’s a great venue, that one and we get a lot of requests from people to perform in there and it does host shows all year round so it’s been a good experiment, that one and it’s actually worked very well. I’m really happy with that venue.
Jeeves: I reckon there’s enough room for another one.. just saying’.
Shane Smith: Alright, I’ll have a chat to someone [laughs]. Put it on top of the other one!
Jeeves: That’s right! Anyway, Shane, that’s all the questions I have for you – is there anything else you’d like to add for our listeners at Blitz?
Shane Smith: Ah, no.. I mean, we have another three weeks of Fringe Comedy left – we finish on the October long weekend. Next week we’re actually taking a break for a week, I just want to get a little plug in here for another event that we host called the Sydney Underground Film Festival which is a four-day film festival here at the Factory which is an awesome festival, so check that out!
Jeeves: Very cool!
Shane Smith: But yeh, we started last week. It went really well – we had a great opening week and now we’re basically just.. off we go for the next month. We’ve just a bunch of new comedy coming through so definitely just come down to the Factory and check it out!
Jeeves: That’s great! Shane thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to us! And I wish you all the best for the festival!
Shane Smith: Great. Thank you.
Jeeves: Cheers, mate. Catch ya.
Shane Smith: Bye.