Australians, on the whole, don't like surprises. Which, given that my entire art form is dependant upon invoking an involuntary response born of surprising the audience, makes my recent return a little bit of a trial by fire.
I've been doing Christmas shows at the comedy store in Sydney: an environment in which traditionally, I can do no wrong. I'm enough of an outsider to come up with an unusual perspective but also Aussie enough to say what I want about our culture. But to say the shows have been triumphs or spectacular failures would be hyperbolic either way.
However, Saturday's show was just awkward. I got into an argument with a woman in the front row whom I'd misheard at the top of the show (I lost my hearing aid in Malaysia and being partial hearing I thought she mouthed "you're not funny' at me before I'd barely even opened my mouth) and unloaded on her pretty aggressively. In the end she revealed she hadn't said what I thought she had and I apologized accordingly. I thought it made for pretty interesting viewing and with the best outcome possible. (You can listen here and judge for yourself. Stick with it because I'm pretty annoyed at first but both she and I calm down as the recording progresses)
But people still rang in to complain the next day because apparently a comic calling a heckler "an arrogant c***" was not OK no matter how they behave. And others were frustrated I went too easy on her and really felt she should have been ejected for behaving so appallingly.
Essentially the professional complainers were bemoaning that the night wasn't what they expected. I consider that a point of pride personally. I like every show to be at least slightly evocative and if I'm in a bad mood and somebody pisses me off, I hope at least the audience enjoys the spectacle. She was being an irritant and I overreacted. But through digging just a little bit deeper there was a resulting catharsis and we both revealed our truer selves. I call that one hell of a night out. But not in an Aussie Christmas show apparently. Because, Aussies don't like surprises.
This isn't necessarily born of anti-intellectualism either, quite the opposite. We've learned to survive in the world's most dangerous ecosystem. Traditionally surprises kill us. We have instinctually learned to look before we leap, peruse before we lift and never, ever reach into a letterbox without poking it with a stick first. After two decades in the UK I went to lift a gas bottle the other day without looking under it for redback spiders. The thing practically exploded as I dropped it once I realized what the bloody hell I was doing.
And it permeates throughout Australian culture, "What are you wearing that for? Why are you saying that? Where the hell does this bloke think he's going?"
All can be loosely translated into, "Look out! You'll get us all killed you idiot!"
For example, the first time I returned to Australia after being away for ten years I was in a shopping mall car park. I had just dyed my hair bright red I was walking along, minding my own business, when two blokes in a utility truck sped through the car park, bounced over a speed bump, pulled a handbrakey to sidle up next to me and actually took the time to wind down his window to yell through his own stinky rubber tyre mist at me, "Mate! Look at your f***ing hair!"
Two guys in a ute risked a speeding ticket in a car park to tell me I was out of the ordinary. I didn't even realize I was in danger. In my youth this could have easily escalated into a punch in the head in seconds. I just keeled over laughing. More than a small part of me felt a sense of nostalgia for being picked from a car for no reason. "What's so funny?" they asked as they sped off utterly bamboozled. Clearly they were hoping to bash a poofter (ie: had dyed hair) that day and this one had not afforded them the correct defensive response.
Or perhaps their yelling from a car was even more primitive than homophobia? Perhaps I was just too brightly colored. My hair was bright red. My shirt was bright blue. Perhaps what they were really yelling was, "Are you a redback or a bluebottle? Kill it! Kill it! Before it bites us! Now it's laughing! That's not supposed to happen. Quick! Run!"
At least this Saturday I've got my solo hour. Hopefully people know what to expect.
See Brendon this Saturday in Sydney here