Talented comedian Kate McLennan is one of the stars – and the only female performer – in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow. For a performance that will have you rolling in the aisles, visit the Glasshouse on June 16 or 17!
How does one decide they’re going to be a comedian – is it something you just naturally fall into?
I always wanted to be an actor, and I studied drama at uni. You know … when you’re young, you think you’re pretty good at everything; but it became pretty clear I wasn’t meant to be a serious actress. I kept getting cast in comedy roles – so I thought maybe that was what I was good at!
As a teenager, I did a lot of mimicking – including people like my dad and other family members. Once I graduated, I did a lot of sketch comedy and character comedy.
In 2006 I wrote my solo first show, which was called The Debutante Diaries. The show was a comedy about different characters in a high school in the 3-month lead up to their Deb ball. That’s where it all kicked off, as the show did really well. It won the Best Comedy in the Melbourne Fringe Festival, and I won the Best Newcomer that year. It went onto the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2007, and I did a tour all around Australia in 2009 with the show – which was just a fantastic experience. I loved that it showed in capital cities, but also in little tiny towns that may only have a few hundred people.
So this was all character stuff, but then a couple of years ago I thought I’d start doing stand up comedy. On stage, I’d always been able to rely on someone else, but I guess I just wanted to have a connection with the audience. I did a couple of gigs – and then I was hooked! It’s really terrifying doing stand up – but it’s really fun!
It must be a bit of a tough gig, stand up …
Yeah – it can be madness, I think. Basically, whenever you walk out on stage, you’re trying to get a bunch of strangers to like you in a very short time. You have to get people on side … once you have people on side, you can take them anywhere.
You’ve been on television too, which is a different type of performance again. Do you prefer live performance?
I probably prefer stage, but then I’ve been very lucky that a lot of TV work I’ve done has been live TV – so this is a bit like having the best of both worlds … performing in a studio, but in front of a live audience. Live to air TV gives you that real sense that things can go wrong, or belly up, and there’s a real adrenalin rush with that kind of thing.
But then I’ve done other TV, like a guest role on Offspring, which was a real shift for me. It took me ages to make the adjustment to performing something 10 times and playing it the same way each time in a row … It’s a different skill doing that kind of narrative-based TV.
It’s completely different – I guess you really can’t compare stage and TV.
What tickles your funny bone? What’s one of the largest sources of your comedy material?
A lot of my inspiration for stand up has been my family. My dad is hilarious – he’s a real character. He’s always ringing me up and asking me to check the oil and water in my car … Some of the material I use is when I was 31 and I’d just come out of a relationship. My mother and sister took me to a bridal expo the day after I’d moved out of the house and my 4-year relationship – as a way of distracting me from the breakup! My whole family can basically write my material for me.
I think comedians generally are very good at observing what goes on around them – and I think that’s the trick. Whenever I go to a restaurant, I like to sit with my back to the wall, so I can watch what’s going on around me. On public transport, I put my earphones in, but I won’t have anything playing. I listen to what the people next to me are saying on their mobile phone … eavesdropping! I don’t think you can write anything more entertaining than what life provides you with.
You’ve been travelling around with the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow for a while now. How have you enjoyed this experience?
Oh yes! We’ve been travelling around in Queensland … we’ve just had 4 days in Cairns, today we’re in Townsville and we’re heading out to Mt Isa next week. The audiences are just so different form Melbourne … I talk about AFL quite a lot in my routines, and I’ve had to cut a lot of that, as they don’t care as much about AFL here. That’s actually quite refreshing!
A lot of the places we’re travelling don’t get a lot of live entertainment, so the audiences have been really appreciative. Each night has been completely different from the one before … it’s very special.
And you’re the only woman in the line up too! How are you keeping the boys in line?
Luckily so far we’ve had a female stage manager, so I’ve had a buddy, but for the next few weeks I’ll be wrangling the boys on my own! They’re such a lovely bunch of guys!
I’m usually first on to perform too, so that’s usually a surprise for the audience. “Oh – it’s a girl!” they realise. One lady came up to me after a show recently and said, “You did a really lovely job, but I couldn’t really see you in your jeans and T-shirt. Maybe you should wear some sparkles!”
You’ll be in NSW shortly, performing at heaps of different venues – including Port Macquarie. Different audiences again … and you may even be able to incorporate some of your AFL references back into your routine again here!
To be honest, I don’t think I’ve performed in New South Wales before – apart from a couple of shows in Sydney! I have no idea what to expect – I presume everyone will be lovely though (laughs). I’m hoping to talk about Mum and Dad and their various camping exploits too.
I’m looking forward to visiting Ballina in NSW again too … I haven’t been there since I was 8; we were meant to be going to an expo there, but Mum left the tickets at home!
Plenty of material right there for stand up!
That’s right – she’ll never live it down!
Thanks Kate. All the best for the rest of the tour.
Interview by Jo Atkins.
See Kate in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow as it stops over at the Glasshouse: Saturday 16 June, 8pm and Sunday 17 June, 2pm.
Tickets cost $36.90 adult, $30.90 concession and $25.90 under 21/student.
Call the Box Office on 6581 8888 or visit www.glasshouse.org.au