A funny thing happened…
He is also very aware of the differences between his campus life and that experienced by his comic predecessors. In contrast to the ’80s, for example, the Law Revue he produced was full of arts students. And if law students had no time in 2009, he suggests, they’d have less now that their degree is a postgraduate qualification.
Working Dog’s Tom Gleisner sees the great comic troupes produced by the ’70s and ’80s revues as a direct consequence of a more leisurely university life. “With no HECS debt hovering over our heads you could afford to fail a subject or two in pursuit of comedy,” he says. University in his day, he recalls, was the perfect breeding ground for comedy – “generally intelligent people with far too much time on their hands”.
“In the early years no one seriously thought for a second that this would become a career…We weren’t auditioning for a future job, we were just having fun.”
Rod Quantock observes that student revues of his era were staged in a time of full employment, with no separate university semesters, no continuous assessment and courses
that “you could pass with three or four weeks’ work at the end of the year”.
He recalls an Archi Revue with 120 students involved, half doing such work as making and painting scenery, the others in on-stage roles. The last one he saw, sometime in the ’90s, had only four to six people on stage.
Quantock also sees a link between the creativity of his era and the fact that his peers were the first generation of students with working-class parents to arrive at university. “There were all these people who – a generation earlier – would never have got into uni or thought about it,” he says. “They chose architecture because it was the only creative subject.”
The University’s proximity to Carlton’s Pram Factory theatre (which opened in 1970) and John Pinder’s new comedy theatre restaurant, The Flying Trapeze Café (founded in 1974), was also crucial. These offered venues for the former archi students, who had by then become the Razzle Dazzle Revue troupe and were so eager to perform that they opened their own venues – The Banana Lounge, Le Joke and The Comedy Cafe. “It was as much about Carlton as it was about the University,” recalls Quantock.
“It was a symbiotic thing but the seeds were definitely sown in that very concentrated area of the University and Carlton.” The legacy of this work, he says, was a “career path” for the University revue stars of the 1980s.
“By then you could see that comedy had a future. That wasn’t the case when we left uni.” By the time Libbi Gorr was in the last years of her law course, and part of the all‑girl musical comedy act The Hot Bagels, the working path for student performers was leading straight into the vibrant Melbourne pub scene of the 1980s.
“Our venue was the Prince Patrick Hotel – and this coincided with the beginning of the Melbourne Comedy Festival,” she says. “I was initiated into the comedy scene through the University. But I was slamdunked into it through The Hot Bagels, which took me from university into the pubs.”
The “Melbourne University factor” was vital in getting her comedy career started, she recalls. “It was because of the contacts – and the pedigree and because of the confidence. You were begat of a good tribe.”
Gorr notes that, while the traditional role of university revues has faded, there are now many other established and alternative paths into comedy.
“There is a definite career path: festivals (local and international). Grab yourself a breakfast radio gig. Get yourself a bit of TV.
“Stand-ups have business cards and managers – and career plans.
“Someone like Ronny Chieng is much more polished and sure of where he’s going and what he’s doing than any of the stand-ups I remember in my time.”
– Liz Porter
Main picture by Craig Sillitoe
The Quantock effect
Over the past decade climate change and sustainability have been major themes in Rod Quantock’s one-man shows. His work schedule is also full of keynote addresses at universities and conferences. In recognition of this, he has been appointed an associate of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute – a body that facilitates research into sustainability and acknowledges the contribution of the social sciences and the humanities in addressing sustainability issues.
The institute is hosted by the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning. This new role brings the comedian back to where he started his University studies more than 40 years ago.