University of Melbourne Magazine

Podcast transcript – The Comedian

Simon Taylor [on stage at comedy show]: So I’m driving back from Mildura to Melbourne. It’s about five hours. Now I’m only about half an hour out of Mildura and I get a flat tyre.

But that’s OK, I’m an adult, I’m a modern man. I know what to do. I pull over, I get out of the car, I get my phone out and I google, how do you change a flat tyre? [laughter]

But there was no reception, so what I did then was I sat down to die. [laughter]

Val McFarlane: It’s hard to make a living from comedy. There are plenty of funny people who spend their nights making people laugh, but very few are able to give up their day job.

Simon Taylor is one of the select few. He’s what he calls a road comic, spending the first part of the year performing at Australian comedy festivals, and the rest of the time touring. Over the last eight years or so, he says he’s done around 3000 shows in Australia, Asia and the United States. This is his day job.

Simon Taylor: I’m trying to change the tyre, I’m trying to crack the nuts, but the wheel keeps turning. As I’m trying to do this, this old rickety ute comes down the road. Country town. Pulls over. Out steps a bloke – and I mean a bloke. [laughter] You know those guys who are so full of testosterone they can’t form words any more? They just breathe at you. They’re like, ‘Oh mate…mate, I tell you what, I bloody tell you what…’ And then they don’t tell you anything. Those guys, right. [laughter]

Val McFarlane: But as a road comic, it’s not only flat tyres he has to contend with. The week before Simon came back to campus to speak to 3010, he admitted on social media to spending 25 minutes in the Virgin check-in queue before realising he was flying Qantas.

Simon Taylor: So I’m glad university prepared me for the real-life tasks like knowing what flight you’re on. This has actually been a problem the last three or four months. I’ve been touring so much I swear I’ve gotten off a plane once and gone, wait, which city am I in? So it’s good to be working as a stand-up so I’m very grateful for that but I’m also in such a blur of an existence that you know you fly Virgin three times in a row and you just assume the fourth time you’re flying Virgin again so yeah I’m glad people on social media had a laugh.

Val McFarlane: Simon studied psychology at Melbourne, but never planned to actually be a psychologist. A spell of short term jobs made that very clear quite early on.

Simon Taylor: I just think it was very obvious to me that I couldn’t hold a job with a boss. I’m very inquisitive in the sense of I won’t do something unless I know why, and the reason and I get very angry at people’s habits and systems that don’t make sense. I moved out of home at 18, and I was studying here and I would have a job at a restaurant on Lygon Street and work there for a weekend, hate it, quit, use that money to pay for rent and then three weeks later need rent money again, get a job at a different restaurant on Lygon Street, then work that weekend, pay for rent, quit, and so I’ve worked at half a dozen or more restaurants on Lygon Street.

Val McFarlane: That’s not to say his training in psychology has gone to waste. In fact, it’s come in very handy…on stage.

Simon Taylor: Empathy helps because when you know the myriad of mental illnesses out there and dependency on substance and all that sort of stuff so at least I can you know empathise with audience members. It’s very rare that I would ever be aggressive to a heckler or anything like that. I’m always like ‘what’s going on, what are you going through, what’s happening, would you like to tell me about it? So I think, I think that kind of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes comes from at least studying behaviour and people and social psychology.

Val McFarlane: So you are actually counselling people, but just your hecklers?

Simon Taylor: Just the hecklers, just the people who need it! I mean, I guess, I guess I’m kind of counselling myself on stage in many ways but when there’s a heckler I think, well, you’ve got problems worse than me. Let’s focus on you for a bit.

Simon Taylor [on stage]: I’m trying to change the tyre, I’m trying to crack the nuts, but the wheel keeps turning. [laughter] That’s the sound of someone that knows how to change a tyre. Shut up! [laughter]

Val McFarlane: At uni, Simon was a bit of a bookworm. Often, he found himself sitting in the library, spending hour after hour reading and losing himself in neuropsychology. Socialising just wasn’t on his list.

Simon Taylor: Oh man, I don’t know if this is embarrassing, but it’s true. I learnt magic, I was actually, I was either at home practising magic tricks or in the library studying for class or writing essays. But yeah, I didn’t do, I didn’t do the fun social things so much. I kind of scoffed at them. I thought this isn’t going to make me educated and in reality that was the education I needed I think more than anything was how to be social and speak to people I had some romantic interest in instead of writing love letters to them in the library. I did that a lot – I wrote love letters to people from the library. Yeah. I was a bookworm, and a melodramatic recluse.

Val McFarlane: Simon found his creative spark early. He wrote poetry, tried breakdancing, singing and writing songs, improv and magic, as well as stand-up. But it was in the most unlikely of settings that he developed his comedic skills. While still at university, he began working with children with autism.

Simon Taylor: So I did that for a number of years and that actually taught me a lot about entertainment and engaging with people because the biggest part of the therapy was with these kids you had to reinforce positive behaviours so if they did something good you had to make them laugh or show them a magic trick or pull a funny face or go outside on the trampoline so the majority of your session was entertaining them, keeping them happy, giving them rewards for their good behaviour So that was kind of almost a perfect juncture between psychology and entertainment.

I’m really grateful that I had all the studies here to kind of build my brain for being capable now as a freelancer, in a way as a stand-up you’re pretty much a freelancer and all the, all the subjects like philosophy, which taught me logic and critical thinking and psychology taught me statistics and, the empirical research for science. All that sort of stuff is actually really effective for just general life skills and making decisions so I actually feel really well-equipped to be self-sufficient as an entertainer

Simon Taylor [on stage]: We’ve got the Italo-Australian accent. That’s unique to us. Beautiful. I’m half-Italian. I heard it trickle into our language. It started with Italian, trickled into broken English and then became Italo-Australian. Check it out: Ciao, mi chiamo Simone, que bella giorno, so great to be here in Australia, start a small business and mate if you want a good deal come see me.’ It trickled in. You heard it, you know what’s up. [laughter]

Val McFarlane: It wasn’t until his final semester that he became involved in Union House theatre, He performed a magic show that made him realise the stage was where he belonged….

Simon Taylor: Stand-up was the most pure form, I thought, you could just be anywhere and talk to people and make them laugh and I just loved the idea of being a self-sufficient entertainer, that you don’t need gimmicks or props or instruments and things like that so even though I bring a lot of those old skills back into my shows I want to be able to just travel and talk and that’s why I’ve landed here, because of the practicality of it all.

Val McFarlane: You just didn’t want a big suitcase.

Simon Taylor: I didn’t want a big suitcase, no. I can go to a city for the weekend with a backpack and that’s a joy.

MC at comedy show: The wonderful Simon Taylor!

Simon Taylor [on stage]: Alright Are you guys ready to have a lot of fun? Alright, let’s talk about Muslims! There’s been a lot of tension with the Muslim community. I’ve been reading the Twitter feed, and a lot of hateful tweets coming up – Muslims should go back to where they came from, we should block Muslims…but as I’m reading my feed I saw a random tweet come up from and it said ‘Fun fact: mosquitoes have killed more people than all wars in history’, which I think we can all agree is a pretty fun fact. [laughter]

Simon Taylor: If I come off stage and I haven’t made them laugh, which certainly happened in the first year or two, you could just have a death gig, and you still can if you are trying new material. I’ll come off and think how could I have done that better, what do I need to fix to have made them laugh?

And then if I have a good gig I’ll think that was awesome, I wanna get back on again. So there’s always a reason to get back on stage as far as I am concerned, either to resolve the issues in the set or to share that material again.

Val McFarlane: These days he is increasingly sharing his material with audiences in America. In Australia, once the comedy festival season is over, it’s hard to make a living just by appearing at comedy clubs, and radio and TV gigs hard to come by. So Simon, like a lot of Aussie comics, heads overseas.

Simon Taylor: LA and New York are very crowded comedy scenes. There’s just so many people budding to be stand-up comics for various reasons. In LA it’s because they want an acting career or a media career and stand-up is something they can at least do every day but if you’re an actor you don’t always have auditions every day or can’t practise your craft every day so it’s very hard to even get stage time over there. But all the other cities that I perform at are pretty wonderful stand-up comedy scenes. Denver is really good – it actually reminded me a lot of Melbourne. Lots of small rooms and bar shows that you can do and a really solid club.

Val McFarlane: It was when touring the US that he landed one of the hottest gigs in comedy – writing for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Simon Taylor: I was on cloud nine, it was crazy. So when I got the contract, after sending some jokes in to him it was the scariest, most anxiety-filled moment of my life, walking that letter to the mailbox .I was in West Hollywood and I was walking down a street and I was shaking and I was just overwhelmed like ‘this could change my life. This letter getting there will change my life and I was just so overwhelmed by it,  it was so surreal that I got it, it was so surreal that I met him, that he asked me to send jokes in, that he liked them, that he wanted me to work for him so when it first happened, when I first got my jokes on the show, I had just landed back in Australia, I was doing some shows in Adelaide, and I watched online, and it was so odd that I was in America for two weeks and then I’m back in Australia and now I’m a writer for the show. So I was on a high for a long time.

And what was interesting is that in America, people are very excited about your achievements, oh you’ve done this, this is amazing, you’re great, wow. In Australia the tall poppy syndrome is legitimate. I remember not telling my friends and local comics that I was writing for the show for two months cos I was kind of embarrassed about the achievement and this is the exact response I got from the first comedian I told. I said ‘hey man, I just became a writer for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno’. He looked at me and he said ‘yeah, but you’re still shit’ so I was kept grounded by the local comedy scene. But in terms of feeling satisfied with the work it was a joy.

Val McFarlane: Back home, he’s also written for one of Australia’s most successful satirical comedians, Shaun Micallef. While Simon makes a living out of writing and performing jokes, he doesn’t mind handing over some of his best lines.

Simon Taylor: No, if you’re writing it in their voice you wouldn’t really do it yourself. I don’t think I’ve ever on stage said a joke I’ve written for anyone else because it’s … especially with Leno, his type of jokes for the monologues was very specific to his style and his point of view, and the same with Micallef. Those are more sketch scripts anyway so I wouldn’t really ever do that so if you wouldn’t do the jokes yourself there’s no worry about handing over the babies.

You just want jokes up, to be honest. You want them to like them and use them and for them to work.

Simon Taylor [on stage]: Mosquitoes are the real enemy because I don’t know about you guys but I’ve never been bitten by a Muslim, like NEVER! [laughter] Not once. I’ve never been in bed at night trying to get to sleep and there’s a Muslim man just going ahhh Allah Akhbar – get out of here Ahmed! [makes insect spray sound] Mosquitoes are the real enemy. Not all mosquitoes, the majority are decent, hardworking mosquitoes. It’s just the extreme ones that make the others look bad…[laughter]

Val McFarlane: Now, after spells writing for Comedy Central and Netflix in the US and hosting his own late-night talk show on community television here, he’s back on the road.

Simon Taylor: Being bi-continental is kind of helpful in that you can keep the income going and keep the skills building throughout the whole year rather than just waiting for the comedy season.

Not just America, I’ve performed in India and south east Asia and you turn up and if you’re a comic and you do a spot and the other comics see your spot and that you’re good then you’re part of the family. So I really enjoy just being a road comic for that reason, being accepted just because oh, you’re funny. You’re one of us.

Val McFarlane: You’ve been listening to the 3010 podcast, written and edited by me, Val McFarlane and co-produced by me and Verica Jokic. Music by Rory Clark. Chris Hatzis was our audio engineer.

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