“I went to the gym, with my wooden leg strapped on and the parrot on my shoulder, and you know what they said?” The man seems indignant. “They said ‘Sorry sir, this is a pilates class’.”

The comic on stage is punching out puns at top speed. His eyebrows are raised, as is his hair, as if he can’t believe how crazy the world is. The audience love it. 

“Comedy is still an underground art form in Sydney,” says Darren Sanders, the comedian behind The Laugh Garage in Parramatta, explaining that too many people still believe that live comedy only happens at high-profile comedy festivals.

But Sydney is a lot funnier than that. Take the Laugh Garage. “I only put on acts that I know will do well, and there’s a bar and waitress service,” says Sanders.

Then there’s The Comedy Store, amusing people since 1981, where the comic above is performing. It’s launched the career of many a local star, including Dave Hughes and Rodney Rude and has helped shape the nature of Australian comedy; in the 1980s it was blokey and rude and audiences could expect to be insulted at all hours. These days the comics emphasise wit and observational humour, and comics are more likely to send themselves up. International acts are also featured, occasionally with stars of the calibre of Robin Williams.

The format at the comedy venues is roughly the same: get yourself a drink and sit down. An MC will introduce the support act that will entertain you before it’s time to refill your glass. The main act comes on after the break. Or, for something different, you can take The Comedy Cruise, which usually runs on Friday and Saturday nights.

“It sails for four hours around Sydney Harbour,” explains director Allan Berkopec. “You get a three-course dinner and there’s a resident two-piece band with music over dinner.”

If DIY comedy is more your thing, then consider signing up for a class at the Laugh Garage. “We run a beginner’s workshop to get people in the frame of mind, and then give them the opportunity to get in front of an open mike on Saturday night,” says Sanders. “We call it the Late Night Gong Show. After three minutes the audience will tell you whether they’ve had enough or not.”

And from there, does fame and fortune await? “We’re pretty honest with people and tell them they won’t get paid gigs for at least five years,” he says. 

Maybe it’s just easier to sit back and listen to other people doing all the hard work, like the comic at The Comedy Store.

“When I opened the door the other night, this roast beef came flying at me!” he says. “Then I opened the linen cupboard and got a grilled fish in the face. Honestly, I don’t know where my next meal is coming from.”


This article appeared in Where magazine in 2007.

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