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May 6, 2013 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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An Interview with Guy Williams

In case you didn’t know, the angle of this interview is the idea of you being a professional comedian, giving some tips to me, being an amateur comedian…

Oh. I’ve got no good tips, but we’ll see how I go.

I thought we could compare the different ways we got into comedy, because I think it’s easier to get into it now than when you started?

It is easy to get into, but easy now? No it was real easy when I got into it—I think it’s changed, I think it’s harder. The Wellington Comedy Club used to be really strong; it was at San Francisco Bath House (SFBH). Flight of the Conchords had left, but Ben Hurley and Steve Wrigley and Dai Henwood were still there, all these people who have since left to go to Auckland. It left a bit of a void, because there isn’t the same quality of comedian in Wellington like there used to be.

That’s interesting. I haven’t been in the scene for very long but I’ve found it pretty easy.

When I started, the Wellington Comedy Club was absolutely awesome, and it’s still good, and it’s cool ‘cos it’s way more creative than it is up in Auckland, but it’s a shame that everyone moves up to Auckland for work.

So you got started with that Club?

I just got addicted to going along to gigs, and I can’t remember what inspired me to go to my first gig; I think I had a friend at Weir House who had a brother who was doing it, so we went along to support him. From there I went along every Thursday, because I just loved watching the comedians. When they advertised the Rookie Night I signed up.

So you were at Weir House? I was at Weir House as well.

Yeah. B Floor.

Oh yeah, I was A Floor, bit of competition there.

Classic.

What faces and places of Wellington comedy stand out to you?

SFBH, which is in quite a sad situation at the moment, and Fringe Bar were the places for me. SFBH felt kind of legendary—I’d hear stories about Flight of the Conchords and stuff. My heroes were guys like Steve Wrigley.

What keeps you going back on stage?

I just want to be good at stand-up, really. I really enjoy it—do you enjoy it?

Yeah, absolutely.

Once you get one laugh it’s quite addictive to try and get more.

Now that a lot of New Zealanders know you, do you find it harder to get laughs—do you find the audience reacts differently?

If people know who you are it’s easier, because they think you’re funny already. Well, it’s hard if they think you’re unfunny, but if it’s my own show and people come along, and they think you’re funny, then it’s immediately more relaxing. If it’s like you, and you haven’t done many gigs, then the first thing you have to try and do is relax your audience by establishing that you’re funny. That’s why they always tell you to put your best joke at the start—so you can really prove to the audience that you’re up to scratch. If you’re like Dai Henwood and you’re already known for being funny, then you’ve got a little bit of a head start, but not a lot. If you don’t deliver the goods on that reputation, then you’re in trouble. Being known doesn’t help that much, but it does help a little.

Thought on hecklers, swearing, and swearing at hecklers?

Swearing at hecklers? That’s my only gag normally. If people heckle me I just tell them to eff off and that’s my best gag pretty much. I normally tell hecklers I’m going to eff them up after the show—that normally gets quite a decent laugh. Hecklers are always douchebags, and as long as they don’t do it much it’s normally a fun part of the show. It doesn’t happen a lot, except I’m doing Late Laughs at the Comedy Festival at SFBH and that’s quite rowdy.

One time I threw a lady’s phone. I think it was because I thought I was a big deal or something—I’d just done a national tour (well, I mean, I’d travelled around the country in my car doing shows at community halls) so I had a lot of confidence. I was so cocky in one show, that this woman was texting, and I think it’s hilarious to get really angry about things, so I was like ‘What the heck are you doing’ kind of thing, and grabbed her phone and threw it, and it was only afterwards that I sort of realised that the lady wouldn’t have realised what hit her, and started to feel quite bad about it. At the time I thought it was good, but the audience didn’t think it was very good.

You ran for VUWSA President, right?

Yes, but I had to pull out of it because I thought I was going to move to the States. I ran for Activities Officer, and I can’t really remember why… I think I was trying to set up a comedy club—Vic really should have a comedy club.

I’m actually in the process of starting a comedy club at Vic!

If you want someone to come along and be a part of it, I’d be keen for that.

Absolutely!

I wanted to have a comedy club because that’s what they always encourage you to do if you want more stage time—run your own club. And there’s a bar there—you want just a 40- or 50-seat room.

I think Hunter Lounge is just a little bit big…

Yeah, I did that recently, it was like 1000 people, so, probably smaller than Hunter Lounge. It could be really good if you get all sorts of people along doing weird things; you could get Theatre students doing a sketch and stuff.

That was my dream. I was Activities Officer for a bit, I worked hard at that. I mainly just worked on the Bread Bank and stuff, that was my crowning achievement. Then the Presidency came up and I was just sick of all the people being part of the Socialist Party. Not that I’m right-wing or anything, but I was right-wing compared to them. I’d consider myself to be left-wing, but compared to those nutters, who were running that place…

So I was going to run for the Presidency, but I pulled out quite early on.

If you had got it, what would have been the relics of your reign?

It was obvious that Voluntary Student Membership (VSM) was coming in, so I was going to try to maybe… kind of… to be honest I can’t even remember why I was wanting to do it. There was a lot of wasteful spending—that’s why VSM came in. The problem with the spending was that it created a lot of tension because it was compulsory to spend. I was going to try to cut wasteful spending and was definitely going to have a comedy club so it was going to be a flawless plan. What I didn’t realise was that the Activities Officer had no power. I thought the Activities Officer could book Orientation and cool stuff like that… but they don’t. The Activities Officer actually does nothing—that’s why I just focussed on the Bread Bank.

It is good bread, though. I got a baguette yesterday.

Great bread! We got it from Aro Bakery, so it was high-quality hipster bread, it was great.

What percentage of your material comes to you while you’re in the shower?

I have memories of coming up with good gags in the Weir House B-Floor showers. I don’t know what it is about the shower, but hot water on the head definitely helps to provide clarity and reset your brain a little bit. Let’s go with 20 per cent.

Favourite Wellington busker?

Is there still the guy on Lambton Quay who stands there with religious pamphlets? He’s my favourite, because he’s there on Lambton Quay, which is not a very religious place in Wellington, you know, it’s quite educated. He’s handing out these pamphlets, which he’s been doing for at least ten years. He’s had zero success—he’s the opposite to Hayley Westenra—he’s the opposite of success. Yet he continues to apply himself; he’s gotta get some credit for that. No matter what you think about his policies, he’s got a fantastic work ethic, and he’s gotta be commended.

Dai Henwood talked about a wrongful perception about comedians being lazy. How long do you work on your sets before performing them?

I would argue with Dai that that’s not true; comedians are quite lazy. A lot of them have drinking problems. I repeat the same material quite a lot, there’s not a high turnover of material. It’s a hard thing to write new gags, and it’s hard to try them out when you’ve got old stuff that works. But guys like Dai, who do a new one-hour show every year, that’s quite a lot of work, so he’s maybe not as lazy as some other ones. The successful ones aren’t lazy, but your average comedian is quite lazy. There are some guys here in Auckland who have been doing the same material for like 20 years. Some people who heckle at The Classic [Auckland Comedy Bar] will finish punchlines and stuff—it’s ridiculous.

Do you have any tips for people trying to get into comedy?

The first tip is to give it a try. I think everyone has something funny about them and everyone has a funny five-minute set in them at least, but it’s really hard to find that. The problem is people often imitate famous comedians. Right now there’s a lot of terrible comedians imitating Louis CK, and it’s a really hard thing to pull off. Everyone in the world should try stand-up, for the other reason that it just really helps your public speaking, but who knows, you could be a comedy savant.

My only advice is to do less time than you book for, so if you’re booked for five minutes do four minutes, cause it’ll seem like you’re funnier than you are, and don’t offend people. A nice Monday-night Wellington crowd will be on your side as long as you don’t piss them off. You can’t bomb as long as you don’t offend people.

——

Jonathan Heslop is an amateur comedian and second-year student at Victoria University. He performed last week in the Comedy Festival’s ‘Generation Why?’ show.

Guy Williams is a Victoria graduate and winner of the 2012 Billy T Award. Catch him during the Comedy Festival at Thistle Hall, Friday 10 and Saturday 11 May at 7pm. Entry by Koha — “It’s the best show you could come to as a student, because you pay what you can afford.”

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