WORDS | Anna Glen
Sydney is not known for its bustling comedy scene. For most, Melbourne is seen as the comedy hub of Australia. What many Sydneysiders may not know is that they are sitting on the training ground for many of comedy’s best up-and-comers. With a number of comedy rooms popping up around Sydney in just the last two years, the city has become a lucrative base for new comedians or those who just want to try their hand at comedy. Green Lights Comedy Nights in Surry Hills is symptomatic of this trend; what began as a small venture between two friends now showcases the best-undiscovered talent in Sydney.
Co-founders Alexei Toliopoulos and Nikko Maylon established the room nearly a year-and-a-half ago because of a perceived lack of opportunities in the Sydney comedy scene. “When we first came up with Green Lights, it was just meant to be an open mic thing. Fun for us. We were just two uni students; we didn’t really know anything about the comedy scene when we started”, Maylon says. Since then they say growth in Sydney comedy has been exponential.
Toliopoulos and Maylon concede that Melbourne is renowned for comedy. After all, it is home to one of the biggest comedy festivals in the world, let alone Australia. But it may be that Sydneysiders have greater access to the future leaders of comedy. Toliopoulos says, “Melbourne is known but Sydney is strong. Sydney is on the burner. It’s going to pop.”
Sydney also seems to be a spot where comedians thicken their skin before setting off to Melbourne. “You will see a lot of comics from Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth, Darwin come to Sydney first because there is a bit of a reputation of Sydney crowds, they are harder crowds to please and so if you want to be good, you have to get good”, says Toliopoulos.
Green Lights is a particularly popular venue among comics Australia-wide. What began as a casual open mic night and has developed into a space where Sydney’s hard working comedians want to secure a gig. With no open mic spots on the books, Green Lights is now one of the only curated shows in Sydney.
Mug and Kettle Comedy – which the duo describe as the ‘backbone’ of Sydney comedy – was set up around the same time as Green Lights and is the main provider of open mic standup, where anyone can sign-up and is guaranteed four minutes of stage time.
By contrast, Toliopoulos and Maylon perform and attend shows almost every day of the week and handpick comedians they know and see on the comedy circuit. Toliopoulos says he and Maylon put on “the best people that we see doing the work” and aim to provide a room that represents what the current comedy scene.
Toliopoulos says Green Lights Comedy Nights are about producing “the best show for the audience” and creating “a culture around the room”. This culture is perceivable by the fact that the pair are familiar with their audience, whether they be friends, regular attendees or comedians themselves.
In this sense the audience is ‘familial’ and one of the only rooms where “comedians in our scene come to just watch.” It does not take long to realise that the comedy scene hosts a close-knit community of comics.
Maylon agrees, adding “There’s almost a show on every night. So we [the comics] have the opportunity to hang out every night. The fantastic thing about Green Lights is that a lot of the comics wont perform every month, but they’ll come anyway because they love the environment of it.”
The room has attracted a cult following consisting of friends, comedians and those who have arrived through word of mouth. It is a formula that has produced a palpable positive vibe in the room.
The name Green Lights reflects the affable atmosphere, “Green Lights means positive. Positive affirmation. Having a good time. Enjoying yourself. Doing the work. We have a reputation because of that,” says Toliopoulos. This does not mean that every comedian impresses. Most do, but some routines fail to hit the mark and not all the performances will be to everyone’s taste.
But Toliopoulos and Maylon are right about the atmosphere; the audience is warm. You want the comedians to do well. When each comedian takes the stage, there is a feeling of both excitement and encouragement.
The venue itself also carries a certain charm despite being fairly no-frills. The room is large, but at the same time still feels cozy. The décor is a combination of vintage style furniture and stackable chairs. There are plenty of available seats and a couch near the front of the stage for those who want to get particularly comfy.
Even if comedy is not your thing, pints can be purchased for just $7 dollars, which is minuscule by Surry Hills standards.
Green Lights Comedy Nights is held in the Gaelic Club on the final Friday of every month. Entry is $5 dollars. Show begins at 8pm.