Actually Fine: An Interview with comedian Rhys Nicholson

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Words || Isaac Nellist

Rhys Nicholson is an award winning comedian who is a permanent fixture on the local Sydney comedy scene. He has headlined all over Australia and appeared on The Melbourne International Comedy Festival Oxfam Gala, ABC’s Dirty Laundry Live, and Comedy Up Late. 

Your show this year is called ‘I’m Fine’, but with everything that’s been going on around the world at the moment, are you really fine?  

Well, I guess it’s one of those ones. I think I named it that because you have to name your show six months before you’ve even put fingers to laptop, but also because it’s the same as the year when I did the show called ‘Eurgh’ because it can be used in so many different cadences, like, “Oh I’m fine!”, or, “I’m fine…”, like passive aggressively. So it kind of gave me an open to do whatever I want with it, but the way it’s progressing at the moment, which is definitely completed finished and written, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Of course it’s finished, it’s kind of more toward, you know, I’m actually fine even though everything’s fucked.

As a comedian, how do you react to things like Trump and Brexit? 

I mean, look, there’s that horrible, narcissistic comedian way, you can be like, well this is going to be great content. Sure, heaps of orphans will die, but they’ll be dying for laughter. It’s pretty grim, especially the Trump stuff. My sister lives in Brooklyn and was trying to be a big part of the Hillary campaign and like was out there picketing and was at the Women’s March outside Trump Tower and it’s very kind of soul destroying for her, especially because she’s been part of it. Especially being in the bubble of Brooklyn as well, I mean who’d have thought this would happen?

For me it kind of proves that the voting systems in the US and the UK, by not having compulsory voting where we’re all forced to have a say, instead of just like tweeting about it or getting pissed off about it and then on the day just being like, maybe I’ll just get a coffee instead of voting. I’ve noticed that a lot of my artistic friends in the UK were constantly Facebooking about Brexit and how horrible an idea it is and then a lot of them were in Australia during the vote and didn’t end up voting because they couldn’t be bothered to postal vote. I mean, what are you complaining about there? I’m an American citizen as well, like my Dad’s American so I have this big dream of moving there but now I’m like, maybe I’ll give it another four years.

On your podcast ‘Save the Date’ I’ve heard you talk about how you don’t really describe yourself as a political comedian, but how do politics and global issues affect your comedy?  

Well, I would say, and this probably sounds super wanky, but I would say I’m political in my act, like I’m not talking about spills or particular parties or anything but I definitely hope that by the things that I talk about, the stupid minutia of life that I talk about, you would not watch my act and go I know exactly how he feels about this, but you know my stance on things. Like, last year’s show was all about gay marriage, but it wasn’t really.

Is it more about how it relates to your personal life?

Yeah, exactly, just because I’m also not smart enough, because of the way I was brought up and the people I hang out with, I know that the Liberals are bad, and Labor and the Greens are good, that’s about the extent of my knowledge. Like, I follow the news and I try to keep up to date about things but I’m not reading the Age every morning. There are people like Cory Bernadi who really interest me, just as people, these people kind of existing. I’ve always found conservative to be a very funny thing to run as. I mean I’m definitely conservative compared to a lot of people in my life. A friend of mine, Brendan Maclean just brought out a video that was pretty full on, and I applaud him for doing it but I could not get through it because it freaked me out so much. I would not call myself conservative but to me the word conservative is quite negative, it feels like you’re cutting yourself off from things, you could say you’re running on cleaner values or whatever but to say I am conservative has always been very interesting to me, to say that there are whole parts of life that I’m not interested in and then say, I’m going to make sure that other people are cut off from those things.

You were quite young when you started doing comedy, about 19?

Yeah I did my first gig when I was about 16, but that doesn’t really count, but I did that and I kept going to school and stuff, but I kept trying to do a few gigs here and there, snuck into bars and stuff. But I was just about to turn 19 when I moved to Sydney from Newcastle and started trying to do it properly, but even then I was… I was very bad for a long time.

So how much has your comedic style changed since then?

Loads! Well, I guess, but it’s changed in the way that I kind of know what to do now I guess. Like I spent years and years, and I think it’s a thing comedians always say, but I spent years and years trying to find, in big quotation marks, “my voice” which is a word that I hate! But for the first two or three years you kind of pretend…Like, my comedian idol is Sarah Silverman and I was like I want to be like her, so my act was really like, quite deadpan and quite aggressive in its nature, like I did lots of AIDS jokes, it was a bad time!

But then you keep working and you keep working for years and you try and actually work out what you want to do, and that only happened about two years ago I reckon. You stop doing what, and, again, this sounds wanky, but you stop doing what you think the crowd will like and you start doing what you want them to like.

Are there any comedy shows or venues in Sydney that Grapeshot readers should check out?

The Café Lounge is the greatest and the Comedy Store is my favourite place to perform in the world but you know the tickets are $30, but the Café Lounge is great. I’ve started doing comedy at Wolf Comedy at Knox St Bar in Sydney which is really really great, they pride themselves on being a  safe space but it means you can go there to do new material. There’s a place called The Gaelic Club, Greenlights Comedy, the boys who run that, Alexei Toliopoulos and Nikko Malyon, they host it every week which usually is a death wish for a comedy room, but they run it and they’re so funny. Alexei also runs a podcast called Mike Check with Cameron James where they review all the films of Mike Myers which is so stupid, it’s the best. They did an episode with Anne Edmonds where they talked about The Cat in the Hat which was hilarious. Anne Edmonds, anything with Anne Edmonds is the best, she’s from Melbourne but I love her. I don’t know just things, I think my special might still be on ABC iView, so check that out. Oh, and Comedyish. Comedyish has two more weeks to go, so that’ll be the end of this season. But we will come back with more in about three or four months, we always do a gala in June, we call it ‘The One’s We Kept’. We started that as a, I need a place to try out new material in Sydney, so we started a room.

Have you got any advice for young Macquarie University students who are interested in starting comedy?

This is the most cliché advice but just do it. Write what you think is five minutes which is usually about 800 words and just get up somewhere. There’s a 50-50 chance you’re going to bomb. But there’s no real advice you can give, but just keep going and as you do it people will give you advice like, why don’t you hold the microphone like this. The only thing you can do is get comfortable and that’s the only thing that’s going to work, just get comfortable. And that takes a loooong time. Watch heaps of comedy and I’d recommend picking someone you like and not copying their material but emulating them and try and figure out what you think is funny. I realise this is so cliché but you’ve just got to do it. Just do it.

You can check out Rhys’ Sydney Comedy Festival Show from 18th – 21st May at the Factory Theatre. Bookings at www.sydneycomedyfest.com.au. You can also check out Rhys’s work at various comedy rooms around Sydney, or by listening to his podcast, ‘Save the Date’ free on iTunes.


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