Apr 25, 2023 | Community

What makes an audience laugh?

Author: Pablo Gonzalez

Sammy J - Brunswick Daily

The self-proclaimed nerd, Sammy J, has been part of Melbourne’s comedy scene for years. You may have seen him on stage sining songs, telling stories at a festival, or as a duo with Randy Feltface. You may also recall his varied repertoire of characters in his weekly TV spot on the ABC.

Today, Sammy J is stepping away from the screen but not from comedy. Towards the end of his last show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, he adventured himself to do a 10-min interview with a total stranger (that’s me!). 

Taking advantage of his “nerd” banner, I explored some geeky questions to then get personal and explore his past and present. Sammy J also shared his perspective on turning 40 this year and how that overlaps with his “50 year show”. 

Read on to learn more about the clever Australian comedian, Sammy J, and find out what’s his favourite spot in Brunswick.

Pablo (P): How do you define pop culture?

Sammy J (SJ): Oh wow, great question! For me it’s certainly easy to define growing up in the 90s because everyone was watching The Simpsons or Melrose Place and it was a much more homogeneous experience. These days, I constantly feel bad that I haven’t watched the latest show that everyone’s talking about or heard the album because audiences are so fragmented. I think pop-culture these days is probably and obsolete term because there’s no such thing as what a popular culture is. 

P: What do you think makes an audience laugh?

SJ: Oh Gosh! If I had a single answer to that I’d be more successful. I think comedy for me is all about a shared experience and a sense of community. The smaller the community, the funnier the jokes. 

I would say when I’m with my friends or when you’re with your friends and you have your in-jokes, you’re making fun of a teacher when you’re at school, you’re making fun of your boss when you’re at the office, that’s funny because it’s a bit naughty and you’re not meant to do it!

When you expand that out to a room full of people it’s the same thing at work. You’re not on TV, you’re not talking to the masses, it’s a hundred people, five hundred people in the room. It’s something that you feel you’re getting that other people in the world aren’t getting at that moment. That to me is the essence of comedy.

P: That leads me to my next nerdy question, what do you think is the role of comedians in our society?

SJ: I’ll be so sort of boring but profound. It is to make people laugh! Every comedian has a different way of doing that. And in my case, I love using music, I love using society and politics as my play board but at my heart, I still love the thrill of finding original jokes and surprising people.

I think that predictability is the death of comedy that’s why I wrapped up my sketches on the ABC. I was getting to a point where it was a lot of fun but there were no more surprises left.

That’s why if I sing a song that goes for three minutes I change the words every chorus because I want people to still be surprised. The best comedians in the world can really still sneak up on you and the worst is when the audience sees a punch line coming cause there’s no longer a surprise or a release of laughter.

P: Let me now jump into personal questions.

SJ: Should I be worried, Pablo?

P: No, not at all! They’re very straightforward questions.

SJ: Ok!

P: Other than the Phantom, who was your childhood hero?

SJ: Oh Gosh, great question! I would say… Can I get two? I have to do two because they come as a pair and that’s Lano & Woodley, the Australian comedy duo. I love Australian comedy in particular and they’re the ones who I saw doing theatrical narrative comedy on TV and on stage. I remember going and watching them at Comedy Theatre in Melbourne and I saw the world that they lived in which is this world of theatrical comedy and music and songs. I saw that as something I wanted to be part of.

P: Do you have any siblings?

SJ: I do, I’m the youngest of three which probably comes as no surprise because the youngest child is often the attention seeker!

P: Well, I’m the oldest of three and my youngest brother is definitely the funniest one. 

SJ: Haha, there you go!

P: Have you identified what gives you such range and versatility with your characters? 

SJ: That’s a very generous question, Pablo. I think… It’s funny because I don’t think of myself as a character-comedian which is a funny thing to say because I clearly am. Each character to me is like playing an instrument. When I’m playing the Coach or the Yoga instructor there’s some mimicry involved that is a world that I settle into and I could go for hours with confidence.

It’s the enjoyment for me of being in the right groove and not thinking of the accent or the mannerisms, they’re just coming out. That’s a very fun thing!

P: I have another very straightforward one (potentially!). How different will the 40s be compared to the 30s?

SJ: Honestly, a little bit of me, a little me is thinking… What if when I hit 40, I turn 40 in July, I imagine what if I’ve done nothing ever before? I’ve never been in a duo with Randy, I’ve never written a comedy song, and I’ve never done satire, where would I start from there with the skills that I still built up? 

That’s a really exciting thought for me! So I think for me the 40s is gonna be new creative projects and I’d like to think it’ll be the best thing I’ve done because I’ve learned a few things. I think freedom and confidence is what I’m after creatively where I don’t have to compromise on things and I don’t have to do things because I need to. 

P: I’m turning 40 this year, so this question came from a personal angle.

SJ: Oh, amazing! Who’s older, Pablo?

P: You are! I turn 40 in November!

SJ: I’m genuinely looking forward to my 40s which I know it’s what everyone says but I’m excited!

P: So, based on what you just said, I’d like to jump to my next question. How are you going to click the reset button for your next “50 year show” later in October this year?

SJ: The older I get the more embarrassed I am about the person I was, the performer I was back when I started the 50 year show. I watch that footage and I see a very anxious, self-conscious, ambitious performer, and that’s what people loved in my 20s so I have to accept that.

The fact that I can acknowledge that and talk about it is an opportunity for me to be original and honest. So I have to push through that and use it as an example of my story and for everyone else to reflect on their own stories. I started the show as a bit of an ambitious and silly joke and it’s already becoming something more personal and something that is more reflecting on the ageing process in general.

P: I think it is. And also, I don’t know if you agree with me or not, but your show is also a pop culture almanac.

SJ: Yes, absolutely! I love that aspect of it and It’s one of my favourite projects for that reason. We’re going big this year in October at the Melbourne Town Hall.

P: Now, let me close with a question about Brunswick! Do you have a favourite place to brunch, have a snack, or a coffee when you come to Brunswick?

SJ: That would be Oven Street Bakery, it’s a lovely little spot! I hold Brunswick very close to my heart.

P: Great to meet you, Sammy!

SJ: You too! Thanks for the lovely questions.

This article was written and published on the stolen lands of the Wurundjeri-woi wurrung People, whose sovereignty was never ceded.

If you enjoy reading interviews, Brunswick Daily has published a few more:

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