I’m behind the wheel of my housemate’s white Subaru station wagon. I do a head check as I indicate my way into the left lane and push back up to 100kpm. Including me, the car holds four comedians bound for a gig in Leongatha. My knowledge extends to it being a small dairy town about 135km South East of Melbourne. I’ve never been to a dairy town before. I can only imagine it to be a lush green countryside with a handful of streets. Everyone there will drive Mr Whippy vans with pecarino cheese wheels for tires. The trees will be made of chocolate with little hobbit like creatures on ladders picking Twix Bars from their branches. When I get thirsty I will just drink from the strawberry milkshake fountain in the town square. I’ll be disappointed with anything less.
Earlier this afternoon I caught the train from the city to where my housemate was, to borrow the car, to drive back into the city, to collect two of the comedians performing, to then pick up the headliner from his house back where I was when I picked up the car in the first place. Comedians are to logistics what logisticians are to writing jokes: capable but uninterested. As the sun casts a scarlet light over the M1, the road trip feels well worth the hassle already. Discussions about comedy, who we like and don’t like, jokes, impressions, stories and musings all get tossed around like teenagers chucking popcorn. An inherent kinship seems to exist between comics. I remember back to my US road trip; I felt comfortable in any town where I could find a comedy club. There’s a certain camaraderie shared in this pursuit of being funny. Comedians know that any of us can die a comedy death on stage at any time. Yet we all embrace the prospect willingly. We’re just like the samurai but instead of swords we have humorous observations about our genitals.
I pull into the servo. It looks like a mini space station as dozens of cars cruise up to the pumps. It’s here I have a moment to think while I wait in line to pay for the petrol. The others get something to eat from the village of fast food joints. I’m fresh to comedy, I think to myself. Three years is still rookie level. My press releases always make me sound more exciting than I really am…. it’s as if I write them myself. In the car I had a subtle neurosis to say funny things and be a cool guy around the others. The headliner has been doing comedy for 20 years so I want his stamp of approval. I hear myself saying things to him like “hey I should open for you when you do shows” and “you write poetry? I teach poetry” in a joking way but from a painfully serious place. What a dick I can be. I want to be a fun person to be around. So then I spend the whole time thinking “is what I just said fun? oh god I hope I’m fun”. Then my ambition emerges and I say stupid things. I hope that goes away. Then again, saying “hey Jay Leno, I’m going to write for you one day” ended with me writing for him the next day. There’s a fine line between having moxie and just being irritating. I don’t know where it is. The headliner signs an autograph on our way back to the car. Do I want that to be me one day? Yeah, I think I do.
We arrive in Leongatha. I can’t see the strawberry milkshake fountain but they do have a Network Video. So that’s good. We meet one of the organisers of the gig and check out the hall where the show will take place. I tinker with the piano at the side of stage. One of the comics jabs at me for showing off. Oh yeah, have a go at an entertainer for being an entertainer. A brief stroll of the town takes us to the local cinema. It’s cute, kind of tucked away into a strip of shops opposite the Safeway. Outside we’re introduced to group of local girls dressed up for a night out. “You coming to the comedy?” we ask. “Yeah nah we’re go’n to the Espy”. One is wearing a bright red dress designed like it was copied from a Barbie catalogue. It sits high enough to expose her thigh tattoos. She has a nose ring and is smoking a cigarette from the tips of her fingers. Another girl joins the group. “I got a traveller” she grins. I observe that a traveller is a can of UDL in a paper bag. I love this moment. Five young women, all canvasses of humanity painted with cheap dresses, tacky tattoos, studded high heels and nasal accents that refer to more than one person as “youse”. I want to have sex with one them but I don’t want my city friends to know about it. It’s this self-consciousness that usually makes me end up home alone writing blogs.
The gig is okay. Not a massive turn out and the crowd isn’t giving us comics the rolling belly laughs our egos starve for. They seem to be having a great time though. Backstage I can barely breath as the headliner tells me his favourite pub jokes. It’s amazing that there are two worlds existing in that moment: the MC on stage trying to stir some excitement in the audience with well crafted routines; and three comedians behind the wall clutching their guts with laughter over “a man walking into a bar” and fart noises. The show ends and we mingle with the locals for a bit. I have a chat to the blokes selling drinks from the kitchen area. All look to be in their late forties. Their skin is a speckled brown that only comes from years of rural work under a hole in the ozone layer. I feel some kind of nostalgic affection for them. All those songs and poems I learned in primary school about being “true blue” come to mind. When I ask what they’re up to for Australia Day tomorrow, one puts his hands on his hip “up early to milk the cows”. Bless. I wonder if he knows that skinny-jean-wearing hipsters a hundred kilometres away send their cafe lattes back when they’re not hot enough for their liking. I hope he doesn’t.
We collect our money, say our thanks and hit the road. Maybe I should visit the country more.