If you’re after intelligent satire without the weary comic stock-in-trade of lower-class accent, yelling, and whatever words are currently deemed naughty these days, Mister Sammy J is your man. His intellectual grasp of paradox, cant and hypocrisy distils elegant and acidic little gems of observation and speculation. He sees and hears how ludicrous an extrapolation of our current affairs can be… we recognise, identify, laugh and wince. Mostly in that order.
The other day I had a chat with Mr J about his new live show, Major Party, which is heading to Adelaide’s Royalty Theatre on 11th and 12th July. We talked about this show, his work, and how he sees the world. It was great fun, particularly because of his flow of ideas and observations. As most comedians acknowledge, comedy’s a serious business, and “being funny” is not where you start but where you finish. I thoroughly enjoyed my yard with Mr J. Here’s a few highlights.
Q: What would you like to tell South Australians about your forthcoming show, Major Party?
A: Oh, it’s going to be the best show they’ve ever seen in their lives, of course. Hey, I’m like a politician: I can promise people absolutely anything without ever having to deliver.
Q: People have seen and loved your ABC TV segments; they’ve enjoyed your radio spots in Triple J and RN Drive. What’s so unique about Major Party – this new live show of yours?
A: Well, it’s my first big solo show outside of the Fringe. There’ll be songs, there’ll be stand-up and there’ll be shenanigans.
Q: You work across a bewildering array of artforms. You’re an author, stand-up comic, radio broadcaster, TV performer, MC, composer, theatre performer – essentially, what are you?
A: I call myself a comedian. Comedy is my first and only love. It began back at school, and it continues to define me. My comedy style has become more politically focussed in the last few years, but I’ll almost always begin from the perspective of making people laugh.
Q: So, what’s your happiest medium? Radio, TV, recording studio, live theatre – which one feels like home to you?
A: Ahhh… “Live” … it is what I do. I’m fine working across all those media areas, but I’m happiest working live in a theatre.
Q: Should satire provoke laughter, anger or righteous action?
A: For me, it’s definitely laughter first of all. Anything else is a happy outcome. Although I have done some TV segments without a single joke in them… occasionally I go to some pretty dark places. The piece I did after the Christchurch terrorist attacks was completely sincere and had nothing comic in it. Same with the apology to the Nauru Generation, presented to parliament by the 2068 Prime Minister. No jokes, but I felt that both pieces successfully achieved what I set out to say.
Q: When do you choose to use music as a vehicle for your satire? And how do you deploy it?
A: This goes way back to my school days. I was always the class clown. Kids loved it; teachers hated it. Once I heard Tom Lehrer sing (the song was “Poisoning pigeons in the park”), I realised that music and a character will always help me sneak my ideas through more doors…
Q: Have the last few months’ electioneering been entertaining for you, then?
A: Well, they say that politics is show business for ugly people… hmm.
Q: Disregarding your personal political preferences, name one politician from the last five months’ shenanigans who was a constant gift to satirists of all sorts (cartoonists, comedians, whatever).
A: Oh, yes. There is one who stands out. It’s Barnaby. He’s the comedic gift that keeps on giving. Not only is he an irresistibly comic target, he also seems to be remarkably self-aware. You get the idea that he can see the hilarious impact of his activities, and is fine about it.
Q: In your TV segments, there are three popular recurring characters – Government Coach, Playground Politics & National Yoga. How do you select the character appropriate to the content of the piece you’re doing?
A: Yes, each one has a specific quality; it’s about choosing the right tool for the job. Government Coach speaks from the perspective of the current government. Quite a lot of fans whose political leaning is clearly conservative tell me that they really enjoy the Government Coach, because they feel he’s cheering their cause on. Using sport as a basis, the Government Coach is able to make a lot of useful points.
Playground Politics is simply child-like joy, silliness and songs.
Ah… National Yoga. I have to admit that this is my personal favourite. The character actually works within a specific set of theatrical conventions, but at a heightened level. With his chacres all aligned, and to the sound of pan pipes, he’s able to explore quite deeply the more serious political issues, for instance Brexit.
Q: Have you ever invented a new character, used it and then discarded it?
A: I’ve invented and discarded hundreds of characters. Some get invited back after a while, for instance the Royal Commission character (Commissioner Mr Samuel Jayne BA QC), last seen starting Day One of the Royal Commission investigating whether Jacinta Ardern could become Prime Minister of Australia. Commissioner Jayne will be putting in another appearance during my new live show in July.
If you’re getting the idea that Sammy J will be even more fun to see live, I’d book seats soon if I were you. He’s only doing two live shows in Adelaide. I certainly won’t be missing him!
Interview by Pat. H. Wilson
“Major Party” National Tour
Venue: Royalty Theatre
Season: 11th – 12 July, 2019
Tickets: Full Price: $47.95 Concession: $44.90