Every time you watch Brendon Burns you are due an unforgettable comedy moment. He never phones a gig in, he powers through any crowd no matter how unruly or timid, and for all the bluster and volume onstage he often hits the nail bang on the head. To be sure he says some shocking stuff onstage, stuff that vanilla audiences drawn in by his TV credits and Edinburgh award might gasp at in unison but he wisely knows to bark at them "TAKE IT! TAKE IT!" Keeping the room on his time, his page. Brendon has a reputation for taking no prisoners but his shows cover big topics and he always manage to be tight and funny. It's not unusual to find Burnsy expressing keen insight on subjects as diverse offence, metaphysics, his own demons or the Arab Spring. This interview catches him again at a crossroads in terms of style and subject matter, no surprise for a great comic who always seems to be evolving... Read on. THIS INTERVIEW IS REPUBLISHED FROM AN OLD BLOG FROM SEP 2011
Bobby Carroll: How would you describe your comedy?
Brendon Burns: Forever changing and therefore, extremely frustrating.
What first got you up onstage, behind a microphone?
My sister was in a car accident in the UK and lost her husband and unborn kid. It was up to me to come out here and kind of cheer the family up. I figured if I could do that stand up would be a doddle. It wasn’t. I was nineteen, angry and confused. It was nineteen ninety so the politically correct label was still proudly attached to “Alternative Cabaret” with no one really asking exactly what that entailed. Needless to say the gig went horribly. The MC had to pull me off stage while I bellowed at people.
Did you watch live comedy regularly before? Did you do a comedy course? Were you a heckler?
I was obsessed from the age of nine. I’ve kinda told this story to death now, but I saw Flip Wilson live as a kid and was hooked ever since. I did one course with an American woman called Lorretta Colla in the early nineties in LA. And yes I did heckle. I read an interview with Keith Allen once where he stated that a guy that sits on his own down the front and heckles is way braver than any comic. So I did, all the time. As a heckler I killed. It was easier as expectations were lower. Plus you could pick your moments to be funny. Plus I have a naturally loud booming voice that carries so no one could ever shout me down. Some comics still remember me as that guy. I never wanted to fuck up the show. I just didn’t know any better. The first guy that ever got a kick out of it was Ian Cognito. I think he appreciated my bolshiness. The only other guy I know that used to do that was Johnny Vegas. Although he’d have friends with him when he did it the fucking pussy. Admittedly I was just nineteen and living in London on my own, so I simply didn’t have any friends.
So you have a bit more time for hecklers than most acts?
I think that’s why no matter how funny a heckler is, if he’s too cocky afterwards, we still look down on him a bit. I do anyway, because I know from first hand experience that, deep down, he wants to stand where we are but is too frightened and/or doesn’t have the skill set yet.
Then again there’s the other type of funny heckler (Which is usually an older guy that hasn’t been to too much comedy) When asked a rhetorical question he genuinely mistakes it for a conversation and just blurts out raw honest answers. As if to say, “Well don’t leave this guy hanging. He just asked us a question!”
The drunk (usually pretty) woman is always labelled the biggest nightmare as she is entitled, self absorbed spoiled and will not shut the fuck up. Personally I think that’s an opportunity to speak to her in a fashion that has been a long time coming. You give her three chances then you unload like you would with anyone else.
How hard were the first few years?
What kept you going?
Delusions of grandeur
What were your weaknesses?
How did you improve them?
I learned from my peers and friends. Adam Bloom was easily the most influential in how to structure a joke.
Who are your heroes?
You know as you get older it becomes harder to have heroes. Simply because no one really fills you with awe anymore. Your heroes tend to be people that do something you can’t. In comedy, after a while, that just doesn’t happen anymore. Like a lot of comics I wasted a good five to eight years doing a bad Bill Hicks impression. Now I watch him and can relate to the lack of maturity. I think, “Really kid? You’re such an activist? Why the fuck are you telling drunk people in bars this? Why are we paying you good money to tell us how fucked up Capitalism is? Why are you travelling to the UK to shit on the US?” I’ll tell you why, because he’s a comic and he’s vain.
Don’t get me wrong I loved him and still think he’s hilarious. I just would have loved to have seen him grow out of that And make a bit more fun of the thirty-something version of himself as an old jaded fart. Bill Hicks on parenthood: there’s an album missing from his collection. Bill Hicks on products he would endorse because they’re little things that make him happy. Stupid stuff.
Look at Carlin. There’s a complete comedy career from a guy that genuinely took on the supreme court and still managed to not take himself so seriously.
What are the differences between the Australian circuit and the UK circuit?
None. It’s just hotter outside and therefore way less work.
What's your writing process? How do you process new material? Do you write stuff down or just go at an idea once you are on stage?
The writing process of comedy is the same as the key to insanity. Everyone wants the answer in a nutshell when the reality is a thousand different ways. Dear god, what a wanky answer.
You take on quite big themes in a no nonsense, blunt style – do you ever approach a topic and go “Hold on Burnsy -this needs kid’s gloves rather than aggression”?
All the time I’ve never thought of myself as solely aggressive. Emotive? Sure. The bottom line is, I’m hard of hearing. That’s why I yell. I’m asking people to turn the monitors up at gigs more often now and am finding it easier to lower my voice a little. The answer to that’s more technical than psychological I’m afraid.
You come across a very smart and insightful onstage yet often brutal – so what do you prefer on a night off ; a good book or a night on Call of Duty?
Call of Duty Zombies all the way. Although as a kid I always had my head in a book. We had a farm and I used to get this sentence yelled at me all the time, “Get your head out of that book and you might actually learn something” My next show is about picking up were I left off... At school I was always so into English and English Lit. I wrote my first Novel/Road Memoir recently and I want to get back into it. But study and analyse the classics a bit more. Yet, as always like all comics, I need to make a show out of it in order to justify the time.
Any unfulfilled ambitions?
Make an Indie film. That’s next. I’m currently writing a screenplay and a US pilot. Then I’ll get to work on next year’s Edinburgh.
Are you already tempted to jettison all your material and "house-styles" and start a fresh?
Yeah, these are definitely the questions of a man that has got inside my head a bit. How have you managed this? Are you outside right now? I’m in a French Chalet.
I’m not canvas slashing but I’m not so angry either. I don’t feel the need to be heard or noticed so much in real life and translating that to the stage is a very difficult process. But it’s one I’ll go through and will probably see me through to my fifties.
Any great bits of advice for readers?
It’s gotta be George Carlin again, “Stop and take a break if you have to, but never quit”
Any deaths / horror stories? Or great backstage stories?
Too many to single out just one right now.
First time we met I got punched by a punter and you knocked him clean to the ground and got him in a lock before I knew I’d been smacked– is wrestling’s loss stand-up’s gain? What do you love about the wrestling?
I worked it out recently. Wrestling in the eighties was always black and white. Good guys (faces) V bad guys (heels). It’s the one thing from my childhood I’ve always retained. They act out little moral plays that wind up in inevitable comeuppance. These days they blur the lines of morality a great deal more, which makes it so much more interesting. It’s the art form that’s most comparable to stand up in that they change the performance based on the audience response. Also they generate emotions from an audience that theatre can only hope to emulate and the kind of upsets “real” sports only chance upon.
Any dates or productions you want to pimp out shamelessly?
My book’s available on Amazon. My DVDs on hmv.com .
Thanks a lot Brendon.