I had a wee chat a while ago with NZ Comedy Legend Brendhan Lovegrove. Over 20 minutes we chatted about all aspects of his careers, and life in the NZ Comedy Industry.
Warning: A little bit of fruity language happens in this interview. I wouldn’t edit it out because it takes away from the emphasis being made by Brendhan, and it sounded too artificial.
Y: Rove’s Brendhan Lovegrove, Someone well known for his appearance on Rove, as well as A Night At The Classic, thanks for joining me. How long have you been in the comedy industry?
B: 17 Years. I started by doing the second ever rookie’s night. From the first night, I can’t think of any acts that are still going, and of my night, I think I’m still the only one who might still be doing stand-up. I started when Scotty and Paul Horan started doing comedy down at Kitty O’Brian’s, and I did a rookie’s night, and everybody was new, so it wasn’t like these rookie nights now where everyone’s done three, ten, fifteen, and then they move to the Wednesdays. Back then, everyone was new. Back then, we didn’t know what the fuck we were doing. The audience didn’t know what to expect, and it was awesome. For two reasons: Firstly because it created a really electric environment, and secondly, a lot of people, if they’re going to start being a comic, and they’ve got comics around them, they start to use people as an example, they try to do a similar sort of comedy, but back in those days, we took so many risks, because we didn’t know not to.
Y: When you look at other comedians performing, what do you like to see?
B: I like to see people taking risks, being genuinely funny. I remember when Urzila Carlson first started, I can’t remember how funny she was, but her act, and what she’d chosen to do, and some of her gags, there was something special and you could see it really early. What I like is people who bring a lot of different skills to the table, accents, one liners, observations, stuff that is completely unreal, a lot of impro. People who bring a lot of skills to the table, I find them the most gifted comics.
Y: Do you remember your first gig? When, where, how did it go?
B: I went well, I remember the gig, and I remember the night. I was extremely nervous a month before, really really nervous a week before, beside myself the in the morning when I woke up, and in a zone on the night. Basically I turned up two hours early, nobody was there, I was THAT excited. I had a set of jokes, but what I do remember, is when I got that first laugh, something happened, something changed in me, and you can’t really describe what your first laugh is like, or that initial burst of getting laughter. Nowadays I’d describe the feeling of getting a laugh as therapeutic, but back then it was just a buzz.
Y: Now, you’re not known for being the shyest, or most restrained of people. You openly say that you’re “Not for everyone”. What’s the most offensive joke you ever remember telling?
B: Well, first and foremost, I think I am for everyone. That’s a joke, saying I’m not for everyone, because it makes what you’ve said a little more acceptable, in that what I’m saying has never been to shock, my intent is only ever to be funny. Shock humour lacks punch line. I’m a punch liner, I believe in punch lines, so, no matter what I say, if it shocks them, they can go and get fucked. The fact is, it’s a joke, and it’s got a punch line. I don’t see anything that’s shocking. All I see when I see a comedian, is their ability to pull off an idea, and if they can do that, then great. I don’t think that anything can be found offensive in comedy, if your intent is to be funny.
Y: As a comedian, I imagine you’d have some nights that are absolutely fantastic, and some that completely bomb. Do you remember your first spectacular bomb?
B: Real bombs? I’d only probably be able to count on one hand. Real bombs. My first one, Kitty O’Brian’s, became legendary for about two years, until another guy came and stunk even more. But it’s a great lesson to learn, because I remember walking around town the next day, and for a few days after, saying to myself, “If I’m going to keep doing this, I’m going to make damn sure that that doesn’t happen again.” And any other time that I’ve died has pretty much had to do with inexperience, or alcohol.
Y: Over your 17 years in comedy, what are you most proud of, what is your biggest achievement?
B: I’ve been going a long time. Firstly I’d say that headlining in England was a big thing when I was 30. Because I was really fast into headlining, so I was seen as an act that was better than the standard act. You have the odd failure, but I’ve certainly won the war. That was the first time I really went “I’m right up there”. Rove, and doing well on it, MCing Pulp Comedy, being the lead on A Night At The Classic. Being the lead on A Night At The Classic is some of my proudest work, because that was hard work, and we did it, and we had a good result. It was a good show, they didn’t think it was going to rate, and it did. I won NZ Comedian of the year, Best Male Comedian, seven of the last 8 years. That’s a good effort, and that’s from my peers. And it’s funny, because I’m not that much a fan of awards, in comedy there is no first, second, or third, that’s a race. I understand why they do it, and I understand they want to put on an event, and they want to recognise people for their work, but I’m not a fan of “She’s the best”, “He’s the best”, regardless of whether or not it’s true.
Y: So you’ve toured both nationally and internationally, with some great names. Who’s your favourite act to have toured with?
B: I’ve gigged with Daniel Kitson in England, and I think he’s outstanding. I actually went on tour with Michael McIntyre, and it was just him and I. I closed for him, and he was so good that I had to say to the people putting on the shows, put this guy on after me. Cos it was his area. It was in the north, he was from the north, and I told him and he went “No, No, this absurd, I think your stuff’s lovely, you’re going very well”, but I couldn’t go as well as he was going. And I’ve never done that before, but he was just so fuckin’ good, and he was a really nice guy, and he’s really talented. People call him mainstream, but he’s not. He’s just fucking funny. Greg Fleet from Australia. He’s the first comic I ever saw where I went “Oh my god, are you allowed to do that?” He would take ideas and he would open so many doors in your mind. After I saw him, I think my comedy changed a lot.
Y: If you had any advice for someone who was looking to get into comedy, what would you tell them?
B: It’s hard to say. For some young comics, it’s never going to work out for them. The hard thing about stand up is it only really works for the top 20 percent. Everyone else is being looked at as to whether they could get into that top 20%. That 20% I’m talking about are talent enough to get paid. To tour. To make it a decision where it’s a viable option in your life. And of that 20%, only 3% are getting the big gigs. The good thing is these days, is it is something they can stick with now. There is the option of television, but what I would say to young aspiring comics, who’ve gone through the ranks, is go to England. Get some international experience under you. Where you’re constantly around big comics, so you can see what the standard is, get rid of all the fat in your material.
Y: Do you have any pre-show rituals?
B: My best one now is to completely forget about the show, think about it with about 10 seconds to go, think about what your first joke’s going to be. Cos after that it doesn’t matter. You’ve got it all in your head, so why freak out about it?
Y: Favourite venue you’ve ever played?
B: The Classic. Overseas: the Glee Club in Birmingham, and the Empire in Belfast. I love playing Malaysia and Singapore. And I love the Comedy Store in Australia.
Y: Funniest Touring Story?
B: I’ve seen some very very bad shit. I can’t tell you a story, because I’ve seen a lot of stuff on the road. Just take a perspective that a lot comics drink, and a lot of comics are gigging all the time. If I was in a band, I might go on tour for a month, but then I might not go on tour for another 2 months. Comics are working all the time, in and around bars, and booze, and women, so we know the lifestyle. So when you’ve been going for years and you get amongst it, of course all you see is what happens under the influence, I think that I would be a completely different person had I not seen, and heard about, and had conversations of the standard that comics will talk about. I find myself a bit socially inept sometimes because I’ll start talking to people who aren’t comics, and they’ll go “WHOA! Dude! Fuck, seriously, back off” and I’ll go “Oh, do other people not immediately talk about raping a foetus? But that’s what comics are like. Nothing’s taboo. And we think that everyone else is like that, and they’re really not.
Y: And what’s the most outstanding heckle you’ve ever had?
B: It’s a long one, but I was with Te Radar, but I was on stage and there was a dude with a cigar right in front of us, and he was in a tuxedo, drinking red wine, and in the middle of my show he went “stop stop stop stop stop” and I went “stop what?” and he went “You keep talking about the differences between England and New Zealand” (this is in Edinburgh) “Who cares? Why do you be more personal and perhaps interesting, and perhaps ask what the difference is, say, between you and I.” And I went “Alright, what’s the difference between you and I?” He said “Well I’m amazing, and you’re a beast”. I just went “Wow, OK, Cool”. I liked it. Because he set it up. I think he’s a professional heckler who just went around smoking cigars, drinking red wine, and just went from show to show and just heckled his way through it.
Y: Are you doing a show this festival?
B: Yep. It’s called Bury me happy, and it’s about drinking, giving up drinking, depression, booze, anxiety attacks, and girls, and wanking, and the police, public transport. It’s about change.
Y: Any last words?
B: I’ve been really lucky to have been in this from the beginning, and still be in it. I have seen everything right from the beginning. A lot of people have come in and out so they don’t know everything that’s gone on. But at the moment it’s the most exciting and most bizarre time for NZ Comedy, because all of a sudden, lots of people are getting real exposure, so when you’ve been around for a while it’s interesting to see people come and go. But the most important place, and the most important thing to do as a stand-up comic and we’re all, everything derives from the heartbeat from here at The Classic. So if you’re not on the television, get down to The Classic, and do a great gig. And it’ll spread upstairs to the girls in the comedy office, and it will spread to the networks. That’s why this place is really important. And the really important thing for me is just being sharp and always on the game, and always being good. It doesn’t happen like that every gig, but just ensure you’re consistent.