Interview with brilliant comedian Joe Avati who performs in the Perth Comedy Festival next weekend
He’s been touted as Australia’s answer to Seinfeld, delivering a whip-smart stand-up routine that evolves with the times. In his latest offering – When I Was Your Age – Avati tackles the ‘then versus now’ generational differences of today’s kids, the complexities of modern-day parenting, and the minefield that is cancel culture.
Last year saw Avati celebrating a quarter of a century in presenting quality standup. But rather than go ‘best-of’, this champion comedian always prefers to keep things fresh and relevant.
Interview by Antonino Tati
Hi Joe. Being of Australian-born Italian heritage myself, I can relate well to your stand-up humour. It’s rather surprising to see audiences outside of Italian culture empathise with you.
The reason why people of different backgrounds come to the show is that the experience Italian Australians have is the same as Greek Australians, Lebanese Australians, Chinese Australians, Indian Australians – it’s the same, really. And it’s Italians all over the world who emigrated out of Italy. Some of them have actually said they learnt English by listening to my CDs.
Hence people of all cultures and background love to come to your shows.
Why I think they relate to it is because a lot of these people don’t feel like they belong, like myself, as an Australian born with Italian heritage. Growing up, I didn’t really feel Australian and then I’d go to Italy and they thought I was American. When you can make someone have that feeling of belonging or give them an identity, which they couldn’t really figure out for themselves, they feel very close to it and that’s what I’m hoping to achieve with my work.
“There’s a monologue in my head. Like, why does my grandma put olives in a butter container? Or why on a hot Australian summer day when I go to get ice cream out of the freezer it’s full of sauce?”
Growing up, while you were noticing the many quirks and idiosyncrasies of traditional Italian culture, did you think a lot of that stuff was going to make great comedy someday, or did it all come flooding back to you as an adult?
When I was about 15/16 I started in my own head; there was a monologue or running show in my own head. Like, why does my grandma put olives in a butter container? Or why on a hot Australian summer day when I go to get ice cream out of the freezer it’s full of sauce? I used to have that monologue show going on in my head. I started very early, so it didn’t all come flooding back. It was actually really fresh in my mind and it was ongoing.
How do you go about relaying a story on stage – do you use bullet points or is it all stored in your head?
It’s all stored in my head. The show is made up of 50 to 60 individual stories, and usually it’s all woven into one. For this new show, I’ve come up with the stories, but I haven’t done the weaving [yet]. The weaving will happen in April, and then I have a couple of test shows in early May and that’s when I’ll make sure everything is all sewn up.
What strategies do you use to memorise monologues?
For me, the quickest way to remember anything is to tell other people. As soon as I come up with something I’ll bring it up in conversations and tell people like my wife and friends. So, when I’m doing it on stage, I’ve pretty much already rehearsed it in a natural way. I also do a lot of driving on my own and rehearsing out loud in the car. I also record the shows and listen to them driving home and then I’m cracking up in the car at myself.
I love that! I’m wondering, do you ever get heckled on stage? And if so, how do you combat the heckling?
No, I don’t, but I bet I’m going to get heckled now! The people that come to see me are my tribe. After 25 years of performing, I’ve found my audience isn’t the type of people that heckle. Although I’ve had random things happen at my shows. I’ve had a woman in the audience go into labour and other strange stuff.
Wow. Have you ever had hardcore Italians tell you that some of your stories are insensitive, or worse still, racist? Not that I find them racist at all, mind you…
I’ve had it twice, which is nothing, really, over 25 years of work. The first time it happened, this guy said “I love you, my son loves you, but my father hates your guts”. I said to him the next time I do a show, I’m going to give you free tickets and you can bring your father along to see what I’m actually doing. Because you see, these people hear one joke or one routine and don’t hear it in the context of the hour-and-a-half show. In my show, I talk about how I honour my grandparents and I love the fact that they came to Australia and if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have this great and wonderful life here. The guy brought his old man and he loved it and now he’s always asking “when is Joe coming back?”.
What do you do to enlighten people who give that kind of criticism?
I know there are people that don’t like me but, you know, you can’t please everybody and I know in my heart of hearts that what I’m doing is not offensive. I know I’m honouring my culture and I know that for every one person that doesn’t like what I do there are thousands that do. I look at the people who get offended – it’s the older generation, and there are a lot more people of that generation that love what I do because it brings their grandchildren closer to them, and they thank me for that. I’ve always had my parents and grandparents come to my shows and if I’m doing anything that’s offensive, I’d get a clip behind the ear from my dad first. I’m 47 and that would still happen today.
“I record shows and listen to them driving home and then I’m cracking up in the car at myself.”
What subjects are totally off-limits for you?
Sex jokes; offending someone’s religion; and I don’t take political sides.
Finally, if you had to sum your comedy in 10 words or less, how would you describe it?
An observational raconteur of family and generational comedy.
Joe Avati presents his new show ‘When I Was Your Age’ as part of the Perth Comedy Festival, performing on Friday 12th and Saturday 13th May. Tickets are available at perthcomedyfestival.com.
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