PATRICK MARLBOROUGH The state of stand-up

Patrick Marlborough is a Freo born-and-bred stand-up comedian and writer. He’s been performing his goofs around Perth, interstate, and internationally for a bunch of years. Known for his work writing for VICE and Junkee, his silly but streamlined wit, and his unapologetic explorations of mental health and political satire, he’s recently released his stand-up mix tape Barely Bombings on Bandcamp, Spotify and iTunes, and there’s another one on the way to be released in October. He sits down in a park with EMMA STOKES, where Patrick is doing impressions of his dog as a thug, and
shares insights into the world of comedy.

So what’s happening with your album?

It’s going up on Spotify and iTunes (Hello bee, don’t go into my shoe! That would be a comic mishap) … Um yeah, just Spotify and iTunes. It’s a comedy mixtape I put out last year of live performances from the last two years.

How did you go about putting it together?

I just performed at a lot of different comedy rooms – I think it even goes back to my very first one – around Perth, but also in Italy, Spain and interstate. Most comedians do the same jokes over and over again to perfect them, but I just get bored really easily so I try to write them really good the first time and then move onto the next thing. I always record my gigs because of that, and so I just wanted to have them all in one place so people could listen to my goofs.

It’s called Barely Bombings, and there’s a picture of Schapelle Corby. Why?

I’m really obsessed with the aesthetics of the mid-Howard era, because it’s formed our generation and the current hell-scape that is banal modern Australia. A lot of the hysteria of extremism of modern Australian politics is formed by the horrific Bali bombings terrorist attack, and Schapelle Corby is the closest icon we have to royalty. And it’s just a pun, because to bomb in comedy means to fail. *gets distracted* Wow, sick Razor scooter!


Mental illness as a topic takes up a lot of the content of that album, right?

Yeah, I talk a lot about mental illness on it and I think going back three or four years I was going through some pretty rough patches health-wise.

If you watch the YouTube channel you can hilariously watch my weight fluctuate under changing bipolar medication — it’s really fun. If you put it all together it would look like a fun flip-book animation, like a GIF of my fluctuating medication fat. It’s great.

I’m pretty comfortable talking about mental illness, especially in comedy. There’s a set on that album that I know a lot of people really respond to, where I personify my mood stabilisers as a grizzled Eastern European war veteran who gives you terrible advice, because that can be the toxic relationship you can have with your meds.

That’s my favourite one…

Thank you. People like that bit. It’s tricky though, because there’s a lot of commodification of mental illness in the arts and I don’t think Australians talk about mental illness in an interesting way. I want it to be so funny it makes people shit themselves, or gives them a window into what hyper-manic thought is actually like.

As an example, my favourite comedian is Richard Pryor. He tried to commit suicide by self-immolation at the peak of his fame. When he came back to record his Sunset Strip special which is one of the most influential stand-up sets of all time, he’s a broken man. 80% of his body has been burned. He comes on-stage, everybody’s dead quiet, nobody has seen him in public in a year. He just pulls out a match and lights it. He says “What’s this? …it’s Richard Pryor running down the street”.

I think that is just the best thing ever. If he can joke about that then we can do anything.

You’ve nearly finished making your second album. Does it have a consistent theme that distinguishes it from the first or do they share similar aesthetics?

When I’ve been writing this one I’ve been more consciously thinking about eventually piecing them together as one. There are no jokes that double up, and thematically I have the same obsessions. It’s a lot of pop culture, weird niche interests and topical politics. I think the key difference is that the first one was pre-Trump. He’s ruined political satire; it’s an oversaturated, almost dead form at the moment. He’s hard to make fun of because there’s nothing as absurd as the reality.

You’re going back to New York — are you going to be doing comedy there?

If the visa office is listening… no. I’m going to be sitting in the park feeding ducks and maybe I’ll do some gags to these ducks. Perhaps you can see me at a few open duck nights and I’ll toss you some bread. I think that holds up in a court of law?

What do you say to those people who think that comedy is a lower form of entertainment?

Duck you! Yeah, comedy’s one of those things that academics have been unable to grasp because it’s so mercurial. Everyone thinks they’re funny, especially in Australia; we’re a country of piss-takers. It’s not like music where even an untrained ear can go to a gig and know when it’s bad. People instinctively know when music is not doing what it’s meant to be doing.

With comedy, people aren’t attuned to it. People don’t really know how to understand comedy artistically. I’m kind of grateful for that because it lends it an air of mystery that still isn’t lost. Stand-up is a radical form; it adapts to its times. The problem at the moment, like I guess with everything, is that there’s an over-saturation. Every comedian has a Seinfeld/Louis type show about their life on Netflix now, which isn’t necessarily bad for comedians to strive for, but it’s just stunted artistically. It was radical when Seinfeld did it because it was so new. There’s 200 shows like that now, all influenced by the same shows.

What would be radical to do in comedy now?

Heaps of people are doing really exciting new things. In comedy it’s always a matter of form and format. So in the same way that television revolutionised sketch in stand-up, now YouTube and streaming gives you almost infinite possibilities. Adult Swim showcases a lot of young, great comics who totally understand how modern media allows that — from Jo Firestone to Connor O’Malley, as examples.

Stand-up is weird though because the basics don’t change. It’s fundamentally a person on a stage with a microphone. Within that you can literally do anything while still doing nothing. The set-up punchline jokes of yore made way for the vicious observational stuff of the 60s, then the brutal confessional stuff of the 70s, then the pop-cultural critique of the 80s and 90s, and now the 2000s (onwards) has been an accumulation of all those forms going in different directions. Now it’s hard to find stand-up that doesn’t feel stale, but like anything — if it’s done brilliantly, it’s brilliant. For example, Maria Bamford is still doing great things and she’s been doing it for 30 years. Not to rant.

What do you want people to derive from listening to these stand-up recordings?

I want them to laugh [laughs].

Pretty much that’s it, but I mean, I want to offer a take that you don’t see often in Australian comedy. My political satire is pretty vicious. Hopefully the audience are having a good time until they realise they are the punchline. I know I do bits that might start an argument between a couple in the car-ride home, and I love that. If I wasn’t doing something that provoked people, I would be bored. It’s easy for me to make people laugh; that’s always been easy. It’s more difficult to add ideas to that. The album is basically about how we’re all culpable to these horrible things as a society. I like the idea of the albums being a guide to how to joke about very immense and dark things in a cartoonish but responsible way.

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