16 May 2018

Canberra Comedy Festival 20-26 March

| Elias Hallaj
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Have you heard the one about the sound guy, IT guy and the lawyer who walked into a bar? They started a comedy festival.

Did you know that Walter Burley Griffin’s original plan for Canberra included a Stand Up Comedy Festival*? His vision for the perfect city finally became reality during Canberra’s 2013 Centenary celebrations when a bunch of funny mates (including a sound guy, a lawyer and an IT guy) somehow convinced the ACT Labor Government to help fund the city’s first proper comedy festival. The Government of the day clearly had a good sense of humour, they didn’t just provide funding but the ACT Arts Minister opened the festival and was quoted saying “to be great, any great city in the world must first have a comedy festival, international flights and light rail, in that order”*.

The first Canberra Comedy Festival was such a success that it became an annual event, growing each year, with many high-powered famous names in Australian comedy joining local comics on stage to thrill and entertain over 10,000 ticket holders over a week.

In 2017 a week-long Canberra Comedy Festival will be back again from March 20-26 with a line-up of the world’s best comedians and local men and women who will put their lives on the line for the public good. It’s your obligation as an Australian citizen to support them as they make a mockery of every major public institution and over-rated celebrity, and then some.

Some of the awesome international and local comedy acts you can see live next week in Canberra include Dave Hughes, Jimeoin, Luke McGrgeor, Hannah Gadsby, Stephen Amos, Rebecca De Unamuno, The Doug Anthony Allstars, Tommy Little, Cal Wilson, Jeff Green, The Stevenson Experience, Dave Thornton, Becky Lucas, Danny and Andrew Bensley, Greg Kimball, Chris Endrey and many many more.


All up there are over 60 shows over seven days, of which a few have sold out already – so you must get in quick or risk missing out.

The author sat down with three of the founders of this signature annual Canberra event (pictured below, left to right: Tim Duck (the sound guy), Patrick Hornby (the lawyer) and David Graham (the IT guy) to ask some questions and find out a bit more about the history and evolution of one of Canberra’s premier annual social events. (Disclosure, I know these guys because I volunteered at past festivals, partially to get free tickets and to avoid my children for a few evenings, but also because it’s an awesome Canberra community event).

It might be too late to volunteer this year – so consider it in future. In the meantime, it’s worth buying as many tickets as you can – even if you can’t make the show because you had to work late or you had a flat tyre – getting a ticket on Thursday, Friday or Saturday also gets you into the late night Festival Club – which is always a bit random and awesome and fun and well worth any ticket price. It’s amazing to watch how a comedian’s subtle routine can become a bit more risqué and blue once they know the room is full of mostly their fellow comedians and hardened stand-up comedy fans.


Q: Guys, when you started this, did you ever expect it to get so big and so good?

A: We always hoped it would but to be honest the growth and success exceeded our expectations. We threw in everything we had into the first year and were lucky to get some big time comics to Canberra, like Akmal Saleh, Tripod, Stephen Amos, and Celia Pacquola. We grew from 26 shows in the first year to 49 in the second year. It was amazing. We’ve also always had a strong line-up of local comedians and that combination of imported and local stars continues, so our customers always have a good reason to come back for more each year.

Q. So who’s the real brains behind this extravaganza?
A. Duck is the real brains behind the business. But all five of us contribute in different ways (Benjamin and James Stevenson are part of the team putting on the festival). We also couldn’t do it without the widespread community support we get each year, everyone including the Chief Minister, to the comedians, the fans, the sponsors, including a diverse range of local Canberra small businesses like DFK Everalls (accountants) & Chez Frederic (restaurant) and the venues we use and local media all backing the shows. We love youse all.

Q: Some of your regular customers may be wondering why there has been a venue change at ANU?

A: The ANU venue has shifted from the Arts Centre, which is being demolished, to the Street Theatre, which is a great venue as well. We’re keen to keep the venues all within walking distance of each other and all within an easy walk to the Festival Club – which is a great reason to buy a ticket each day and attend the comedy festival in itself. We should also mention that the Uni Pub has closed for renovations recently. Those shows will now be at the Big Band Room at the ANU School of music, just a couple of hundred metres up University Avenue. We really want to make the Canberra Comedy Festival just another example of a normal night out in our city and remind people how accessible and enjoyable a night out in Canberra can be.

Q. One of your partners, Ben Stevenson is quoted as saying “In our fifth year, we not only have a huge line-up of well-known comedians but we are also presenting our most diverse program to date, featuring everything from stand up, to music, to clean comedy, to absurdism,” What does he mean by absurdism?

A: Elias for a guy that reckons he knows a lot, you have much to learn about comedy. Absurdism is a style of comedy that many people would already be familiar with. Think of Dayne Rathbone (at this point there was an audible clanging sound from the penny bouncing around my brain, so I asked a supplementary question to conceal the sound: “So is Dayne playing this year?”). Sorry Elias no Dayne this year. But we do have Paul Foot. He’s from the UK and he’s very funny and weird. Well worth seeing!

Q: Your Gala shows have both sold out again! What should people do if they’ve missed out? (The festival kicks off on the 20 March with the annual Opening Night Gala and the Opening Night Gala Encore, both of which have sold out.)

A: Well they haven’t missed out and they shouldn’t have a FOMO because all the comedians at the Gala shows are also doing individual shows and many of them will also be at the Festival Club. Check out the program here and make the most of this unique opportunity to see an explosive line-up of comedians, many of whom don’t normally do live shows in Canberra: from debut Australian superstars, to award winning international acts from Ireland, the UK, Scotland, and New Zealand. Next week the smartest people in Canberra will buy at least one ticket to see a big name comedian they haven’t seen live before. It’s not often they come to Canberra and seeing them live is SO MUCH BETTER than anything you’ll see on TV or youtube. Trust me. And they will also buy a ticket to a local comedian they haven’t heard of. And they will enjoy both and possibly several more.

He’s right people. Over the next week you can see some great new rising local stars trying out their new material. You’ll be able to tell your kids your saw and perhaps even met the next Jimeoin or Dave Hughes, or perhaps even the current Jimeoin or Dave Hughes! You were there to hear their best and worst jokes and encourage them to have a go and help show their mates and family in the audience that they’ve made the right decision by turning up! The tickets for the new comics are usually very cheap and always great value for money.

Q Last question. Will any of you be giving up your day jobs anytime soon?

A: Laughter. (Yes, it was the only time I managed to get a decent laugh from these professional funsters).

No, it seems they’re not giving up their day jobs. Being a lawyer, an IT guy and a sound guy still pays MUCH better than organising festivals for stand-up comedians.


So Canberra, get behind your own comedy festival – it’s a great community event – without a doubt the funniest week in Canberra since the last ACT election. Check out the full program here. Buy a ticket each day. You won’t regret it. Laughing is scientifically proven to make you live longer. Go to Festival Club on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. Get there early and enjoy life.

All the Canberra Comedy Festival regulars know Melbourne is the capital of comedy, but there are a lot of ways our festival is better.

BTW shows are actually selling out – so get in quick! Over the past couple of days, they’ve announced some extra shows due to high demand! So here’s an update (correct at the time of writing).

Yianni Agisilaou – SOLD OUT

Rhys Nicholson – SOLD OUT – Encore Announced

Girls Can’t Take A Joke – SOLD OUT – Encore Announced

Josh Earl – SOLD OUT – Encore Announced

Luke McGregor, Jimeoin, Hannah Gadsby, Stephen K Amos, Nick Cody and RAW Comedy have very limited tickets remaining!


So be quick and check out the extra shows here! These shows were so popular, they have sold out and we have added extra sessions! Get in quick, these tickets will not last.

Extra Show Added 11:30am, Sunday March 26

Extra Show Added 6:00pm, Saturday March 25

Extra Show Added 6:00pm, Friday March 24

If you want to keep a finger on the pulse of Canberra comedy make sure you’re subscribed at the Comedy ACT website. They also have a Facebook page (please like it and share it regularly, as each awesome show is advertised) and a Twitter feed, which although not as entertaining and educational as my own twitter, is still worth a gander. Seriously, lift your game @comedyactcbr twitter guy! Personally, I think the @CanberraComedy Tweets are biglier.

* May not reflect reality. Check Google.


Elias Hallaj (aka CBRfoodie) is a part-time food blogger and full-time political staffer who has joined RiotACT as a regular contributor. All opinions are his own. If you have any tips or feedback you can find him on Twitter @CBRfoodie.

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