Stand-up comedian Bill Makin is a Bankstown boy, and he’s one of the organisers behind the Canberra Comedy Festival’s first Koori showcase in March. Ask him what inspired him as a comedian though, and it’s clear there may be one universal comedy experience for an entire generation: sitting on your sofa crying with laughter at Billy Connolly.
“That weird storytelling style he had….,” Makin laughs, and you can almost hear his eyes rolling. “Mum used to buy me the tapes when I was a kid and that started me off.” Makin, who describes himself as a “public service survivor”, got his professional start doing stand-up at local open mics like the Phoenix and the Civic pub a few years ago.
“The first one I did I was terrified, but they had an open $50 bar tab and I won it on the first night out. Every now and then you do a paid gig in Canberra but there’s not a lot of opportunities. Comedy is very Melbourne and Sydney-centric.”
It’s a situation he’s aiming to change by creating a strong local Aboriginal element at the Canberra Comedy Festival. While there’s an obvious focus on big-name talents from elsewhere, Makin and a group of friends proposed a Koori comedy showcase to the Comedy Festival for 2019.
“Cy Fahey’s been active here for a while and in recent years a few more of us have moved to Canberra – myself and Benny Eggs who has been a professional comedian. We want to open up the scene to Aboriginal comedians and the Comedy Festival got on board with this idea of a Koori showcase.
“We’ve managed to get Steph Tisdell who is probably the biggest woman in Aboriginal comedy in the country at the moment to headline,” Makin says.
Asked about the surge of interest in Aboriginal comedy, including the ABC’s Black Comedy series, Makin says it’s only a good thing. “The more variety there is, the richer something becomes. I get the sense that Aboriginal people are actually over-represented with creative arts – look at how many singers, actors and comedians have an Aboriginal background.”
Makin says if the Koori showcase concept works, he could envisage launching a quarterly Aboriginal comedy club with headliners of the calibre of Shaun Choolburra or Kevin Kropinyeri.
He describes his own comedy as “gentle, relatable suburban storytelling” that draws on common experiences “like how rubbish trampolines used to be.”
Makin says he tends to avoid politics unless something especially dramatic has just happened (not necessarily an unusual situation over the past few years). “I don’t get the sense that people are offended by politics, they just don’t want to hear about it any more,” he says.
“I tell stories like the time I went to Franklins with our next door neighbour Mr Bensley and I got lost. When they found me, they asked me if Mr Bensley was my dad, and I said nope. No, he’s not. A fairly long time later they finally let us go home.”
Makin will be making his own Comedy Festival debut with a one-man show on 20 March, and he’ll be part of the Koori showcase with Steph Tisdell and friends on 21 March. You can find out more about the comedy festival here: http://canberracomedyfestival.com.au