Stage secrets of our comedy greats

With a daily radio show and nightly stand-up routines, Hughes says finding a fresh angle every day can be somewhat exhausting for those that have spent many years in the business of laugh-making.

“I am forever looking for that comedy angle for the radio and it’s not that dissimilar from being on stage, you have to craft on those comedy bits,” he said. “I use the notes section on my phone to write something down when I walk down the street, and then later you’ll work on the punchline before getting on stage.”

“I have people say to me I’m not getting any work and I’m not evolving; well, I say to them you’re still doing the same 15-minute skit you were doing 15 years ago.”

It’s a notebook in the handbag that helps comedy great Fiona O’Loughlin keep her act original.

Comedians Dave Hughes, Jimeoin and Fiona O'Loughlin will be heading to Sydney for the Sydney Comedy Festival 2019.

Comedians Dave Hughes, Jimeoin and Fiona O’Loughlin will be heading to Sydney for the Sydney Comedy Festival 2019.
Credit:Simon Schluter

Jotting down a few “strange words” here in there, O’Loughlin says the book will provide her with up to ten new skits by the end of the year, with a few iconic lines up her sleeve if required.

“If something doesn’t work, I always have something in my back pocket that I know will work,” she said. “It’s like a parachute I can just pull if I don’t get the laughs.”

Like Hughes, comedy veteran Jimeoin started his career at the eager age of 22, and says he has certainly learned a thing or two since then. In an effort to avoid the pressure of going on stage with a whole show of new material, Jimeoin has perfected the art of adding one joke into his act, bit by bit.

“Every day that I’m doing shows, I will record my thoughts and will write them out,” he said. “Being up there helps – you can write but you need to run it past an audience.”

“Even at 2 am, you’re thinking about [new material].”

But it’s the crowd that always has the final say when it comes to new jokes, Jimeoin says.

“Sometimes it’s the stuff I have no confidence in that will get the biggest laugh,” he said. “I do this thing about when you think you’ve turned the kettle on and you haven’t, and you get the cup and the tea bag, and you think, gee the kettle’s taking its time – it killed.”

Mary Coustas aka Effie likes to keep it 'raw'.

Mary Coustas aka Effie likes to keep it ‘raw’.

One of the most well-known, loudest names in the Australian comedy sphere says she is entirely happy to fail when it comes to performing fresh stuff.

“I will do a joke, and a few people might find it funny, and that’s okay,” says Mary Coustas, better known as Effie. “I don’t want the same flavour, or the same size laughter; I like a bit of discomfort.”

Running her new material by her husband, Coustas says she tries to keep her act “raw” instead of “perfectly polished”, with shows that are 50 per cent improvised.

“The performing side is 20 per cent of what I do, the 80 per cent is the writing,” Coustas says. “It’s a bit like Saturday night when you were young – the getting ready is more fun than the going out.”

The Sydney Comedy Festival will run from April 22 until May 19. 

Sarah is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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