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In Conversation With Lionel Corn

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We all remember the notorious pranks the boys on The Chasers War On Everything played on both the government and ordinary joes, and all the headlines they made. (Seriously, who wouldn’t want to make headlines for being funny?). I was very fortunate to have met two of these funny fellas, Chris Taylor and Andrew Hansen, at the Hairy Little Sista bar to chat with them about their new stage show In Conversation With Lionel Corn for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

What has inspired you to send up the media so many times over the years?

Chris Taylor: Full marks for you for noting that’s what we do, because most journalists think we do political satire. The last few years with shows like The Hamster Wheel it’s very much about the media.

Andrew Hansen: There’s always new stories that you can keep making comedy out of again and again.

CT: I guess when we started as a print newspaper, that even though it was a parody of traditional newspapers, it was a vehicle for writing jokes about the news. But then the more we got interested in television, the medium of TV is more interesting than what actually happens in the news. CNNNN was a response to the rise of cable news and right-wing politics. And then a show like Hamster Wheel had a kind of more forensic look at how stories are put together. We still occasionally made jokes about breaking news, but it was more about how the news was made. It’s just an interest that a few of the guys on the team have.

AH: And nobody else was doing it too, in Australia anyway. There was a gap in the market. Not many other comedians were making fun of the media and the news in the forensic and analytical way that we were doing it.

CT: When we began The Hamster Wheel, it seemed like we were in a really interesting period in terms of the history of journalism, like something that had been an incredibly profitable lucrative industry was facing all sorts of threats to its bottom line, its newsrooms, and the whole model of journalism had to change with the rise of the internet and social media. It just felt like a nice meaty topic to sink our teeth into. How these huge corporations were going to respond to how they were going to get wiped out. It struck as an interesting story. And of course, the excesses of the media is just funny. [Andrew] and Chaz [Licciardello] are great fans of Today Tonight and A Current Affair, but all news, including the ABC, have their excesses and follies. It’s never ending fodder.

AH: If you’ve got a funny clip, you almost don’t need anything else. But most of our job was finding clips that were only slightly amusing and then trying to build comedy around that to make it into something that was funny enough to put on screen.

This is your first show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Considering your many forays into comedy, how does it feel to be part of this festival?

AH: It’s great, we’re finally doing it. I always feel I should have done the Melbourne Comedy Festival, being an Australian comedian. It was kind of weird not to have done it. It’s a great festival, the atmosphere is fantastic. You can walk from one show to the next, and it’s just a really good place. It’s something we’ve wanted to do.

CT: It’s been on the wishlist and I remember years ago in another life when I was a straight journo living in Melbourne that I would go to the festival and just love it, I was like a kid in a candy shop. It was the most magical time in Melbourne and I this dream that it would be amazing to do a show one day. And it has been a real oversight that we haven’t been able to do it until this year. I feel like it’s a big missing piece from [our] credentials to not have trolled the stages of Melbourne Festival Hall, so it will be great to finally come and do it.

What inspired you to create a send up of Q&A shows?

AH: Lionel Corn is our pretend writer/author/director/musician/genius who will be interviewed live on stage and have strange questions put to him from the audience, pre-recorded by us of course, although the audience will also be welcome to put questions to him. Chris noticed the rise of these Q&A events as a form of entertainment, a new type of show.

CT: And one that always struck me as funny. I’ve gone to these events at film festivals and writers festivals, and even like David Attenborough and scientists are now doing them. They always struck me as very funny, the standard of questioning is exceedingly low. There’s some really moronic questions to people that have don’t have much time for morons, so already we got comic tension between an intellect and a pretty factious audience member. I think we wanted to do a send up of what we’ve identified as an emerging trend in live entertainment in cities like Melbourne.

I’ve seen plenty of Q&As myself, and some of the questions make you think, “Why?” And what a waste of time. You can tell the interviewee is like, “Really, that’s what you have to ask me?” It couldn’t be something intelligent that someone else probably wants to ask, and the question is “How many monkeys does it take to change a light bulb” or something like that.

AH: That’s right, and the rest of the audience has to sit through this as well and wastes their time.

So who is Lionel Corn? What does he do to earn a whole show about him? Is he based on a real person?

AH: He’s a loose amalgam of geniuses who do these events about show runners, directors and musicians.

CT: It’s a question we’ve been pondering ourselves, like would it be more fun if it was clearly based on one person, but we think that might be more comedy opportunities if we make him a composite of several people and just symbolic of a brilliant polymath who had a great career, such as Orson Welles, someone who’s done a lot in their life. A lot that’s worth talking about, but unfortunately he’s only got morons to talk about it with. But I think he’ll also be quite eccentric, the laughs won’t only be at the audience members’ expense. Corn himself will be a derisible figure.

AH: He might have a funny moustache to go with it. I’m a big fan of the funny moustache.

It’s like that old mask people used to wear with the glasses, the big nose and the big moustache.

CT: Ah, the Groucho Marx.

AH: Maybe he should wear that, that’s his fashion choice. Are those going to become fashionable those Groucho Marx, something people will actually wear. Some fashions are very comical when they first start, like the onesie. They were hilarious when they first started, but then these really serious young guys would walk around really thinking they were looking very cool while dressed as a beaver. So now I’ve gotten more used to them.

CT: I was talking to Fred the other day and predicting, if it hasn’t already happened, that Plus 4s would come back, those golf socks that you tuck your pants into.

AH: Also the cod piece, I can imagine guys and women maybe walking around quite seriously seriously wearing these things.

CT: How about we go back further, the toga. Or just the fig leaf comes out, doesn’t get older than that. Fig leaves in Fitzroy, Figsroy it’ll be called. And people will be like, “Oh, all these Figsroy wankers”.

Could be material for your next show then.

AH: Yeah, it’ll be called Figsroy.

Considering your past in the Chasers days with pranking innocent people in the street, I suppose there will be some surprises and pranks in store for the audience too?

AH: The audience won’t get pranked, I can guarantee that. But they can prank us because they can ask their own questions for the show.

CT: It’s their chance to finally get revenge, after all these years of us annoying them.

AH: All those poor receptionists and green grocers can come to the show and let us have it.

Are there any planned ventures for you guys in TV or stage coming up after Lionel Corn has concluded?

AH: We might take it around Australia, and I’m going to be working with the Chaser guys maybe on another media circus series, although that’s a bit up in the air. The future is unknown with these things because you got 50 projects in the works and you hope one of them will come into fruition.

CT: I’m filming a little series at the moment which finishes tomorrow after a eight week shoot. It’s a show called Plonk, it was on YouTube last year and this year it was on GEM, and Andrew did a cameo in it. It’s about the making of a wine show and the inept crew going around Australia making a cheesy lifestyle show. We needed some final shots to do in Melbourne of the city.

In Conversation With Lionel Corn
Forum Theatre, corner of Flinders Street and Russell Street, Melbourne
Tuesday April 7 – Sunday April 19; Tuesday-Saturday 7pm, Sunday 6pm
comedyfestival.com.au/2015/season/shows/in-conversation-with-lionel-corn-chris-taylor-andrew-hansen


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