Monday, 27 July 2015

Sam Simmons: Spaghetti for Breakfast

If things had worked out differently, Sam Simmons might have ended up becoming a zoo-keeper. As it is, the thirty-something Australian has spent the last decade or so travelling the world as a self-styled professional idiot, brandishing an off-kilter brand of comedy that has confused and confounded many, even as it has reeled in critical acclaim and ever-larger audiences.

With his 2014 show, Death of A Sails-Man, being nominated for the Fosters Edinburgh Comedy Award following a previous nomination in 2011 for Meanwhile, Simmons returns this year with Spaghetti For Breakfast. This latest one-man extravaganza, which has already scooped the Underbelly Adelaide Award and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Award for Best New Show, may take a nod at the inner world of its creator's psyche, but it still allows full vent for his inner dickhead to explode into primary-coloured life.

“There's some very dark stuff,” Simmons admits, “and it gets to the reason why I'm an idiot, which is to escape childhood stuff, but there's nothing saccharine there. There's nothing worse than seeing a show that's saccharine. It has to be funny.

“It also came about from some quite weird experiences playing all the club rooms in London, where I got quite a lot of negativity from club owners. They'd say, oh, the stuff you do, it's weird, it makes no sense. It makes total sense for me, and this is why I do absurd comedy, and why I don't want to do stand-up. Don't get me wrong, I love stand-up, but I don't want to do it. Live comedy doesn't just have to be about stand-up.”

Simmons first started to develop his stage persona when he appeared at a benefit show put on by himself and some friends after another friend lost a hand-bag.

“I got up and started being an idiot,” he says, “but it wasn't stand-up. It sounds vain, but I didn't have this great ambition to get up onstage and start telling all these jokes or anything like that.”

Simmons presented on Australian radio station Triple J and interviewed bands on the station's small-screen offshoot JTV before featuring in anthropological mockumentary series, The Urban Monkey with Murray Foote and sketch-based show, Problems. While a sense of Simmons' world beyond the stage can be gleaned in Wallstud, a three episode series of miniatures for Channel 4's Comedy Blap strand, the roots of Simmons' oeuvre dates right back to a mis-spent youth watching endless re-runs of cult 1970s Brit TV show, The Goodies.

“The Goodies was on every night when I was a kid,” Simmons reflects. “They showed them all the time, so it felt like it was on a loop for seven years. It would probably surprise a lot of people in the UK to learn that I think Monty Python was too weird for me, but with The Goodies, I think I connected with them, and felt all three of them were in my body. If you could condense Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie into one body it would probably look a bit like me.”

The spirit of The Goodies is certainly evident in Simmons' stage act, a manic pot-pourri of absurdist antics, fourth-wall breaking routines and sheer out-and-out puerility. Then there are the shared concerns with ex Goodie, ornithologist and nature documentary presenter Bill Oddie.

“I was training to be a zoo-keeper for years and then I left to do this,” says Simmons, “but what I really want to do is make Attenborough documentaries. That's the dream.”

Sam Simmons: Spaghetti for Breakfast, Underbelly, August 5th-30th, 9pm.

The List, July 2015


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