Joel Spargo. It sounds like a stage name, but it’s not. He just got lucky. As far as stand-up goes, there are few who have the depth and obsession with the medium to the extent of Joel. He lives and breathes comedy, it’s what makes him tick. He’s as straight up as it gets, and isn’t afraid of the repercussions of saying something that someone else might not like. He’s not living in a filtered world. It’s a level of honesty that’s refreshing, liberating and endearing.
“I’m from Northern New South Wales, from a small town called Clunes. I moved to Brisbane in 2012 to start doing stand-up comedy. I graduated in 2010 and then in 2011 I started doing gigs in Lismore because that was the closest place where I could get gigs but I could only get about three gigs a month working the entire Northern Rivers area. I’d heard how good the Brisbane comedy scene was, you could get gigs multiple times a week, so that’s why I moved up.”
Why Brisbane and not one of Australia’s other big comedy destinations?
“It’s the closest city to where I grew up. It’s crossing state lines, but also not that far away in case I fucked up. It was the closest comedy scene to where I was. I’d heard about how rough it was in Brisbane. Audiences are lot more disinterested here than they are in Sydney and Melbourne, so I’ve heard, I’ve never actually performed in those places. A lot of comics that have moved out of Brisbane to Sydney or Melbourne have blown everyone away because they’ve got these chops that they’ve been building up for years in front of rowdy audiences.”
It’s not easy moving home with the dream of something as competitive and cut-throat as stand-up comedy. You take a risk, you struggle to get by and you do everything you can to make it work. Every comedian has different things motivating them to do what they do, I wanted to know what Joel’s motivation was.
“I knew I wanted to be a comedian of some description, not necessarily stand-up. I don’t know if you remember The Chaser did this national stage tour in 2007 / 2008? Just seeing that made me think “I want do something like that”. Then when I was 16 I was just YouTubing stand-up videos. I came across comedians like Bill Hicks and George Carlin and was like “YES! I want to do THAT!”, but more funny. I’m not trying to belittle what those guys did, obviously it’s amazing when you’re 16, but then you see comedians like Bill Burr and suddenly you’re like “You know what, I’m not sure I have that much of a message, I just want to talk about me and my life and why it’s funny and why I’m a piece of shit etc.”. After your teen years, you lose that identity as the angry dark poet.”
He’s been described by Illegitimate Theatre as “one of Brisbane’s sharpest up and comers”. I asked him to sum his act up in one sentence.
“Observational, anecdotal and self-deprecating. A self-deprecating storyteller sums up what I’m doing at the moment”.
His style has changed and matured in a relatively short space of time, a testament to his adaptability and drive to keep developing and improving.
“The jokes that were happening to me in real life were funnier than the jokes that I was writing. Drawing from actual experience, basically saying what happened, sometimes without even needing embellishment. I’m trying to get into a more “this is who I am, this is what happens to me” stage.”
A couple of months back, Joel took his comedy to the seemingly inevitable medium of choice for comedians post-2000. Fortunately for him, his is one of the good ones.
“I have a Podcast called POScast which I do with Sam Schuler and Dom Cusack. A lot of stories I tell in my act were on that podcast in some capacity first. I wanted to get podcasting after I did my friend Jacob Lingard’s podcast (Deus Ex Comedia) as a guest and realised I really enjoyed doing it, just talking. You’re always a lot funnier in person than you are on stage and the whole battle with being a comedian is trying to translate that. I’m not working towards becoming myself, I just am myself immediately in that environment.”
He made his festival debut with his show ‘Pending Approval’ which featured at the 2014 Brisbane Fringe Festival, returning the in 2015 with ‘Problematic’. This year he was selected to perform at the Brisbane Comedy Festival as part of Lucky Dip, a showcase of Brisbane’s best young comedy talent. I asked if there were any particular performances that stuck in Joel’s mind.
“I opened for Jimeoin at a big outdoor event in Caloundra. It was hosted by this afternoon radio duo who had interviewed me and some other comics earlier in the day. The show was hosted by them and not a professional MC which usually is a recipe for complete disaster. These two radio guys get on, spent two minutes welcoming people to the show, explaining what it is about and then immediately brought me on as the first act to about five to seven hundred people. This was last year, so I had a years less experience than I have now, which is a lot considering I’ve only been doing this a short amount of time. It actually went OK. To bring five hundred people from zero to one hundred. I was proud of that.”
It speaks volumes about Joel’s place in the comedy community in Brisbane that he’s going to be the first subject of a public roast on July 14th featuring some of the brightest local talent eager to tear him to shreds. For most people this would amount to an actual nightmare, a series of professional comedians dedicating their set to ripping them apart, but to Joel, it didn’t come as a big shock.
“It’s absolutely no surprise that MJ Wong would single me out. I’m an easy target, there’s a lot of shit on me out there that the comics on the panel will be able to rip into.”.
In addition to this, he starred as a ‘Porn Addict’ on ABC2s ‘Australians On Porn‘, had a website dedicated to his employment status, and inspired the hashtag #ohnonotspargo. It would be enough to make someone paranoid, but he mostly takes it all in his stride.
“It’s a fine line between knowing whether you’re being laughed at or laughed with. I think a lot of people are in on the joke and are just doing it as a joke, but there are definitely some people out there who view me very bitterly and would like to see me humiliated. I enjoy the attention, what do you want me to say?”.
Come see Joel at our Slumber Party Massacre event at The Milk Factory on Wednesday 6th July. You can buy tickets here.