Some comedians have a very distinct niche, a specific style which they find ways to make the most of, but limits the scope of what they can achieve. Michael Connell is not one of those. He’s a multi-talented man who juggles multiple styles in his sets ranging from clever wordplay to actual juggling. In his own words.
“I like to just say I’m a comedian. Everything I do is funny, so I think it covers it all. Plus just being funny is really all I aspire to.”
He’s performed around the world at prestigious venues such as Her Majesty’s Theatre and the main stage of the Melbourne Town Hall and once performed at the Telstra Dome during half time. Michael has produced hit shows at festivals such as the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Bris Funny Fest and the New Zealand International Comedy Festival. He was even on Australia’s Got Talent. I asked how long exactly he’s been in comedy.
“Too long for where I’m at. Probably around 12 years now. Geez, this question makes me feel old.”
If you haven’t had the chance to see Michael perform live before, he has a range of hilarious specials on YouTube which are free to view. With so many years of experience, I asked if there were any particular shows which stood out in his memory.
“So many. Opening for Weird Al Yankovic was a real career highlight for me. If someone told me as a kid I’d ever do comedy with Weird Al I never would’ve believed them. It was an amazing experience, plus he put on a great show and was a lovely guy.
I love comedy so much that I kind of even enjoy the bad gigs. When things aren’t going well, I always enjoy them in a sort of “let’s see how bad this can get” sort of way. I remember a gig I did for some firefighters who lit a bonfire during the show and then the wind changed and I stood onstage as sparks and ash rained down on the flatbed truck I was performing on. I mostly hated it, but part of me was like “this is kinda funny…”.”
He has a very thoughtful approach to his craft, and incorporates juggling as part of his act without falling into cliched traps that it’s often associated with.
“Being a straight, white, male comedian, I’m always looking for a point of difference. I used to juggle a lot in my teens but then stopped when I got into stand up. A few years ago I saw a few buskers juggling and I realised they all use the same jokes. I haven’t heard an original joke from a juggler in my life. So here I was a comedian with a bit of juggling skill, so I thought why not challenge myself to write some original juggling material. It’s gone well so far and I’m still playing with it. Look forward to seeing some busker do on a street corner near you!”
This more thoughtful, less provocative style gives Michael an angle which makes him stand out in Brisbane line-ups giving a welcome contrast to the all-too-common lashings of excessive machismo.
“Comedy in Brisbane has mostly been promoted as a pretty “bogan” sort of activity. It’s a guy in pubs telling dick jokes to drunks. There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what you’re after, but there must be people out there looking for comedy that tackles more intellectual topics and takes more artistic risk. The challenge for every comedian in Brisbane is to find those people and show them we can provide that kind of comedy.”
He really is the thinking person’s comedian, never willing to take shortcuts or travel the path of least resistance to make audiences laugh. The fact that he manages to do this while keeping audiences consistently laughing throughout his sets is a testament to his hard work and talent.
“The current show I’m working on, I’m hoping to be able to create an hour of political comedy that doesn’t take shortcuts. A lot of political comedy is preaching to the choir and I’m trying to avoid that. I also want to look at more systemic issues – make jokes about why we’ve got the problems we have, not just “doesn’t that politician have dumb haircut”.”
With such ambitions, and not being a native of Brisbane, I wanted to know what it was about the city that kept Michael here.
“Brisbane is a nice city. Sometimes I get a bit frustrated that there’s not as much going on here in term of art or comedy compared to bigger cities, but that could also be a good thing as it pushes me to make my own opportunities. Aside from that it’s a lovely place to live and rent is pretty affordable.
I originally moved from Melbourne to the Gold Coast because I got the opportunity to work in radio. Then I met my girlfriend who was living in Brisbane and then we moved in together.”
Inevitably the conversation had to get on to films and cinema. I asked Michael if there were any particularly controversial cinematic opinions he held.
“I’m a bit of a film buff. I certainly watch a lot of them. I see so much comedy that when it comes time to watch a film I always want to watch serious or depressing ones. My girlfriend’s always like “Let’s watch something funny” and I’m always pushing to watching some gritty war thing instead.
My controversial film opinion is that Hollywood very rarely makes good comedies anymore. You go see a film, it costs a fortune and you chuckle twice. Compared to a night of stand up which is two hours of non-stop laughs for like five bucks, Hollywood comedies are a rip-off. Having said that, I saw Amy Schumer’s film Snatched, and that had a lot of good laughs, so there are exceptions.”
In addition to his forthcoming CCC debut, I asked Michael if he had any other upcoming shows he was excited about.