Q&A: Bec Hill

Bec Hill talks to about flip charts, Australian comedy and the Edinburgh Fringe

Image: Steve Ullathorne

Image: Steve Ullathorne

How long have you been doing comedy for?
My first gig was just over ten years ago back in Adelaide. But, that said, back in Adelaide there is only one comedy room, so by doing comedy I mean I maybe gigged like once a month if I was lucky – very different from over here.

Where do you think your sense of humour comes from? Where did you get the idea to use flipcharts and paper puppets?
I think there are a lot of different types of influences. My mum’s English, so when I grew up we watched a lot of Monty Python, and there was a lot of Terry Gilliam and cut-out stuff in there. They also used to show the Goodies in Australia – the Goodies were huge in Australia, much bigger than they were here, and so we were massive fans of British surreal-type comedy.

My mum is really silly, so she did loads of silly cartoons and stuff and I started doing them, too. We used to draw little cartoons on the shopping list and things like that, so that’s where that stuff comes from. My dad’s got a good sense of humour as well. It’s very dry and it’s a bit more of the insulting Ozzy ‘I love you by putting you down whenever I can’. He’s also very logical, quite scientific, and so when I started doing the paper puppetry and making stuff move in it. I remember being really excited about showing my dad how I had engineered the moving parts because he finds that stuff really fascinating – that was quite nice.

When did you decide to put the flipcharts and paper puppets into your comedy? Was it from the beginning?
No, but it was pretty early on. I was doing the cartoons and putting them online, and then I had one that I thought would make a funny sketch. It wasn’t in the best taste, but it was a superhero called Lazy-Eye Man who has a lazy eye, and the sketch was that he catches the supervillain, Monocle Man.

I really wanted to do this sketch, but I can’t do accents or voices or anything like that, so I thought I would draw it as a little cartoon. Then I thought about how I would make it clear which character is talking, so I gave them little moving mouths so that I could do the voices for them and even though the voices didn’t change you knew who was talking.
But it still didn’t quite work, it wasn’t really a strong bit. That’s actually online as well, so it’s up there if anyone is curious! Not my finest work, but you can watch that.

What do you think has changed about your comedy or the comedy scene I general? Has it evolved or stayed quite similar?
It’s hard to say whether it’s evolved or not because I’ve moved a lot – Adelaide to Melbourne, Melbourne to Edinburgh and then Edinburgh to London – so each time it’s been quite different, but I don’t know if that’s because of the way comedy’s going or because of the different scenes.

I’ve felt a lot more confident in just being friends with the audience now and I’m starting to trust the audience a lot more – I used to be terrified of talking or doing any audience interaction. I still don’t like making people feel uncomfortable. I think there’s a fine line between picking on someone and involving them, so I try and stay on that side of being friendly rather than making them feel awkward or singled out, I should say.

How would you say comedy is different in Australia compared to the UK?
Australia is very similar in that you get scenes, so there’s a good alternative comedy scene like there is over here, but it’s a lot smaller. Because other cities are so far away it’s hard to tour without going bankrupt, so you kind of have to stick to the one city that you live in.

Also, because the weather’s so nice, people don’t really want to be indoors. People don’t want to go into a pub and watch someone talk, and that’s really why Australia’s most well-known for its athletes and its sport because people would rather go and watch that.

They either get into sports, as in they are athletes, or they go and watch it, as it happens outdoors and they get to have a drink in the sun.
I think generally they also tend to be happier, whereas I think sometimes people here are like ‘urgh, everything sucks and is horrible, let’s go see some comedy!’

What key piece of advice would you give to budding comedians?
I would say that you have to do it for the love of it. Don’t ever expect it to be a career because, if you do, when it gets hard it’ll destroy you. Because it was never a career option growing up in Australia, I just loved it so much I thought, ‘I’ll do whatever I can to keep doing it as a hobby’. So I worked entry-level jobs all the time, I was always working these horrible day jobs for no money, but I was happy because at night I got to go and do comedy.

I was lucky that, in the end, it got to a point where I was getting more gigs than I could fit around my work hours, so I eventually was able to quit my job. But that took… I mean, it’s been nearly ten years now and I’ve only just been full time for about two years. So, just don’t go in it expecting to be famous or rolling in money or anything, you have to do it because you love it.

I would say that you have to do comedy for the love of it. Don’t ever expect it to be a career because, if you do, when it gets hard it’ll destroy you

So would you say the Comedy scene is pretty tough, then?
Yeah, it’s really tough. It’s really fun if that’s what you want out of it, like if you just go in doing it because you love it and it’s enjoyable, then it’s much easier, and it makes the hard gigs easier as well – at least you can go ‘aw yeah, but that other one was really nice.’

Whereas if you’re just doing it for the money or the progression it becomes quite… I don’t know, I feel like it sullies it somehow, and you can definitely tell the people who do it for progression – they’re very easy to spot. They tend to be the ones who find it very difficult to get booked for gigs because no one wants to work with them.

So you’re heading up to Fringe again this year. What would you say is your favourite part of the Festival?
It has to be the shows because I really enjoy watching them shape and change and get stronger over the months, but it’s also the atmosphere and the socialising.

Do you guys have school camps over here? [“Like sports tours?”] Yeah, because it’s like a sleepover but with everyone you know and it’s really exciting and it’s not at home – that’s what Fringe is like. The nice thing about it is that you go back and it’s not just your friends from home you see but your friends from other countries and other cities who you don’t see at any other time. It’s a really nice thing to do. I can’t imagine not being there at any point.

It is important to make friends, doing comedy, because if you have a friend who knows you, has seen you and likes you, they are usually the ones who will make you feel better after the rough gigs, plus you can write with them – that’s important. You’ve got to be around people who, when you say something funny, are like ‘Quick! You should write that down, write that down!’

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