Laughing all the way to Big Joke

SUCCESSFUL comedians can fill a room with laughter, connect people through common experience, and – at the Bangalow Big Joke Festival – satisfy the region’s appetite for humour.

This year’s festival program is a menu, with a Cracked Eggs breakfast, a Degustation of Comedy, the Smorgasbord and A Few Desserts, all with side-dishes of music and dance.

Fittingly, headlining attraction Tom Gleeson – a regular behind several panels on commercial TV – lists ‘dinner parties’ as his main source of entertainment.

“I just enjoy going to dinner parties and watching my friends be funny,” said Gleeson, whose comedic inspirations have often materialised in unconventional places.

“In primary school, I got the silly roles in school plays. I’d add in little lines … they’d wreck the play, but they’d get big laughs. When I was older and in a band, I used to talk a lot between songs. It got to the point where the between-song banter was longer and more entertaining than the actual songs.”

Gleeson professes one of the most important skills of comedy is an ability to laugh with others, as well as at yourself.

“Comedy is basically full of nerds and misfits and I like them. I love laughing, I love when people are relaxed enough to be funny around me. Sometimes there can be some trepidation, but I just love to laugh,” he said.

It is a sentiment shared by festival director/producer Jay Allison.

“If there’s one thing I really believe in, it’s the invaluable importance of laughter,” Allison told Pulse.

“I came from an abusive childhood and lost my mother early. I grew up thinking the world was a particular type of place, and hated it.

“You live in a state of expectation that everything is doom and gloom.”

Four years ago, Allison championed his Big Joke brainchild and created the festival, believing it is impossible to be depressed while you’re laughing.

He took over as festival director, in addition to his production role, when local comedian Mandy Nolan stepped down last November. Nolan has since taken on a behind-the-scenes role as a teacher and mentor for 20 children aged eight to 14 in this year’s Funny Kids showcase.

“Comedy for kids is an important resilience-building tool,” Nolan said.

“Making people laugh is a lovely feeling, but it’s simpler than laughing I think. That feeling of connection within a room when something is funny and you all laugh together.”

Nolan focuses on teaching her young apprentices to form and express an opinion and talk about things that are important to them.

“I watch them go onstage and I know they’re going to do well – no one wants to make a fool of themself. Backstage is the one place you never have to tell them to be quiet,” she said.

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