Interview By: Luke Hickey
Patrick Marlborough’s debut comedy album ‘Barely Bombings’ begins in a manner that’s fairly emblematic of his stand-up style: with a hole being dug. Recorded live during one of his sets at the Fremantle Comedy Factory (?), the MC introduces him to the stage as “Robert Marlborough” before hurriedly correcting himself, and Patrick “Robert” Marlborough takes the stage to an awkward smattering of secondary applause. Most comedians loathe being immediately put on the back foot like this when performing, but Marlborough breathes it in like air.
Starting with an almost-10 minute bit on why Australia Day should be moved to January 28th, Marlborough confronts and challenges the audience on topics such as nationalism, empathy and racial perspective (though it should be said, he does this in a very silly way, complete with SNL-like characterisations of political figures. His ability to self-deprecate while discussing serious concepts is like his secret weapon; there’s no way you would mistake a Marlborough comedy performance for a preachy lecture), before segueing into a more personal topic: his own experiences with anxiety and depression.
Mental health struggles and personal imperfections are probably the most well-mined topics in stand-up comedy; everyone from internationally-touring industry dons down to the virgin open-mic’er will reference their own short-comings at some point. Industry legends like Robin Williams and Richard Pryor had well-documented battles with inner demons and came through with hilarious, poignant commentary on the subject, inspiring countless introverts and misaligned kids to discover comedy as an outlet. Not every sad clown is a funny one, though.
But instead of coming across as hollow or uninspired, there’s something real and organic about Patrick’s delivery when discussing his demons. There’s too much detail and nuance in his ramblings (particularly when he talks about his relationship with anti-depressants being like a relationship with a girl, except instead of a girl it’s a Serbian prisoner with facial scarring), for it to be considered anything less than cathartic. The best comedy (IMO) often comes when a performer perfects the art of relaying how their brain works to an audience and having it appear earnest instead of contrived or prepared, and Patrick already has this nailed.
My other favourite thing about ‘Barely Bombings’ was the parallels and incongruence it employed to parlay taboo subjects, uncomfortable truths and just general awkwardness into bombastic hilariousness. Patrick’s delivery would be dripping in passive-aggressive irony and sarcasm when referencing the sensitive subject of his own mental health, or he’d coat a punchline concerning Australia’s colonial past with equal parts university-level vocabulary and ribald imagery of large penises swinging in unconsenting faces.
Or, he’d start off his first album with a dud MC introduction and content about changing the date, and have the crowd audibly won over by the 2 minute mark. Ultimately though it’s these contradictions that make ‘Barely Bombings’ a worthwhile comedy listening experience, and it obviously doesn’t hurt that Patrick Marlborough is piss-funny throughout it.
A couple of days ago, I caught up with the man himself to talk comedy and other things. Here’s a rough approximation of the hour-long conversation:
How long have you been doing comedy? What drew you to specifically doing stand up, as opposed to other forms of comedy? What has been the best part/worst part of the industry for you?
I’ve been performing comedy for almost 2 years now, I guess something like 18 months. It’s weird, I had been writing for several years before that, and I had always tried to include some element of comedy and humour in them, but it was only until relatively recently that I actually tried performing stand-up, which has been an obsession for me for ages. It was definitely my Dad bringing home a Robin Williams special when I was a kid that piqued my interest in it, I loved Williams’ delivery and his silly voices and his adult jokes about cocaine addiction, which I didn’t really get but would memorise them regardless. As I got older, I gravitated more towards guys like Dave Chappelle and Richard Pryor, who was my comedy hero for ages. The reason I got into it I think mostly comes from its simplicity; it’s just you and a microphone trying to make a room full of people laugh.
The worst part of the industry is how clique-y it can be. When you get into an industry that’s also a passion for you, whether it’s music, acting, comedy, whatever, and the people in that industry who you would think also share your passion are unequivocally shitty to you, it can really bum you out. With that being said, I think that’s more of a ‘Perth’ thing rather than specifically ‘stand-up in Perth’.
The bigotry and sexism that certain comedians still employ in their jokes also sucks. The best part is… it allows me to do what I enjoy doing? That sounds bleak, but really I am grateful for the opportunity to perform. My stuff doesn’t always gel with what you typically might see at a comedy night in Perth, so I appreciate promoters and organisers giving me a chance anyway.
Are there any Australian comedians you like, or at least wanna give shoutouts to here?
In the local scene, Ben Mulvey for sure. He’s absolutely hilarious, has a lot more experience doing this than I do while also being a genuinely nice and forgiving dude. In the broader sense though, there’s not that many. To be honest, I hate how friction-less Australian comedy can be, especially when you look across the pond at US-based comedians and see what they’re talking about and what kind of subjects they’re broaching, and we fall so short in that regard. I mean, for the last 20 years Australia has not only been dominated by a particular kind of comedy, but literally also particular comedians. 20 years and Dave Hughes and Peter Helliar are still on TV.
How was ‘Barely Bombings’ recorded? How long did the recording process take?
This album was never really “planned” in the traditional sense, I guess. I have this habit of tossing away material when i’m bored of it and that happens pretty often. Not trying to say that “oh, I’m so great, I do new things all the time”, it’s really more of a boredom thing on my part, but anyway. I usually have a friend or someone record my act, and slowly but surely, but also in part aided by a trip through Europe, by December last year I realised I had a pretty decent amount of material, albeit poorly recorded. I sent the recordings to a friend of mine and a great comedy writer in his own right, Ben Johnston, who spruced up the recordings in a way I didn’t think possible, he made them actually sound listenable and we kind of figured out a narrative that would run through the album. I have to give a lot of credit to Ben there.
There’s a few subjects on ‘Barely Bombings’ that are pretty controversial. how much of that is shock value in the stand-up sense, where you begin by saying something inflammatory, then take the audience on a journey through your thought process until they (hopefully) come round, or is it far less prepared than that?
Definitely the latter, I prepare and sweat so much over my sets that I won’t eat all day before from the anxiety sometimes. That whole concept of taking an radical yet serious thought to its logically absurd conclusion is something I employ pretty frequently in my own routines.
Where do you personally stand on the idea that comedy should always ‘punch up’?
Absolutely in favour of it, the idea of using your platform to make fun of a group or sub-culture that’s already spat-upon outside of comedy clubs is just status quo-reinforcing bullshit, and it has no place in inventive, ground-breaking comedy. Again, it’s just another example of how Australian comedy has no real friction in it; the artists and the creators in the comedy scene will do material that sides with the bullies and the oppressors, and audiences in pubs and hotels lap it up. Plus, it’s just hacky, lazy writing at this point. Like, what new ground are you gonna break with your 3 minute soliloquy on Asian people that One Nation hasn’t already?
You’ve spoken previously, particularly in your VICE articles, how you think that stand-up comedy can be an incredibly cathartic experience, and that a lot of the greats have mined from their own personal traumas for comedy gold, but the majority of Australian comedy only really deals with the straight white bloke experience. Do you think there’ll ever be room for more introspective comedy in Aus? Additionally, do you think stand-up would ever be seen alongside say, live music, in terms of artistic credibility, or are comedians always going to be seen as court jesters?
I think there’s definitely room for more personal, identity-based comedy in Australia. Josh Thomas’ show ‘Please Like Me’ has shades of that with the interpersonal experiences he talks about on there. Greg Fleet is another guy who has been very successful as an Australian comedian with his personal stories about his heroin addiction, so I definitely think there’s room for it and people enjoy it. In terms of how it’s seen contrasting with other art, I think we’ll always be on the bottom of the food chain, at least for now in this country. We’re the only art form that’s judged IMMEDIATELY after it’s performance, if you’re not brilliant right out of the gate you will be judged and heckled, and there’s no room for mistakes. If you fudge a word in your set-up for a joke, you can’t go “whoops, lemme try that again”, audiences will smell blood in the water. I noticed while I was in America that that was less of the case, like visual and music artists had more respect for comedians and comedy than what occurs here, and that might be due to the fact that there’s more infrastructure and ways to elevate yourself as a comedian over there than in Australia.
Listen and Download Barely Bombings here.