Comic brings War to town
Michael Workman. Picture: Nathan Dyer

Each year around this time, herds of comedians - wait, what's the collective noun for comedians? Got one. Let's start again, this time in our best approximation of David Attenborough's voice.

Each year around this time, chortles of comedians migrate to Melbourne in search of laughs, applause, cheap or even free alcohol and perhaps even some money. Egos fuelled and livers battered, this phalanx of funny men and women then head north to Sydney before making the long trek west in hope of one last sweet taste of attention before either settling in for the winter or flying to the fertile, yet treacherous pastures of Edinburgh.

One such comedian is Perth- born and bred surrealist Michael Workman, who now lives in Sydney. When we spoke, the 32-year-old was at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in the midst of a 22-show season. He heads north next week for the Sydney festival before joining the fun at the Perth International Comedy Festival on May 13.

"A comedy festival is basically like a masochist convention," he says.

"Everybody's going (to festivals) and losing money and standing around being socially awkward. Comedians are notoriously hermit-like and antisocial, so to put them in an environment where they have to meet strangers and convince them that they're good people in a five-minute window is not ideal."

Sounds like hell on earth, which segues nicely into War, the latest production from Workman, who played in Perth goth-rock outfit Civilised before turning his skewed psyche to stand-up comedy in 2008.

The one-man show revolves around a war correspondent battling morphine addiction who is assigned to cover a conflict but ends up dragging the real or perceived world down a drug-induced rabbit hole. Or something like that.

Workman's shows are notoriously difficult to describe, and the author would rather audience members arrive armed with few preconceptions. He's not the sort of comedian who does "bits". There are no wry observations concerning airline food, differences between the sexes or whichever politician/footballer/pop star du jour has been caught with their pants down, off or on fire.

He brought the utterly brilliant Ave Loretta to our Fringe World Festival earlier this year. In 2013 the show, which induced laughter and tears in equal measure, was nominated for the Barry, the top gong at the MICF. Workman is adapting the show for either TV or film - he wouldn't divulge anything beyond it being "an extension of that show available to all".

While Ave Loretta seemed a deeply personal tale of finding, and then losing love in a sea of rock, drugs and depression, Workman reveals that it was fictional. This causes consternation among some people, he admits.

"In a sense, I think it's cool to say that it's not true," Workman says. "But in another sense, maybe it's true to an extent. It's certainly made up of things I know have happened and things that I have had contact with in my life.

"I think it's important that we believe that characters like (Loretta) can live, and be destroyed. It's a difficult moral quandary."

Who knows what's in store for comedy fans attending War, which was chopped and changed right up to its debut at the MICF this year.

Workman is looking forward to returning to his home town so soon after Fringe World, which he describes as a "magical time".

"Being from Perth and then going back to see how Perth changes during that time, it just turns into a little wonderland," he says. "I thought it was really beautiful to have lots of happy comedians walking around and to have the public getting so behind it. Everything was selling well, people were interested in what was going on . . . that's something I'd like to do every year."

Workman says stand-up is very popular in Perth and the local scene is strong enough to support both Fringe World and PICF. Perhaps we're stealing Melbourne's crown as the Australian capital of live comedy.

"I think the enormity of the Melbourne festival exhausts comedy in Melbourne during the rest of the year," he says. "It's definitely very difficult to pull a crowd or get paid for your work.

"But in Perth, there's a lot of people in Perth with big disposable income and they like to laugh, so good on them."

Good on us. Bring on the chortles.

The West Australian

Popular videos

Compare & Save

Our Picks

Compare & Save

More from The West