Interview and Photos by Dave Court
During Adelaide Fringe I got to have a sit down and chat with comedian, podcaster, purveyor of fine shoelaces and ex(ish?) skater Steele Saunders to talk about Melbourne, Adelaide, comedy and festivals.
So you’re based in Melbourne, and do various comedy things and run rooms?
At the moment I run Comedy at Spleen on Monday nights with Karl Chandler, that’s been running for maybe 7 or 8 years, in Melbourne it’s kind of the hub of comedy where everyone goes to try new material. It’s pretty good at the moment, just before Festival it’s sort of just TV star after TV star jumping up. It’s like a little room that should fit 60 that we get about 130 in every week, it’s a pretty cool little thing.
Have you been coming to Adelaide Fringe pretty regularly?
I think this would be my 3rd or 4th Fringe.
With I Love Green Guide Letters?
Stand up shows as well, this will be the first one I haven't done a stand up show. First year was standup and Green Guide, last year Green Guide, Steele Wars and stand up. One time I did them all on one day and then drove back to Melbourne, a pretty full on day.
There is a Melbourne Fringe right?
Yeah there is a Melbourne Fringe, its a little bit different, I dunno.
Is it very comedy heavy?
It is for me, if you’re a comedian it’s kind of just a really small Comedy Fest that nobody knows about. Like the Fringe here it's like the Comedy Festival where everyone knows it's on and it kind of takes over the city and gives the city energy. But the Melbourne Fringe, which I think is in September, like no one knows it’s on, no-one outside of the city. But the Comedy Festival, everyone knows it’s on - so it’s sort of hard to generate extra tickets or flyer because there's no awareness of it compared to Comedy Festival.
Why is that do you think?
Just because its so big, it like eats the city, it’s 400 shows or something, the Town Hall gets transformed into a giant venue, it’s just this massive massive thing. The Melbourne Fringe, people use it a lot to do warmup shows and test stuff for Comedy Fest; or if they’ve had a killer Festival they might do another season of it just to sell some more tickets. But for comedy, it’s not really used as a separate thing that much - except for Tony Martin, he doesn't do the Comedy Festival. But he’s Tony Martin, he could set up a microphone anywhere and fill out a room.
This Fringe there’s been all the controversy - is there a similar sort of thing with Melbourne Comedy Fest being so big? Like the dynamic of big venues and small artists and that sort of thing?
Yeah it's more like - I'm not really in the politics of Melbourne Fringe but for Comedy Festival it's such a thing with giant acts - there’s this blackboard in front of Town Hall, and people think that’s all the acts, but that’s just all the acts that are in Comedy Festival run venues - then there are twice as many acts everywhere else. So there’s this thing where, if you’re not in one of their rooms people are like, ‘oh I wanted to go see you but you weren’t on that night.’ I think it’s a thing with any successful arts Festival, where you’ve got money vs art - with any Festival where it’s open - it’s the same complaint, it’s how people survive in those circumstances. And Adelaide Fringe compared to Comedy Festival is weird because it seems like there’s no central hub where you can go and flyer.
That’s been one of the complaints, that there’s the Garden and Royal Croquet Club as big hubs and everything else is left out...
Yeahh but like, I don’t mean a hub to see shows, but a hub to flyer - it seems like here people are like - ‘why are you giving me this bit of paper.’
It’s weird, going into the Garden is like going into it’s own little world -
And that's what people think the Fringe is -
yeah and that’s the exact same problem as Melbourne -
They think the town hall is the Festival?
Yeah. But I dunno, I can say - that the whole thing Alexis [Dubus], and I think maybe what Brendan Burns said as well about the way Adelaide audiences book, they do book very late.
Which is really strange, it’s worked out for me so I don’t have a problem with it, I had a Steele Wars show on Sunday where I checked the tickets three days before and it was half full, and then I didn't check it again - there’s only so much checking you can do. And then when I came in, they were trying to get more seats in there because it was packed. Like, it’s rad that people buy tickets - but it’s the thing where, if you like an artist and you want to see the best show possible, if you buy your tickets early, they don’t have to concentrate on flyering and tweeting out about it and they can get in the mindset for doing the show. For an artist, if you know your venue is going to be full that night, your day is pretty sweet. You’re in a good mood and you can just concentrate on the show, less the business.
And that's not an issue in Melbourne? Is it actually a uniquely Adelaide thing that happens?
To that percentage, yeah.
Why do you think that is?
I dunno, I guess it's just an Adelaide thing. Reading about how concerts and stuff get cancelled, like Michael Jackson? How does a Michael Jackson concert get cancelled? Like I know why there’s none on now, but back then. Apparently it's a thing, that’s what everyone says.
Or if it’s about how popular something is perceived to be, like Sam Simmons and Wil [Anderson], you can barely get a ticket, whether it's something where you get past a tipping point and people are like, oh we need to get a ticket for them.
Perth fringe, that’s in a boom at the moment, like the question this year when people came back to Melbourne was - is the boom still on? Anyone can sell out there it seems.
Yeah what’s that about? Mining money?
I just think because it’s sort of new? Like the Fringe has been here for decades, and mining money I guess. And Perth, because it’s so far away, they’re the easiest audience in Australia, they’re so happy that you’re there. For standup Perth is the easiest audience in Australia, but people in comedy are kind of waiting for it to end.
Dave Thornton enters the space with a loud fart noise to end our interview.
Listen to Steele’s podcasts I Love Green Guide Letters and Steele Wars on iTunes or follow the links, and if you’re in the Melbourne area you can catch live podcast recordings each Saturday of Melbourne International Comedy Festival at The Joint, or head along to Comedy @ Spleen every Monday.