What it takes to become a comedian at the Melbourne Comedy Festival

What it takes to become a comedian at the Melbourne Comedy Festival
  • PublishedApril 14, 2024

Perth’s Kirsten Lynch will have to overcome her greatest fears if she’s to compete for the crown in Australia’s largest First Nations comedy competition at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival next week. 

Performing is the last thing on her mind, as Kirsten manages her fear of heights and flying, but whatever happens in the air she says, it will make for good content.

“The first thing I said to my girls after they announced that I was the [Perth] winner, I was like, ‘can you Google how long it takes to fly to Melbourne?”

It’s about three and half hours (for those asking).

Woman in Indigenous flag t-shirt performing on stage with lights in background.
Kirsten Lynch performs at the Perth state final for the Deadly Funny competition.(Supplied: Melbourne International Comedy Festival)

For 18 years, the Deadly Funny competition has been unearthing some of the best new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander comedic talent around the country.

Past grand final winners include Janty Blair, Stephanie Tisdell and Kevin Kropinyeri.

Four people smile either side of Deadly Funny poster in an office.
Kalah Lovegrove was supported by Kevin Kropinyeri (right) to take part in the competition.(Supplied: Melbourne International Comedy Festival)

Kirsten said her jokes have been so deadly, police have been called to shut it down.

“We were just sitting around telling the yarn, and then police were knocking on the door, and the first one was they got a report of a distressed woman who sounds like a hyena,” she said. 

That hyena was her relative in stitches of laughter.

“I’m the joker of the family anyways, I might as well roll with it.”

For the past six months, 99 people tried out in community heats across the country, from Cherbourg in Queensland to Port Augusta in South Australia, culminating in state and territory finals.

This year’s six finalists have each received $1,000 plus accommodation and flights to compete in the grand final in Melbourne.

There’s another $3,000 up for grabs next Monday night.

“Everyone knows black fellas love free stuff,” Kalah Lovegrove quipped from her home in South Australia’s Murray Bridge.

Close up of woman with a microphone on stage.
Kalah gets a rare spot in Aboriginal Comedy Allstars.(Linda Bromley)

It was only two months ago that the Ngarrindjeri single mother-of-four tried stand-up for the first time, despite her late mother encouraging her to try years ago.

Since then, Kalah has not only won the SA final, but has filled-in for Deadly Funny host Andy Saunders at the Adelaide Fringe’s Aboriginal Comedy Allstars.

“The first time I did the comedy I didn’t even hold the microphone in the first heat … the state final was the first time ever holding a microphone and doing comedy.

“And then Allstars was literally on stage with the lights and everything … it was intense.”

Woman speaking at microphone on stage with Indigenous and Torres Strait Island flags in background.
Kalah filling in for Andy Saunders at the Adelade Fringe.(Kevin Kropinyeri)

Creating more spaces for First Nations comedians

Saibai Koedal, Meriam, Gudang / Yadhaykenu queer comedian Jay Wymarra has competed at least three times in the Deadly Funny competition – now he’s turning his attention to help others get a foot in the door.

“I wouldn’t have walked into comedy proper without the help of Deadly Funny just giving me a platform to launch off,” the Cairns-based comedian said.

The former Deadly Funny finalist says the competition was where he realised he wasn’t alone.

“I was like, ‘oh my God, there’s more of us.'”

“You’re doing this because you want to do this, but you’re also doing this because you’re trying to create and hold space for the fella who is coming behind you,” Jay said.

“The progress that has been made so far is very phenomenal and should not be snubbed … it improves every single year.”

But the drag-comedian-writer said there’s work still to be done.

Melbourne International Comedy Festival director Susan Provan said they had “made big steps forward” since she took on the role in 1996, suggesting platforming First Nations people wasn’t a focus prior to that.

It was a Yorta Yorta intern Jason Tamiru who suggested the competition all those years ago, she said.

“Often breaking into comedy can be very difficult for anyone, but probably particularly for First Nations people,” Ms Provan said.

“What Deadly does is give that really supportive environment so that you know the first time you get on stage no one is going to yell at you, no one is going to heckle, you are not following a comedian you don’t know and might do some really awful material.”

Group shot of smiling people in an office
Despite never doing stand-up before, Kalah Lovegrove (centre) won the Adelaide Deadly Funny state final in 2024.(Shania Richards)

Natural storytellers: What makes a deadly funny joke?

In South Australia’s Murray Bridge, Kalah Lovegrove said she first thought it was a “shame job” to do stand-up when the Deadly Funny organiser Kevin Kropinyeri suggested she give it a go.

“We don’t see it as a pathway for a career because it’s just who we are.”

Kalah considers a deadly funny joke to be “the stories that are specific to our culture … what we’ve grown up with and the things that we know.”

“I bring in Ngarrindjeri words and that part of it is kind of like educating people who don’t know Ngarrindjeri language, which is also other First Nations people.”

It is also a nod to her people.

“Ngarrindjeri who watch and it’s just going to flow for them, they’re going to get the joke quicker than somebody else does.”

Woman in t-shirt with Indigenous flag at a microphone on stage.
Kirsten Lynch’s stand-up style is to wing it – she says no-one knows her yarns better than her.(Supplied: Melbourne International Comedy Festival  )

While Perth mother Kirsten Lynch plans on winging her set in Melbourne, her bar for a deadly joke is, “being able to make different people laugh no matter what age bracket they fit into.”

To ensure everyone gets her sense of humour, she tries out her jokes on the local community.

“I just go to my local shop and try it on my little check out chicks there or just random people on the bus, or a stranger in passing,” the Noongar mother laughed.

Comedy is an outlet for the out-of-home care case worker.

“As an Aboriginal person, I can tell a joke a certain way, where a non-Indigenous might say to me, ‘I don’t understand what that means’.

“We understand things a little bit differently in our Aboriginal world … so I talk about how I run on Black Fella Time all the time, and I always had got to take the black streets to get to where I got to go faster because I’m always running late.”

Jay enjoys watching the reaction from the crowd.

“When it’s coming from the black soul and hitting all the black souls, oh man, the punchline just hits so much sweeter.

“I can’t ignore the black stuff, the stuff that’s just for mob, because, look, you keep me talking long enough eventually it’s going to come up.”

For this mob, comedy is about having a yarn.

“We have this built-in skill to keep each other entertained, and humour is a very strong part of that,” Jay said from Naarm Melbourne.

“It’s one of the biggest unofficial cures for suffering and getting through struggle, it’s how we contextualise certain things.”

Man in red scarf covering face stares with arms out while wearing black headress
Jay Wymarra is performing his own show in the Melbourne Comedy Festival this year called AmaJayus.(Supplied: Melbourne International Comedy Festival  )

Don’t come with preconceptions to this comedy show

Jay warned people going to any First Nations comedy show shouldn’t come with preconceived notions.

Nothing is off-limits in his comedy, with his current show through a comedic cabaret called AmaJayus, which he describes as a dark-humoured “queer, feral, one-person rock opera”.

The self-described blak nerd likes “playing with expectations and subverting.”

Travelling with his diplomat mum from Fiji to Canberra, he learnt from a young age “how to address, quite literally, heads of state from the age of five.”

While it is early days in her comedy career, Kalah said she had found her niche as a Christian, Aboriginal mother — she isn’t aware of too many on the scene in Australia.

The mother of four says she has her kids’ full approval to share jokes about them.

“The main basis of my comedy is being a Christian mum, but also being a black mum.

“It’s pretty much just me running my kids down. With their permission, of course.”

Kirsten said her kids also “make good content” but she’s still trialling content on unwitting strangers and won’t be writing her jokes down.

She has this warning to her competitors: “Look out because I’m funny and I’m deadly funny.”


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