Since attaining finalist status during Raw Comedy 2006 at the tender age of 17, Tom Ballard has graced our airwaves as a triple j presenter, worn makeup and told jokes on a variety of prime time TV programs, overshared on his blog and toured the world with comedy festivals. Now heading to the Gold Coast as the headline act for Laugh Your Pants Off, he spoke with Natalie O’Driscoll about his latest comedy show, political activism and as per usual, his penis.
Between stand up, blogging, radio, DVDs, TV appearances, podcasts and festival touring… do you ever shut up?
HEY YOU SHUT UP! I CAN’T HELP IT IF THERE’S A MILD LEVEL OF DEMAND FOR MY OPINIONS ABOUT THE STATE OF THE WORLD AND FACEBOOK AND MY GENITALS!
Tell us a bit about Boundless Plains to Share. What it talks about, and why you think the issues it raises are important.
It’s a 70-minute comedy lecture about Australia’s treatment of refugees and it’s much better than that sounds. I basically just wanted to put together the show I would like to see on this topic: something that is entertaining but also explains how the hell we got to the very messy situation we’re in where we’re locking up children in prison camps, prosecuting charity workers and demonising some of the most vulnerable and desperate people in the world for no good reason. I believe we live in a generally good country filled with decent hearted people, but when it comes to the “boat people” we’ve let our empty fears and our xenophobia turn our hearts to stone. Cue comedy!
As one of the relatively few people to have been inside a detention centre, what are some of your impressions?
They’re awful places. They’re just awful. They’re prisons for people whose only crime is escaping persecution and asking for help. A friend of mine arrived by boat when he was 23 years old; towards the end of last year he celebrated his 30th birthday, still in detention. That makes so sense. NO SENSE I TELLS YA.
You’ve said before that it’s important to focus on the positive things about Australia and Australians, rather than just always focusing on the negative. For you, what are some of the main positives?
Maggie Beer, the Wiggles and pavlovas. Plus, you know, peace and natural beauty and freedom. That’s the thing – we are such a great country in so many ways, it’s just so frustrating that we can’t be even better. C’mon, Straya!
Your comedy is described as “politically active comedy”. How much of your work is comedy, and how much is politics? Also, if you weren’t a comedian, do you think you would still be an activist (or a politician)?
First and foremost, I’m a comedian: if you ain’t laughin’, I ain’t done my job. But I try to use my interest in the things I’m reading and learning and talking about and experiencing – refugees, privilege, racism, homophobia, etc – as material. I’ve always admired the likes of Wil Anderson, Judith Lucy, Rod Quantock, Chris Rock, Nazeem Hussain, Bill Hicks, Aamer Rahman et al, who can make you laugh very, very hard, whilst also making you think “That’s true and it’s a damn good point”. That’s the kind of comedy that excites me.
If I wasn’t doing this malarkey, I’d probably have finished my law degree by now (I got 6 weeks in and dropped out to tell dick jokes) and I like to think I’d be using that to help people who need it as opposed to defending a giant oil company from liabilities or helping Google with their tax avoidance.
What does the rest of your year look like?
I’m off on the crazy whacky adventure that is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival again, so that’ll be a hoot/something that will make me cry from exhaustion. I’m busy working on little ideas and pitches for things and of course, there are always new jokes that must be written.
Oh also I’m going to get a PT and become super ripped and stop smoking cigarettes and learn how to cook and get a boyfriend so yeah pretty stoked.
You can catch Tom at Jupiters for Laugh Your Pants off on Friday 13 May. Visit jupitersgoldcoast.com.au for tickets and the full lineup.