Tom Ballard is young, gay, and very funny. More importantly he’s here in the sunshine state this month as part of the Brisbane Comedy Festival at the Powerhouse where he will perform his is new show Taxis & Rainbows & Hatred. The show was a huge hit at the recently held Adelaide Fringe Festival and as he prepares to make the long trek north, Tom took time out of his schedule to tell QNews all about it.
QNews: Tom, welcome to Q News. Tom, is it Tom Bollard or Tom Ballard? I’ll just get that right, I saw an advertising board at the Adelaide Fringe with Bollard.
Tom: Oh yes, it’s Ballard, B-A-double-L-A-R-D .(Laughs)…. Some people who write the signs at Adelaide Fringe called it Bollard, and some people would say that I turned into a parking pole. I am not, I am a human being, who does comedy, and my name is Ballard.
QNews: Warrnambool. Is it the home of comedy, or does nearby Port Fairy take that title?
Tom: There are some comedians to have come out of Warrnambool Michael Williams, CJ Fortuna, and myself. Yeah, I love it, you know, it’s got a very healthy theatre scene, that’s where I started doing like amateur musical theatre and stuff, and then there’s so many new gigs there going. And Hughesy was from there and stuff kind of made me feel like, ‘Oh, you know, maybe I can have a crack at comedy, as well,’ and here we are.
QNews: And you chose the intelligent comedy routine instead of going surfing down at nearby Bell’s Beach?
Tom: (Laughs) I was not much of a surfer, I was a very pale, chubby child who stayed inside a lot, so that’s sort of where my comedy is based around, yeah. Not so much the beach, unfortunately. The thing about the beach is, only attractive, cool people go to the beach, there’s no comedy there.
QNews: Aw, Tom, you’re attractive. Do you ever get used to talking to strangers about yourself?
Tom: Oh! Yeah, I guess it’s kind of my job, and I guess I’m just lucky enough that people want to come along and hear about that, I assume, I guess that’s why they’re there, they want to hear about me and what I’m thinking, and the stories about my silly life, so yeah, if you’re not used to talking about yourself, then you’re going to have some issues as a comedian. Yeah, I love talking about me. Who doesn’t want to talk about themselves? (laughs)
QNews: What’s the strangest question you’ve ever been asked? Have you ever sat there and thought, ‘What the hell are you thinking?’
Tom: Well, I have some stories in my shows, about some reactions I’ve got from talking about being gay onstage. A woman came up to me after a show in Wollongong, and she just said, ‘My son loves Eurovision and I’d love a photo!’ That was all she had, and I said, ‘Oh, you know that I have nothing to do with Eurovision,’ and then she just said, ‘Yeah!’ Come on. [laughs] That was all she had, she was just, you know, ‘Gays are into Eurovision, you’re a gay, surely something’s going on here.’ Just the way people’s attitudes are sometimes, to who you are and what you’re talking about, can be pretty funny.
QNews: So now you’re huge, you’re a huge hit. Comedy festivals, touring shows, TV shows, acting … What’s your favourite gig, and what’s it feel like to be a veteran at such a young age of ….. do you want to mention that?
Tom: (Laughs) A lady will not talk about her age. I mean, veteran is a … I mean, I appreciate you saying that, and I’ve been so lucky, and I’ve got to do a lot of cool stuff by my age, and I feel great, I still feel like I’m still trying to figure out who I am and what my comedy is, and I want to try and get better every year, but it’s stand-up to me, I love doing stand-up. There’s nothing like live performance, there’s nothing like having an audience for an hour who have come and paid to see you and hear you talk about something. You know, I’ve seen comedy shows that have changed my life, have changed my thinking about something, or have made me laugh and cry and really moved me, and things that I still think about years later. I would love to get to the point where I’m consistently churning out hour shows that have that kind of an effect on people. That’s what I really love doing.
QNews: There’s nothing like a great show, and I’ve worked with all sorts of people from back in the day. Liberace to Elton John to, you name it. But what is the best gig, I suppose, for you, that you’ve ever done, something that stood out?
Tom: Hot dang. Sometimes it’s the weird small gigs that happen. I just did a gig at the Late Show here at the Rhino Room the other week. Rhino Room’s from Adelaide Fringe Festival and I was doing a Late Show there, and I started my act, and then the mic stand flipped, and it just dropped about half a metre, and the mic lined up with my genitals, so we just had sort of a really beautiful moment of accidental physical comedy that the audience pissed themselves at. That was probably the biggest laugh I’d gotten all festival, and that sort of just kicked off this ten-minute gig I had that was absolute dynamite. I was just totally in control, and I was yelling at them for laughing at such a dumb joke, and then I was telling even dumber jokes, and it was just electric, and there’s something about those late-night shows where people are, you know, not drunk and abusive, but are drunk enough that they’re enthusiastic and up for anything and want to see you do really well. Yeah, it’s weird, those little moments that sometimes just jump out at you. It’s like, ‘This is why I love doing comedy, I am funny, and I can keep doing this, so it’s going to be OK.’
QNews: Who was your comedy idol as you grew up? Who do you think is the rock star of comedy?
Tom: To me, it’s still Seinfeld, I used to grow up watching repeats of ‘Seinfeld’ and watching that show, and whenever he did the stand-up at the start of the episode, I was just fascinated by that. I thought, ‘What is this gig where this man is just talking onstage, and everyone’s listening to him, and he gets to make people laugh, and he gets to talk about these little things of life that I’ve never thought about, really, but I’ve also noticed myself, in some way.’ I just loved that, it made me laugh so much, and I just loved the vibe, and still going back and watching that show, it still stands up. It’s sort of perfect comedy, really. But I used to watch the Gala every year, same Gala that was on TV every year, so I’ve seen people like Deirdre and Fiona O’Loughlin and Will and Cat Wilson, and a million other people come through, and seeing them and saying, ‘Ah hey, they’re Australian comedy legends,’ and then seeing internationals, as well, come through. Dave Gibson is a British comedian, he’s my favourite comedian of all time. He did the Gala a few times, and he sort of blew me away. And then when I was about fourteen, fifteen, I started going to the Melbourne Comedy Festival and actually sitting in rooms for an hour watching people be professional dickheads. I was like, ‘This is pretty fucking incredible, I think I’d like to have a crack at this.’
QNews: It’s kind of addictive, isn’t it?
Tom: Oh absolutely, yeah.
QNews: You’ve got a serious side of you. You’ve tackled serious issues over the years, like homophobia, cyberbullying, kids in detention. Do serious issues have a place in comedy?
Tom: I think so. Yeah, if you’re interested in them, and if they piss you off. That’s where I find myself. I find my best comedy comes out of things that frustrate me, or things that I think about, and things that kind of consume me, and I think my parents instilled a bit of a social conscience in me, and they were members of Amnesty, and I just find that stuff fascinating and reading about it, and yeah, just the depressing familiarity of our shitty attitude towards people who are trying to come to Australia, and our treatment of kids, or our treatment of minorities in society, I think, is straight up bullshit. And if something makes me angry, chances are there’s comedy there, because you think that there’s something not right with the world, and that’s where really good comedy comes from, so I love talking about that stuff. I generally don’t think any less of any comedian who doesn’t do those kind of jokes, because the worst thing is seeing a comedian doing some political stuff that you think, ‘I don’t think your heart’s really in this, mate, I think you just feel like you need to be talking about something topical whereas you’d rather be talking about unicorns and lobsters and sandwiches and stuff.’ And I love silly comedy, as well, I love that just as much, really.
QNews: Yeah. What would your biggest stuff up be at a gig?
Tom: Well, no regrets and all that bullshit, but here are some things I regret. I offended a lot of people on the radio when I talked about trying to make a lame Holocaust joke in 2012. I regret that. I regret being a bit of an arrogant motherfucker when I started out, which was probably a combination of being very young and having some success pretty quickly. Look, honestly, and I’m still trying to work on this, but buying into the whole reviews, awards, ratings, all this kind of loose barometers of success that we’re told to care about as comedians and stuff, I’m just trying to push all that away and just worry about making funny stuff, and trying to be consistent, and playing the long game of being a comedian. I just think when you get a bad review, or … You know, my TV show isn’t coming back this year, something like that could knock you around, but ultimately, you’ve just got to say, ‘Well, I want to be a comedian. I want to be a comedian for a long time, so all I can do is try and keep getting funnier and working on what I do.’
QNews: Which you’re brilliant at doing. So what would be your biggest dream gig?
Tom: I’d love to take over for Jon Stewart, if he’s willing … ‘The Daily Show’ and happily move over to New York (laughs), that’d be fun. Failing that, (laughs), I mean, someone like Will Anderson, I think, has this incredible career where he is fundamentally committed to live comedy, he can sell out the Sydney Opera House, he can tour over here, in America, build that brand. He’s also doing a great TV show with ‘Gruen.’ And stuff like that just really turns me on, and it’s scripted comedy, as well, so as a creative person, the dream gig is just having freedom to do anything and saying, ‘Hey, I want to do this thing,’ and people saying, ‘We like you, we want to do this thing with you.’ That’s the dream situation.
QNews: Comedy is always up, and people expect you to be upbeat, and sometimes it’s hard to get onstage and just wow a crowd. How do you chillax? What do you do?
Tom: Oh, I love watching movies, although sometimes that can stretch out all day, I saw ‘Jupiter Ascending’ this week, and I was really really really sad after that, because it’s a very badly made film, and I don’t know why the Wachowski siblings did that to me. I love their work, normally, and something really bad happened there. So I love watching movies, I like swimmin’ in the beach or pool. I try to read whenever I can, and, masturbating, watching television!
QNews: Admirable pass-times! (laughs) Now, what really pisses you off?
Tom: Hoo boy!
QNews: The short list. (Laughs)
Tom: What pisses me off? I mean, rudeness is up there for me, I guess everyone gets annoyed by rudeness, that’s pretty standard. But I don’t know, I just try to be a polite person when people seem to go out of their way to piss you off or oblivious to who they are and what they’re doing, that kind of mystifies me and annoys me. Politically, I think this bullshit conservatism we have going on at the moment, this fear we have when we’re such a rich, lucky country, that we could do anything, we could do so much more for the poor and disadvantaged in our society, and we could, you know, follow the example of a bunch of Scandinavian countries, for example, and make people happier and a lot richer. I mean, I think we’re all becoming a lot more aware about privilege, in terms of white privilege and male privilege and all that kind of stuff, and this belief from people that either feminism is over, or homophobia is gone, or the fact that all stuff is just complaining now is really annoying. A deliberate ignorance that people have about other people and their experiences, that’s probably the thing that annoys me the most.
QNews: Great grounded attitude. Now, shameless plug, you’re heading to Brisbane for our comedy festival, and we’re looking forward to seeing you, March 10 to 15. Tell us why the title, ‘Taxis & Rainbows & Hatred.’ What’s it about?
Tom: It’s about taxis and rainbows and hatred! (Laughs) It is about an incident that happened to me in a taxi in Newcastle, where I hailed a cab and the cab driver was blatantly homophobic to me, and it got me sort of thinking about little moments of homophobia that I experience all the time, because we talk about big things all the time like gay marriage, and, you know, all the big issues, and other countries where gay people are persecuted just for being alive. But for me, in my experience, it’s the little things that chip away at you a little bit, and what that means to me, and also the reality of coming out and being a young man who’s dated young gay men, who’s dating in 2015, that kind of stuff. It’s all kind of a mix of thoughts around being out at 25 and my life at this moment, and I have an amazing life, I’m lucky, but there are still these little things that kind of chip away at you that I think maybe, if you’re straight, or have a different perspective as a gay person, you might not have thought about. Yeah, it’s a really personal show, and I really love doing it, I think it’s my funniest one yet! Which I have to say every year, I genuinely think that and yeah, I had a lot of fun doing it in Adelaide.
QNews: When I read the title ‘Taxis,’ I took a totally different perspective, hence my next question: What’s the most shameless thing you’ve ever done to get your own way? (Laughs)
Tom: (Laughs) God. The memory that I have that still makes me cringe was when we were kids, my older brother Gavin and I were little kids, we went to the carnival in Warrnambool. The carnival comes to Warrnambool every summer. And Mum and Dad took us to the carnival, and my brother wanted to go on this ride called the Ali Baba. And I was scared of the Ali Baba, myself, and I didn’t want Gavin to go on it because I thought that he would die, so I whinged and whinged to Mum and Dad and I convinced them to not let him go on the Ali Baba, and Gavin got very annoyed at me, and I felt very proud of myself because I’d saved his life, according to my dumb head, and I still think of that and cringe. I think, ‘What a fucking younger brother attention-seeking arsehole!’
QNews: Now, a couple quick ones. The last thing you played on your phone or iPod or whatever you’ve got?
Tom: The song that I played was probably a song called ‘Suffragette Suffragette’ by a band called Everything Everything. I just listened to that yesterday, it’s a great song.
QNews: And in the near future, what have you got coming up that you can tell us about, the most fun things you’re looking forward to?
Tom: Well, I’m not sure …I’m doing Mardi Gras next week, which is something that is interesting on SBS, and I’m doing a broadcast with Magda Szubanski, so that goes to Sunday, March 8th, at 8:30pm. The big parades are the next Saturday night, I’m really excited about that, and then the whole thing is going to air the following night. Last year I got to do it for SBS Two, this year it’s on SBS One, and it’s going to be fucking awesome! Because it’s Mardi Gras, and it’s a really fun broadcast, and we’re going to mix it up with bringing the party to people via the TV but also looking at the important political statements that are being made, and the stories behind the floats as well. I’m stoked, I just love doing the gig, it’s a lot of fun.
QNews: Fantastic, it sounds like being one of the best Mardi Gras coverages ever with that format. Last year was great, well done.
Tom: Yeah, the balance last year we we’re really proud of that. We had all these sort of packages we played out of that the serious and fun stuff, because as you know, that’s a really important part of the parade, as much as all the fun and the colour and movement, which will totally be in the broadcast, that other stuff’s also important to highlight and talk about.
QNews: And couple of quick ones to finish with. Advice for aspiring LGBT comedians, starting out. What would you say to them?
Tom: I think my advice would be the same for any comedian, really, which is just basically, try and figure out what makes you funny, what makes you laugh, because if you’re not doing that kind of comedy, you’re going to hate yourself, (laughs) and that takes a long time. Be prepared to be shit for quite a while, and that’s good. Enjoy that shitness. Take risks. Try different things. Bomb in front of crowds because, you know, you get to the point where you start getting a bit of attention, then more scrutiny comes on your material, so enjoy that freedom of anonymity, let’s say. And if you want to talk up being gay, that’s fantastic, do that, talk about your life, that’s great. If you don’t want to talk about that, that’s also totally fine. You know, I think there’s a really strong history of gay comedy out there and that’s awesome, and then sometimes I think people also just like hearing from people, and I think if you’re a comedian for long enough, you’re not just going to talk about being gay all the time, you’re going to talk about being alive and being a human and stuff. So that’d be my tips.
QNews: Keep it real, make it human. Good advice. Now the number 1 reason, or tell us why in the hell should people get their arses away from the TV and come and watch you at your show here in Brisbane?
Tom: For the sexy eye candy! No, not really. I talk about my love handles at one point , so you get to see that, I pinch my little love handles fatness on my back. And it’s fun, there’s nothing like live performance, you know. The Powerhouse is a beautiful venue, I love playing there every year, and there’s a lot more swearing than there’s on TV, everybody enjoys that, so come on down!
Tom Ballard will be perform at the Brisbane Powerhouse as part of the Brisbane Comedy Festival 10-15 March. Tickets are available via www.brisbanepowerhouse.org or call 07 3358 8600.