Frank Woodley: Perrier Comedy Award-winning comedian for 20 years as one half of Lano & Woodley, director of AFI-nominated short filmChicken Of God, writer and producer of critically-acclaimed seriesWoodley, and surprisingly, a comforting psychologist to a writer who underwent a near-death experience minutes before the interview, slipping whilst walking up the stairs nude (from the shower, nothing weird), with his confidence rocked by the laughing chihuahua – witness to the embarrassing tumble – who mocked him by tickling his toes as he lay motionless on the violent stairs in pain, reluctant to move as he pondered just how humiliating and hilariously tragic a death in such circumstances would have been. Only the great die young, naked, being licked by a fucking chihuahua, as the saying goes.
“It’s hard to be humiliated when you don’t have any consciousness,” consoles Woodley, “so probably it would’ve worked out okay. Maybe there would’ve been this blushing ghost moving around, a kind of ethereal pink plasma floating in the sky”.
Woodley has just begun his three-week long residency at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, with his show Bemusement Park receiving grand-acclaim from audiences throughout Woodley’s tour through Australia.
“I seemed to get away with it. Only one joke worked, but lucky the audience laughed for 59 and a half minutes after I told it. It actually went pretty well. I’m feeling quite relaxed. I did two shows in Adelaide and did a week in Brisbane and then I feel that you know, as Gandhi said, ‘If you’re making everybody happy, you can’t be being true to yourself’, but he was a grown man in a nappy, so let’s take that with a grain of salt. That’s a cheap laugh, he wasn’t in a nappy, he was in like a loin cloth like a....the costume of choice of the Indian spiritual renouncer. So that was a cheap shot. And even if he was in a nappy, a lot adults who wear nappies say very wise things, so that is why if you are making everybody happy, you can’t be true to yourself. I’m sure I didn’t make every single person happy, I reckon probably a few walked away going, ‘Hmm, not my thing’, but generally there was feeling of, ‘That went well!’”
Thankfully, Woodley wasn’t pelted by tomatoes, “except for in the section where I handed out the tomatoes, because we do a bit of a game where I run around the theatre in the nude, and they have to try and pelt me with tomatoes, and at that point I was. I remembered why I was doing that, I thought, ‘God if I slip on one of these tomatoes and hit my head on the edge of the stage and I’m going to die in the nude. That’s going to be quite embarrassing, but you won’t be able to tell if my ghost is blushing or not because I’m covered in tomato juice and you might just assume…WHAT? What are we talking about Nick?” he laughs.
There is a tone of enthusiasm that shadows everything Woodley says, and it seems that the affable on-stage and on-screen character whom Australia has adored for decades as part of comedy duo Lano & Woodley shares his loveable persona with Frank Woodley the man. No matter which topics are conjured into the conversation, his responses are always laden with zeal and wit.
Unfortunately, at the time of interview, Woodley was slightly upset upon hearing news that a planned routine for Bemusement Park was to be rejected on the terms that it was too much of a risk to audience safety; a reflection of the overprotective nanny-state that Victoria has developed into.
“[It was] devastating. I can’t get insurance to the ‘So You Think You Can Survive A Panther Attack?’ routine, which is, that’s disappointing. I think we’re just covered in cotton wool these days, don’t you? I mean I’ve done a first aid course, and the audience were going to be handed out cattle prods; it’s not as if it was reckless. My parents used to, when I was kid, wrap me up in cotton wool, but that’s because we lived on a farm and there were these wild dogs attacking our sheep. And so they did to use me as a decoy…it wasn’t quite the same premise.”
Understandably, Woodley found the transition from confronting audiences as Lano & Woodley to simply just Frank Woodley initially challenging. He’d lost his comedy soulmate. He was a Costello without an Abbott, a Cheech without a Chong, a Karl Stefanovic without alcohol.
“It is quite different. It took me a little while in terms of the stand-up to find my feet because I guess in a way with [Colin Lane], I spent 20 years in a sense sabotaging. My role was to sabotage whatever Col was attempting to do, which was a great privilege to be able to just be so free and mischievous. But when I started doing solo stand-up, it kind of became apparent that I needed to actually somehow fulfil both the functions of the responsible person who was going to put on some entertainment for the audience as well as the person who could go off on flights of fancy. So it did take me a little while.”
While his comedic relationship with Lano relied on their symbiotic chemistry, he’s since thrived as he’s grown more comfortable alone onstage.
“Stand-up is really quite different. I think I performed for about six-to-twelve months after we split up. I was kind of performing in that same mode and I wasn’t quite connecting with the audience. It was going okay but it was wildly inconsistent actually, to be honest. Sometimes it was great, and other times I really felt like it was almost like the audience felt like I was trying a bit too hard. It did take a while. But now – it’s been six years since we’ve split up – it’s been quite a while that I’ve been feeling really quite comfortable. The first year or so, every show I’d do, someone would call out, ‘Where’s Lano?’ and eventually I had to ask Col to stop coming to the show. He was distracting.
“I still have an inflatable Col in the wings so the audience can’t see, to give me a little bit of psychological support.”
As Woodley himself remarks, and especially after viewing his hysterical offbeat series, Woodley, it is difficult to discern just how much of the Woodley character is based upon the man and how much is born of the imagination.
“I think I have a bit an inner conflict between this person who is a bit arrogant, who thinks he knows stuff and is very driven to realise ideas that I have because I’m a bit obsessive and that sort of stuff. But there is another part of me that is really quite bemused by the world and by my own place in it and doesn’t feel at all confident about how to live my life but I am a very romantic person I think. I hang on to concepts of love and friendship and those sorts of ideas. I’m a shocking multi-tasker. Things do happen to me, like for example – this is a completely true story – I locked my keys in the car with the car running. And I was in the city and I thought, ‘Oh god I’m going to have to go home and get the spare key’. So I got on a tram, and then I went, ‘Hang on I can’t go home while my car is running on the side of the road, that’s ridiculous, so I went back. And I went into the Hilton Hotel and I got a coat-hanger and then I opened up the car and got into the car and then I realised that my bonnet was still up. So I got out of the car to put the bonnet up and I locked the keys in the car again, and this time I had locked the coat-hanger in the car as well; so I had to go back into the Hilton and ask for a second coat-hanger. And that really did happen to me. So there are things like that certainly I do leave a trail of destruction in my wake just because I can’t quite think of more than one thing at once.
“I often will kind of write down little things like that and I’m using a couple of things in my show Bemusement Park, one of them was when my wife and I were having a romantic dinner and it was candlelit and it was in a restaurant underneath the hotel we were staying in, and she went back upstairs to get a jacket so I was reading a newspaper for a little while and I put the newspaper without knowing it into the candle and set it on fire, and then my attempts to put it out – I made the mistake of waving it around to put it out, which actually just flared it up worse, so those kind of things that could quite easily slide into a TV series or a stage act, do happen to me.
“I do think the difference between a good comedian and either one who’s just learning or somebody who isn’t a comedian, is really finding a little seed of an idea – something that you just know that creates some kind of feeling in you, there’s some little spark of interest or of discomfort maybe even – and then teasing out of that the details, milking it for everything it’s worth, going too far in milking it, and then scaling back 20 percent or something. Because there’s something funny in everything really, isn’t there?”
BY NICK ‘NICK TARAS’ TARAS
FRANK WOODLEY performs at The Comedy Theatre until Sunday April 22 (except Mondays) at 7pm (Sundays 4.30pm). Tickets through Ticketmaster and at the door.