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Jonestown: Guinea Pigs

Nicholas Johnson is one half of Jonestown (the other half is comedian and ventriloquist Sarah Jones), the Moosehead and Golden Gibbo-awarded duo performing at this year's MICF. Last year's Pajama Party was a hit, and Johnson is looking forward to their latest installment.  "Guinea Pigs is a narrative-based sketch comedy show about Sarah and I being locked in a box against our will, and forced to perform a series of cruel and unusual psychological experiments. We call it Saw meets RadioLab."
 
Although the world of psychological experiments is relatively new to Jonestown, stories heard in podcasts about the old, less-regulated days of scientific research really captured the pair’s imagination. "I’ve always been interested in that sort of podcast, you know that sort of This American Life: 'Did you hear about that pop psychology thing they did in the '70s?’ Like the Stamford Prison Experiment where they locked students up and pretended they were in prison, and then they all went slowly insane. Where the ordinary, mundane scientific experiment suddenly just becomes a weird off-the-rails kind of explosion."
 
The most outrageous, and memorable of these experiments was too intense to be completely included in the show. "Harry Harlow did the ‘Wire Mother’ experiments on monkeys, where he asked: ‘I wonder what would happen if we put a monkey in a box with no light and no contact with anyone for months.’ And the monkey would go insane, and he would say, ‘Ah! Interesting.’ But now, rather than do it on a monkey, we do it on a pair of middle class comedians."
 
Long-time friends, the pair developed their writing partnership by accident. "We're both anti-social, so we would enjoy sitting in cafés [working and] not talking to each other, which was a very good writing partnership. We would just shoot ideas back and forth across the table at each other, until we realised that we were writing together, and writing sketches and other bits and pieces, and finally we put together our first show, last year, which was Pajama Party...it was a little like we’d made home brew in our basements and then found out that people actually enjoyed drinking it."
 
They've also come up with an unusual way to market the show, by turning their Twitter account (@jonestowncomedy) into an story reminiscent of the Choose Your Own Adventure series. "It's an extension of the show. People can go online and play – they can be locked in a room with us and try to escape."
 
The first choice for followers is whether you are going to follow Nicholas or Sarah. Who’s getting more hits? "Definitely Sarah, it’s always something to do with her. We find in our shows if any sort of choice is involved people will choose Sarah." Which he is totally cool with? "Absolutely! We’re both quite antisocial so the idea of not being chosen is pleasant. It’s been really interesting working with someone else, how audiences interact with different performers and how people feel much safer coming up and talking to us after the show, that sort of stuff. It’s interesting."
 
The pair are looking at taking the show to all the major festivals, as well as some regional shows. "I think we prefer to take the path less travelled, and we don’t always do the same thing as other people...at the moment Sarah’s doing shows on cruise ships in the South Pacific somewhere. So we always have things going on that are different from what other comedians might do."
 
BY SAM WILSON
 

Venue: Portland Hotel - Gold Room, Cnr Russell & Lt Collins St, CBD
Dates: March 26 - April 19 (except Mondays)
Times: 7.15pm (Sundays 6.15pm)
Tickets: $20 - $25