“ Ever since I found out about fun-size Mars bars, I’ve completely stopped worrying about the size of my penis because it’s not disappointing, it’s ‘fun-size’!” Tom Ballard jokes as he recalls a one-liner he performed during his 2006 RAW Comedy spot, also “the only joke anyone remembers, which is annoying.” Annoying as it may be, the one time RAW Comedy National Finalist attributes much of his current success to the competition.
“I was in the National Final and that was how I really started my career in radio,” says Ballard who hosts Triple J’s breakfast show with fellow Warrnambool friend, Alex Dyson. “A guy from Triple J saw me do that… I didn’t win the competition but he liked my stuff and we started doing demos, and that’s how I ended up doing breakfast on Triple J.”
The open mic competition – the biggest in the country - which is only eligible to entrants who have earned less that $500 from comedy, has seen some of Australia’s renowned comedians participate in the event including the likes of Josh Thomas, Claire Cooper and Tim Minchin. Entrants will compete at their respective home state, after which finalists would then be invited to perform at the RAW Comedy National Finals at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
“It’s an awesome way for people if they are starting out doing comedy because the audiences at RAW are actually really, really nice,” says Ballard. “They’re mostly family and friends and everyone realises that people aren’t professionals, and there’s just always really great atmosphere at RAW gigs I find… And also, it’s that idea of just being encouraged to do comedy – that doesn’t happen a lot.”
In truth, Ballard’s mother, a careers teacher, probably would’ve preferred the comedian to have finished university where he was studying Law at Monash before embarking on a full-time comedy career. However, the fact that Ballard is able to make a living out of comedy – amongst other things – is a remarkable feat in itself.
“People don’t really tend to say, ‘yeah, you should go be a stand-up comedian.’ People look worried when you tell them that’s what you do, and they think about how you make a living and your parents wish you would go back to uni, and that kind of stuff,” says Ballard. “But you know, I’m extremely lucky and I’m something of an exception – I think a lot of people work really, really hard on low wages for quite a while before they really get to break through. So I feel very lucky in that respect, but RAW was definitely a huge factor in what I get to do now.”
Before becoming a stand-up comedian, Ballard initially got into comedy to jump-start his acting career. “I really wanted to be an actor for a long time even while I was doing comedy – that was my real goal, and I just saw comedy as another way to get on stage, and to get a bit of attention, I guess.” What turned out to be a springboard into acting quickly transformed into passion as Ballard continues: “Since then, I just got into a lot more. I really loved it, I watched a lot more comedy, I went to more shows at the Comedy Festival, and I didn’t get into acting school – that’s probably also another factor… but live stand-up – that, to me, is my favourite thing to do.”
Professional comedians will be MCs at the RAW Comedy events, and with just a five-minute spot with a grand prize of a trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, this is a chance of aspiring comedians – solo, double or group acts – to strut their stuff.
“I think when you’re watching RAW you can always tell who are the people who have a pretty good sense of stand-up, by the people who sort of try to connect their joke, or have something of a theme, or their five minutes has a real routine around the topic,” says Ballard. “I always find that pretty impressive when RAW people do that.”
Ballard, who is dating fellow comedian Josh Thomas, has come a long way since his 2006 performance at RAW. But looking back at the event, he can’t help but feel a little nostalgic. “Man, thinking back to it now that was all I had – that was my whole life just that five-minutes,” he recalls. “All the material I had was the same spot I did for months after that. That was hell-gear, but now I try and mix it up a bit. They are five minutes you really work on and hone. It’s a really good process actually of trying to write stingers and to write your best stuff in five minutes can be tricky.
RAW Comedy registrations are now open. The Melbourne International Comedy Festival happens in April and the registrations for RAW close when they’re full, so get in quickly. For more details, head to rawcomedy.com.au.