We chat to Victoria’s 2021 Comedy Zone participant, Andrew Portelli, before he hits the stage.
Imagine getting your biggest career break to date and then being told to stay home. Indefinitely. Cast your mind back to the year we’re all collectively deleting from our memories – 2020. The year that felt like a decade, where the word ‘unprecedented’ became ubiquitous and the juggernaut that is the Melbourne International Comedy Festival had to, like every other aspect of our lives, shut down.
Being cast in The Comedy Zone is a pretty big deal for emerging comedians. It’s a tick of approval from the festival who are taking acts from the anonymity of circuit gigs and putting them on the path to success. It doesn’t always work, of course, but they’ve certainly backed some winners over the 21-year history of this coveted showcase gig.
Long before Nanette blew up the global conversation, Hannah Gadsby did the Comedy Zone in 2007, sharing the bill at the time with the unanimously-adored Celia Pacquola. Ronny Chieng, Josh Thomas, Sammy J, Lawrence Leung and many more have also had their careers launched by the show.
Keen for more comedy reads? Subscribe to Beat here and we’ll send them straight to your inbox.
So for the 2020 cast of Comedy Zone, it’s been an emotional ride – from the elation of being chosen to the devastation of it being cancelled.
“I’m not going to lie, I lost a little bit of perspective. I asked my parents to send my sword over by mail. Luckily they sent it by Australia Post, so I didn’t get it,” says Melbourne stand-up Andrew Portelli.
However, after a long wait, their time to shine has arrived. Joining Portelli on the bill are Queensland’s Andrew Lee, who’s already taken on a solo at Bris Funny Fest and Sydney Fringe; Floyd Alexander-Hunt and Elliott Stewart, both from NSW and who were 2019 Raw Comedy State and National finalists respectively; and WA’s Raw State finalist Tor Snyder.
“Tor and I both started out in Perth. And we’ve all been in a group chat since last year, which is a bond stronger than iron,” says Portelli, who had his first crack at stand-up back in 2008. “It went pretty well, but it destroyed me mentally. I decided to finish my law degree before I went back.”
View this post on Instagram
Portelli follows in the time-honoured tradition of lawyer-turned-comedian. He was eight years into his career as a criminal prosecutor when he gave it away.
“There’s not much I can say about it except I survived a car bomb attack. I was getting too close to the truth – that Nando’s is better than Oporto,” he says of his previous life.
Without being able to gig live, Portelli used his time last year to get creative in other ways.
“I wrote 100-something pages during that first lockdown. I think I may have written a manifesto by accident. I don’t know, I’m scared to read it,” he says. “During the second lockdown, I made a web series called Talkin’ Biscotti with Ben Searle. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done – and I once saved a child from drowning.”
Soon enough, though, he’ll be on stage at Trades Hall as part of Comedy Zone, so what can we expect in his set?
“I talk about work, love, and something annoying I saw at the supermarket.”
Andrew Portelli performs for Comedy Zone, taking place as part of Melbourne International Comedy Festival at Trades Hall, from Thursday March 25 until Sunday April 18 (bar Wednesdays). Find out more here.