The joke that you loved but no one else did?
It must have been in 2005, I watched Henning Wehn (he’s German, that’s important) do the following joke to a room that reacted like the world’s strictest library.
He looked at the room and said, “As a German, whenever I meet a Jewish person I’m always struck with a great sense of shame. And a great sense of failure.”
Utter silence. Except me, I was doubled over. Come on. Morals aside, that is a SUPERB joke. Curiously, the next time he did it, it got a round of applause. The time after that, silence again. Those three reactions taught me a lot about comedy and crowds.
The joke that worked but you are not so proud that it had?
I was doing a gig at a business school in Copenhagen and there was a mixture of students from various countries there. There were a group of American students at the front who had snuck out in the interval and scoffed some vodka (one of them told me this later) and so they, and particularly the guy in the Pink Floyd t-shirt, were smashed. This guy was young, drunk and brazen. Too young to control himself while drunk. Too drunk to know not to yell out. And too brazen to stop himself trying to climb up on stage to hit me when I made a few good jokes about him being young and drunk.
Anyway, he was so drunk that he couldn’t climb the stairs, and ended up staggering backwards. So I quipped, “It’s ironic that the guy in the Pink Floyd t-shirt is being thwarted by the wall” or something like that. I think maybe 40% of the 20 year olds in the room got the reference, but those that did loved it. After the gig, the way I’d dealt with him was all anyone wanted to talk about, and yes, I did do a good job of judo flipping his stupidity into humour. But really, he was just a young, drunk boy a long way from home and I wish I hadn’t had to do that.
The comedian(s) that made you want to be a comedian?
I used to watch the stand up bits that framed Seinfeld episodes with a mixture of awe, curiosity and inspiration. Such seemingly simple observations but when you leaned in you saw the sheer ridiculousness that underpins so many of our human rituals and opinions. I saw Seinfeld live in Melbourne in 1997 while I was doing a sketch comedy revue at university and decided at that point that I wanted to be a comedian.
The last thing that made you cry with laughter?
This is going to sound ridiculous. My cousin and I both like South Park. No, scratch that. We LOVE South Park. Like most people who like a thing far more than anything should reasonably be liked, we quote it incessantly.
There’s an episode where Cartman brags to the other guys that he’s the first to get pubes but it turns out that he misunderstood what “getting pubes” meant and he’d purchased the pubes off Scott Tenorman, a teenager. Anyway, the boys go to the cinema and he tries to buy cinema tickets with pubes. We hadn’t thought of it in a few years, and when we were buying something, my cousin asked the shopkeeper “And how much is that in pubes?” That, and the follow up jokes are the last time I cried with laughter.
See, I told you it was ridiculous.
Yianni Agisilaou: Pockets of Equality