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Stand-Up Comedy With Funny Man and Break-Dancer, Lawrence Leung

We get down and funky with award-winning comedian, Lawrence Leung, from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. He's successfully made the complex topic of science an enjoyable and entertaining experience by incorporating break-dancing and quirky experiments in his live acts. So what really goes on inside the mind of an 'Albert Einstein-cum-Eddie Murphy' type of person? Lawrence takes us on his intimate journey.

Interviewer: What were you like as a child growing up?

Lawrence: I remember being a curious child. I wanted to know how things worked so took apart telephones and clocks. Sometimes they didn't work again so I got into trouble. I used to climb trees just to see the view from the top. The crown of a tree is the most inspiring place for daydreaming. It's also a good place to throw nuts at the neighbour's kids.

Interviewer: When did your interest in comedy/entertainment start for you and did you complete any training/study for it?

Lawrence: I knew I always enjoyed making people laugh when I was a kid. My fellow students thought I had a knack for slapstick comedy but really I was clumsy. I still am. I exploited that physical comedy in a lot of Theartesports competitions shows in high school. I guess my "training" in comedy was during my uni years with a comedy troupe called The Improbables. We were a handful of friends who performed improvised sitcoms and movies at theatres, pubs and comedy festivals. Some of us (Andrew McClelland, Christina Adams, Nick Caddaye and Yianni Agisilaou) went on to become successful stand up comedians both here and in the UK.

Interviewer: Were your family supportive?

Lawrence: They had a bit of difficulty understanding what I was doing. Stand up is not a regular career path with role models that my parents had heard of or liked. My parents want me to have a job with financial security, but that's difficult in the arts. I was stubborn and stuck to what I believed I was good at, practised my skills in pubs, stages and festivals and eventually the job opportunities (writing for TV/film, radio presenting and live touring) came. My parents have now calmed down a lot.

Interviewer: Are you a born and bred comedian or have you picked it up along the way or is it a combination of the two?

Lawrence: Definitely a combination. I think it helps to have both an innate "comic sense" and also to experiment with your comedy in different situations and audiences.

Interviewer: Where does your passion lie as you have a vast array of talents (comedian, director, radio host, filmmaker, writer)?

Lawrence: I get restless and bored very easily. All of my favourite jobs have been ones in which involve creativity. But because I get bored easily I want to have a go at being creative at as many different mediums as possible.

Interviewer: Describe your first stand-up routine? How was it? Were you nervous and how did you overcome that? What age were you?

Lawrence: I used to be scared before every gig. I was 22 when I did my first stand up routine. It was at a weekly open mic night called the "King Of The Ring". The tiny audience was a made up of nervous first timers and their drunken friends. The MC announced my name incorrectly ("Please welcome to the stage, Lance Long!") so I wasn't ready. I realised too late that he meant me, and ran towards the stage during the uncomfortable silence that results when an audience has used up all their welcome-applause. I tripped on the step leading up to the microphone and fell onto the stage. That gained me my first laugh. I hadn't even told a joke yet and I got a laugh which made me lose my nervousness. I won the open mic competition and received a bottle of cheap wine and a 'support spot' that Saturday night to do the whole thing again in front of a larger drunken crowd. I still get nervous before a gig, but as soon as the first laugh comes it's always ok.

Interviewer: Was performing at the Melbourne Comedy Festival on the agenda early on in your career?

Lawrence: When I was in high school, the only thing I saw at the Melbourne Comedy Festival every year was the Raw Comedy grand final. It's a stand up comedy competition, with finalists culled from hundreds of wannabe comedians from all around Australia. I used to imagine standing on that stage at the Melbourne Town Hall. I was so inspired, I thought up jokes and routines and scribbled in exercise books. A couple of years later at uni, my friends from The Improbables sent in my Raw Comedy application form because I was too nervous to enter. A few months later, on stage at the Melbourne Town Hall, I was lucky enough to come runner-up. There was never a plan to get into the Comedy Festival because I didn't think joke-telling was a career. It was a hobby or passion that evolved quite by accident into something more.

Interviewer: How was it performing your first solo show as opposed to doing stand-up comedy?

Lawrence: My first solo show was very different from my short stand up spots at a club. The main difference is of pace and rhythm. Stand up in a club environment tends to be for durations of 5, 10 or 20min spots with many "bang-bang-bang" punch-lines in order to compete against the attention-sapping effects of alcohol and the soul-sapping effects of pokies. Solo shows (usually 60min) let stand ups take their time, create an intimate relationship with the crowd and perhaps address concepts and themes that may take longer to explain. Sometimes I like to tell long stories that may not have many laughs until the final pay-off. The downside is that if the audience doesn't like the comic, they'll have to work especially hard to make the room feel less like an hour-long hostage situation.

Interviewer: With Sucker not only did you put yourself on the line as a performer but as a writer also, was it very daunting?

Lawrence: Unlike actors who mostly interpret other people's scripts, stand up comedians (as opposed to film/TV comedians with writing teams) write their own material. So whether, it's a full-length solo show or a 5min spot, it's extremely daunting to expose oneself on stage. Sucker was my first solo show and it was very daunting because of the research and amount of writing I had to do. I had a wonderful and clever director named Clare Watson who gave me the confidence I needed and had the brutal honesty to tell me what was working and what wasn't.

Interviewer: When and where did your interest in breakdancing develop?

Lawrence: I wanted to be cooler than my older brother Dennis who has always been hipper than me my whole life. He played bass guitar in bands and has a a badasss goatee. So I decided to learn to breakdance and write my latest show about this silly search for coolness. It's called "Lawrence Leung Learns to Breakdance". I'm performing it again at the Sydney Opera House from April 15-26. Come along.

Interviewer: Have you felt many 'ouch' moments (I confess to growing up in that era and giving it a go; fun but very tiring!)?

Lawrence: Every time I perform the show there are "ouch" moments.

Interviewer: Without talking to you and only developing my questions from your bio, you come across as a highly intelligent person successfully mixing comedy with fact; what is your I.Q.?

Lawrence: I have no idea what my IQ is but it is probably higher than a shark's but less than a dolphin.

Interviewer: How did you get involved with the "Chasers" team?

Lawrence: I first met them when they were acting as professional corporate raiders driving in a silver Lotus on Hollywood Boulevard. They got lost and asked me for directions which I thought was solicitation for writing contributions. From that initial flirtatious misinterpretation, a fairy-tale world of polo games and diamond necklaces and... no wait, that's Pretty Woman. Over the last few years, members of The Chaser have been coming along to my Comedy Festival shows. My shows often feature social experiments and pranks and so they asked me to write for their War On Everything show.

Interviewer: Who are some comedians that you admire and inspire you?

Lawrence: I really admire Andrew Denton, a guy who's done everything: live shows, radio broadcasting, TV presenting and producing. I also quite admire Daniel Kitson, Josie Long, Frank Woodley and Tony Martin. These people do top quality work, have unique voices, operate with little regard to commercial compromises and who have absolutely no interest in stardom.

Interviewer: Your ultimate goal and how far away are you from achieving it?

Lawrence: I don't really have an ultimate goal. I just want to create work that I can feel proud of that I hope a few people like.

Interviewer: If you weren't a comedian, you'd be a.....?

Lawrence: Filmmaker.

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