Absurdist comedian Ross Purdy has hit this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival with not one but two shows. His solo show, Clownbaby, is the story of one man’s surrealist journey towards the meaning of comedy. Late Night Party Boyz (A Live Sketch Experience), performed with Damien Vosk, is a delicate balance of sketch, character work and partying. Ross kindly answered Til Knowles’ questions.
What does “Clownbaby” mean to you?
Clownbaby is an absurdist comedy show about a heightened version of myself trying to make it in show business so I can use my platform for good. Along the way, I accidentally incite an assassination which leads to an interrogation of what it means to be an entertainer and an influencer. Kind of. But not really. There’s knowledge milk and pizza also involved. This show is perfect for people who love surrealist, chaotic, irreverent, abrasive comedy that’s also just quite silly and ridiculous. I only discovered long afterwards I might have taken the name “Clownbaby” from an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. This show is nothing like Always Sunny (although it’s also really funny).
What drew you to performing comedy?
Growing up I thought I wanted to work in animation. Drawing and writing a lot. I watched a lot of Simpsons and South Park so wanted to make stuff like that. Along the way I lost interest in the actual animating aspect of it, but I would always spend time writing stories and aimed to be a television writer. I was sorta the class clown type, just trying to be funny in drama classes. That kinda collided together, and I thought I’d try standup and signed up to do RAW Comedy in 2013. That did OK and led me to do a kind of experimental, absurdist stand up around open mics for a couple years but always felt sketch suited my sensibility more. I reached a point where I’m now doing that. As well as my own solo stuff, I’m in a sketch duo with Damien Vosk called “Late Night Party Boyz” and help write sketches for comedy group “Dr. Duck”.
You’ve got quite a surrealist, meta style. Who would you say are your main comedic influences?
Definitely a lot of Adult Swim like Tim & Eric and The Eric Andre Show. Those shows look like complete nonsense, but they get at things in pop culture in an uncanny valley nightmarish way that you have to be on the same wavelength with and agree with – it means that much more. Comedy that comes from anarchy and gross discomfort. Vernon Chatman & John Lee wrote and produced some of the most brilliant, underrated, cult comedies of the past decade that I implore you to check out – Wonder Showzen, Xavier: Renegade Angel and The Heart, She Holler. Just a perfect mixture of nightmare, angry satire, utter ridiculousness and the smart and the stupid. The wordplay and concepts are always dense and rich. You’ll see nothing like it. It’s comedy writing I aspire to. And nothing beats golden era Simpsons for its perfect marriage of cynicism, sincerity, satire, smart, stupid, subtle, wacky and grounded.
You’re referenced Holy Mountain & Waiting for Godot over on your Facebook page! What’s your biggest non-comedy influence?
That’s a hard question to answer. Definitely something like The Holy Mountain for its barrage of insane visuals but also alternative rap. I listen to a lot of Run the Jewels and Tyler the Creator when writing. And punk. I’m trying to aim to have my shows feel like punk shows. Just in its “I don’t care what you think” sensibility. One day I’ll have the budget to just have a comedy show that’s just like a GWAR concert, what with their theatrics with the fake blood and elaborate costumes and fake bodily fluids.
What did you think of season 3 of Twins Peaks?
I’m gonna say something that might prove controversial and surprising within my circle – I’ve never actually seen Twin Peaks. In fact the only David Lynch thing I’ve ever seen in full is Eraserhead. Also the ending of Wild at Heart where Nic Cage is singing Elvis on the highway (Spoiler Alert!). But I’ve been meaning to watch the show forever and I’ll get around to Blue Velvet at some point as well.
What prompted the multimedia aspects of the show?
How I write comedy is a use of a lot of characters, conveyed through voiceover because I know I’m not some theatrical chameleon. Some people can pull off the jumping back and forth playing different characters but I know I can’t. I look crazy enough without attempting that. Also it goes back to my wanting to work in animation and doing voiceover. The videos and slides came with this show, I have a lot of experience with sound cues but not with projector stuff. The multimedia is just another tool for jokes as well as making it feel unique. It’s kinda my goal to make my shows feel like sensory overload, I work to have a lot going on.
Your Facebook bio says ‘#destroycomedy’. What’s that all about?
Boring answer: I think it sounds cool and conveys an anarchic attitude and I find meaningless hashtags amusing. I don’t want to destroy comedy. I love comedy.
Fake but more exciting answer: Yeah man, gotta like, gotta like destroy comedy man you know what I mean? Get that trending on Twitters. That’s what our focus should be!
If you had to recommend someone performing a radically different style of comedy to you at this year’s MICF, who would it be & why?
Laura Davis – she does smart and funny stand up. I didn’t get a chance to see her show Ghost Machine from a couple years back but I’ve seen it this year and it was very much worth it. But also I’ve got a duo sketch show opening April 9th called “Late Night Party Boyz – Live Sketch Experience. Not radically different. It’s two boys instead of one. Tenuously related to the question but I got a show to sell.