Sean Choolburra, comedian and dancer, Brisbane Comedy Festival
My life is like a comedy movie starring me !
Few Australian comedians are as busy as Sean Choolburra. Even fewer still can match Sean’s infectious energy, zest for life and incredible dance moves. A true one-of-one, Sean Choolburra has been a shining star of the national comedy scene for years, and before he made his name spinning yarns and making folks laugh on stage and screen, he toured the world as part of Bangarra Dance Theatre. Talk about a multi-talent entertainer! The First Nations comedian, whose ancestors are Gu-Gu-Yalanji, Kalkadoon, Kandju and Bwgcolman from Townsville and Palm Island, will be returning to town in May to perform at this year’s Brisbane Comedy Festival, taking the stage from May 5–8 with his new solo show ‘World By Storm’ and on Friday May 6 and Sunday May 8 as part of hilarious ensemble, Aboriginal Comedy All Stars. We caught up with Sean to find out more about his love of laughter and how he stays at the top of his game during his gruelling schedule.
You’re a man of many talents, with a skill set that includes dancing, joke telling, rapping and acting. But we’d love to know what came first – can you tell us a little bit about how you first discovered your passion for performance and entertaining?
I first heard a Richard Pryor comedy show and then became very interested in comedy at a young age. I was telling a friend a story and he said to me I should do comedy – I was ten years old then! I knew I wanted to do something that involved performing, as I remember having a dream I was doing a concert. When I was about 14 I discovered breakdancing and loved it so much. I joined a dance crew called Electric 2 Crew back in Townsville and my sister was living and studying dance in Sydney at the time. She came up for holidays and saw my crew dance and she said to me that I should take up dancing, so I then went to Sydney to study dance and I saw the Sydney Comedy Store and I guess I couldn’t help it – it was my destiny to entertain.
When did you realise you could tickle other people’s funny bones? Can you remember the first joke that got a big reaction from friends and family?
Well, growing up we all would joke around and roast each other, so all of my friends were funny, but I realised I had a gift in telling stories so I soon learned I could make anyone laugh! The first joke I ever told was a story about how my mum made me wash the pots with a steely glove and then I would break into a Michael Jackson dance with it. That’s when I really discovered combining the mediums I most love – storytelling and dancing.
Dancing and comedy are vastly different mediums and forms of expression – what do you love about each, not only in regards to scratching many creative itches, but also in how they allow you to connect with audiences?
I love how people of all walks of life react to dance – it’s a medium for everyone! Whereas comedy, it’s a personal taste and preference in regards to what one might find funny. I have a formula like Albert Einstein – a perfect blend of stand-up and dance. Dancing and comedy are vastly different, yes they are, but there’s something about both that can capture an audience. Sometimes it’s a certain song that reminds them of where they were when that song came out, or mock dances – for example, when I break into a ‘Nutbush City Limits’ dance, the audience all feel the nostalgia. I find dance a really easy medium to connect straight away with the audience, whereas stand-up comedy you have to be quick and clever to get the attention then you can time your punchline. That’s what I love about both mediums.
You’ll be in Brisbane next month to perform your show ‘World By Storm’ at the Brisbane Comedy Festival. Can you give us a bit of insight into what audiences can expect from this show?
‘World By Storm’ is a show of stories that everyone can relate to. Mind you, the stories are unbelievable, too! My show is about my journey and finding myself. It’s quite a different show to your
normal stand-up routines – this will make you think and feel and search. It’s about the unbelievable adventures and opportunities from my life and letting people feel my infectious positive energy!
We’d love to know how you go about creating a new show – where does the process begin and where do you usually turn to for comedic inspiration?
Where do I get inspiration for a show or a joke? It’s so random – I usually like long drives. Now this sounds like my Tinder profile, but when you’re doing a road trip jokes come to you. Also, when I’m walking around random people will sometimes come up to me and tell me a funny story to put into my shows. I’ve had a very full life and draw on those stories and funny moments. My life is like a comedy movie starring me. Oh, and the music I listen to can inspire jokes too! I write a lot of jokes out and tell them to people to get a reaction and if they laugh I keep it in and start creating a list of jokes. Music plays a big part of my creativity, too, because of my dance background. I hear songs and it all just flows from the opening jokes, end jokes, or dance numbers to put in my shows – that’s pretty much how I get the juices flowing!
In what ways do you think comedy can be used to foster cultural connection and understanding?
Comedy is story telling and who are the oldest story tellers, the masters of it? Most of my cultural teachers were so funny, so when I teach kids dance the humour I use makes those lessons stay longer with them. You see so many comedians who are strongly connected to their culture use it to inform and bust myths – I totally do it in my shows to highlight aspects of my culture and also how proud of my culture I am. I use the jokes to make people see the beauty in my culture and lift my people. I reference a joke about American culture and how my granddad says you have to learn about your culture. he asked why I was wearing an LA cap because I’ve never been to Los Angeles – I said, “Granddad it doesn’t stand for Los Angeles, it stands for Love Aboriginals!” In some ways I guess there’s a bit of sarcasm and tongue-in-cheek involved in connecting comedy and culture.
You’ll also be performing at the festival on Sunday May 8 as part of the Aboriginal Comedy Allstars – what’s it like performing as part of a comedic unit as opposed to solo, and what do you enjoy most about doing comedy with Kevin, Andy and Steph?
What I like most about performing alongside Aboriginal Comedy All Stars – Andy, Kev and Steph – these guys all have their own energy! Andy, being the smooth beatboxing comic, makes you weak with laughter – he has no off switch! And then there’s Steph, who’s a superstar with TV deals and a star management who’s on top of the game. Then there’s Kev – a powerhouse of a comic! There is no comedian like him in Australia – he’s the only comic I know who’s rider is a clothes dryer, ‘cos he walks on with dry clothes and walks off soaking wet. It is epic!
You’re one of the busiest entertainers in the country, with a schedule filled with live shows, school shows, comedy festivals and television appearances. How do you maintain your energy levels and practice self care when you’re at your busiest?
I am one of the busiest performers – usually I have about three-to-five shows daily and TV and radio shows, too. I stay on top of the business and the hectic schedule by doing yoga and drinking ginseng tea! Oh, fishing is a favourite – it’s how I reenergise and most importantly refresh my outlook on life. I don’t drink or smoke – I exercise and I make sure I always have a good sleep!
Sean Choolburra will be performing at the Brisbane Comedy Festival in early May. Catch his solo show ‘World By Storm’ at Brisbane Powerhouse from May 5–8 and the Aboriginal Comedy Allstars on Friday May 6 and Sunday May 8.