Phoebe Meredith, festival director, Brisbane Comedy Festival

Comedians are our community’s observers, they can put a mirror up to the world and show us the joy in sometimes the most banal everyday activity ...

The months of February and March are known as comedy season – the time where the country’s most hilarious stand-up performers take their new material on the road, performing to crowds all over the country. The Brisbane Comedy Festival is one of the marquee events on the yearly comedy calendar, with dozens of local, interstate and international acts making the pilgrimage to our city with the sole purpose of making us laugh. Although comedy is all about jokes and entertainment, it still takes a huge amount of work to piece together a top-notch program. Phoebe Meredith is one of the hard-working individuals responsible for curating the Brisbane Comedy Festival line-up, and her role as festival director gives her a unique insight into the state of contemporary Australian comedy. In the lead-up to the 2020 iteration of the Brisbane Comedy Festival – taking place between February 21 and March 22 – we had a chat with Phoebe about the program’s stand-out stand-ups, the state of the local scene and why comedy is such an important entertainment device.

From fake news to sozzled Shakespeare, the 2020 line-up is jam-packed with talent! What are some of your personal highlights of the program?
Jam-packed is right! Every single show is pretty much a highlight – it’s impossible to choose personal highlights! I am always very excited by artists that are in our smaller venues, as they are the stars of tomorrow, so I really encourage people to take a look at artists in the Rooftop Terrace, Park Mezzanine, Graffiti Room and The Outpost at Fortitude Music Hall – you will not be disappointed! I always love the opening gala – it’s great to have Action Aid’s Frocking Hilarious back and I’m also really looking forward to Speed The Movie The Play, here for the entirety of the festival – having a show do a season is pretty unusual for our festival. We’ve also changed our late-night offering ‘After Hours’ this year, I’m so looking forward to catching the rowdy fun of Chris Martins’ Improviser vs Stand-Up and Big Fork’s Singalong.

Bringing together 85 different acts into one program is no mean feat. What have been some of the challenges of curating the festival?
The jigsaw of the schedule is always the biggest challenge – I want to be able to include as many artists as I can in the festival, and I need to juggle their Brisbane Comedy Festival runs with the neighbouring Perth and Adelaide festivals along with other television and radio commitments. This year we had over 160 submissions made – there were so many amazing shows and artists to include, I really wanted to program them all!

How does a line-up such as this come together? Do you start with a blank page and create a wish-list or is it a bit more structured?
It’s a bit of both really! We put a call out for submissions at the end of July, so really any comedian or artist that has a funny show can tell us about it. Then, I work with interstate and local comedy promoters on who on their roster is doing a festival show. I also reach out to artists that I think would be a great fit for the festival, keeping my ear to the ground all year on who is making great comedy.

Mark Twain once mused that the human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter, what are your thoughts on the power of comedy?
Comedy is all about telling a good story, creating tension, then releasing that tension. It can be such a powerful tool to make you see something from a different perspective, contemplate something you have never experienced before, and allow you to laugh about something that you wouldn’t normally laugh at. I also really love sketch comedy and improvisation – the silliness of comedy. An artist can hold a room in silence, with just a smirk or a change in stance making an audience erupt in laughter. It’s important to see the funny side of life – comedians are our community’s observers, they can put a mirror up to the world and show us the joy in sometimes the most banal everyday activity. And laughing is so good for you!

One of the many great things about the line-up is that it presents some amazing international and interstate acts alongside homegrown talent. How do you feel about the local comedy scene? Is there anyone in particular we should have our eyes on?
Brisbane has a really vibrant and exciting comedy scene – some of the best established comedians have come out of Brisbane and Queensland. I’m constantly told that Brisbane has the best audiences of all the festival, because are just so ready for a laugh and a good time. The Travelling Sisters, Zack Dyer, Dan Rath, Alex Ward, Steph Tisdell all hail from Brisbane and are definitely worth checking out!

What is the best part about your job?
After pulling together the program and all the logistics of a festival for the best part of nine months, I love when festival time comes around. The buzz of people arriving to enjoy a festival that we have all worked so hard to put together, watching them have a good time, as well as seeing all the artists enjoy themselves, is definitely the best part.

Finally, if you could have a dinner party with anyone from the line-up, who would it be and why?
Nina Oyama – we did the same university degree a few years apart and I would love to trade war stories! The Stevenson Experience – I am a mother of identical twin boys and I would love some insider tips on what I’m in for as they grow up, and the ladies from Double Denim, because I know they know how to throw a good party!

The month-long Brisbane Comedy Festival is set to take over 14 performance spaces across five venues around town from February 21 to March 22, 2020. To view the full program and purchase tickets, click here.


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