Education International
Education International

You’re having a laugh

published 5 June 2008 updated 5 June 2008

The toughest audience can’t hold a candle to Year 9 on a wet Friday afternoon. That’s why so many teachers are a hit at this year’s comedy festival.

Twelve years of teaching was the perfect grounding in crowd management—which is basically what comedy’s all about, says Damian Callinan, now one of Australia’s premier comics. Teaching Year 8s in Broadmeadows was like doing four shows a day, he says. In fact, when his first attempt at stand-up bombed, at least he could think, “Well, I’ve had worse lessons” and get back on the horse. Callinan is one of a number of past and present teachers who are taking the stage at this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, which took place in April. But while teaching honed his resilience, staff meetings were the real test of his wits. Those “exercises in self-indulgence and grandstanding” were the arena where Damian practiced “the one delicately shaped barb that would bring the whole thing down”. While education remains one of his passions, Damian’s latest show moves into less salubrious territory. Inspired by a memorable visit to a Melbourne drinking hole, Last Drinks will combine Damian’s talents as a stand-up, storyteller and character actor to dissect the worlds of gangland and pub culture. If you’re after something a little more wholesome then try Halley Metcalfe’s Shout Hallelujah? C’mon, Get Happy. The Lilydale High School teacher says her first solo show doesn’t contain any material that might offend her grandma. Mind you, her grandma is a former prison warden. According to Halley, there are plenty of parallels between teaching and comedy. Both require standing up in front of a crowd, shouting down the hecklers, and keeping a sense of humour about it all. “Kids are much more critical than audiences,” she says. “At least audiences are polite. Kids are like (sarcastically): ‘Ah, yeah… that’s great, Miss’.” Teaching drama is a particularly great source of material, she adds. “Let 20 kids into a room without tables and they just go mad.” Both teachers and comedians “have to be a bit cocky”, she adds. And they tend to be cynics. As did Halley, until she discovered a love of teaching and “became disgustingly optimistic”. Hence her show, which asks: Does changing our attitude change our life? “People are going to walk out thinking, ‘I don’t know what that was all about. She’s one confused lady!’” Hayley warns. Yianni Agisilaou has become a hit on the UK comedy circuit, but 20 years ago he was a Grade Four student at a Hawthorn primary school being told to “get back in his box”. “Maybe you’d like to teach the class?!?” were his teacher’s exact words — and the name of Yianni’s show. For a moment he entertained the thought, before wimping out. But, armed with two decades of life experience, Yianni is back and ready to teach the class. “Out go quadratics, the periodic table and Venn diagrams,” he says. “In come the tricks advertisers use to con you out of your money, acceptable uses of profanity and a show stopping mathematical proof that manages to combine love, threesomes and the meaning of life.” If any maths teachers see it they’ll pick holes within the first ten minutes, he admits. Teacher friends have already torn him to shreds for his technological ignorance. Envisaging himself standing in front of blackboard, Yianni asked a couple of mates if he could borrow one from their school. They cracked up. “So I asked if they have a whiteboard and they still laughed in my face.” He asked them what they were using in schools these days. “They said, ‘We don’t even have boards, Yianni. We just put little electrodes on our heads and the kids receive the knowledge.’ So I know all about interactive whiteboards now!” By Rachel Power AEU News

This article was published in Worlds of Education, Issue 26, June 2008.