Interview: Sam Simmons – Spaghetti for Breakfast
'They’d say, “oh, the stuff you do, it’s weird, it makes no sense”. It makes total sense for me, and this is why I do absurd comedy.'
This article is from 2015.
If things had worked out differently, Sam Simmons might have ended up becoming a zookeeper. As it is, the thirtysomething Australian has spent the last decade or so travelling the world as a self-styled professional idiot, brandishing an off-kilter brand of comedy that has confused and confounded many, even as it has reeled in critical acclaim and ever-larger audiences.
With his 2014 show, Death of a Sails-Man, being nominated for the Edinburgh Comedy Award following a previous shortlisting in 2011, Simmons returns this year with Spaghetti for Breakfast. This latest one-man extravaganza – which has already scooped the Underbelly Adelaide Award and the highly prestigious Barry Award in Melbourne – may take a nod at the inner world of its creator’s psyche, but it still allows full vent for his inner dickhead to explode into primary-coloured life.
‘There’s some very dark stuff,’ Simmons admits. ‘And it gets to the reason why I’m an idiot, which is to escape childhood stuff, but there’s nothing saccharine there. There’s nothing worse than seeing a show that’s saccharine. It has to be funny. It also came about from some quite weird experiences playing all the club rooms in London, where I got a lot of negativity from owners. They’d say, “oh, the stuff you do, it’s weird, it makes no sense”. It makes total sense for me, and this is why I do absurd comedy. Don’t get me wrong, I love stand-up but I don’t want to do it. Live comedy doesn’t just have to be about one thing.’
Simmons first started to develop his stage persona when he appeared at a benefit show put on by himself and some friends after another friend lost a handbag. ‘I got up and started being an idiot,’ he says. ‘But it wasn’t stand-up. It sounds vain, but I didn’t have this great ambition to get onstage and start telling all these jokes or anything like that.’
Simmons presented on Australian radio station triple j and interviewed bands on its small-screen offshoot before featuring in an anthropological mockumentary series (The Urban Monkey with Murray Foote) and a sketch-based show (Problems). While a sense of Simmons’ world beyond the stage can be gleaned in Wallstud, a three-episode series of miniatures for Channel 4’s Comedy Blaps strand, the roots of his oeuvre dates right back to a misspent youth watching endless re-runs of a cult 1970s British TV show.
‘The Goodies was on every night when I was a kid,’ Simmons reflects. ‘They showed them all the time, so it felt like it was on a loop for seven years. It would probably surprise a lot of people in the UK to learn that I think Monty Python was too weird for me, but I think I connected with The Goodies, and felt all three of them were in my body. If you could condense Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie into one body it would probably look a bit like me.’
The spirit of The Goodies is certainly evident in Simmons’ stage act, a manic potpourri of absurdist antics, fourth-wall breaking routines and sheer out-and-out puerility. Then there are the shared concerns with Bill Oddie, the ornithologist and nature documentary presenter. ‘I was training to be a zookeeper for years and then I left to do this,’ says Simmons. ‘But what I really want to do is make Attenborough documentaries. That’s the dream.’
Sam Simmons: Spaghetti for Breakfast, Underbelly Potterrow, 0844 545 8252, 8–30 Aug (not 17, 24), 9pm, £12.50–£14 (£11.50–£12.50). Previews 5–7 Aug, £7.50