The 26th of January is a dry day for soppy national sentiment. I had been assigned an interview with the founding members Andrew Portelli, Vidya Rajan and Charlotte Otton of the abstract sketch comedy group Only The Human. Judging by their absence of blue and white garb, star spangled ink and general intoxication it can be assumed that these three performers were as indifferent to the date as I was.
The Rotunda Review of the 2015 TODD performance described speeches eating themselves, men being lubricated with baby oil, and a depraved shopping network. What other colorful performances can we expect from the ever-explorative, border-stretching sketch that is TODD for 2016?
Vidya: The baby oil will be returning, as well as the shopping network. There is also a human BuzzFeed article, a chronicle of cop shows that disintegrates to involve the audience, and possibly the saddest bingo game in history.
Are you excited to be running TODD at Paper Mountain for the first time, rather than your previous venue the Velvet Lounge? Why the change of location?
Andrew: Previously the Velvet Lounge allowed us to do three sets of TODD performances throughout 2015, which were the prototypes for TODD 2016. The Velvet Lounge was a very dingy, fun venue. Paper Mountain has given us a lot of opportunities to do things – new things.
This year, because it’s Fringe, everything has become bigger and more polished. We have added a new element to the show – an interactive gallery – as a way to set the audience up and put them in the frame of mind to enjoy the performance.
Vidya: One of the main differences from TODD 2015 is that there is going to be an interactive exhibition before the actual show starts at 7:30. From 7-7:30 there will be several exhibits in the gallery – for instance, there will be a silent auction. But it will be on items that you would not usually associate with auctions!
You described the transformations being done to the Paper Mountain Gallery as creating a “living womb of laughs” – could you be nesting in preparation for the arrival of the TODD child?
Vidya: Yes! we have nested jokes to the walls of the building so the moment everyone comes in they can enjoy a comedic experience.
Is it all comedy or will there be some slow singing, flower bringing, dark elements to this performance?
Andrew: It’s comedy all the time… But it’s dark. All our influences are edgy comedy – maybe you’re familiar with the Upright Citizens Brigade or Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind. Those kinds of sketch comedies that have a lot of pointed things to say about society, but are also silly strange and funny, and, like the internet, you may see a joke or two about depression.
Vidya: There will be a “Choose Your Own Adventure” game about depression.
To what extent are the performances that make up TODD reflective of the personalities behind the Only The Human crowd? Do many of your members find it difficult to become their characters on stage?
Andrew: The show is intensely personal. Vidya and I have written a lot of the performances, which greatly reflect our sense of humour, but which is skewed towards stuff like Tumblr, ClickHole – it’s all very dark and memes-ey.
Charlotte, in 2014 you were awarded a scholarship to travel to Chicago and New York to study improv and sketch writing with groups such as Second City, Improv Olympic, and Upright citizens. Vidya you also travelled to Chicago in 2014. In what ways did the trip bolster you and Vidya’s performing ability?
Charlotte: I think that the trip just rounded me as a performer. It also gave me the validation that improv was what I wanted to do. A lot of people start out thinking that they want to act or are unsure. Like many people that was my first interest; and then you realize you may not be the best actor, and that you prefer comedy.
Vidya: It was a good way to solidify inclinations that this was what I wanted to do, and this is what I am good at. I think in America there is a very good model because the improv actors also write and there is a lot of transference between writing and the stage.
Charlotte as “regulator of laughs” what is it you will be bringing to the project other than what is described as a “comically ceremonial and stern atmosphere”?
Charlotte: Jesus, that line of questioning …. Well I have a pretty clear idea of the character I’m going to be bringing in and how that ties in with the show and she is definitely influenced a lot by this TODD character that shall remain a mystery to the audience. That thread remains throughout the show and I hope to bring the LOLs and few ROFLs, but not too many because there is not a lot of space to roll.
How do you say Only The Humans compares to the rest of the Perth comedy scene on spectrum of strangeness? Who do you like?
Vidya: There are lots of stand up acts in the Perth scene. We really like Giant Dwarf in Sydney, and Magnolias and Infinite Jest in Perth. But improv is still very new here – that’s why we started Only The Human.
‘Todd Asked Me Out’ debuts at the Paper Mountain Gallery on February 11. Tickets available here.
Interview by Reuben Wylie