Melbourne based funny man Lawrence Leung, is not your average stand up comedian. As a comedian, writer and producer has done lots of comedy, Award winning Fringe shows around the country and overseas, he wrote for The Chaser, has done three TV shows of his own, a big production movie based on his autobiographical first ever solo show Sucker and continually produces really interesting outlets for his work in hilarious and intelligent ways. You might have seen him in Offspring as Dr Elvis. You may have caught his TV shows like Choose Your Own Adventure and Unbelievable, or the reluctant martial arts comedy Maximum Choppage. Part of his charm with these shows is his combination of child like wonder and innocence, laser precision intelligence, comic timing and putting himself into all manner of ‘fish out of water’ situations were to flounder or triumph is equally hilarious.
He is one of the smartest humorists out there. He wants to bend your brain and he’ll make you laugh your head off while he is lighting the fuse. Now you can see his latest live show in Adelaide as he brings Very Strange Things to Adelaide for one night only on Thursday Oct 12th at Nexus Arts Venue. Lawrence took time out to have a hat with us. Thanks Lawrence!
Your stand-up shows are rarely the traditional set up, exposition, punchline, rimshot version of stand up. You’ve done shows about your attempts to win a break dance contest, your quest to get a jetpack, your obsession with puzzles and Rubik’s Cubes and even your first solo show Sucker was about card sharks, con artists and sleight of hand. Does all of your comedy come from your real life?
I guess my comedy isn’t the typical idea people have of Aussie stand up. I love the unconventional and the unusual. Perhaps I am a bit of a geek but I find my shows have intense amounts of nerdy research. I have found my audiences love coming on the ride and being taken in unusual directions. Sometimes my shows have been about something from my life that I’ve had an unhealthy relationship with, like the Rubik’s Cube.
Other times I will chase a curious interest like meeting old men around the world who build home-made jetpacks. Sometimes the show will be hidden therapy for me. My show “Lawrence Leung Learns to Breakdance” started off as a fool’s quest to try to become a bit less uncool. It ended up having a season at the Opera House which was about the coolest thing I had ever done. Without sounding too wanky, I want to take audiences on a kickass journey on top of stringing a list of fart jokes together.
Sucker was made into a very good feature movie, (starring British actor Timothy Spall from Harry Potter, Auf Weidersehen Pet, etc.) in 2015. How was that experience for you?
Sucker was based on my very first solo show from ages ago. When I started performing the show, people used to come up to me and say “This should be a movie!”. It’s not as easy as that sounds. After a decade of slogging away, pitching and re-drafting scripts, somehow the stars aligned and Timothy Spall agreed to play the lead (I’m told he read the screenplay on a yacht in the Mediterranean). Making the film was wonderful and surreal. If I could go back in time, I would tell a younger Lawrence: “Don’t give up because one day, you will make this show into a movie starring an actor from the Harry Potter films!” And my younger self would scream: “OH MY GOD! THIS IS AWESOME NEWS! The Harry Potter books are going to be made into movies!”
My younger self is an idiot.
Was it weird having somebody else (internet sensation John Luc) play you on screen? Has it made you want to turn any of your other work into features for the big screen?
John Luc did a great job! It was hard finding the right person to cast and he brought vulnerability and humour to the role. When we first started looking there weren’t as many Asian actors as there are now coming through drama schools or making films online, so we used to hand out flyers to potential talent in Chinatown. Of course, we only realise how dodgy it was in hindsight! We were literally going up to young Asian boys in the street saying: “Would you like to be on camera in our movie called SUCKER…”
Your work on TV often plays the long game, is it difficult for you to keep your live show in a tight package of usually just an hour?
Yeah, sometimes one hour is not enough to pack in all the stories and geekiness. However, it’s best to leave people wanting more than wanting less.
Your new show is billed as part stand up part psychology lecture, how does that work?
VERY STRANGE THINGS is my new hour that I’m bringing to Adelaide. It’s a comedy show about mystery, the unknown and why some people are sceptics and others are believers. It’s based partly on my ABC1 documentary series UNBELIEVABLE in which I travelled the globe, sleeping in haunted castles and hunting UFOS and testing psychics – a quest to see if the truth was really “out there” or just in our heads.
Fans of that TV series will know that I am obsessed with the history and clandestine techniques of psychic fraudsters and charlatans. So the live show will also involve some fascinating mind-games, psychological illusions and uncanny coincidences like audience members guessing each others PIN numbers. I’ve taken the show around the country and it’s interesting to see some audience members freaking out. Someone once described VERY STRANGE THINGS as a ‘real-life episode of the Twin Peaks’. I think that’s a compliment.
A lot of your work has a psychological element to it, with subjects like the supernatural, magic, detective work and even gaming, giving you opportunity to play with people’s perceptions, pre-conceptions and even trust and betrayal. How important is it for you for these shows to be not ‘just’ stand up?
Super important. I studied psychology and cinema at uni and have been writing TV and live shows for many years now. The more deeply I get involved in these interests, the more I realise that they are entwined. Great stand up, storytelling and con artistry follow the same rules of expectation, empathy and surprise. It’s all psychology.
You appeared in Offspring, as Dr Elvis Kwan, do you get Offspring audience coming along to your live shows and what do they make of it?
I don’t know. What does an Offspring fan look like? I’ll keep a look out for more women in my crowds.
Lawrence Leung brings Very Strange Things to Adelaide for one show only on Friday Oct 12th at 8pm at Nexus Arts Venue.
Tickets and info at www.LawrenceLeung.com
Interview by Ian Bell