Who Is Austen Tayshus?

It’s been 30 years since Australiana took Australia – and indeed the world – by storm. Boasting an array of Australian puns, the comedy single broke a number of records at the time. Australiana topped the charts for eight weeks in 1983, became the first spoken-word record to receive high-rotation on FM radio, and became the highest grossing Australian single ever. To celebrate 30 years of the landmark hit record, Austen Tayshus has re-released Australiana digitally via iTunes, and commenced a massive 300-show tour around the country. Ahead of his July show at the Westernport Hotel, the confronting and provocative comedy legend chat to PEARL about the success of larrikinism and complexities of satire.

“At the time of Australiana’s release there was a strong wave of nationalistic patriotism and it had a lot to do with winning the America’s Cup, the success of Men at Work and Crocodile Dundee. All of that collaborated to make that a very patriotic time I think, and of course the fact that Australiana is not only quintessentially Australian, but also very funny. All of those things conspired to make it an across the board success because it appealed to dumb idiots and also very smart people.”

With Billy Birmingham penning the spoken track and Tayshus developing the one-liners into a routine through performance, Australiana thrust the comedian into the spotlight, something Tayshus says he never expected. Indeed, the larrikin humour of Australiana is not typical of the performer’s stand-up routine, his much edgier material proving a little harder to swallow for mainstream audiences.

“I split with Billy Birmingham in 1984 because fundamentally, we don’t have that much in common. I’m much more interested in shaking it up, upsetting people and challenging the status quo. I’m into satirizing culture and just being a troublemaker. That never sat too well with him.”

In his bid to shake things up, Tayshus has polarized many audiences and critics; something his says is typical when it comes to the reception of satirical humour in Australian culture.

“Just look at Chris Lilley – who’s like my grandson really – or Sasha Baron Cohen. People like us are always misinterpreted. What Chris Lilley is doing is just pointing out all the things that are wrong with this culture – the attitudes towards immigration etc. He may appear to be racist but I think it’s just the opposite. Similarly, I made a routine called Highway Corroboree, which was about Aboriginal people and really took this piss out of white people. A lot of Aboriginal people misconstrued it and thought I was having a go at them when I wasn’t. It’s really the art of satire, that’s what I’m into. Pushing the boundaries right to the edge, further than anyone else can, that’s what I’m on about.”

30 years is a long time to be in the stand up game and still have audience members walk out of shows in shock or appall. It’s natural to wonder if the misconstruing of his comedy as tasteless frustrates Tayshus, or whether the mantra of ‘you get it, or you don’t’ keeps the comedian going. While the provocateur has been candid in stating that he likes to push the audience as far as possible – if it means pushing them out the door, that’s great – he also admits that any criticism does hurt.

“Whenever you take something on it becomes a more difficult road, but that’s why you do it. That’s why artists are so important in a culture. The Court jester was always there to keep the King honest…if you can’t handle the heat, stay out of the kitchen!”

For those who like a little heat, Austen Tayshus will be performing at Westernport Hotel on Saturday July 5. The show will be presented by The Molly Room, a revolutionary ‘traveling venue’ concept that takes independent club’s spaces and transforms them using the same ‘theme’ and decorative elements. The harboring venue is taken to a new level of luxe, enhancing the experience of both patrons and artists alike.

For more information and tickets head to www.thewesternport.com.au and www.themollyroom.com.au



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