Aunty Donna came together by pure accident, now they’re one of Australia’s funniest trios

Aunty Donna came together by pure accident, now they’re one of Australia’s funniest trios

Image by Annelise Nappa
Words by Fergus Neal

Mark Bonanno from Aunty Donna talks about becoming internet famous, the origin story for Aunty Donna, and why it took eight years for it all to come together.

Aunty Donna are three boys with a comedy dream. In 2012, their debut show Aunty Donna in Pantsuits was nominated for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s Golden Gibbo award, and a string of accolades followed. Ever since the boys have been making viral videos such as Offloading Cake at the End of a Party, Always Room for Christmas Pud, and Bikie Wars, cementing them in Australian comedy folklore.

Mark Bonanno, Zach Ruane, and Broden Kelly serendipitously came together at the University of Ballarat’s Arts Academy, largely through Bonanno being an understudy in Ruane’s student play. Bonanno alludes to the way their onstage chemistry was uncovered by pure accident.

“I was a year below Broden and Zach. They were like the cooler older kids,” Bonanno says.

“The way I snaked my way in. It’s a classic Harrison Ford in Star Wars moment. Someone had written a student play which Zach was directing. Zach had cast Broden, and he knew that I was a bit of a wild card. He knew I could go from zero to one hundred if I needed to.

“He asked me to read lines for another actor with no intention of casting me. He said, ‘Can you just go for it, just to get the other actors fired up?’ So I did it and Zach suddenly thought, ‘Hmm maybe Mark might be right for one of these roles’. Then he put me in that play.

“So, the first time we ever worked together was in this different scenario where Zach was directing a play that Broden and I were acting in. What we all realised at that moment, was that we clicked.”

From humble student-theatre beginnings, Aunty Donna has now entered into the mainstream zeitgeist. Throughout the lockdown period, it seemed as though Aunty Donna had a trending video every few days and snippets of their sketches are often heard in passing conversations. When asked whether he’s aware of this progression, Bonanno laughs.

“Really? Care to elaborate? I did hear, and I don’t know if this is true. Somebody fucken told me that they worked on the set of Hells Kitchen and that Gordon Ramsay would reference [Aunty Donna show] Breakfast Goat. Whether it’s true or not don’t hold me to that, but somebody fucken told me.

“I think it’s the beauty of the internet where it gives you the chance to be international. We got recognised in Disneyland in America and it’s mind-blowing, it’s like how and why? But I guess that’s the power of doing comedy sketches online.”

Aunty Donna’s success almost seems like it happened overnight. However, it took sustained belief in an idea over a long period when their level of dedication and ticket sales weren’t necessarily correlating.

“Our early shows had barely any people. We’ve just been putting everything into this for eight years, genuinely everything. And have sacrificed everything and no one has wanted anything else other than the success of this group.

“We were lucky that we all put laser focus into this project and it’s managed to break through. We’ve never given it up. We’ve always believed in it, to an absurd degree, and that’s allowed us to go on and do this.”

We chatted to Aunty Donna in episode 10 of our Ferg Goes Live podcast. Give it a listen below:

Check out the other nine episodes of Ferg Goes Live via Spotify and Apple. You’ll find chats with Wil Anderson, Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph, DMA’s and more.

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