Interview: Danielle Walker on the humour of ‘Nostalgia’ and how to make dark concepts funny

Interview: Danielle Walker on the humour of ‘Nostalgia’ and how to make dark concepts funny

Danielle Walker

Danielle Walker brings a unique stand-up style to Melbourne International Comedy Festival with her show 'Nostalgia'.

Walker grew up in regional Queensland, and her hilarious insights into rural Australiana provide the backbone for her new show Nostalgia, which she describes as a “scrapbook of stories about my family”.

She’s a former winner of the festival’s Best Newcomer award for her show Bush Rat, and an individual comedian, who relishes in the freedom stand-up offers. Walker mixes the profane and ridiculous, dark and light like few others can. We talked to her about how she developed her style and how she approaches her audience. Pigs, dugongs, roo-hunters and wind-chimes make an appearance.

Keep up with Melbourne’s latest comedy news, reviews and interviews here.

What inspired you to become a comedian?

I had lots of people – my friends, cousins – tell me I should do stand-up. I started watching it and then I moved to London and started going to a lot of clubs over there, so when I returned to Townsville I thought that was the perfect time to give it a go. I went into it with the idea that it was going to be my career from my first gig, which I think is sort of a psychopath move. I get obsessed with hobbies and go into everything like it’s going to be with me forever.

Did you notice the differences or similarities between English and Australian stand-up?

It takes me awhile to wrap my head around things sometimes. There was nobody who I wanted to be like, which was good for me because I could immediately be myself. A lot of people in comedy spend their first few years being an amalgamation of their favourite comedians, whether I was lucky because I didn’t have much of a comedy education, I didn’t have anyone I was trying to emulate.

How has Townsville influenced your writing?

I grew up on the outskirts in Bluewater, my grandparents lived in Tully which is a few hours north. I take influence from small town Australia and the characters that come out of those places. I think people from small places are almost cartoon-like to city people because they have strange things happening. My uncle Billy had a cassowary that he used to hand-feed, but the way he’d call it out of the rainforest was banging a wind-chime made out of forks and spoons. There’s just crocodiles around. My uncle Peter was a roo-shooter but he also culled brumbies from helicopters. My mum had me young and he was younger, just 18 when I was little, and his bedroom was full of animal heads on the walls which was a weird thing to have in a normal Queensland weatherboard house – a weird trophy room. Naked women on calendars, so the two ends of the spectrum.

Did you find the freedom of comedy has kept it fresh? 

Nobody has outlines of what comedy is. There are genres but I was listening to a podcast and [SNL writer] Julio Torres, who studied architecture, was talking about it and saying ‘I don’t know if that’s a building or a joke’ and that’s the way I like to think of it. I have other elements – sculptures, drawings, sound-things, videos, it doesn’t matter in a show. You’re just on stage, you can do whatever you want.

We’ve noticed that dugongs are brought up quite often…why? 

I don’t know…I have two bits in everything I’ve ever done where I’ve mentioned dugongs. I thought they were funny and put them in there. I also mention pigs and my grand-dad weighing more.

What can the audience expect from Nostalgia?

It’s a lot of stories about my family. I went up there to spend a lot of time with them the past few years and film them, so that when they’re gone I have enough stuff to hopefully remember them by, and not have any questions left unanswered. That turned into its own thing, which had a different outcome, which I think is really nice in the show. I definitely still do poke fun at them, I just find them inherently insane, but that’s part of it – we’re all the sum of our parts. I can’t see that I’m insane until I have time to process it, and look back and think ‘Oh no, you are crazy too.’ I went up for Christmas and took my partner, and driving around I was always like ‘You know there used to be a fish and chip shop on that corner’ and they were like…’What have you become?’

Do you ever have a joke that you love not work repeatedly, and have to say the hard goodbye? 

That’s a hard thing, because I’ll often refuse to believe the audience is right, and I’ve done that a few times and work out that it is just about where you put the jokes. I can’t do certain jokes in a five-minute set but I can put them 40 minutes in because the crowd knows me by then and they’re comfortable with darker concepts. It depends if you’re doing comedy for yourself – which I think is the way you have to do it – then if you have a one-minute bit that’s there for you, if the crowd are invested in you and it makes you have a good time, then it’s on you.

How do you build trust in an audience, to be able to tackle darker concepts?

It’s about trying to make sure you have enough good grace with your audience, enough light and dark, so at no point you’re just driving them into this hole in the ground. They know there’s light and shade to it at all, and that makes it funnier. If it’s all light, then what’s the point, but if it’s all dark it’s like ‘Jesus Christ’.

Rapid-fire: three words to describe Nostalgia?

Hmm. You want to say funny, but then obviously, it’s comedy. So it is of course funny. I would say surprising, funny and lovely.

Danielle Walker’s Nostalgia is playing at Melbourne International Comedy Festival at Comedy Republic at 231 Bourke Street from Thursday 31 March to Sunday 24 April. Book tickets and find out more info here.