Suren Jayemanne has been in stand-up comedy for 10 years, and while that doesn't exactly make him a philosopher, it's taught him more than just how to leave a crowd in stitches.
The celebrated Sri Lankan-Australian stand-up is bringing his rave-reviewed show Industry Darling Adjacent to Melbourne International Comedy Festival, where he’ll show audiences why he’s now sorta, kinda on the verge of becoming a comedic household name.
Suren shared his experienced insights into the art of stand-up with us, and told us all about his new show and why fame isn’t the main aim of the game.
Keep up with Melbourne’s latest comedy news, reviews and interviews here.
Tell us about how you got into comedy, and your career so far?
It’s been 10 years since I started doing stand-up. It only hit me recently, because the last two or three years don’t really count. In the pandemic, time sped along and now I can say ‘I’ve been doing this for 10 years’ a little easier than if I actually had.
It was a surprise. I started in 2012, a couple of years into an accounting career, which was pretty dull and boring and I was sitting at my desk a lot.
I loved comedy as a kid, I always watching the Melbourne Comedy Festival Gala on TV and seen myself as an audience guy. Then I went to a couple of shows and saw myself among the audience and thought ‘I’m not like these people. I’m not one of them.’ I don’t remember what show it was – I think it might have been Lano and Woodley – but I remember sitting there thinking ‘I would love to be on stage’.
Was that the specific experience that inspired you?
It was either that or trying to impress a girl. One of those. I would have loved to say that I didn’t look back, but truth be told I stayed in accounting for a long time, doing amateur comedy as much as you can when you start out, which is very ad-hoc. The thing is, when you’re doing amateur comedy and starting out all your friends are very excited and they come see you and then you’re no good at it. And they’re like ‘Oh good on you for trying, that’s alright’ but they’ll stop coming. Now, 10 years down the track, I’m like ‘No, actually now I’m quite good at this’ but they’re like ‘Nah, we’ve seen you.’
Who was your support system starting out?
I met my girlfriend not long after starting comedy, we’ve been together nearly 10 years – so I was pretty successful early on if that was the goal. She’s been a rock, it’s been five or so years since I’ve just been doing comedy and writing…and that was a big leap to take and she was very supportive. That’s the answer I give knowing that she’s probably going to read this.
Who were you inspired by?
When I first got into comedy, I really liked dry one liner or absurd one-liner guys like Steven Wright, Mitch Hedberg, Dimitri Martin. I went from listening to albums and watching clips to spending a lot of time in comedy clubs. When you get into the live environment, that’s where the magic happens. David Quirk, Anne Edmonds, Celia Pacquola. I started to be a huge fan of local acts who are doing gigs around town. My style has evolved to try to be silly, but try to talk about issues that are topical, a bit like Nazeem Hussain or Ronny Chieng.
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How did you find your own voice and niche?
Comedy is weird because it’s the only artform…it’s probably not even an artform…the only thing that you try to do without a school you can go to. With music, there’s a school you can go to and a classical system you’re taught and then from there, you can break the rules or improvise and you know the framework you’re breaking. Same with most other art – the creativity comes after the structure. In comedy, it’s every man for himself, and the only way to learn is to do it to other people, the feedback teaches you. When people start doing comedy, everyone is mimicking somebody or some thing. The big journey comedians go on is breaking away and trying to find your own voice. Only in the past two years, have I felt like I’m speaking to my truth, my voice. It’s a fun journey to go on, and when you have a toolbelt, you can talk about what’s important to me.
How does your heritage as a Sri Lankan-Australian inform your comedy?
The other thing about comedy, it’s so great to be an outsider looking in and being able to poke fun at things other people wouldn’t have noticed. I was raised as an Australian kid, I was the only Sri Lankan kid at my school, so I was lucky to have a mainstream broad lens, then as I got older and became more interested in my cultural background, I was like an insider looking out and then looking back in. It allows me to poke fun at everything in a way that seems inclusive. Highlight the ridiculousness of things to try and bring people together.
Tell us about Industry Darling Adjacent, because the Comedy Festival website doesn’t give away a lot…
When you register a show on the website you do it so far in advance that I don’t even know what to expect. Industry Darling Adjacent is called that because I am not an industry darling, but a lot of my friends like Aaron Chen and Becky Lucas are now household names. So it’s just a fun play on that, I’m not an industry darling but I play chess with Aaron and squash with Sam Campbell and Sam Thornton so I’m just knocking on the door, I’m adjacent. It’s a collection of stand up that looks on my observations of the last couple of years. The ethos behind the show is finding joy in the work, not the outcome. I may not be an industry darling but I’ve realised that the joy is being in the industry, doing the work. But that doesn’t sound very funny. So I just say I play squash. It’s funny, punchy stand up. This is also the first year that I have some audio-visual – some short videos and slides – so I’m very excited to come and perform it in Melbourne. It should be first and foremost lots of laughs and then, I know comedians aren’t the new philosophers, but some philosophy.
Having the videos is just fun, it adds to it, and you want to create as much fun as you can for an audience.
You premiered this show at Sydney Comedy Festival nearly a year ago, how has the response been?
In Sydney it was really well received, had a lot of fun, and that was my introduction to AV and I’ve enjoyed it a lot so I’ve tried to make that a bigger part of the show. People have forgotten about Tiger King, so the Tiger King jokes have been scrapped…that’s the main change. People barely even remember Squid Game. Sourdough…jigsaw puzzles…I’ve got a scobie from a kombucha in my fridge that’s probably older than I am. The first lockdown, I did really lean into the end of the world…I was on board with it. I’d left accounting and started comedy and thought ‘You know what, we’ve all made mistakes, if this is the way the world ends, let’s go out together.’
I was a real man of leisure. Then everything went back to normal and I thought we did too good a job in Sydney because suddenly we were back in cafes and I was like ‘Were we…? I’ve committed to wearing a sarong now?’
To finish up, rapid-fire. Describe the show in three words?
Hilarious, thought-provoking…I mean that’s three words, but ah…um…I’m going to say inspiring. I don’t know if that’s true but it sounds good.
Suren Jayemanne brings Industry Darling Adjacent to The Westin Two at 205 Collins Street as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. His shows run from Thursday 31 March to Saturday 2 April from 7.40pm; Sunday 3 April at 6.40pm; Tuesday 5 April to Saturday 9 April at 7.40pm, and on Sunday 10 April at 6.40pm.
Buy tickets and find out more information here.