Like superheroes, stand up comics have their own unique origin stories.
For Prue Blake, it was two years ago when she was in a pizza cafe in Copenhagen, by chance listening to a Danish cover of Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’, when a text came through. It was her ex-boyfriend, after they broke up only a few days earlier.
“Something about that just clicked something in me,” she recalls.
“We broke up on a Friday. I booked flights that day, left on the Sunday, went to Copenhagen for a week and then came back committed to stand up comedy,” she says.
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The minute she was back in Melbourne, she had gigs booked and was set to be onstage that very week.
Her ex’s loss may very well turn out to be comedy’s gain, as this Sunday April 11, Blake will be playing the biggest gig of her career so far – onstage at the Melbourne Town Hall as part of the RAW Comedy National Grand Final. This year’s final will be hosted by Dane Simpson, with special guest appearances from Blake Freeman and Emma Holland.
Blake first cut her comedy teeth doing improv, first training with Impro Melbourne and then moving on to The Improv Conspiracy, where she was a player on their Harold team for three years. But stand up has now won her heart.
“I thought, ‘I need more of the limelight!’,” she laughs.
RAW Comedy, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s annual amateur comedian contest, can certainly provide that limelight, having previously launched some of the biggest names in Australian comedy – counting Hannah Gadsby, Ronny Chieng, Celia Pacquola, Matt Okine, Anne Edmonds and Aaron Chen amongst its alumni.
Blake has waited an entire year for this moment. She’d made it all the way through the heats and state finals last year before COVID-19 cancelled the festival.
He Huang is another Victorian RAW Comedy State Finalist who utilised the COVID delay to hone her skills. Huang had started stand up when she was studying in the US, before moving back home to China for a short stint, gigging in Beijing, then made the decision to “move to Australia for comedy” – settling in Melbourne in late 2019. “And then we had lockdown,” she says.
“I had just started my comedy [here], so during lockdown, I did actually have a lot of time to think about my comedy, to write comedy and to connect with a lot of comedians all over the world, like from Zoom comedy and other classes. I did actually learn a lot during lockdown,” Huang continues.
Growing up in a different culture with English as a second language, Huang says she’s been a devoted student of comedy, watching as much of it as she can and doing as many gigs as she could, “to understand what kind of jokes land here”.
After finding the Melbourne comedy community to be far more welcoming and encouraging than the open mic scene in the States, she’s wasted no time throwing herself into the festival this year, performing in two other shows: Crazy Broken Chinese with Sean Diao and Of Outsiders and Misfits, with Maren Whittaker and Olga Loitsenko. This is in addition to her appearance in the RAW Grand Final.
“I really appreciate what RAW comedy has brought to me so far. Everyone has been congratulating me wherever I go and I was really flattered to receive so much attention,” she says.
She may receive even more praise come Sunday night.
He Huang and Prue Blake will compete at the RAW Comedy National Grand Final on Sunday April 11. Secure your tickets here.