Rhys Nicholson on why Aussie comedians are upping their game before Replay Festival

Rhys Nicholson on why Aussie comedians are upping their game before Replay Festival

Rhys Nicholson
Words by Niam Hegarty

Dedicated Melbourne comedy venue Comedy Republic are hitting replay on the most talked about shows of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

That means the award winners, the sold-out seasons, the critics’ favorites, and the indie masterpieces coming back for one last hurrah.

The all-star program features some of the biggest names in Australian comedy, alongside the best breakthrough comedians to arrive on the scene. To top it all off, Comedy Republic have partnered with Stomping Ground to bring Laughing Matter Pale Ale back to the venue exclusively.

We spoke to award winning comedian and co-owner of Comedy Republic, Rhys Nicholson, about what to expect from the upcoming festival and the rise of Australian comedy more broadly.

Read Melbourne’s most comprehensive range of features and interviews here.

It turns out, unsurprisingly, that Nicholson has been rather busy. Most recently, they’ve taken out the 2022 Melbourne International Comedy Award for Most Outstanding Show for Rhys! Rhys! Rhys! They also have a stand-up special on Netflix – Live at the Athenaeum – and Rhys was recently a co-host on Ru Paul’s Drag Race Down Under.

Somehow amidst their chaotic schedule, the idea arose for Replay Festival.

“Well, one of the first ideas we had when we were putting shows together for Replay is that the Melbourne International Comedy Festival ends and we couldn’t think of any other spaces where these shows can go,” Rhys explains.

“People spend a really, really long time on these shows and after the festival ends they just kind of die. And you can’t see everything, people often miss things at the festival so Replay is, kind of, a rebound festival where some of the best acts of Melbourne Comedy Festival can come and do their shows again.”

Rhys also explains Comedy Republic to the uninitiated: “Melbourne is famous for great comedy but they’re always kind of bar shows, Comedy Republic is a dedicated comedy space. I just remember Judith Lucy standing at the back of a show at a bar and I was thinking ‘Judith Lucy doesn’t need to be standing at the back of a bar’ so we started looking at places.

“Often with comedy we have a room that has shitty seating for the audience or bad conditions for comedians where they are kind of hiding in the toilet before their set. So what we’ve done with Comedy Republic is create a nice space for the audience and the artists. We serve nice cocktails.

“Comedy is an important art form for me, and we want to get to a place where we’re treating it like that as opposed as just a way for a pub to make money.”

This is the second year of Replay Festival and kicks off with Lloyd Langford’s DILF show on June 25, a new hour of stand up from the finest Welsh comedian currently working in Australia.

One of the most interesting aspects of Replay Festival is the all-star event Best In Show: Award Winners and Nominees Showcase that will collate MICF’s high achievers. This show is a one-night only event on July 6.

Award winners Frankie McNair, Bronwyn Kuss, Alex Hines, and Charlie Lewin lead the pack, along with the brilliant award nominees Mish Wittrup, Sunanda Sachatrakul, and Ashley Apap.

Replay Festival’s Best In Show showcase lineup

Frankie McNair
Winner – Best Newcomer 2022
Bronwyn Kuss
Winner – Director’s Choice Award 2022, Nominee – Best Newcomer 2022
Charlie Lewin
Winner – Best Newcomer 2021
Alex Hines
Winner – Golden Gibbo Award 2022
Mish Wittrup
Nominee – Best Newcomer 2022
Nominee – Best Newcomer 2022
Ashley Apap
Nominee – Golden Gibbo Award 2022

Rhys also gave a shout out to Scout Boxall and their show Buck Wild that runs on Thursday July 7. Following an acclaimed season at MICF, Scout returns with their trademark manic energy for an encore performance of Buck Wild.

Directed by Michelle Brasier, Buck Wild is an immersive hour of carefully organised cerebral chaos with interwoven stand up, stories and original songs that defies genre, gender, commonsense and the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual’.

Meanwhile, the immersive theatre experience of Ultimate Hollywood Tours: Ben Russell and Maggie Looke comes highly recommended.

Ben Russell and Maggie Looke will take you on an immersive comedy theatre experience, transforming a back alley of Melbourne’s CBD into hot and steamy LA. You will meet the stars and fallen stars of Hollywood in an intimate setting. Ultimate Hollywood Tours is small and different, just like its performers. The performance will take place in all-weather as Hollywood happens to be undercover.

Rhys also mentions that best newcomer Mish Wittrup with her show Soy Fat White is a show not to be missed. Her first solo show Mish’s show Soy Fat White is essentially the inner ramblings of a 30-something that should really be a 20-something but somehow lost about 10 years of her life to sex, men, bad movies, and minimum wage office jobs.

And, of course, there’s Rhys! Rhys! Rhys!, the universally-acclaimed  show from Rhys himself. Rhys notes that while they hadn’t performed for a few years and were somewhat nervous to take the stage, they were utterly chuffed with the accolades it’s received.

“It’s the happiest I’ve ever been with a show and the last time I’d been on stage was filming my Netflix special in November 2019, so it had been a while and I was really terrified to be honest.

“Due to Covid, I think there has been a lack of buzz around Comedy Festival shows in recent times because I think buzz comes from other performers going to each other’s shows and meeting up afterwards and saying, ‘Oh my god did you see, so and so’s show’?”

Rhys, rather modestly given they were a perennial favourite, says their win for Most Outstanding Performance came as a complete shock.

“I was at a friend’s house for dinner and we were checking Twitter thinking someone from the venue would be nominated and then when my name came up I was, like, ‘Oh fuck’ and proceeded to get really drunk.

“I’m really happy about the jokes-per-minute, I really love jokes and I this is the most jokes-per-minute I’ve ever had in a show.”

After all the scene has endured, it will be relief to many to hear Rhys – as one of the faces of Melbourne comedy – say the local scene is in an excellent place, and the best in the country.

“People go to shows here, you don’t have to trick them into going to shows, people are really supportive and open,” they say.

“[The pandemic] meant for the first time in a long time the comedy festival audience was more focused on locals and it meant all the awards and nominations this year were local Australian comedians.

“It’s been really lovely and heartening to see the paying public really get behind acts. It means that it’s pumped up a generation, everyone’s had to raise their game and has gotten a lot better in the last two years.”

Replay Festival runs at Comedy Republic from June 22 to July 22. You can check out the full jam-packed program here.

This article was made in partnership with Replay Festival.