Queensland comedian Jacques Barrett is back at Perth Comedy Festival with three shows from Thursday, May 10 to Saturday, May 12 at The Hellenic Club. His new show Lowest Common Dominator puts a comedic spin on resolving the unpleasant divisions developing in Australian society. Whether it be between the left and the right, working class and middle class or a take on the unsightly gender gap, he’s not afraid to ruffle a few feathers on his way through. But when BRAYDEN EDWARDS spoke to Jacques Barrett, he was quick to point out the new show is still true to his signature irreverent and unapologetically Aussie style.
So your new show Lowest Common Dominator is described as having more of a contemporary social and political message to it than what we might be used to from you. What led you down that path?
Well I’ve made it sound like it’s a goddamn TED talk haven’t I? I really should have included there with a little asterisk that there’s still plenty of dick jokes. Just so everyone knows they’re going to have a decent time. The show is about bringing vastly different groups together and finding what we all have in common and going on from there. It’s true there are gaps opening up everywhere in our society. There’s left versus right, working class versus middle class, gender pay gaps – it’s brutal. I’m just trying to find a way through comedy to keep everyone together.
So why comedy and more specifically, why you? What can you bring to this dilemma?
Well I grew up in country Queensland but spent most of my years since in the city. When you spend most of your formative years in the bush and then come to the city you do see the merits of both and where people are coming from.
I guess you can’t just choose your friend group in the country the way you can in the city…
Yeah, and for me my mum was middle class dad was a pretty solid working class guy so coming from that pressure cooker environment I’ve learnt over time the ability to be diplomatic, hear everyone’s arguments and accept that they’re all legitimate. Especially that no one’s evil, no one’s the villain but then no one’s the good guy either. Seeing someone who doesn’t think the way you think and immediately calling them wrong, is wrong.
So did comedy seem like a natural path to take coming from that environment?
Well for starters I’m a bit of an idiot, bit of a clown. I’ve been that way all my life so I figured why not try and make a living out of it? I think for the first seven years or so I probably got the money that I deserved from it though. It was more of a hobby then. But focusing on making people happy has always been a thing for me. Whenever there was conflict in my house comedy was always useful at diffusing the situation. It’s a great leveller.
I’m so fucking lucky that when I was kid I worked out if I made jokes while I was getting bullied they realised it wasn’t having the effect they wanted. I mean how could it if I was just laughing? Every bad situation in my life I used comedy to calm things down and most of the time it works. So I thought why wouldn’t it work for these huge world scale problems as well? I’m not expecting to change the world or anything, just trying to do my part.
You definitely own where you’ve come from and your humour seems pretty reflective of someone from country Australia. But you’ve done a recent run of shows across the world that includes Eastern Europe, South Africa and South-East Asia – just to name a few. How does your flavour of humour go in places that are quite culturally different from here?
That’s why they call me the lowest common dominator my man. It’s all about finding those things that all humans have in common. The good thing and bad thing is that Australian culture is a known and marketable stereotype. Also, Australians travel a lot meaning every city you go to there’s going to be Australians there and unfortunately they’re going to be loud and unfortunately people from that country are already going to have a vibe about what Australians are like. My goal when I go overseas is to let the world know that although they might have heard about or seen Australians being loud and pissed and obnoxious fuckwits, we’re not all like that. It’s just that those types are more likely to be noticed.
Then there’s always more universal material to move into. It is quite a great change but you do lose a lot of stuff that only really makes sense to an Australian-centric audience. The most universal stuff that I’ve got is literally just dick jokes. Plus you can talk about sex, parents, or stories about stupid things you’ve done. That stuff is universal. No matter what language or culture if there’s a guy onstage telling a story of how he fell on his arse, metaphorically or literally – they’re going to laugh.
So in comparison to that how does it feel coming over here for the Perth Comedy Festival?
I’m really looking forward to it. One of best mates lives in Scarborough and whenever I come over we just bro out and run riot for the weeks I’m here. Perth is a highly underrated city and best of all the people appreciate that you’ve come there. There’s no snobbery like people being “oh you come from the East Coast, you think you’re better than us?” It’s more like “Thanks for coming, really…hope you enjoy your time here.”
Well it is a long way. Most of us know what’s required to head to the East Coast from here so we appreciate that somewhat.
Yeah I just wished people in fucking London were the same and appreciated the 24 hour flight it takes to get there. They just look at you and go “great…another Australian.” Pieces of shit (laughs).
I’m sure the travel circuit can be a bit of a grind so how do you stay on top of it all? How do you spend your time outside of comedy?
Well I’m still often writing or reading or travelling but it’s the physical kind of travelling and not the fun kind. I also fall down Youtube rabbit holes all the time too. I’ll sit down when I’ve got a few minutes to spare and think I might as well watch a cheeky video or two. My life’s got infinitely more productive when I disabled the automatic ‘play next video’ function. If you want to really do something with your life it’s a must, but then it’s not really a life worth living if you can’t just spend four goddamn hours watching whatever.
I was awake until 3am the other morning just watching clips of old people falling down. I’d like to say it was something I stumbled across accidentally but then I think that was exactly what I looked up in the first place admittedly. It’s amazing. The rabbit hole never ends. Whether it’s intentional or not, the world of humour out there is infinite.