Did you hear the one about . . .
Something funny happened on the way to the office for former accountant Leigh Chalmers.
He was dressed in a suit, walking along St Georges Terrace, when he was overwhelmed by his “non passion” for accounting.
So at the fork in the road, with a steady corporate job on one path and the uncertainty of a career in comedy on the other, he took the road less travelled.
Six years later, he now co-owns WA’s only talent agency for stand-up comedians, presenters, and other funny people, called Vulture Culture, and is cashing in on a global comedy boom.
Respected financial publication The Economist notes the stand-up comedy scene has recently thrived in countries like Britain while their economies have done the reverse.
WA currently has about 20 comedy rooms, a quarter of them established in the past year, compared with only three or four in 2008.
Mr Chalmers says this year’s annual comedy festival Rottofest attracted 1800 people, a four-fold increase since the inaugural event in 2009.
His business partner, Ronan Freeburn, says the growth in appetite for comedy was due partly to greater exposure to foreign comic content on TV and online.
YouTube had introduced a whole new generation to stand-up, prompting people to seeking out live forms of the entertainment.
“People share humour online a lot more now and that has created a demand for comedy, ” he says.
“Outside of the exposure, life is a lot more stressful than it used to be, and people need a release.”
The local scene has become more sophisticated, with the involvement of a new cohort of professionals, such as Mr Chalmers and Mr Freeburn, a marketing and advertising expert.
The scrappy posters and big barns of old have been replaced by media releases, slick promotional photographs and hip venues with superior sound quality.
“There is competition in this industry but it’s not overly aggressive, ” Mr Freeburn says.
“If another comedy operator isn’t going so well, we’ll share our knowledge to help them, because we know that in the long run, it will benefit everyone.”
Mr Chalmers says demand from the corporate sector has also boosted growth, with increasing numbers hiring comics for dinners, award presentations, development days and in the mining sector as on-site entertainment.
Transperth hired comics at South Perth’s Windsor hotel to promote its late-night ferry service, while jesters have also performed for Chevron, Blackburne Property Group, West Coast Entertainment and WA Rugby.
Zambrero’s recently called on Vulture Culture comics to perform in each of their 10 WA restaurants on one day for their “Stand-up and be Counted” charity campaign.
And it would seem the corporate world’s move towards stand-up comics at staff events may do more than boost morale with researchers at University of Warwick this year revealing a link between productivity and happiness. It subjected 276 people to 10 minute’s of stand-up comedy and found that one a scale of one to seven, there was an average one-point boost in happiness.
They then tested productivity through a simple yet taxing mathematical questionnaire that required effort rather than ability, and found those who had watched the comedy were 13 per cent more productive than a placebo group.
Despite the genre’s appeal, Mr Chalmers says only a handful of WA-based comedians manage to make a full-time living from the job.
The best in the business can command handsome rewards, with some 30 minute corporate gigs earning them up to $4000.
Comedy Shack owner Paul Dragan says attendance at his three venues has doubled since he started three years ago.
“You can make money from running a room but there are a lot of factors to consider, such as Perth being small in relation to the rest of the country, ” he says.
“But it has grown a lot in the last couple of years and people are seeking more live entertainment.”
Freelance comedy publicist and former club manager, Dianah Star, says the quality of local acts these days was also a major factor in its success.
“There was a turning point about five years ago I think when comics who could or should have gone east or overseas to further their careers decided, for whatever family or other reasons, to stay in Perth, ” she says.
“In most cases, it meant that they would to forgo fame.
“This is a really super talented bunch, equal to the names we do know who started here in Perth like Rove and Dave Hughes.”
Rowena O’Byrne-Bowland, the manager at Lazy Susan’s Comedy Den, says the venue sells out most of the three or four nights it runs each week, including Saturday’s Big HOO-HA improvised routine.
© The West Australian
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