It was the first of times, it was the worst of times. And continuing our recent theme of excellent Australian entertainers letting it all hang out over here, we welcome back Damien Warren-Smith, whose enthusiastic thespian Garry Starr is hunkering down at London's Southwark Playhouse for the whole festive season, like a one-man panto (that's definitely not for kids). He's bringing back the original masterwork, too.
"Garry Starr Performs Everything was the first solo show I ever created, and it very quickly took over my life," says Warren-Smith. "Before this I was working as a disgruntled actor in and around London, constantly on the lookout for new challenges. I discovered clown was a thing so took myself off to the Ecole Philippe Gaulier and haven't looked back."
And how would he describe his alter-ego?
"Garry Starr is a slightly higher status/lower intelligence version of myself. In this show he decides that theatre is dying and that the only conceivable way to save it is for him to perform every genre ever created. Alone. In under 60 minutes."
And save it he does. But how did Warren-Smith find himself in such a position? Let's step back in time.
Following clown school I formed a clown troupe called A Plague Of Idiots and we toured fringe festivals around the world. Garry Starr was the MC of this bunch of idiots so I never really thought of him as a solo performer. Then in 2017 I found myself living in Berlin and working as a group fitness trainer when Alexis Dubus emailed me to say Marcel Lucont was bringing Cabaret Fantastique to Berlin and would I like to do a spot.
I informed him I had never performed solo and he said, 'Just say yes and see what happens.' So I said yes and the next thing I knew Garry Starr was attempting to do as many genres of theatre as possible in his allotted five minutes in a tiny little Berlin bar in front of around 20 people. It was thrilling!
I then spent the next eight months gigging around Berlin until I had almost an hour, then I reached out to director Cal McCrystal and asked him to help me make it into a show.
Favourite show, ever?
I think the most memorable was the Unroyal Variety Show at the Hackney Empire. That was friggin awesome! Thanks, Jonny Woo.
I honestly don't think I've had a horrendous gig. There have been some sub-par performances, but I've never been booed off or heckled a huge amount, as Garry is such a lovable idiot. I tend to avoid the stand-up circuit and audiences are generally more supportive on the alternative comedy scene.
Which one person influenced your comedy life most significantly?
Spymonkey have probably influenced me the most. It was their production of Moby Dick back in 2010 at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh that ignited a flame under me. I didn't even know clown was a thing until I saw that and I was like a kid tasting candy for the first time.
And who's the most disagreeable person you've come across in the business?
I know I said I rarely do stand-up comedy gigs but I did jump on a lineup in Adelaide a few years ago and a dinosaur of the Australian comedy circuit was in the green room with a few of his lackeys hanging around.
He wasn't especially mean but just very dismissive. It was a real shame because I'd watched him on TV growing up. It turns out he didn't even remember meeting me at that gig and when he saw my solo show at the Melbourne Comedy Festival this year he was very complimentary.
Is there one routine/gag/bit you loved, that audiences inexplicably didn't?
In my latest show, Greece Lightning, I do a rap about Oedipus and the phrase 'Mother F*#cker' gets repeated dozens of times. I can see people's faces either light up or gape with horror. It's rather thrilling. I also once downed two litres of tomato juice on stage then threw up in the wings and that wasn't particularly well received.
Has this show - and Garry - evolved, since you first did it?
This is one of my main reasons for wanting to bring this show back to life! I feel like Garry has evolved so much and I can't wait to see how that influences my original show. If anything, I think it'll be nice to return to the simple, beautiful idiocy of this early work.
Any reviews, heckles or post-gig reactions stick in the mind?
My favourite audience heckle (if you can call it that) was a drunk woman in Adelaide one year who kept correcting my malapropisms before turning to her friend and saying, 'Bless him, he keeps getting his words wrong.'
How do you feel about where your career is at, right now?
I'm at a really exciting place in my career right now. Doors are opening which I didn't even know existed and I'm excited to see what is on the other side.