/ interview

A Man and his Puppet (Who is also a Man)

Australian comedy duo Sammy J and Randy return to this season’s Fringe in Sammy J and Randy Land – and their writing muscles seem toned from the two years they’ve spent on their ABC series Sammy J & Randy in Rickett’s Lane, which aired on iView last September.

“Making TV was like a writing boot camp, and now I think we’re a bit fitter,” says Randy.

Sammy: We thought it was the least we could do to return to Adelaide and see whether anyone in Adelaide watched our TV show. The ABC are notoriously difficult to get statistics out of, so we don’t know whether Adelaide was the one state where nobody watched our show, or if there’ll be a confetti ticket-tape parade down Rundle Mall for us when we arrive. So it’s a glorious mystery.

Sammy J and Randy clearly have a lot of love for the Adelaide Fringe – their theatre shows Rickett’s Lane (2010), Bin Night (2011) and The Inheritance (2012) all debuted here before moving on to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe.

But the duo have been on hiatus since 2012, instead making solo Fringe appearances in shows like The Sammy J Songbook and Randy Writes A Novel. (The latter of which I called, in my Heckler review, “the most surprisingly profound show by a purple puppet since Henry the Octopus did Hamlet”.)

So it’s pretty exciting that their Fringe show this year will see the original pianist/puppet pair reunited. “We’ve done a few years of best-of songs and so on, but this is a return to full theatre stupidity,” says Sammy J.

Randy: It’s been four years since we’ve taken a full theatrical show to Adelaide, and Adelaide’s always the place we would open our big theatrical shows over the years, so it’s nice to be bringing back what we think is a pretty schmick show for this year’s Fringe.

In this year’s show, Sammy J and Randy have borrowed three million dollars and opened a theme park. “What could possibly go wrong?” the Fringe Guide asks with a knowing wink. Their previous Fringe shows have resolved themselves through murder, fraud, theft, drug dealing, embezzlement, assault, tax evasion and identity theft.

This year’s show seems bound for an even madder cathartic romp than we’ve seen before – while continuing, at its heart, the same tragic tale of friendship and disaster the duo have been telling for the past six years.

“Are there any new major crimes for this year’s show?” I
asked (after presenting them with the above list).

Sammy J: No, but I think it’s the first to include all of those in one show.

Randy: Wait no, there’s nudity! We haven’t had this much nudity before.

Sammy J: Although to be fair that is just a cameo from our director Alan Brough.

Alan Brough, best known as one of the team captains on ABC’s Spicks and Specks, directed Rickett’s Lane and Bin Night in 2010 and 2011. And when these shows were adapted into the Rickett’s Lane ABC TV series in September, the director’s chair stayed in the family – all six episodes were directed by Jonathan Brough, Alan’s brother.

Now, having Alan back is “like getting the band back together”, says Randy.

Randy: [Alan] had a brief hiatus – I don’t know if you know, but he converted to Buddhism and went and hid out in a cave in Nepal for about two years, and just really found himself, and now he’s back –

Sammy J: You’ve read the press release. You know Alan wrote that himself, don’t you?

Randy: Oh, so what’s the truth? What’s the true story of Alan Brough?

Sammy J: He moved to England and hosted a panel show.

Randy: Oh, I didn’t see that, what was it called?

Sammy J: The First Leg.

In fact, one of the episodes of their TV show Rickett’s Lane was based on a Fringe show directed by Brough, 2011's Bin Night. I asked if that made the episode any easier to write.

Sammy J: You know, we genuinely thought that was going to be the easiest one, so we sort of put it off – and it easily, by far, was the hardest one to write.

At first, we were just trying to convert the live show into a TV format, and it just did not work at all, so it basically became a very different beast with a few of the same jokes and the same premise. But that was a good lesson, realising that they’re such different forms. That stage show was pretty weird – there was a section where there was a minute of silence, which doesn’t really translate on the TV.

Randy: It was certainly the hardest one to get over the line, in terms of convincing people that it would work with just the two of us on screen for the whole time. None of the other major characters are in that episode – we have a couple of little cameo moments, but the rest of it is just Sammy J and Randy.

So getting the dodgy execs to trust us, and give Sammy J and Randy a whole half an hour of television just screaming at each other, that was interesting.

Sammy J: But we got it over the line, baby.

Randy: Don’t tell Justin what you did to get that episode over the line.

Sammy J: That stays in the Sydney ABC executive suite.

Randy: Bkg bow bow.

[pause]

Randy: Looking forward to seeing what Justin does with this bit.

Sammy J: Justin’s just typing the word ‘bkg’.

Randy: I wonder what he’s going to do with the spelling of ‘bkg’.

Justin: How many Os are there in that?

Randy: There’s only two.

Sammy J: Just the two ‘bow bows’ at the end.

Justin: So the ‘bkg’ doesn’t have any?

Randy: No no, it’s just B, K, G, ‘bkg’ – ‘bkg bow bow’.

Sammy J: I remembered that as I was making love to the seven ABC TV executives –

Randy: Oh! It’s out of the bag now.

Sammy J: – though that was more ‘chka chka boom boom’.

[pause]

Sammy J: There’s four Os in that one.

In fact, throughout the interview, Sammy J and Randy are very frank about the comparative ease of writing for the stage as opposed to TV.

Writing for TV is “a brutal process”, says Sammy J. “You get a TV show at the end of it, which is awesome, but your ego gets left behind very early on in the process.”

Performing on stage, on the other hand, will be a treat for both themselves and the audience. “It’s pretty awesome getting back on stage, just us and the audience, rather than us and lawyers and executives and other people in the way before it gets to the audience.”

“Getting to do the stage show after the TV show is
incredibly liberating,” adds Randy, “getting to write an hour of just stupid shit, as opposed to half an hour of stuff that has to make sense and not have too many incredibly controversial, rude, hideous, horrific moments in it. So we’ve really been let off the chain for this show.”

“Promise your readers that this show will make no sense,”
requests Sammy J. And Randy adds another promise – that TV continuity won’t get in the way of good on-stage humour. “In some respects, the characters we play in the TV show are kind of fictionalised versions of our lives that we don’t really refer to at all in the live show – which is just a rollicking, frolicking, bollocking of a time,” says Randy.

Sammy J: We figure our fans come to Stinky and Pinky in whatever form they’re given. It’s like when you have a ham and cheese focaccia: it might be a sandwich, but you can cut it into finger sandwiches, ribbon sandwiches – you can cut the focaccia any way you want.

Randy: It’s still a focaccia. You’ve still got putrid ham and cheese betwixt Turkish.

Sammy J: That’s the name of Randy’s café: Putrid Ham and Cheese 'Twixt Turkish.

I wrapped up the interview by asking Sammy J if he’d ever attempted puppeteering.

Sammy: Ah… no, I think puppeteering is a disgraceful career, and only the lowest of the low would debase themselves by pursuing it.

Justin: I think that’s my pull-quote.

Randy: I agree, I’m on board with that. Puppetry’s for hacks.

Justin: Right, I think that’s everything I need, really. Puppetry’s for hacks, Randy’s opening a café…

Randy: Yep, Randy’s got a café, puppetry’s for hacks, and Sammy fucks TV executives.

Justin: Thanks very much!

Randy: Roll credits.

Sammy J and Randy will appear in ‘Sammy J and Randy Land’ at the Garden of Unearthly Delights from February 12th to March 13th.

Justin McArthur

Justin McArthur

Music Editor; semi-colon fan; a nerd with a heart of gold. Now the charming host of Artists Pass.

Read More