(Broden Kelly, of Aunty Donna, picks up the phone.)
Broden Kelly: Hello, Broden speaking?
Hello Broden! It’s Justin from Great Scott. [Our conversation is immediately interrupted by loud barking.]
BK: I just walked past a dog. That wasn’t me barking at you.
I’m walking through an industrial area, and a large pitbull, or some kind of guard dog, just barked at me.
Wow, what a great introduction to the interview.
BK: I just need to be very clear – I wasn’t barking at you. I would never bark at you. I want you to know that.
I mean, I interviewed Mark earlier in the year, and he never barked at me once.
BK: Well that’s the thing – Mark’s never barked at you, I wouldn’t have barked at you. I would never even play the classical stylings of Bach to you. I would never ever do that.
Wow. Would Zach?
BK: Zach barks at a lot of people. Zach is a big barker.
BK: But I just want to make that super clear – you did hear that bark, yeah?
I did hear that, yeah.
BK: Because imagine if you hadn’t, and I just started telling you that I didn’t bark at you –
– for like a minute.
BK: Yeah! So just to make it super clear, before the interview even starts, I want none of this printed, because I want to make it very clear off the record that I would never bark at you.
You realise you can’t say 'off the record' after you’ve just said a bunch of things? You have to say it beforehand.
BK: Ahh, damn it. Oh no.
Well then, I want to make it known to my people out there, my constituents, that I’m not a barker, and I never will be a barker. Woof.
Woof indeed. So, hi Broden –
BK: Oh no, sorry, I’ve just barked at you.
BK: I’m so sorry. I just, I don’t know what happened to me there, I just felt the need to bark at you, because I’m a big barker, I love barking.
BK: I’ve been barking – you can print this – I’ve been barking since ’62. I’ve been barking since I was in nappies. You can print that.
A comedy actor/writer, and a consummate barker, Broden Kelly is one third of the Australian surrealist sketch comedy trio Aunty Donna, alongside co-performers Mark Bonanno and Zach Ruane. Together with writer/director Sam Lingham, film director/editor Max Miller and sound designer/composer Tom Armstrong, Kelly, Bonanno and Ruane have put together live and online performances that have amassed them rave festival reviews, commissions from Comedy Central, the ABC and Screen Australia, and over 113,000 YouTube subscribers.
As Broden speaks to us, the Donna boys are preparing to return to Adelaide. They’ll be performing a one-night-only encore of their show New Show, which premiered earlier this year at the Adelaide Fringe.
How’d your shows go in the eastern states?
BK: The eastern states? New York, Miami, Boston –
[Mishearing.] Yeah, how’d they take it in Austin?
BK: Ah, I said Boston, but sure, Austin went really well. Austin were big fans. They were all sexy. But also in Sydney and Melbourne and Brisbane, those eastern seaboard places, they were lovely.
BK: They were nothing compared to Adelaide, though. Nothing is better than central Australian audiences. And I don’t just say that to anyone that I just flim-flam off the side of the road. I mean that. Adelaide audiences are the best audiences in the world.
BK: And I’m not going to get off this interview and then take a phone call from someone in Brisbane and say the exact same thing about Brisbane. You know that, don’t you?
I think I can trust you. I think we’ve built a rapport by now.
BK: Well, we’ve been through a lot. We’ve been through the barking years.
There was that dog.
BK: Do you remember the dog? Oh, the dog!
That was great.
BK: Oh no, that was awful – when I was barked at by a dog, and then I barked at you, after saying I would never bark at you.
BK: I grew up in Adelaide, did you know that?
No, I didn’t know that!
BK: I grew up in Adelaide, I was a boy there. I lived on the corner of South Road and Anzac Highway, and I barked at a lot of people. I was a big barker back then.
I am calling you from, like, three blocks from where you used to live.
BK: Really? What suburb?
BK: Are you kidding me? What primary school did you go to?
Oh, I grew up elsewhere. Why, what primary school did you go to?
BK: Black Forest Primary School!
My goodness, that’s awesome! I live right there. This must be a touch of home for you then.
BK: Tell me, is the Video Ezy still in that strip of shops by the school?
I haven’t walked past it, I don’t think it’s still around.
BK: Oh my god. OH MY GOD. Are you kidding me?
[Apologetic] I don’t think it’s still there.
BK: Are you telling me that a video shop has shut down.
It’s possible, I’m sorry to break the news to you.
BK: Do you know what happened?
No, what happened?
BK: Oh, I mean, can you find out for me?
Oh, sorry, I thought this was the beginning of a story. I’ll find out and I’ll message your publicist.
BK: I’ll have to ring my parents and let them know. This is dark, man. Oh my god.
Were you planning on, like, playing the Video Ezy after The Gov?
BK: Well no, I just had some weeklies that I had to return after seven years, that I’m never going to get the opportunity to return now. I was just going to go in and return my weekly video of Airheads, starring Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi and Adam Sandler. I was going to return that, and pay the $9000 weekly fine.
I think that’s yours now.
BK: Yeah, no, I had a weekly from Black Forest, Airheads, that I hadn’t returned for nine years, and to hear that it’s shut down now is really depressing. We might have to cancel our show to Adelaide, actually, because I don’t know if I can go back there and bring up old memories.
I’ll start a grassroots campaign to get the Video Ezy reopened.
BK: Nah, I don’t want you to root grass, man, I don’t want you to have sex with grass for this. This is something I need to deal with myself.
If it’s for the Aunty Donna boys, I’ll do it.
BK: Okay, fuck some grass, that’s fine.
Just for you guys.
BK: Alright! I might go fuck some grass too!
BK: But yeah, that’s wonderful, I’m very happy that you live in Black Forest. Do you catch the tram a lot?
I do, it’s good. You’re now interviewing me!
BK: And tell me, what do you think of the public transport in Adelaide?
I like it. But I’m more of a train fan than a tram fan.
BK: But there’s not many trains in Adelaide? There’s pretty much one train, one tram.
I think there’s like five trains now.
BK: Ooh, there’s five trains now.
We’re moving up in the world.
BK: Here we go.
Yeah, tell your friends.
BK: Bloody fancy lah-di-dahs. I’m proud of you Adelaide.
I wonder if I can segue from grassroots campaigns?
BK: Do it. What’s the next subject? Let’s do this together.
I was going to ask you about a couple of side-projects you’ve done, because you’ve been on a couple of Sammy J’s shows now, haven’t you?
BK: Yes, I have! That’s actually what I’m just walking from, Sammy’s doing Political Playground on the ABC at the moment.
Yeah, you were Satan!
BK: I was Satan. I was Satan on their Episode 1, which was really full on, because Sammy is pretty much writing a television show every day on the day.
So he’s shooting them at about midday, and then they’re going on air that day at about 5 o’clock, which is a ridiculous turnaround.
Sounds like it.
BK: So yeah, I’ve been in a few Sammy J things. He came to see us when we first toured to Edinburgh in 2000-and-ah… in 1997, and he was apparently laughing so hard in the back row that people told him off, which we thought was a wonderful compliment.
BK: So we’ve just become good friends, and respected each other’s shit. And on a few occasions I’ve been appropriate for what he’s doing.
BK: He told me I was going to play Satan, and I said, "Okay, I’m happy to do that, it’s only going to be a few hours on a Friday, I’m happy to do that." And then they put me through the most ridiculous makeup fuckin’ fuckfest.
BK: They painted my entire head – we’re talking about an hour and a half of makeup and cosmetics – and then my girlfriend had to wipe my face for about three hours to get all the crap off.
BK: But it was super fun. I’ve never been in something so intelligent in my life, so it made me look clever, which is a hard task.
You were the locksmith in Bin Night, too!
BK: I was! I was the locksmith in Bin Night, which was a pretty cool thing. So apparently Sam only wants me to be in things when I am put through a lot of pain. This one the makeup was an absolute fuckfest, and then that time, I’d only spoken to Sammy a few times before, and then the next thing I knew, I had to be put in this giant harness and held upside down from a tree, at about midnight, while all the blood went to my head and I began to feel like I was going to faint – which was also wonderful.
BK: He’s told me the next thing that I do for him is going to be quite sexual, so I’m not looking forward to that.
I’m sure the fans are, though.
BK: Well that’s the thing, I think Aunty Donna fans have been waiting for a long time for us to get sexual, and I think we’re going to give them what they want.
Speaking of sexual – this is a good segue as well –
BK: Oh yeah, I love segues. I love having sex. On Segways.
The Aunty Donna t-shirt has a set of keys covered in… ejaculate.
BK: Semen! Ejaculate! The cum t-shirt, yes. We’ve just started doing a lot more merchandise – but that was the first bit of merchandise we ever made, and it was all from people drawing us things and then sending them in. And so we thought that was a fun one to make into a t-shirt.
It sold very poorly, because – as we found out after mass producing them – not everyone, but a lot of people, don’t like wearing cum.
BK: That was a surprise to us. Even loved ones would refuse to wear these t-shirts that we made to help us fundraise, or to make enough money that we could tour – never to make money for ourselves, purely so we could afford accommodation when we travelled to places like Adelaide.
BK: And even so, not many people were willing to wear cum! To the point now where we’ve made Aunty Donna 1999 hoodies, and we’ve made white t-shirts with another design; we’ve made stubby holders; we’ve made lots of different things, and they’ve all sold out, and we’ve had to buy more of them, but there’s still original cum t-shirts available to purchase, because no-one wants them.
BK: Someone Facebooked us the other day saying, "Hey, look what you can buy!" Turns out one of the Aunty Donna cum t-shirts was available for $5 at a nearby Savers, which was a bit depressing.
I’ve actually got it –
BK: Oh, you’re a good boy.
– but I’ve never worn it! I paid good money for it, but I’ve never worn it.
BK: [a prolonged, hearty chuckle] And why not, good sir?
Well I mean – is there a situation that you think it is appropriate?
BK: Hmm. At an Aunty Donna show, I guess, is a pretty good time to wear one? Maybe – nup. That’s the only time! They’re awful shirts and no-one should buy them. They’re awful!
BK: But I appreciate you buying one, that was very nice of you. I actually feel like they’re a good t-shirt, like, they’re a nice fitting t-shirt and they’re good quality. But they definitely, definitely have cum on them.
BK: I bought one actually. I don’t buy our merch any more – I just have a hoodie, and, lots of other stuff, but I actually bought one of them. So I’m one of the few. You and me are the only two that bought cum t-shirts.
I mean, I went along with a couple of friends when you last came by –
BK: A couple of the boyyyyys?
Indeed! And they both bought the stubbies, for bevvies with the boys, but I went with the shirt. And I’m not sure I made the best choice there.
BK: Well the stubbies are good. I’m holding one of them in my hand right now, because I’m in our office, and they’re just everywhere, they’re just on every surface, of my life. They’re fine. I think a t-shirt definitely takes up more space, just by size. If you folded it up.
So if you want to purchase merch by quantity, the shirt’s a better way to go?
BK: Well, your purchase says to me, "Hey. I love these boys. I want to have more of them, just by pure quantity, just by mass weight." Yeah. But no, it’s, I, ah…
BK: I love Adelaide.
The show at The Gov – will it differ at all from the show at the Nova?
BK: You know, it actually will.
BK: It’s the same show, but – the first time we did the show in Adelaide was the first time that that show had ever been performed. I think it was four shows we did in Adelaide, and on the first night, we didn’t say it, but we were all horrified. This was a show we’d been working on for three months, and we had no idea how it was going to go. There was a possibility that we’d walk out and no-one would laugh for a whole hour. We knew that we found the show funny, but we didn’t know how people would go with it.
BK: So the first time we were there, you saw a show that was really new and really bold and fresh. I guess the show that’s coming back to Adelaide now – due to popular demand – is a show that has toured to multiple cities, and it’s been international now, so it’s fundamentally changed.
BK: Shows never stay the same, and this is a show that we’ve done 40, 50 times now, so there’s lots of different changes. And there’s a great deal of improvisation in this show, so every night you come to our show it’s going to be quite different. It’s the same show, but it’s different every night because we hate to do the same thing over and over again.
I was kind of wondering how much it would have changed over that time. Do you find a show really changes over that period?
BK: Oh absolutely. The last place we take our show every year is Edinburgh, and it’s very fun for us to see from Adelaide to Edinburgh how much a show can change. Sometimes different cities laugh at different things – what Adelaide finds funny, Brisbane might not find as funny, or maybe they’ll find it funnier. So by taking the show lots of different places, we can see how jokes can be improved, or how we can make something tighter.
BK: Or maybe something has happened between two places that makes a joke more topical, or less topical. As you may have seen, we actually did one of the sketches in New Show for our Comedy Central series [Trendy]:
BK: We always try to make that one a bit different, then it’s a special experience for people when they come see us live. So lots of different things are going on.
I was going to say – obviously I didn’t ask Mark about Trendy when I spoke to him, because it wasn’t a thing yet! How’s it been working on Trendy?
BK: It was really exciting! Comedy Central launched in Australia a little bit earlier this year – until then they were a purely an American company. And they thought enough of us to make us their first Australian commission, which was really cool – to hear that from the people who made South Park and Broad City and The Daily Show, and made Stephen Colbert, and all these really cool, awesome shows. To hear that the first Australian show they wanted to make was us was super exciting.
BK: We were super busy at the time, so we had to wrangle ourselves together and write these five sketches. Trendy was a lot of fun to make – we shot it out in two days as we were doing the [Melbourne International] Comedy Festival, and it was five ideas that we’ve been really passionate about, and we thought would work really well in a nice little series. In a few months it’ll be coming to our YouTube channel, which we’re really excited for as well.
Comedy Central was also really awesome to work with, and I think we’ll be working with them again in the future – sooner rather than later. Without saying too much, there are exciting things coming in the future with Comedy Central.
I think I’ve got one more question; maybe two.
BK: Ooh, exciting.
Last time I asked Mark about his favourite skit you guys have done. What’s yours?
BK: My favourite… at the moment? Did Mark give a genuine answer?
Well, I think he was talking about ‘Haven’t You Done Well’.
BK: Is that what he said? Yeah, that means he’s being genuine.
BK: Because I mean, what I’d usually do is name one of our biggest failure sketches. We have sketches we did for a series called Fortnightly Fap Off, when [former fourth performer] Adrian was still in the group, probably about three years ago – and we just tried to shoot out as many sketches as we could and see how long we could go for.
BK: So there were a couple of duds in there. The ‘World Footsie Championships’ – I think most of our sketches on our channel would have over 50,000 views, and I think this one’s still on 20,000, just because, I don’t know… it’s a bit shit.
Just on that – Mark was saying last time that some of the surreal stuff really hits and some of it really doesn’t. But that’s part of why I enjoyed 1999, because it was a bit risky, and that made it cool.
BK: I think, particularly with sketch comedy, people like to think that it’s an absolute art form, where it’s always going to make people laugh. But sketch, as a form, is trying to be funny to certain people with a certain joke. Not every joke will always make everybody laugh. So it’s very interesting to see sometimes, when you’re talking about those abstract ideas – sometimes for one person, that can be the funniest thing in the world, and for another person, it can make no sense.
BK: I think you’re right, in talking about that series – there were certain ones that were made for certain people and not for others, and it was cool to see people really like one kind of joke, and then completely not get another joke.
BK: Like, ‘Bigoted Bill’ was quite a broad, accessible sketch – there’s a song, and it’s about bigotry and people. But then the same person could watch ‘What Do You Think Of This’ and be completely bemused by it. I quite enjoy that.
BK: We tried not to make the same sketch over and over. We tried to make sure we did a lot of character, we tried to make sure we did a lot of music. We like ‘building’ sketches – sketches that start somewhere and then build to insanity – you may have noticed we do that a lot!
BK: But yeah, we try to do lots of different stuff.
BK: I guess my favourite at the moment – far out – is probably something from 1999, because that was the first time we’d ever put a lot of thought into the writing. I’m really happy with how well-received ‘Bigoted Bill’ was.
BK: And there’s one about a video game that’s coming out soon, about a video game and a turtle. So just keep your eyes peeled for that one, because I’m very excited to see how that goes.
Final question: do you prefer Zach, or Mark?
BK: As a person, or as a lover?
Let’s bring it back to the sexual conversation from earlier. For the fans.
BK: I think Mark is a more generous lover, he’s more there for you. But I think Zach is the person you’d want to build a life with. Mark is Wham, bam, thank you ma’am, love ya and leave ya, but Zach is someone you’d like to build a family with. I would trust Zach to take my children through a war-torn country; Mark I’d trust to show me a good night out.
BK: They’re both multi-faceted, brilliant performers, the both of them, who I’m really lucky to see perform every fucking day of my life.
You do work with them all the time. How does it all hold together?
BK: It does pretty well, to be honest – we spend a lot of time together on planes, in twin bedroom hotels in different cities, we’ve been on long haul flights together. I think, together, we’ve probably travelled more than we have with our families or girlfriends.
BK: We’ve been together to Africa, to the UK, to every city in Australia, just about – to America. We’ll be going to Hong Kong later this year. So we’ve travelled a lot together. Considering that, I think we do pretty well.
BK: I know a lot of other comedy groups in Australia really struggle to be around each other, but I think all things considered, we do a pretty good job. We’ve been together for five years now, so I’ll let you know in ten.
I look forward to it!
BK: Have you heard of the TV series Seven Up!? It’s a British series that started in the 1960s, and they talked to seven-year-old kids, and they asked, "What would you like to do when you grow up?", "What do you think of this?", "What do you think of that?" And then the documentarian came back and interviewed them when they were 14, and then 21, 28, 35, 42, 49, 56 – so you’ve seen these five or six people grow through their whole life.
BK: It’s a pretty fascinating and unique series, and I’d recommend you watch a couple of the episodes. But you should do that with us! You should interview us at five years, at ten years, at fifteen years (if we’re still together), and just see how we’re going.
Sounds great! Well I’ll have to try to speak to all three of you this year. And then in five years – that’ll be great.
BK: Yeah, see how we’re all going. You’ve got Zach now to tick off then, don’t you?
Yeah, I’ve spoken to you and to Mark.
BK: I should say – Zach is a big racist, and a big drug user, and he’s an awful person. You know his character in ‘Bigoted Bill’? That’s real.
But also he’s a tender lover that would take your children through a war-torn country? Interesting.
BK: I’d trust him with my life. He’s one of the most level-headed, beautiful, accepting people in the world. He loves people of all creeds and colours, he is an exerciser, a healthy eater, a wonderful guy.
BK: In saying that – he’s a racist, an alcoholic, and a bad person.
Oh. Well. I’m glad I’ve spoken to you and Mark, and not him.
BK: Yeah, you shouldn’t look forward to it. You should try and speak to him, but just be ready to cry, because he will hurt you.
I’ll make the interview really aggressive.
BK: Go at him hard.
Aunty Donna will perform their encore performance of New Show at The Gov on Wednesday, June 29th.