After two years touring the Hard Quiz Live road show, Australian stand-up comedian Tom Gleeson is ditching the brass mug prize to go it alone and prove that, once again, he is the master and commander of “provoking and poking” a live audience.
Crowds of 3000-plus packed out convention centres and theatres around the country to witness his skill as a quiz master but, as he tells The New Daily, he “didn’t want to overfish the pond” of talent eager to be tested on their speciality subjects.
“It’s good to let the fish regenerate so when you go back there is still fish there,” says the self-described much-loved, deeply cynical comic.
“I didn’t want to be out there flogging tickets for five years because eventually people will get bored and think, ‘oh he’s always out there on tour, so who cares’.
“So I put Hard Quiz Live in a box and maybe I will pull it out in four years time and it will be like the Olympics … keep it special,” he says.
Gleeson, 49, who lives in the Victorian town of Romsey with his wife, Ellie Parker, and two children, is touring his new show, Gear, until August next year, treating audiences from Narre Warren, in Melbourne’s outer east, to Chatswood, on Sydney’s North Shore, locking in major city gigs and comedy festivals along the way.
In between it all, there’s one place he holds close to his heart.
“I am excited about Grafton [northern NSW],” he admits, deadpan.
And for good reason.
“At the end of 2020, I was one of the only stand-up shows touring Australia because I was staying in Byron Bay and everything started opening up in the north so I started touring.
Cup of tea with Rusty
“I did a show in Grafton at the Saraton Theatre which was lovely … after the show I got a message from [Hollywood actor] Russell Crowe inviting me to come to his house [he owns a 400-hectare farm about an hour away] for a cup of tea.
“It was so upsetting, the next morning I had to be on a flight to Canberra to do shows there and I figured Russell may not have been talking about an actual cup of tea … and was worried I might miss my flight.
“Hopefully, Russell will read this and remember I am coming to Grafton again, and that offer for a cup of tea is still open,” he smiles.
Gleeson has been performing stand-up since he was an undergraduate at the University of Sydney studying science.
“My career is not as noble as it sounds,” he said.
“At the time it was easier doing stand-up than tutoring maths … I kept doing that and kept improving … going into competitions and I’d win and make it to the finals.
“Because I was young and stupid I didn’t have any dignity, I was 19 when I started,” he says, admitting he never hit a roadblock that made him contemplate a more mainstream career path.
As a result, he is no stranger to audience banter, interjection and heckling.
He recently did a two-week stint at the Newcastle Comedy Club to get back in the groove: “I can’t walk onto a big stage clueless, I want to have a few plans that are going to work out.”
Interaction is what makes his shows come alive and sets them apart – plus he’s conscious of never repeating the same stories and has a strong belief that every subject you can think of has a funny angle.
This isn’t “cinema”, he says.
“I’ve got this problem with birds of a feather flock together so my audiences tend to be as obnoxious and cynical as me … as long as they bring that along, and they’re mouthy, and they’re happy to yell out and let me really push the limits then they’re going to have a great time.”
He never feels like saying, ‘Just shut up and let me finish the joke’?
‘Don’t mind a mouthy crowd’
“Well, I can be very persuasive when I recommend someone maybe stop sharing their ideas. I don’t mind a mouthy crowd.
“My barometer is usually, ‘how pissed off are the people around the person yelling out?’. If it’s all just a bit of back and forth and it’s adding to the show then I’m happy with that.”
Aptly titled Gear – an expression used in comedy circles referencing the material they’ll perform – he was asked whether some crowds might think he’s touring a car show [aka Top Gear].
Laughing, he replies: “If they pay, I really couldn’t give a s–t … they’ll turn up thinking it’s a car show and I’d be delighted that it will be funnier than a car show would be.”
With thousands of applications already for the ninth season of ABC’s Hard Quiz next year, Gleeson has been on a winning streak with the show.
At one point he won a Gold Logie in 2019, but doesn’t think that will happen again for obvious reasons.
“The Logies have gone back to what they used to be. Nine gave one to Hamish Blake because he’s on Channel Nine, Seven gave one to Sonia Kruger because she’s on Seven. It will move to Ten and they’ll give one to [entertainment reporter] Angela Bishop.”
Not short of a subject
He reckons they’ll never run out of expert subjects either for Hard Quiz as he often gets heckled from the TV studio audience yelling out why their application was never accepted.
“My standard response is, it isn’t just the subject, it just might be your personality,” he jokes.
“I always think we’re going to run out of subjects but I was looking at the expert subjects [for an upcoming episode] and one is [rock band] Guns N’ Roses. How have we not done that?”
For now, it’s about taking it up to Aussie audiences – who he describes as “kind of strange” – in stand-up around the country.
“On the one hand, Australians pride themselves on being irreverent and not precious but it’s a bit of a lie … Australian audiences are quite precious.
“You can be talking about this or that, paying out, and you’ll say, ‘I’m glad the Holden Motor Company is out of business because I don’t like Holdens’, and they’ll snap.
“Australians can be really precious about the weirdest things, and I like poking that.”
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