Boat arrivals. Christmas Island. Nauru. Mandatory detention. They’re not exactly gut-busting topics, but Tom Ballard isn’t your average comedian. The former co-host of the Triple J Breakfast show has guest hosted Q&A, launched his own politically-charged podcast and supported the likes of Wil Anderson, Stephen Merchant and Danny Bhoy – and earned a Helpmann Award for his efforts. In his new show coming to Belvoir, Tom lets rip in a funny and furious exploration of the facts, history and human cost of Australia’s polarising immigration policies.
Do you have a pre-stage ritual you can talk us through?
Not really. I tend to just etch a pentagram into my forehead with a compass, burn effigies of my showbiz enemies (Larry Emdur, Patti Newton, Agro), practise mindfulness and cry a lot. Standard stuff.
What’s the biggest mishap that’s occurred while you’ve been on stage?
I was performing in a tent in Adelaide a few years ago and I had to leave the stage before the end of my show because I was busting for the toilet so badly. The tech played some music and the audience had to wait until I ran to a nearby portaloo, then came back to perform the last routine. I’m sure that sort of thing happens to Chris Rock too, you just don’t read about it because he wants to keep it all quiet.
What kind of impact does the audience have on your performance?
For a comedian, the audience is everything. If they don’t laugh, you have failed. You are a failure. A miserable failure. You have to make them laugh. If they don’t laugh, you aren’t good at what you do. You haven’t done your job properly. You have blown it. Like a loser. You’re a failed loser.
Unless the crowd’s shithouse, of course. Sometimes they can just be shithouse.
How do you feel about Opening Night – excitement or dread?
Generally speaking, I’d say excitement. If you’ve put in the work and got a solid show (AS I HAVE AND DO. TICKETS ON SALE NOW), there’s nothing more fun than sharing it with an audience in its entirety for the first time. The “dread” kicks in on the Wednesday night of week three of a month-long festival when you have to go through the same hour of jokes that you’ve told upwards of 30 times already and you can’t even tell what “funny” is anymore.
Are you a comedian that can let go of your routine once you leave the stage?
I’m trying to get better at forcing myself to constantly review and improve jokes. There’s a temptation to just leave a routine as it is after the first time it gets a laugh. But if you really want to grow and lift your game, routines should never be “good enough”. “Art is never finished, only abandoned” and all that.