A national comedy competition run by the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Deadly Funny is looking to unearth the freshest and funniest First Nations talent from across the country.

Deadly Funny is a workshop program with a performance-focused element, inviting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island participants to perform, often for the first time, under the mentorship of First Nations comedians and performers.

In its 15th year, Deadly Funny has seen the likes of Yidinji woman Steph Tisdell, Ngarrindjeri man Kevin Kropinyeri and Biripi man Andy Saunders, who recently starred on The Block alongside his partner, join the program as both participants and mentors. 

The Deadly Funny workshops will be held around Australia throughout the year, with selected participants receiving an invite to the national grand final at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

One of Australia’s rising comedians, Deadly Funny mentor and proud Wiradjuri man, Dane Simpson reflected on his experience as a participant of Deadly Funny.

Simpson said he was helping fellow comedian Kevin Kropinyeri with the sound work of his regional tour when he found himself as an opening act.

“While we were cruising around, we were just spinning yarns about family, Kev said to me you should come and tell these stories when I do my show tonight as an opening act,” he said 

“That was my first time being on stage telling a joke after that tour finished, I went back to Wagga [Wagga] and didn’t have a way to get on stage. There was no open mic or anything at the time.

“I spoke to Kev and he said I should try Deadly Funny.”

Simpson said the competition is a pathway for people who don’t have access to the business side of comedy but have the interest in getting on stage.

“The things that come with the performance, the workshops and mentorship put you on the right path to being a successful comedian,” he said.

“You not only have access to new skills; you have an opportunity to meet people in the industry.” 

Simpson added that having mentors who are well known in the industry guiding him helped his confidence.  

“Andy Saunders was my mentor, I had seen him on the TV and I had seen him live as well. I enjoyed his comedy,” he said.

“To turn up to a competition and have someone whose work I was familiar with, made me feel that I was in good hands.

“You’re not walking out to a crowd, with an idea in your head unsure if it’s funny or entertaining, you’re being coached and getting feedback and it gives you a little bit of a safety net.” 

Deadly Funny program producer Tom Dickins said the program is an incredible opportunity to hear, elevate and amplify First Nations stories.

“It’s a natural fit, this style of performance with an existing culture of oral storytelling, and it connects with not only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander audiences, but their counterparts as well,” he said.

“There’s something to be said about someone spinning a funny yarn, but that can also dig deeper on certain topics. Issues that you may not be able to delve into but you’ve found through the trust of the audience through humour. 

“The element of comedy can be essential to breaking down certain barriers and getting people to listen closely.” 

The competition is open to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the age of 18 and requires participants to perform five minutes of comedy which can be stand up, musical, sketch, dance or simply spinning a good yarn.

Simpson is encouraging anyone interested in the program to get involved.  

“Deadly Funny is an opportunity for anyone interested in performing, where I come from, we all spin yarns, everyone has a bit of comedian in them,” he said.

“If you’re starting not knowing how to write a joke or act on stage, just remember we all tell yarns if we’re at a birthday party or just with the family. 

“Those stories are 80 per cent ready for the stage, you’re almost there, this is a good way to take that first step.”  

For more information, head to: https://www.comedyfestival.com.au/deadly-funny.

By Darby Ingram