I recently stumbled upon a story-telling night happening at Fitzroy's Kodiak Club. Run and MC'd by local comedian Luke Leonard, it was largely cast with other popular local comedians. But this was no mere comedy gig. There were laughs aplenty, for sure, but there was something more going on here. Comedians tell stories with the aim of getting laughs; story-tellers tell stories because... well that's what we humans have always done. The campfire wasn't invented to keep us warm, it was invented so that we could sit around it and tell stories to each other. There are no campfires in the Kodiak Club, but there are loads of laughs, and much human warmth. Late Night Storytelling at a Reasonable Hour is my new favourite Monday night thing. Read on to find out why.
Give us your bio, in Haiku form.
I am Luke Leonard
I used to be naughtier
But now I’m funny
Why is comedy important to you?
Comedy is the glue of society. Joking about is how we bond and form the little conspiracies we call friendships. It’s the human version of dogs rolling over and showing their belly to settle aggression and it’s also the stone David used to kill Goliath. If farts weren’t funny we’d never forgive our loved ones for exposing us to their matter. It’s how we show our vulnerabilities and how we dust ourselves off and get on with things.
Why is telling stories important to you?
Everything is a story, and there’s something primal and warm about it. Sitting in a circle and hearing the universal in the specific is a bonding thing and it’s such a human thing. We are the stories we tell ourselves, whether that’s as a nation or a political grouping like class or just people who like bowling. And hearing other people’s stories is a fantastic exercise in empathy. I’m sorry if I ramble but I feel really strongly about this stuff and it’s largely not about words. It’s some nice thing in the belly. It’s also late and I just talked with an audience for two hours.
Generally, comedians tell stories. That's their gig. Why is your story-telling night different to a comedy gig?
Comedians tell the exact amount of story needed to serve the joke. Brevity is the key. Paint the picture with as few strokes as possible, then pull the rug out from under them. And repeat. There are a few basic joke structures and it’s all slapstick in the end. Someone falls over in every joke. Watch Nanette and Hannah Gadsby pulls all the cogs out and shows them to you. There’s more omitted for the sake of brevity and of levity. If they don’t laugh, you fail.
A storytelling night like Late Night Storytelling at a Reasonable Hour isn’t about laughs. They’re there, generally in plentiful supply, but they’re not the only thing. There are a few other colours on the palette and an array of brushes to use. My first ever storytelling gig, coming from a stand-up background, I decided to let the pendulum really swing and so I set out to not get a single laugh. I left the audience electrically sad. They leaned in all the way. The story was compelling and it was intense and a bit scary. And the story ended badly for everyone. Not the audience, the people in the story. And then Jon Schuster got up and made everyone spit laughing at a story of trying to steal a cat. He’s doing the show soon and I can’t wait.
It’s more of a mixed bag. It can be sad or warm, or sweet or furious or absurd or any number of things, rather than just having to move to the rhythm of being funny every twenty seconds.
What's your favourite kind of story?
I want some peril. Will they make it out? Also, I can’t go past some heartbreak, the sweetness of young love you know isn’t going to work out, but you want it to. Something universal and warm, and about the everyday. The little victories and losses. You can have your dragons and swords, I just want yearning in a supermarket and a well-won victory.
Also the unexpected. One of the best stories I’ve heard was from a guy who was just there and he told this story of an illicit transcontinental will-they-won’t-they affair. It had me on the edge of the seat, and being true just made me explode.
What are the ingredients for a good story?
Peril. Detail. Openness. Comedy is about deflection; stories are about connection.
Who is your favourite story-teller?
I love so many. Trav Nash who performed opening night has an amazing podcast called Tales From the Mind Boat which I love. It’s like Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor comics in that it’s about the minutiae and mundanity. And it’s funny and sad and full of confusion. He has a great story about being in a waiting room. The whole thing’s quite subdued, but then when he performs it’s this geyser of frustration and absurdity and it’s got bombast. I can and have watched him talk about anything.
Gamze Kirik was nice enough to pop down and she’s another performer I love. She’s just so warm and open and has this gentleness that I find so foreign yet wish I had.
Stewart Lee. He’s out there doing things no one else can or wants to do.
Having said that, 18 months ago in the space of 50 minutes Hannah Gadsby went from being a damn reliable comic to being a fucking iconoclastic juggernaut. Every joke hinges on a tension, you create it and release it. But no one has ever dared make the tensions so long and such huge magnitude as she does. Because no one has the chops to bring it back to a laugh after that. No-one. And then she did it. Total mic drop. The political aspect of the show is huge, but the mastery of form... how’s that ever going to be topped?
Do you get a chance to look around and see audience reaction throughout the night? What kind of stories seem to go down best?
I do, and I care that everyone’s enjoying it, but it’s not high pressure on the audience like stand-up. You don’t get the same feedback. Instead of laughs you’re looking for the crinkles around the eyes. The facial expressions. And that’s hard to spot. Largely though, I’m busy watching the show myself! I’ve basically booked this for my own pleasure, my favourite people, generally rubbed up against a topic in an interesting way, out of their comfort zone, just sharing a moment with a room of strangers. Strangers I’ve invited in, to a show I booked primarily for myself! It sounds awful, but really I’m just so engaged because I love what I’m booking and I think the room will too.
Tell us about some of the themes and why you chose them.
I like to do big themes that give the performers scope to surprise but also connect. Like I would never do Holidays because it would just be a bunch of travelogues. But Rivalry! Love! Catastrophe! They’re things that can break the heart or have you howling with laughter, and you don’t know which it’s going to be til you hear the story. And it’ll probably do both plus something else.
Your collective of story-tellers... what can you tell us about them?
I’ve got a lot of comedians because it’s such an adjacent skill to storytelling, but I’m also going out of my way to find other people like authors, cabaret performers, journalists and just people with a great story and an open gut. Anyone willing to leave themselves spattered all over the stage to share with the crowd, while maintaining a certain degree of quality. I’m booking people I know who are amazing who don’t perform a lot because they don’t work to stand-up rhythms so it’s really nice to see people you don’t know, but who I’m lucky enough to know, who happen to be amazing humans with great stories and perspectives.
It's pretty damned cold most Monday nights at the moment. Why should we come along to the Kodiak Club when we can stay in and watch the telly under the doona?
TV is dead. As streaming gains traction it’ll become more and more homogeneous and they will put out more and more Adam Sandler films and prequels and reboots and spin-offs and the gene pool gets smaller and smaller until it’s extinct.
We spend our lives staring at screens, grasping for connection and getting none of it. This is real. Painfully so at times. There are humans sharing their stories, sharing themselves and connecting. You can share in someone’s experience, share a whole new perspective, a new outlook, and really get to the nut of big things all in a comfy chair in the dark. There’s no pressure to laugh, no “what do you do?” crowd work. It’s not about people making light of stuff and deflecting from real emotion, it’s about connecting with people, and it’s all the good stuff that life is. It’s funny and sad and outrageous and wonderful and joyful and furious and all of it at once. And I’m really getting some of the most amazing people like ABC’s Corey White and they’re sharing themselves in such an open way.
It’s just a magical, very human thing that we’ve all forgotten about. And it’s nice.
Late Night Storytelling at a Reasonable Hour is on every Monday from 8pm at the Kodiak Club, 272 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy VIC. Visit Luke Leonard on Facebook for details»