Simon Taylor is an entertainer, who’s more than a comedian as he uses a wide tool-kit to keep audiences engaged. Has hosted television as well as writing material for it, including Jay Leno.
While in Adelaide, Taylor sat down for a chat with a manuscript open to his right and gave insight to future plans – including returning to TV hosting and a Children’s book about sneezing.
To listen, click the green ‘play’ triangle… [note: may take few seconds to load]
(Transcript of Simon Taylor chat below, check to delivery in audio)
Time of publishing Simon Taylor’s RIGHT NOW is at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival – TICKETS HERE
SHOW NOTES: Simon Taylor episode
Where to find the show to subscribe/follow:
- PlayPodcast – this link directs you, to the Podcast app on your device 9subscribe to not miss an episode)
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FEATURE GUEST: Simon Taylor
- Official Site
- A Day In Life of Comedian – Full Stack Films (YouTube)
- How to Make Shaun Micallef Laugh… (YouTube)
- Dave Hughes on Live On Bowen (YouTube)
- Melbourne: The Musical (YouTube)
- Magic For Humans – Netflix Trailer (YouTube)
- Sally and The Magical Sneeze – Simon Taylor/Anita Lester [link, when available]
…also a few more minutes – from the archive – of Katy Manning (Doctor Who’s Jo Grant)
More details on playpodcast here, thanks to Matt from them.
[Radio Production – notes: Simon Taylor takes the full episode and Funny is his release or may wish to play a related R&B number]
Theme/Music: Martin Kennedy and All India Radio
Web-design/tech: Steve Davis
Voice: Tammy Weller
You can make direct contact with the podcast – on the Contact Page
For direct quotes check to audio, first version of transcript by Courtney C at REV
John Murch: Simon Taylor, welcome to Radionotes.
Simon Taylor: Thank you so much.
John Murch: Great to catch up with you.
Simon Taylor: I love that you saw welcome, but, I mean, you came to me, so I’m very appreciative.
John Murch: We’re at the pentacle of the Adelaide Fringe. Just yesterday was the Adelaide Fringe Festival, car race, Writers’ week extravaganza that we have.
Simon Taylor: Oh my goodness. It was too much.
John Murch: And then after that weekend you have Monday shows while you’re here.
Simon Taylor: I just sort of hid away during all the noise and commotion, and then I come out on a quiet, peaceful Monday and do my show to a very relaxed, calm audience.
John Murch: And you’re in The Garden as well, which is a well-established venue, which is great.
Simon Taylor: Yes. It took me many years to get in there, but now that I’m there I never want to leave.
John Murch: Wil Anderson normally is a staple there. It’ll be his 23rd Adelaide show, but he’s got some other things on. So great comedians like yourself get to fill that spot a bit.
Simon Taylor: Yeah. Well, I think so. I think it’s actually, it helps when Wil’s around. It brings more people to The Garden, and then more people get to see what other shows are on. So actually I’m all for all the big name acts being here, because it just creates more of a buzz. And then we get to associate with them and rub shoulders with them. So I like it. He’s been around, and Tom Glesson I’ve been around. And getting to gig with them and pick their brains about things, and when Wil’s around we get to do that as well. So I like having them.
John Murch: Live at Bowen, which was the show for which you hosted. You had Dave Hughes on that show.
Simon Taylor: That’s how he came on the show. I saw him at other gigs, and I said, “Oh, I’d love to have you on the show.” In fact, no, he brought it up to me. That’s right. I was too nervous to bring it up to him, because I thought, “I don’t want to bug him.” But he said, “Oh, I really like the show. I saw Shaun Micallef on it.” I said, “Oh, I’d really like you on.” And he goes, “Well, just message me,” and he gave me his number. So he is so giving in that sense. I felt very gracious, because I think it’s almost like getting a blessing from the people that you look up to, your idols. When Shaun came on the show and when Dave came on the show, it just meant, “Oh, I feel like they’re giving me this stamp of approval.” It really felt like that to us, because it’s so easy for them to say no.
John Murch: Is there a sense of baton as well, that they’re giving a comedic baton?
Simon Taylor: No. It feels like more of a welcome to the club. I don’t think he’s passing anything on. I don’t think they’re putting anything down. He’s not gonna stop, and Shaun’s not gonna stop. It’s more like, “Hey, Welcome to the game. You’re in this now. It’s gonna be tough, and it’s a crazy, crazy world of trying to be on TV and doing lots of shows and keeping your profile up and things like that.” They’re still doing things to keep their profile up, and they’re still pushing to keep their career going further. So they’re not passing anything on to me. They’re just saying, “Hey, this is the game and welcome aboard.”
John Murch: You’re not a TV, you’re not a radio star at the moment.
Simon Taylor: That’s very optimistic of you.
John Murch: Well, I state that because I’m very keen, so is Rob McKnight of TV Blackbox, to have a TV variety show five nights a week. It works in the states. Why can’t it work here? And one point, before I get to that question, would you put your hand up, Simon Taylor, to be the host of a five night a week or four night a week TV variety show maybe at 9:30 on channel 9?
Simon Taylor: Well, I’ve got a pilot with channel 10 that I did last year for a show called Fun Times with Simon Taylor. So it’s that exactly. I don’t know how much I can say or not say. But I was told by someone at the network, it’s like, “Oh, would you do this multiple times a week?” And I said yeah. So the tricky thing is, because I don’t have a profile. It’s actually hard to just get the show up quickly. TV cares about two things, ratings and revenue. And if you can’t promise either of those, then why would they put you up? So my argument has always been, “Hey, I’ve got the skillset to be the host. I can show you my Live On Bowen. I’ve written for The Tonight Show. I’ve done all these. I’ve got the skillset to be able to do this.”
Simon Taylor: So my argument is I won’t be a ratings and revenue giant immediately. I might not be that for a year or two or three years or whatever. But I know I have the skills to be able to build that, because I’ve done it on other shows. I know I can do jokes that are worthy of The Tonight Show, the biggest late night talk show in the history of television. I can do that. And I’ve proven to do that. And I know I can reach an Australian audience, because I’ve written for Shaun Micallef, so I know how to write for an Australian audience, too.
Simon Taylor: I know how to come up with hit shows. I’ve wrote for a show called Magic For Humans on Netflix, and that was number one last year. So I know this feels like I’m sort of beating myself up, but this is my sales pitch. But the pilot went well, and it appears to be going forward into a series, but it’s so slow and there’s so many things that could fall apart. So I don’t know if I have a series or not. I don’t know if there’s enough funding over the line to get it there. So I’ve been told, “Yes, we want this,” but I haven’t been told when. I haven’t been told if we have any episodes. I’ve been given a loose time slot to work towards.
Simon Taylor: So it is something that when I first started it was exactly what I wanted, so I’m with you. I’m appreciative that you bring it up and you’re rooting for me, because I am pushing for that. But it is such a marathon, and your fate is in so many other peoples’ hands. So for me I’m always saying to my agents, “What else can I do?” They’re like, “You’re doing everything right.” I’m like, “Yeah, but what else? Just give me the formula,” and there is no formula. So I was super happy with the pilot. We’re super proud of it. The whole team were incredible.
Simon Taylor: They were all people that worked on the community TV with me. So our argument to them was, “Don’t give us a prime time spot. Just give us something off the radar. Let’s not over-promote it. Let’s just get us the blood new talent. Just put us on that journey.”
John Murch: That’s what they did, Simon, with Have You Been Paying Attention? And it took a little while.
Simon Taylor: That was nearly axed. They also, I think there’s a history of that with Working Dog. They were able to say, “We’ve been here and done this,” but with a new person it’s sort of … So that’s what I’m trying to say. I’m like, “I’ve been there and done that with shows in America and Australia.” So, yeah. I’m in that tricky position of, “Well, why would they pick someone like me?” It is that job of what I was doing before of just trying to sell myself, which is inherently cringe-worthy to a comedian, because most of the time self-deprecation is my mode. And it’s also particularly not an Australian thing to go, “Hey, I’m great. I’ve written for this, and I’ve done this, and I’m a really great performer.” That’s actually really hard to say, and I’m already worried about the listeners going, “Who does this guy think he is?”
John Murch: So it’s my job to interrupt by saying, I’m putting, not my house, i’m not that confident, putting my-
Simon Taylor: Your roof-
John Murch: Of the garage outback on top of the port-a-loo. No, I’m putting my heart and soul and have for a number of years behind Simon Taylor, because there’s one thing I’ve seen you do on Live at Bowen, and people can say if they’ve seen your work is that you’re not just the comedian or the host out the front. You’re also the team player as well. And I think about lovely comments that Lauren Bok and other talented comedians have said about you over the years is that you’re in the trenches with them. How much do you put that as part of your CV, as being part of one of the team members, one of the people in the trenches of what’s being produced?
Simon Taylor: Yeah, I think that’s just a matter of how I see myself getting better. I think maybe it’s just a low status thing. There’s just, “Oh, I’m not good yet, so I need to be practicing. I need to be doing gigs every night, and I need to be in the writer’s room listening to everyone and contributing.” So I think it’s a matter of I want to be better, and the best way is to be in the trenches, to be in the writer’s room, to do all those open mic gigs. Because I don’t really look at other comedians, but every now and again I think to myself, “They never do gigs. How are they gonna have a good show?” They’ve got profile now. They’re on TV, or they got radio gigs or things like that. But if you want to be a standup, if you want your show to be good standup, how is that gonna happen?
Simon Taylor: You see that with YouTubers. YouTubers were big when they’re YouTube videos went viral. And they had these massive audiences. But over the years it sort of crumbled. And maybe they’ve done well and they’ve made enough money to store away or to get a house in that time they were big, but someone I admire coming up with someone like Nick Cody was just a workhorse. You just do gigs all the time. He, at the time, when these YouTubers were big, he was small. He had small crowds. But over time you see that it sort of swapped, and he’s built up a big crowd, and he’s gonna have it longer and retain it longer, because people come to his shows knowing he’s a great standup.
Simon Taylor: So what I want to kind of provide is that if I’m gonna be good at TV, I have to do all the things that make you good at TV, be in the writer’s room, test the jokes, watch other people, be around other people, listen and learn from other people. So it’s just this constant drive to self-improve.
John Murch: How do you, Mr. Taylor, fit yourself into that concept of this longevity, which you’ve clearly explained to us just there when the public seems to just want the next big thing?
Simon Taylor: No, I think that’s all bullshit. And the reason I think that is because I was just reading a book called Seinfeldia, it was all about Seinfeld. And at the time Seinfeld was pitching, all the sitcoms were heartfelt, and they had these stories, and it was setup punchline jokes. When Seinfeld came along, and it wasn’t. It was conversational. That first dialogue with the ladies, she goes, “Oh, do you want to go get something to eat?” He goes, “Where do you want to go?” She goes, “I don’t care. I’m not hungry.” That style had never really been done before, just sort of a back and forth chat.
Simon Taylor: And there were no, the story acts, there was no learning, no hugging, no learning was the thing. It just really broke the mold of sitcoms. And none of the characters were likable as well. So the network when they were getting Seinfeld were like, “These characters aren’t likable, and there’s no closing story, and the dialogue’s so weird.” Everyone’s saying this wouldn’t work, it didn’t fit the mold. But the reason it got up was because Jerry’s profile was so good, and his manager was so good that they kind of pulled favors and they believed in him.
Simon Taylor: So it shouldn’t have gotten up under the climate of, “This is what a sitcom is.” So let’s take that to now. My friend works at YouTube, and he said every time someone at YouTube says, “Oh, 10-minute videos are what works,” then someone will come along with a 30-second video that blows up and does 30-second videos every week,” and then that’s the biggest thing. So anyone who says, “This is what works,” has a tiny imagination, because it always changes, and there is always something that breaks the mold. And the nature of art and comedy and entertainment is that people will get sick of formulas.
Simon Taylor: And then something different will come along, and that’ll become the formula. So after Seinfeld was popular, networks were looking for things that were like Seinfeld. So first they say, “You will never work,” then someone tries you, then it’s a success, then they try to imitate you, and then the cycle continues.
John Murch: How good are you in the comedy kitchen these days?
Simon Taylor: I really enjoy tinkering with jokes. I think that’s the really fun part. I think maybe there’s an analogy to a TV chef like there’s a show Biz part of it, but they still like cooking, still love getting that perfect omelet or whatever it is. So I like that with a joke. When I feel like I’ve got a joke that will just work everywhere all the time, the opening joke on my show now, I’m just so happy with it. Just got the timing right and the wording right, and there’s no word that doesn’t need to be there. I love the mechanics of comedy, and that’s sort of that comedy nerd in me more than anything.
Simon Taylor: It’s interesting playing those different levels. There’s the joke writing, there’s the booking and performing gigs, and then there’s the high level like your profile and what you’re doing on TV. But I still have a real love for just writing a joke.
John Murch: What’s one of your favorite moments with your audience? What part of the show, maybe it is that opening joke, that is the fave?
Simon Taylor: My favorite moment with the audience is when I’m trying not to laugh. I’m trying to get on with the bit, and they’re enjoying me enjoying the show. So say a joke and then they react in an odd way, or there’s a gasp or something from the crowd, and I start laughing, and I try to continue. I try to get on with the bit, but I can’t. So when the audience makes me laugh, or the situation makes me laugh, or something’s happened, that’s the best bit, because they’ve broken my arm up, in a sense, of just delivering jokes at you. I’m part of this. I’m organic. I’m interacting with you. So I like when the audience derails me a little bit and I have to get back on track.
John Murch: Let’s talk about the importance of listening, then, because my understanding, I would have learnt this from Wil Anderson, is the fact that some of the best jokes in a show is when you’re listening to the audience’s reaction coming back at you.
Simon Taylor: Yeah, yeah.
John Murch: How is that for you?
Simon Taylor: Yeah, I think the audience decides what’s funny about you. You can’t go on and say, “I’ve decided this is funny, and this is what is gonna make you laugh.” Really, you go to those smaller rooms and you say, “Here’s a bunch of stuff,” and you kind of go in that direction. It’s almost like a plant will always grow towards the light. And I think a comedian’s material will always go towards the laughs. You listen in terms of what is funnest about me. If I make jokes about politics, do people like that from me? If I make jokes about sex, do people like that from me? If I make jokes about the way I look …
Simon Taylor: Tom Glesson is a good example. He does his sort of high status thing is like, “I’m great, and I’m cool, and you’re idiots,” and whatever. That is what we find funny about him. So I don’t think he sat in his bedroom and decided, “I’m gonna be high status.” I think he just over the years realized, “People laugh a lot when I’m high status, so I’m gonna continue to do that.” The audience would have told him through laughter, “That’s the direction you need to go.” And I feel the same with what I do. I just listen to the crowd.
John Murch: What’s the audience’s perception, do you perceive, of you?
Simon Taylor: Yeah, I think the comments I get a lot, “I love that you’re clean,” or, “I love that it’s clever or witty comedy,” or, “that you don’t swear.” And what’s funny to me is I do swear, but people, maybe it doesn’t register, or maybe I just don’t do it as conversationally. I think a swear word is like a technique for a joke. There’s a reason it’s there. It’s not really just like a habit. But, yeah. I think the perception of me maybe is I think that I’m perceived as high status, and then it’s funny when I do things that undercut that. I’m well-groomed, and I wear nice jackets, and I have sort of an educated accent to some degree.
Simon Taylor: So then when I fail and I suck and I do something stupid or I’m hopeless, that’s funny because it breaks this aura of being a well-off middle class, upper-middle class city boy. So undercutting that is what’s funny and what’s funny to me.
John Murch: How much do you rely on your university degree in psychology for comedy?
Simon Taylor: I think it helps in the sense of not taking a single experience too seriously, because when you study psychology and understand the gamut of human behavior and that to understand anything you need massive sample groups, and you need a lot of information and a lot of research. So if you have a bad experience in a standup show or a difficult experience with a heckler, you gotta put it in this perspective of humans are these really complicated, multi-faceted things. So it’s kind of given me more of a wisdom than sort of a practical understanding, I think.
John Murch: So there’s not a second guessing of the audience with it?
Simon Taylor: It doesn’t dictate my material, it just, when I’m thinking about standup in general, having done psychology just gives me more of a clinical approach to it like, “Hey, I don’t take any of this personally. Consider everything an experiment. What happens if I do this? Okay. That happened. All right, what happens if I do this?” It’s more of a, yeah, it’s more of a clinical approach to the whole practice of being a standup rather than, “Ah man, why didn’t that crowd like me?” I don’t take it as personally. I at least understand how people behave doesn’t always come down to you. There are too many variables.
John Murch: We’re currently in conversation with Simon Taylor whose current touring show is called Right Now, and you can find Funny from 2014 on Spotify if you want to hear Simon’s material there.
Simon Taylor: That’s true.
John Murch: Including, of course, the Adelaide onesie joke, onesie set in there as well.
Simon Taylor: Oh it is on there as well.
John Murch: How’s Jessica?
Simon Taylor: So that’s based on a woman who lives in the UK. I saw her last year. She’s as wild as ever. Yeah. Nothing every really came of it, but she knows that she was that story. But she’s so wild and loose and crazy and fun that she doesn’t care. So when you’re around her, she’s still just, “Hey, let’s go do this, and let’s go hang out.” So it’s sort of funny where it didn’t really phase her. She’s still the same sort of fun person to be around.
John Murch: And learned a little bit about the bro code with Jared as well?
Simon Taylor: I’ll be honest, that ending is for the sake of the joke. I mean, that guy, I think he’s married with kids now.
John Murch: Oh, which reminds me, The Bachelor, because there was a Jared in The Bachelor. Are you applying for the Bachelorette?
Simon Taylor: I don’t think so. I think about it.
John Murch: Season five.
Simon Taylor: I know.
John Murch: Adelaide’s had a good run, if you like Adelaide.
Simon Taylor: I’d like to hang out with Osher, because he’s a great dude. But I don’t know. I don’t think I could compete with the other dudes. I think I’d be out really quickly. I just, I feel they’ll be taller and they’ll have bigger muscles and they’ll be more attractive. And I’ll just be this docky little comedian that’ll probably say something stupid.
John Murch: You’re not that short.
Simon Taylor: I’m 5″ 7′. I’m Tom Cruise height.
John Murch: What is it about Osher Ginsburg that you particularly engage with?
Simon Taylor: Well, he helped me with the pilot last year. He was in a sketch in the pilot, and so we reached out to him because I had an idea for a sketch. And he was so onboard and so cool and funny. He nailed the sketch. From there, I sort of became friendly with him and then read his book, just been in touch with him and email and phone. So I just kind of feel like I have an ally now. Yeah, he’s awesome.
John Murch: Autistic kids.
Simon Taylor: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I used to work with Autistic kids. Studied psychology and then while I was doing that I was becoming a behavioral therapist which was essentially correcting behaviors of autistic kids. So I worked with maybe 13 to 14 kids over about four years, tried to develop normalized behavior with them and to reduce the extreme behaviors that a lot of them had, improve their eye contact, their language skills, emotional regulation and whatnot. And a lot of my skills as an entertainer sort of came from constantly having to entertain kids, because every time they did something we wanted we have to reinforce it with magic tricks or funny faces or making them laugh or being active and fun.
Simon Taylor: So I think that my entertainment skills really played a big factor. And so I often think about, “Oh, I’d like to do that again,” but you have to sort of commit to a child or a case for at least a year, which I wouldn’t be able to do. So I really like that problem solving sort of job. And, yeah, I miss it. I miss it a lot. And try to visit the kids occasionally but to some degree your goal is to not be in their life anymore for them to no longer need you. Yeah. So working with those kids for a long time was sort of, yeah, sort of shaped the sort of entertainer that I am, just being fun and playful.
John Murch: Is that of multi-skilling as well? Because you’re not just a comedian you’re also a magician. Talk us through that. And when you look at your career maybe for the coming three, six months to a year, how do you decide which aspects of your multi-talented bank to use?
Simon Taylor: Yeah. I think it’s just I never limited myself. I don’t believe the categories are that useful why I have them, really. I think when you go to a French guy they’ll put it cabaret here and comedy here and whatnot. But for me it’s, “Well, what do I want to say? What do I want the audience to experience?” And so if I want the audience to experience something uplifting, well, then music is really good for that, like a big musical song. I think a few years ago I had a big musical finale, because I wanted the audience to feel that. So as a standup to be able to do that, I think it’s sort of tricky.
Simon Taylor: Maybe you could do it in a story. Maybe you could do it in a spoken word palm to some degree. But I think I start with what do I want the audience to feel and what tools do I have to get there? And so if I want the audience to feel amazed or intrigued, the magic is the tool. If I want them just to feel like something is silly, then a dance. I’ll do silly, dumb dancing. I’ll dance like an idiot. So my goal is the audience experience, and I’ll use whatever I need to to get that. So, yeah, I don’t need a label. I think it’s just entertainer, really.
John Murch: What was the first album that Simon Taylor bought? Very much a Rockwiz question, but with your own money, of course.
Simon Taylor: Oh, this is tricky. It might have been Craig David. It could have been Craig David. Seven Days, I think, was the album. That’s possible. No, you know what? It wouldn’t be. How do I do this? So I would have bought Elvis on cassette when I was like five years old, and then probably Craig David or Usher or something like that. And then Michael Jackson. So, yeah. I know this is a non-answer, but it’s so tricky to pinpoint.
John Murch: All right. But R&B-ish?
Simon Taylor: It would have been R&B, yeah.
John Murch: Okay.
Simon Taylor: Yeah, yeah. Definitely. R&B and hiphop for a long time. Yeah, definitely that side of things.
John Murch: What was on your mixed tape at university? What were you giving people that you’re interested in? What music were you sharing with them at uni on a mixed tape?
Simon Taylor: Hypothetically what was I sharing with people?
John Murch: Yeah. Particularly those bit of a love interest.
Simon Taylor: Kanye. It would have been Kanye. Kanye during uni, yeah.
John Murch: Were you going Bon Iver there?
Simon Taylor: I was gonna say Bon Iver, but I think it was just after. I think that was just after uni. Yeah. So that’s what I would have sent people. But, yeah. It would have been Kanye during uni, for sure.
John Murch: What’s in the jukebox now for Simon Taylor, particularly while you’re writing this material and getting ready for a possible TV appearance?
Simon Taylor: Still a lot of rap music. I liked Eminem’s recent album, the new guys, and I call those new mumble rap that everyone talks about, Mac Miller is actually, that’s been my number one album the last year, Mac Miller. It was very sad when he passed away last year. But that album I played a lot, and that’s been a big inspiration. So Mac Miller is probably number one at the moment.
John Murch: When they do pass away, how do you then look at their work?
Simon Taylor: I don’t know. I’m a very emotional boy, so I kind of, I actually withdraw into their work. So I will put Mac Miller’s album on and just not do anything that day. I might go to the gym, but I’ll be listening to Mac Miller on the way there, do my workout and listen on the way back and just sort of sit and listen. So I will stop what I’m doing to listen. I certainly do that with music. I don’t generally like music while I’m working or writing or creating. I think it’s something that I stop and listen to.
Simon Taylor: And so an artist has to kind of, for me, be worthy of stopping and listening to. That’s why I probably don’t listen to house or rock or pop that much, because lyrically there’s too much repetition and they’re not saying much then it’s like, “Why did I stop to listen to this? This is background music. This is what the gyms play.” But rap I feel like has, they’ve got something to say and it’s intricate, and you listen, and you listen multiple times and you pick up different things each time.
Simon Taylor: So I really get immersed in it, and I think when Mac Miller died, I really got into it because I was just emotionally in a place where I wanted to feel sort of close to him again, because I had listened to his music for a long time and realizing, “Oh, this is the last one. This is the last album we get from him.”
John Murch: On this day, only a few hours ago, we learned about the passing of Keith Flint of Prodigy.
Simon Taylor: Yeah, right. Yeah, that was yesterday, right?
John Murch: So there’s a lot of people going through that kind of emotion as well, I guess, today.
Simon Taylor: Actually, I only heard it last night, and now that you’ve reminded me I’m probably gonna sit and listen to him the rest of the day. Because I think I’ll go through that same emotion and try listening and try to feel close to him again.
John Murch: Is it a reinterpretation of their music as well? So not just listening to what they were saying but maybe looking a bit deeper for some reason?
Simon Taylor: Sure. But I think that happens with whatever emotional state you’re in. I remember I was dating a girl throughout uni. She introduced me to the band, The Kooks. And when I listen to that album like, “Ah, man. This album is all about love and having a pretty girl, and this is what this album’s about.” And then we broke up, I listened to the album again, I’m like, “Wait a second. This is about a breakup. I actually heard all these lyrics that I never really tuned into before. So your emotional state can affect what you’re absorbing in the music.
John Murch: Was she telling me something by giving me the album?
Simon Taylor: Well, it was early in the relationship, so maybe it was, yeah, foreboding.
John Murch: Hopefully not. Let’s talk about the use of language with Simon Taylor.
Simon Taylor: Oh, sure.
John Murch: So much we can talk about. What would you like to talk about about the use of language? Because this is a pet project of yours.
Simon Taylor: Well, it’s just a pet interest, I guess. I’ve always enjoyed language. The start of the new show has sort of a big poem to start it off. I just like-
John Murch: Beat poem?
Simon Taylor: Yeah. Kind of a beat poem to it.
John Murch: Were you into the beat poems, before we continue?
Simon Taylor: Well, if we’re talking about selling their self again, Victorian Poetry slam champion 2011. But, yeah. I did poetry competitions. I was super broke, and I had this opportunity to compete in the poetry championships in Victoria, The Heat, the first Heat. And I did it, and I didn’t get through. I didn’t get through to the next stage. So I was so down about it, but the MC came up to me after and said, “There’s one more Heat. You should come.” I said, “Okay,” but I looked at the day of the Heat, and it was either that or go to this restaurant for a job, a chef, which I really didn’t want to do.
Simon Taylor: So I had this choice of, “Okay, what do I actually want to be in life? Do I want to be an entertainer, or do I want to just sort of get by from restaurant work or whatever I need to do?” And I though, “No, I’m gonna do this.” So I remember I caught the train out. It was a 40 minute train. And then I went to go get the bus, and I just missed the bus, and it was a 35 degree day. I’m looking at the time. I’m about to miss the Heat. I’m like, “All right. Maybe I should just go home. I might not make it.” I thought, “No, I’m gonna do this.” And I ran in the heat towards the library, and then I was on the wrong side of the road, and I had to jump the fence over a construction site.
Simon Taylor: And I cut myself so now I’m bleeding and I’m sweating. And I get in just in time. And I was so full of adrenaline, and I was on first that I just powered through spoken word poem. And I got through, and then I ended up winning the championship. And that was kind of a powerful moment for me in general of, “You would rather risk failing in something you want to do than pick something safe that doesn’t bring you any joy. So I kind of remind myself of that all the time. And so when it came to moving into standup already felt like I had been involved in that dedication to it being a creative in a sense.
John Murch: That’s also a phenomenal position to come from, because first stop, you pretty much would have owned that entire night, because people need to remember you from first stop all the way through.
Simon Taylor: And the blood on my shirt.
John Murch: Yeah, that could have been … The way that you describe language as well, is there a book about language in you?
Simon Taylor: Yeah. Actually, I wrote one. I wrote a book called How to Write a Joke, and it was all about constructing a joke and the linguistic tools and how to apply them. Yeah, I’ve written it. But it’s-
John Murch: I clearly haven’t done my research. Apologies.
Simon Taylor: No, no, no. But it’s not published. I’ve written it, but it’s sitting on my laptop.
John Murch: Okay. So just repeating, it hasn’t been published.
Simon Taylor: No.
John Murch: So I shouldn’t feel guilty that I haven’t done my research.
Simon Taylor: No, no, no. No, no, no. This is breaking news. Constantly writing and creating, and so there’s all sorts of projects that are on my laptop. I mean, this is a novel that is … This will be published. This is got a deal.
John Murch: This is a novel.
Simon Taylor: Yeah. So my show last year was called Happy Times, and it was all about being told I was gonna be a dad, and then being told I might not be the dad and then going through this rig-a-maurel of nine months of trying to work out if I was dad or not before finally getting paternity test. I did the show, and then a publisher saw it and said, “Oh, this should be a book.” So now I’m 30,000 words into it as a novel. So, yeah, going back to your earlier question of language, I think I have a fascination with language, and I like studying it.
Simon Taylor: To get the full potential out of it, I think it’s that toolbox thing again. If I want to create a novel and really share the emotion of the experience and the ridiculousness of it and the comedy of it and the drama of it, I want to be in full control of that set of tools. So I guess my fascination with language comes from that idea of how do I affect people and move people and give them the experience I want? So that plays into that whole entertainer thing again, having all these tools but also now as a writer.
John Murch: So the novel is based upon Happy Times, which is last year’s production, as you said, about not knowing whether or not you’re a father or not. We’re talking about a book about language, about the language of comedy or how words are constructed, I guess a companion piece to Tim Ferguson’s Cheeky Monkey, for example, maybe?
Simon Taylor: Yeah. I think he’s as broader in the sense of television writing and sitcom writing and how to … the bigger picture stuff. So I think his one is probably architecture, and mine is more how to hammer a nail into the wall. Mine is sort of the minute details with the … Yeah, the joke book would be, “This is how you construct a joke from scratch.” It’s slightly different. It’s more about the building blocks.
John Murch: Mmm. Same section of the library, though.
Simon Taylor: I’d say so.
John Murch: Yeah.
Simon Taylor: Yeah.
John Murch: Simon Taylor, have you written a children’s book?
Simon Taylor: Yeah, I wrote a kid’s book. So when I got the deal for the novel, I actually mentioned, “Oh, I’ve written some other stuff.” So I sent that joke book. I sent some kids books I had written, and they liked one of them called Sally and the Magical Sneeze. And it was just a joke I wrote for my godchildren because I … Providing them stories and making things up, and it just came out of just being silly. And so I was kind of lucky the book got picked up just as an extra to the novel. So, yeah. That was illustrated by a friend of mine, named Anita Lester.
John Murch: What kind of illustrations does she do?
Simon Taylor: Super bright and colorful watercolor-based. Yeah, yeah. It’s really good. I think I really like that she seems to be old school about it, just really wants the detail of her ink on paper or water color on paper as opposed to overly computerized, which I feel is the sort of direction a lot of books have taken now. They seem to be colored and done up on computer. She was classic about it.
John Murch: Like panels of artwork that you can actually pull out, take the words out maybe and just appreciate it that level.
Simon Taylor: Yeah, for sure. Yeah, definitely.
John Murch: What’s Sally?
Simon Taylor: Sally’s just sick at home in be and sad she has no one to play with her, and then she sneezes and all sorts of weird animals come out of her mouth, and she starts playing with them. There’s a fox with slinkies instead of arms, and there’s a bear on a bike and a cat with a book for a body and all sorts of silly ridiculous things.
John Murch: You’ll probably dislike this question or it’ll come a blank, but I’ll ask it anyway. And it is that of are audiences that different from city to city, country to country?
Simon Taylor: Yeah. But I think the variables are always so dense, and they’re changing with so many. So yes is the short answer, but there’s no discernible way to pinpoint it in an easy way. I guess comedians talk about Melbourne audiences versus Sydney audiences and things like that. But I don’t know, man, you’ve always got to adapt regardless. You could be in Melbourne and from one gig to the next you have to adapt. Here you’re in front of 20 people in a small venue, and here you’re in front of 400 people at you know Crown Casino or whatever. You have to adapt to there anyway. So if you’re now in a different city or a different country, you’ve got to adapt to the room itself. You’ve got to adapt to what the MC did.
Simon Taylor: You got to adapt to the weather that day. You got to adapt to what was in the news that day, and you got to adapt to the cultural aspect. So I think it’s just another variable that we’re constantly changing to. It doesn’t seem that big a deal.
John Murch: But I also saw from documentary … This is just a short 10-minute look into your life. An ISIS book, sunnies pack of cards are on your desk in your old apartment.
Simon Taylor: I didn’t even realise. Yeah, I was just reading a book on ISIS. I think it was, I was just trying to educate myself and what was going on and why that situation happened. What else was on there, sunnies?
John Murch: Sunnies, yeah. Deck of cards.
Simon Taylor: Deck of cards, yeah.
John Murch: Yeah.
Simon Taylor: Yeah, I would have had that. Well, cards are something, if you want to be good at cards and shuffling and things like that, it’s something you gotta kind of keep up all the time. So that’s why that –
John Murch: It makes sense. But the thing that did grab me, right of your old desk was a framed photo of the cast of Live at Bowen. Would that be-
Simon Taylor: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I think we really cherished our time together because we were all … None of us got paid, so we were all there because we love doing it. And I think that’s something we shared, and that comradery is something I really value that we all had the same drive and the same passion to be there. Because no one was paying us, and no one was our boss. We were there because we wanted to be there, and I think that’s something you may not get at a work place. People are there because they need to pay the bills. But we were there, because we loved doing it.
John Murch: And with the demise, it appears, of community television, that’s becoming more and more of a challenge as well.
Simon Taylor: Yeah. I’m hoping it’s still … I mean, the digital channel’s still there. It still gets some funding from universities, which I think is super important and is part of the courses. So I think it’ll evolve and it’ll morph. People still making shows at RMIT Melbourne. So that’s good. I would like more active support, I think. I think networks would be smart to use the digital channels, just put a little bit of money aside for up and comers, because a lot of it is people trying to get on ABC2 That’s really the new comedy and for untested talent they go to ABC2, and it’s crowded.
Simon Taylor: I think other networks would be wise in going, “Hey, we’ve got digital channels now. We need to feel a quota of Australian content. There are people who are willing to work for next to nothing because they want to break into the industry. And we were really good. We were really good at making something out of a zero dollar budget.
John Murch: Here’s a free kick for you. Right at this very moment who are those colleagues in that circle standing next to you or maybe just behind you? Who are those that we should be keeping an eye on?
Simon Taylor: Peter Jones is an excellent comic and is still doing those multiple gigs a night in Melbourne. Writes for The Project now. He’s been on ABC Up-Late. He’s really still deep in the comedy trenches, as we say. So Peter Jones is doing a great job of just maintaining that hustle. Elizabeth Davie was just in Adelaide doing a Fringe, Claire Sullivan. He’s an incredible writer. Everyone’s still working, I think. Everyone’s still doing what we intended to do. So, yeah. Those are my co-stars are still plugging away.
John Murch: Yeah. And I mention Bok, of course.
Simon Taylor: And Lauren Bok, yeah. Yeah, yeah. Well, she was, I think we were both co-hosts together. I’m pretty sure she’s teaching comedy as well. Yeah, so she’s hustling in the comedy world.
John Murch: Simon Taylor, you worked with Jay Leno. What was the experience having your paycheck and your final one, which was hung on your wall-
Simon Taylor: Oh, it was, yeah.
John Murch: … signed by Jay Leno?
Simon Taylor: Well, I think, I reflect on it like just this lucky break. It was really surreal. Because it just doesn’t seem like something could happen. It doesn’t seem like some open mic-er in Melbourne could turn up to LA and all of a sudden get a job writing for The Tonight Show. And it just, it happened so randomly. The sequence of events that took place for it to happen was it just seemed quite surreal and –
John Murch: Can you walk us through that? Because we’ve recently had, I think, Ronny Chieng getting on to The Late Shows, so talk us through the process back when you got that break. What was the sequence of events that just happened?
Simon Taylor: Right. So I was just visiting LA. A friend of mine, I met him in Melbourne Comedy Festival, a comedian. And he said, “Oh, well, you can come stay at me if you ever want to come visit LA and just write some jokes with me or whatever.” So I went over for two weeks. And I only got one gig booked. It’s very hard to get a gig booked in LA, because there’s a million comedians who want spots. And I did that show. The one show was at the back of a comic book store. And a producer from The Tonight Show saw me there, and he said, “Oh, do you want to come watch The Tonight Show?”
Simon Taylor: I said, “Yeah, I’d love to.” And so I went and watched it, and it was incredible. It was very Hollywood. It was so showbiz. I was just in awe of it. And then afterwards he said, “Oh, do you want to come back and meet Jay?” I’m like, “I guess so.” And when I met Jay I was just a smart arse to him. I said, “Oh, I could write for you.” And he said, “Oh, okay. Yeah. We’ll send something in then.” And so I turn to the producer, I’m like, “Did you hear him? He said I could send things in.” So I went home that night. I wrote two pages of jokes. And the reason I could write two pages quickly was because I’d been on Twitter. I’d been practicing every day. I’d written 10 jokes a day for at least two years.
John Murch: That’s when Twitter was great.
Simon Taylor: Yeah. Twitter was great because it was only text, so people had to read your things. But now it’s a photo or a GIF or it’s a news article or some outrage.
John Murch: People could actually share a quip back to help your art.
Simon Taylor: Yeah. For sure. And there was a learning process was like what I was saying before. A few people decide what’s funny about you. So you write a joke and if it got lots of re-tweets, I knew it was good. If it didn’t, I knew it sucked. So I developed that skill. So that night when I wrote two pages of jokes for Leno and sent it in, they’re like, “Yeah, great.” Because I’d had the skill ready. And so I kind of feel that with all the other endeavors, hopefully getting a Tonight Show or a variety show is I have the skills. I’ve been working on them for free.
Simon Taylor: So now let me sell them. So Leno was that opportunity. So it was really just going to LA on a whim and being able to get a spot and going backstage and being a smart-arse to Jay and just relating to him as a performer.
John Murch: I wanted to ask you regarding that, I think that’s why I wanted to mention Jay Leno. Experience is that of being an Aussie, is there a set of fresh eyes to the politics and the other things that were going on at all?
Simon Taylor: He thought there might be. He said, “All right. We’ll get an Australian perspective. But Americans just care about themselves. So I had to really get my head in an American mode. So there were few times where I think being Australian helped. I think I created an American mentality by the end of it.
John Murch: Did your personal politics, you don’t have to say what they were, but did your personal politics as an Australian help when you looked at what America was doing at the time?
Simon Taylor: No, I think you just become a bit jaded by it all. It all looks like a machine. You feel like what you get in the media is all just a game, that it’s not actually reflective of the practices taking place. Because something small one side does becomes blown up by the other side, and something the other side does is really bad is swept under the rug, because they use distraction. So I just thought the media as I was doing it was just one big machine to get attention and to weaponize and try hurt the other political party.
Simon Taylor: So I’m cynical if anything after it about … And media being representative … There’s good journalism out there, and there are really good writers and people who do that, but on the whole, a lot of it is just, “Let’s just keep these headlines pumping.”
John Murch: You also wrote for Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell as well post-Jay Leno from memory. What was that experience like? Because I imagine Shaun Micallef is a great South Australian Adelaide boy today as you sit here in South Australia.
Simon Taylor: It was kind of difficult. We were in a writer’s room churning away by ourselves. We were just sort of working on our own scripts and then pitching straight to Shaun. So it wasn’t a collaborative experience. To be honest, I actually prefer that. I’ve been in writer’s room where everyone’s pitching, and it feels like a dog fight to get your idea across. So I actually liked the way Shaun did it. We just pitched to him, and if he likes it, it’s in. So I think it was a good setup. Difficult because you’re just churning … It’s a shot in the dark. It’s like, “This? Do you like this, Shaun?” “Uh, not really.” “Oh, do you like this?” “Yeah, I do like that, but I like it in this way.”
Simon Taylor: You’re like, “Okay, we’ll change it.” So it was hard and good that it was hard, because it made me toughen up as a writer and really get really refined particular about how to write comedy. And I always just spend a lot of time asking Shaun questions and trying to sponge off him and learn from him and observe. Even though I was being paid, I took it as an internship like, “This is how I get better.”
John Murch: Did you toughen up your multi-skill-ness as well?
Simon Taylor: Well, yeah. I think it was writing the sketches was kind of new to me, because I’d always written one-liners. Being able to take on another skill, to try learn another skill, I think when you know that picking up a new skill is hard. It takes time and dedication and focus and repetition, I think getting it to the sketch writing type of thing I was aware, “Oh, this is something I need to go through that process. I need to practice and repeat and learn and whatnot.” So in that sense having learnt multiple skills helped me realize, “Oh, I need to do another one.”
John Murch: What’s the next decade for Simon Taylor like? Do you do that sort of five, 10 year plan?
Simon Taylor: Oh god. I don’t know. I do. It overwhelms me. Like in five years I think I’m gonna be in multiple countries, realistically.
John Murch: Still in your 30’s though?
Simon Taylor: I’m 31. So I think it’s gonna be part of the year in Australia and part of the year in America or the UK. I just got offered to tour the UK at the end of the year, and potentially sign with an agent there, and that is wonderful opportunity, but also overwhelming to me. It’s like, “Oh, well, I’ve got all these potential pathways. So in 10 years, I don’t know. I’d like to think I’d have some control over the career and be able to pick what I want to do and don’t want to do. But at the moment it’s now this uncertainty of, “Well, what’s the best pathway here?”
Simon Taylor: So I’d like to have a plan for five, 10 years, but the reality is you kind of just gotta wait and see. Because if I get work in Australia in Australia TV then I’m here. But if not, then I’ll go overseas to other markets. So it’s a wait and see type thing. So it’s really the path of least resistance. I’ll go to where the energy is.
John Murch: Three books as well in that mix, including the novel to the right of you as well. What are you more passionate about, the writing or the performing?
Simon Taylor: Yeah, I think performing is always number one for me. I don’t know, I think creating and doing projects is interesting to me. If there were an art project that I got passionate about then I’d do that. I think my mind just is something that creates ideas and then later I need to work out, “Well, what avenue is best for this? Is this a TV show? Is this a sitcom? Is this a t-shirt? Is this a book? I try to put myself in a position where my mind can create, and then I worry about what it becomes later.
John Murch: Let’s round out what has to be only classed as a hypothetical but it relates to music. The hypothetical is is that you get a late night TV show on Australian TV. That’s the hypothetical. I want to know whether or not you would actively or what degree include music in such a project.
Simon Taylor: I mean, the pilot ends in a song. I sing us out of the show. Yeah, there’s a band, and yeah, big part of it.
John Murch: Up and coming performers, would they be part of such a thing?
Simon Taylor: Maybe.
John Murch: Even if it’s hypothetical?
Simon Taylor: Yeah, yeah. I’d like to integrate them into the band as well, actually, to have guest performers and things like that. I think there’s generally speaking, not just music, but so much talent in Australia and the platforms seem small. And if I can in any way be a platform for young musicians, comedians, dancers, variety performers, that would be a real joy. Because I know the frustration of feeling like I have something to showcase but not having the platform to do it. So if I can be a platform for that, that would be very rewarding.
John Murch: Simon Taylor, it’s been absolutely fascinating.
Simon Taylor: Thank you very much.
John Murch: Thanks for your time.
Simon Taylor: Cheers.