The audio interview of this transcript is available here.
Morry: In her very first Melbourne International Comedy Festival show, Nikki Was Born, not only sold out, but also managed to attract over $100,000 of free or earned publicity for her show, On The Spectrum. That’s the good news. The bad news was she also endured an emotional onslaught for her show’s topic, autism. In this School of Hard Knock Knocks podcast, you’ll learn how Nikki’s go hard or go home attitude helped her battle online trolls and survive the criticism. All while polishing and improving her show to make it a positive experience for all and a true success.
Morry: And if the name Nikki Osborne is familiar but you can’t recall it from the stand-up comedy scene, that’s because she’s best known for her TV appearances, most recently as Delvene Delaney in the TV miniseries, Hoges: The Paul Hogan Story. She’s also a regular face on game shows, either as the host or as the witty contestants.
Morry: Nikki Osborne is extremely talented and an inspiration to anyone who’s interested in smashing the status quo. Whether that’s on stage or on screen. So I’m sure you’ll enjoy this interview. And if you’re enjoying these podcasts and would like to become part of a comedy community, we’ve launched our School of Hard Knocks podcast community group on Facebook. It’s absolutely free to join and full of advice. Now here’s my interview with Nikki Osborne.
Nikki: When you first find out that your child’s on the spectrum, it’s usually because you see some traits. The first trait that we had with Teddy was everywhere he went, he had to take his bucket. His bucket. He had to have… And this is serious. Everywhere we went, he had to have three marbles, two pieces of string, a piece of Play-Doh, three batteries and a match. He’s not autistic. He’s MacGyver. Either that or he’s building a bomb.
Morry: Good afternoon, Nikki. Good day, how are you?
Nikki: Good day, Morry. How are you doing?
Morry: I’m very good now. I believe you are currently in a car on the Mornington Peninsula right now.
Nikki: Yes I am. I’m sitting by the beach because I live in the sticks. I’m in the Bush, so I’ve got no reception. Which can be quite a luxury when you want to escape the social media. But yeah, I have to drive down to the beach whenever I want to have an interview.
Morry: Oh, is that right? Okay, so you’ve got a beautiful view of Port Phillip Bay right now. Maybe some clouds or stormy weather.
Nikki: Yeah, and a couple of gulls. And a woman who looks like she’s contemplating life and some old guy having a smoker.
Morry: There we go. And they’re wondering why you’re talking to yourself in a car.
Nikki: Fucking yeah.
Morry: Yeah. Well, let’s get stuck into it because you’ve done amazing things and we will talk about your career more broadly in a moment. But because this is a comedy and particularly a stand-up comedy podcast where people who are interested in stand-up comedy come to get ideas and hear thoughts and advice, I want to go straight into your comedy first. I believe this is the first time you’ve ever entered the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Is that right?
Nikki: Yes, this is true. And the advice I would give to you is don’t do a show about autism.
Morry: Well, it’s already being done to death almost. I mean, that’s it. Your show was called On The Spectrum.
Morry: And it was about your son who’s on the spectrum, who has…
Nikki: He has HFA, which is high functioning autism, which is the new terminology for Asperger’s. Except it’s all in acronyms now. It’s according to the revised BSN number five. It’s all in the comedy show.
Morry: Yeah and it was a comedy show, which we’ll talk a bit about the reaction of that. So firstly, have you done comedy before? Have you done stand-up before?
Nikki: Not really. I mean, we studied it at drama school and we all got to do a five-minute stand-up show. That was my first go at it. And then I had to give a comedy mentor session to the law students. I had to give a comedy mentoring session to the Melbourne Law Review students. So I did a little bit then. And now, I just thought, that’s it. I’ll just do a one-woman show. Why not? Let’s maverick it up.
Morry: Yeah. And you mavericked it up so much that you left it three days before.
Nikki: Yes. Well, I was so torn. I was really conflicted. Because firstly, doing stand-up in itself is terrifying, let alone the subject matter that I was going to do. But I was so determined to kind of de-stigmatize people’s attitude towards autism. I thought comedy was the best platform to do it. I finally convinced myself three days before registration closed, that yep, stuff it, I’ll do it. And I called up and yeah, kind of had to cram in all the registration stuff.
Nikki: Yeah, I have a show.
Morry: And what a show you had. Now Nikki, probably a couple of months ago, if you’d googled your name, you would’ve got Hoges, the TV show that you were on, playing a very… And we’ll get to that in a minute. You would’ve got some of your game shows that you’ve not only been on but also hosted. Some of your acting. Some in the US. But if you Google your name right now, whoa. It is all about autism. I can only commend you on the amount of publicity that you… They say free, non-spend publicity that you got for your Melbourne International Comedy Festival show. First time you’ve ever done it and you blew away every other act, in terms of free press. But it was also stressful, wasn’t it?
Nikki: Yeah. Well that’s the thing. Everyone’s going, “You know, it’s great. It’s great. You got so much publicity. You’ve got like $100,000 worth of publicity.” I’m like, yeah, but I am being torn apart on the social, by people that I am meant to be advocating for, who really don’t want me to advocate for them. Because they just totally misinterpreted what my show was about.
Morry: Yeah. Right.
Nikki: And they’re like, you can’t make autism funny. I’m like, I actually can. You need to come and see, because you actually can. You can make it really positive. I mean even The Big Bang theory and even, you know, The Good Doctor is a drama, but there’s so many comedic moments in it. And that was what it was all about. But yeah, holy heck, I got in a lot of trouble. So emotionally, it was very taxing. My mom was worried about me and my dad and my husband kept stealing my phone, so I stopped reading all the trolling comments.
Morry: The trolls. Yeah.
Nikki: But I tell you what, it made for a very meaningful and successful show. My first ever stand-up show was sold out.
Morry: You’re amazing.
Nikki: We had to bring extra tables and chairs. I got moved to the biggest theatre.
Morry: That is amazing.
Nikki: [inaudible 00:07:45]. I was nervous. But I did the whole show drinking Scotch, so that takes the edge off.
Morry: Yeah, right, right, right. Well it’s all over now. The Melbourne International Comedy Festival finished a week ago. And how do you feel? What’s life like after MICF?
Nikki: You know what? It’s good. I’ve got a show that has legs. You know, I was rewriting every night because I’m like, no, that doesn’t work. That doesn’t fly. That felt a bit negative. They want more of that. Need to put a song at the end. Need to do this, need to do that. And by the final night, it was going off and it was such a positive experience. And I’ve got people in Queensland going, “Bring it to Queensland.” People saying, “Bring it to Perth, bring it to Adelaide.” And a lot of services are saying, “Oh, we want to see it. Where can we see it?” No, I’ve managed to tap into a subject that is very noisy and a lot of people want to see it, which is really, really nice. And it’s funny. Most find it funny.
Morry: It’s funny and I wonder if all those critics are the kind of people who would never go to comedy in the first place, because they’ve got a bit of a stick up their ass.
Nikki: Yeah, that’s highly possible.
Morry: That’s my words, not yours, of course.
Nikki: I know.
Morry: They can be lovely people.
Nikki: Look, some of them did come. Some of them did come, but they came to opening night when I did the whole opener was kind of biting back at the trolls, as I call them. So they did leave with a bitter taste in their mouth. Whoops. What are you going to do? You know? If you’re going to attack me online, I’m going to have a bit of a go back. Why not?
Morry: Yeah. Keyboard warriors.
Nikki: Once I got over that, I got rid of all of that, it was like, no, that’s not what the show is about. This is meant to be a really positive experience. And I just wanted to craft it so I got a laugh and a clap. That’s pretty much every cue and by the end, I had that. So I’m happy with that.
Morry: Excellent. So we might see the show sometime through the year? Would it be something you’d bring back next year? 2019 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
Nikki: I don’t know that I’d want to do the comedy festival again, because you’re competing against, you know, 700 acts all the time and you just got to do so many shows. And because I’ve got kids. I’m too tired to do it. But I am going to tour this show, because people want it to be toured, which is really nice. So yeah, I’ll be advertising that soon. And I’ve just got to work out which venues I’m going to go to.
Morry: Yeah, right.
Nikki: That’s where I’m at right now.
Morry: I find it amazing that this is the first time you’ve gone into stand-up. Obviously, you do have a comedic edge because you played… If we go now into bit of your acting, you played a Delvene Delaney, who in the Hoges: The Paul Hogan story, for those that aren’t familiar with the nickname Hoges…
Nikki: Yes. In the the mini series.
Morry: And of course Delvene was the beautiful blonde, but also the very witty, intelligent blonde that blew the stereotype, the Aussie blonde stereotype out of the water.
Nikki: Yeah, I know. She did it what, 40 years ago? And I feel like I’m having to do it again now because I feel like we regressed a little after Delvene went to Byron and disappeared.
Morry: Yeah. Yeah.
Nikki: But yeah, it feels like we’re currently having to end that stereotype. Because no, I’m not the foil. We’re not just the foils. Just because we look good in boils and a hot frock. Doesn’t mean that we don’t have something hilarious to say. So, it was great playing her. It was meant to be. And I loved it.
Morry: Yeah. And where did you get that comic timing from? For both stand-up and in this case, acting?
Nikki: Probably my dad. My dad’s really, really very funny. And so is my mom, to be honest. And growing up at the dinner table, we just would hang shit on one another the entire meal. And I think that’s where I kind of exercised my quick wit. And also drama school, believe it or not, we used to do these improvisational exercises every day. And it was just where you had to get your brain going so, so fast. And we had to do that every day. It’s like a sprinter. If you keep doing sprints, you get faster and faster because it’s in your muscle memory. I think it’s the same as being funny. You do it more and more and more. Your brain memory, you can retrieve funny thoughts faster. I don’t know, it’s just my theory.
Morry: Yeah, no. Right. Does that help you with the show cram?
Nikki: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And you just got to stay loose and stay true to your humor and you have to just listen, listen, listen. Because I find if you go there with ideas of what you’re going to say, you’ll never get a chance to pitch it. But if you listen, then yeah. Plenty material will come to you.
Nikki: Well, hopefully.
Morry: Yeah, right. Right. We’ve just talked about your TV show there, Hoges. You have also been in a zombie flick. Is that right?
Nikki: Well, no, I haven’t actually shot it yet.
Morry: Oh, you haven’t shot it.
Nikki: No, it hasn’t been shot.
Morry: All the marketing’s out there and I’m looking at the dates and 2017. I’m thinking, what’s happening? What’s happening? Is it not being shot?
Nikki: I’ve been attached to a zombie film, but you know, as with any production, it takes years to get up. So he’s trying to get all the crew together. He’s trying to get all the cast together. I think I’m meant to be playing Samara Weaving’s mom, which you know, I’d rather play her sister. But she’s killing it in Hollywood at the moment. So you know, he’s got to get a lot of ducks in a row for it to go ahead. And I’m [crosstalk 00:13:12] attached to that.
Morry: Is it a serious…
Morry: It’s a drama? Or comedy? No, it’s a…
Nikki: It’s spoof.
Nikki: It’s a bit of both.
Nikki: It’s meant to be pretty scary. But you know, any horror film, zombie film, there’s always an element of comedy.
Morry: Before Dawn is the name of it, I believe. Or that’s the working title.
Nikki: Yes. Correct.
Morry: Because I’m a massive fan of zombie movies. I made my own zombie movie when I was a teenager, back in high school.
Nikki: Did you really?
Morry: Yeah. Yeah. So whenever I… For example, Greg Fleet, who I’ve interviewed for this podcast as well, you may know he was in… Maybe you get inspiration from his acting in his movie. That zombie movie was called Me and My Mates vs the Zombie Apocalypse. Which must be a drama, I assume, by that title.
Morry: Yeah, a couple of big names in that one, too. So you had Jim Jefferies, was one of the actors in that. And Alex. Alex Williamson.
Nikki: Oh, right. Okay. So you know, a bit of a fee-based cost there.
Morry: Yeah. Yeah. Well, you know Jim Jefferies does he have his own TV show. So you never know what’s going to happen after your zombie movie comes out.
Nikki: True. true.
Morry: We will follow that closely. Yeah. And sketch comedy. So going back to TV, Troy Kinne, you’ve got the show called Kinne.
Morry: And you’ve appeared on that a couple of times. Tell us about that experience.
Nikki: Yeah, that was fun. I met Troy through a mutual friend, Josh Lawson, a few years ago. And apparently Troy used to watch me on Quizmania. So that was why he wanted to meet me. And then we caught up, he said, “Oh look, I’m doing a sketch comedy show with channel seven. Do you want to be on it?” I went, “Yeah. Sounds like fun.” He said, “You want to shoot a of sketches on the weekend?” I went, “Yeah, it sounds like fun.” So yeah, that’s how that all started and had so much fun shooting Kinne. I’ve got to say Troy Kinne is a very funny writer. Very good writer.
Morry: Yeah, yeah.
Nikki: And that was great. But you know, whenever you’re in someone else’s comedy show, normally you’re playing the foil because they want all the funny lines. And that’s why I kind of branched off and started writing my own more female skewed sketches. I don’t know if you’ve seen them, but I did a whole series of spoofs of The Bachelorette, once they came out with The Bachelorette. Yeah, I’ve got quite a few sketches online.
Morry: Is that available on YouTube or where is that available?
Nikki: They’re on my Facebook official page. Nikki Osborne Facebook page.
Morry: I will link to that. So all the listeners, check out the link and you’ll find that.
Nikki: Yeah. And some sketches are in my stand-up show as well, because I thought, I know that my sketch is really fly, so it’d be nice to have that as a fallback in case I’m bombing on stage.
Morry: Yeah. Excellent. So sketch comedy is sort of the next thing you want to develop? Your own personal brand in sketch comedy?
Nikki: Well, I’m currently writing my own sketch comedy show. I can’t go into too many details about that, but that is in the works, which is very, very exciting. I don’t know how people write narrative comedies or write films. My mind, I can only do an arc of about a minute, four minutes max. So that’s how my brain works. So sketch comedy is perfect for me.
Morry: And millennials, they love you too.
Nikki: Yeah, exactly.
Morry: That’s about their attention span as well.
Nikki: And that’s where the audience is now, it’s all online. [inaudible 00:16:37] said to me once, I had put a four-minute sketch online, they said that’s the equivalent to picking out War and Peace to read. Four minutes is way too long. So I had to cut it down to a minute because that’s all people can really cope with.
Morry: Yeah. It’s a shame, isn’t it? Yeah. No more long form anymore.
Nikki: No, no. Gone are the days. It’s just got to be short and sweet, like in the bedroom.
Morry: That’s right. Well, talking about your entire comedic career, and that encompasses TV, movies. Although you’ve got a bit of a serious side, haven’t you? You’ve done some drama in the US.
Nikki: Yes, I have got a bit of drama. I studied drama at the Academy of the Arts. I have a drama degree, which is fucking useless. I learned a lot of stuff, but having an actual degree is like, what’s the point?
Nikki: But yeah, when I first graduated, it was in Sydney and I was launched into the audition rooms and I was auditioning for drama. And I think one of the first big gigs, I think that was an American mini-series, The Mystery of Natalie Wood. And that was an Oscar-winning director, Peter Bogdanovich. It was baptism by fire again. I say I don’t do things by halves. If I’m going to have a crack at something, it’s got to be big. Go hard or go home.
Morry: Yeah. Good. Well that kind of leads into my next question, which is for people listening to this podcast who want to get into showbiz and you’ve done the biz very well, what advice… Is there some rules? Is it go big, go home? Is that, is that the mantra that anyone getting into the comedy business or the acting business or the entertainment business should be following?
Nikki: Yeah, you’ve got to. You’ve got to be able to set yourself apart and you’ve got to commit. I find that the people who are really flying at the moment are the creatively arrogant. People just go, “Nah, this is my thing. You like it, you lump it, whatever.” And I just find that really works. But I’ve been fine tuning my comedic skills over a good 20 years.
Nikki: I’m not a complete maverick when it comes to stand-up. I think I’ve been quite lucky that it’s worked. But also that doing sketches, I think doing online sketches really, really hones your comedic skills because you have to work out how to set up a premise, how to get in, and then have the test at the end that gets the big laugh. And if you can work that out in sketch comedy and little bits that you upload and people give you feedback whether you asked for it or not, but you will get feedback. I find that that’s a great way to start because anyone can do it. Anyone’s got access to on camera and they can… Or You can start with your phone. Upload, see what people think, see what people respond to. Find your shtick. Then go and do some open mic nights. Not that I did, I did one, that’s it. You find your shtick.
Morry: And have a thick skin.
Nikki: And have a very, very thick skin or have a very solid support network around you, which is what I had. Because I don’t have a very thick skin. I cried most of the comedy festival.
Morry: Oh, you did?
Nikki: Yeah, I really did.
Morry: Oh maybe a good release. A way of release.
Nikki: Well, I actually give a shit. Yeah. It’s a relief that I actually give a shit about how I affect people, you know? So that was really, really hard for me and that’s why I’m lucky to have a real support network around me.
Nikki: But yeah, I guess you do. I don’t know if you need a thick skin, but you need to be able to listen to feedback and criticism and get better, but you certainly need to be resilient.
Nikki: You need to be able to just take it on the chin. Hit the ground. That’s going to happen. Get back up. Dust yourself off. Have another crack. I mean, what’s your motto? The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.
Morry: Yep, Yep. That’s it.
Nikki: So yeah, you’re going to [inaudible 00:20:37] a lot, but you just have to keep getting back up, getting back up, getting back up, go and, and get it. Okay, that was shit, but okay, I’ll try it like this this time.
Morry: True, true. Yeah. And I guess listen to the right people, not the trolls.
Nikki: Yeah. Pretty much listen to people that have your best interests at heart and not theirs. But I guess if you’re covering a subject like mine, which is such a sensitive subject, you have to listen a little bit. But within reason. Some people just want to get angry and they just get offended.
Nikki: In fact, I wrote a sketch about it. I didn’t play it, but I wrote a sketch about it called Escape to the Country. Except I dropped the O. It’s a place where people can go to escape the politically correct climate of the city.
Morry: Yeah, yeah. Well, I imagine show business and the TV business is, yeah, it’s very similar. I’m sure there’s a lot of egos in the world that you’ve come from already.
Nikki: Absolutely. But I guess you’ve got to have a certain amount of self belief to survive, because if you’re living in the spotlight, like as I’ve discovered… Rain Man, they did a show about autism, but that was a whole production. The Good Doctor. Again, there are hundreds of people involved in that. So they can all kind of stand together and defend what they’re doing. I’m one woman. I’m one person and I am copying it from everywhere and it’s just me. So yeah, that’s been a bit fun, actually. [inaudible 00:22:14].
Morry: Well, you get the full support from us. Look at the School of Hard Knock Knocks. We’re very much about.. In fact, we have a section on taboos. Well, we actually had disabilities as one of those. Of course not in no way making fun of the person with a disability, but highlighting it and not hiding it and bringing it to the front. Because sadly, a lot of the truth and a lot of the news and a lot of progressive society starts from comedy. It doesn’t start elsewhere.
Nikki: Yeah. That’s very, very true. And I’m the first to tap into this genre. Or tap into this topic within stand-up. And I hope it actually starts a movement of kind of normalizing the conversation about autism. Make it more positively embraced and more socially acceptable to understand the traits. And you know, they themselves admit that they do funny things. We shouldn’t be wrapping them up in cotton wool, because life’s really hard. The world’s hard. If they can laugh along with us and we’d laugh along with them, then I think life would be much easier for both parties.
Morry: Wise, wise words.
Nikki: It’s very serious. Very serious for a comedy podcast.
Morry: Oh yeah, look, it’s good.
Nikki: There you go.
Morry: It’s very good. It’s very good. Well, you said you’re very busy with this upcoming show that you can’t talk about, but if someone wanted to get in contact with you, maybe they have a zombie movie ready to go and they’ve got the financing, how would someone get in contact with Nikki Osborne?
Nikki: Okay. Probably the most efficient way is through my agent, actually. JM Agency. So just Google them. You’ll find their e-mail. They’re really quick to respond. Because if anything comes through my professional Facebook page, I often miss it because it doesn’t ping at me and then I don’t see it. So yeah, I think through my agent, JM Agency, is definitely the way forward.
Morry: Perfect. Well, Nikki, look, you are part of Australian history now. Not just talking about Hoges: The Paul Hogan Story, I’m talking about your recent Melbourne International Comedy Festival show. The first time you’ve ever done it, you smashed it in terms of selling out shows. You smashed it in terms of getting so much free publicity. You talked about a subject that, to many, is a taboo and shouldn’t be. So well done. Congratulations.
Nikki: Thank you. I like it when you spin it like that. It sounds good. Thanks. I appreciate it.
Morry: You’re welcome. Thumbs up from here.
Nikki: [inaudible 00:24:55].
Morry: Well, Nikki, thank you very much for your time. Looking at the water, the beautiful water, I hope that lady who’s contemplating is still standing there and hasn’t disappeared off the side of the cliff. She’s all positive.
Nikki: Oh no. She’s done a herald home. She’s disappeared.
Morry: Oh, she’s gone, is she? Oh no. Oh well. Don’t know where to go from there. Nikki, thank you. Thanks very much for your time and I look forward to seeing the show On The Spectrum with Nikki Osborne. Thank you very much.
Nikki: You’re welcome.