The audio interview of this transcript is available here.
Morry: Comedian Gavin Sempel is one of the hardest working new comics in Australia. At the age of 18, in March 2016, Gavin Sempel began his stand up comedy career by enrolling in the very first School of Hard Knock Knocks course. Two years later, almost to the day, he’s done close to 300 open mic, curated and paid gigs all around Australia.
Morry: Last year, he performed his first Melbourne International Comedy Show and this year he’s doing it again with his show titled Plain and Sempel. But perhaps most impressive of all is that Gavin won the Victorian State Final for RAW Comedy, securing a spot in the RAW Comedy National Grand Final scheduled for April 15 at the Melbourne Town Hall.
Morry: This is an incredible underdog story and comedian Gavin Sempel’s performance as the headliner at the recent School of Hard Knock Knocks March graduation alongside his two very first comedy mentors, Brad Oakes and Ben Horowitz, makes it all the more remarkable. Yup, the grasshopper has become the master.
Morry: If you’re starting out in comedy and want a career path mapped out for you, then this is the episode for you. And while I have you, here’s a reminder to get along to The School of Hard Knock Knocks Community group on Facebook where we share free advice, tips and tricks and help you kickstart your comedy career. And you don’t even have to be a graduate, it’s for everyone.
Morry: Now here’s my interview with the very talented and hardworking Gavin Sempel.
Gavin I was talking to my dad and he said, “Gavin, if I died what would be one thing you remember me by?”
Gavin: I said, “First of all, not if, when.” [inaudible 00:02:32] “And second, not this conversation.”
Gavin: Right? Who brings up death at the dinner table? And I thought about it and I was just like okay, maybe the one memory that’s resonated in my head was the first time ever seen my dad getting a punch on. Like, a fight. In [inaudible 00:02:49]. That is top shit. That’s childhood memory number one. I lived in Redfern [inaudible 00:02:56]. Lived in Redfern and I went in to my dad, did a family bonding, and he went into line. I sat at the kid’s table and, all of a sudden, somebody had pushed in line at [inaudible 00:03:07]. And Dad was the only that was pissed off about this. So he confronted him and all of a sudden there was a bit of “fuck you” between them, right? I was like, “[inaudible 00:03:16] his wheelchair, Dad.” [inaudible 00:03:20].
Gavin: I was like [inaudible 00:03:24] and then all of a sudden things got hostile, Dad was thrown out of [inaudible 00:03:28]. Boy, that was good to watch. And then a few days passed… but the thing about [inaudible 00:03:34] was, my dad said to this guy one of the best lines you could ever hear. He said to this guy, he said, “If you don’t your mouth I’ll turn your glasses into contact lenses.”
Gavin: Hey, that’s pretty tough, right? I was like this guy can’t walk or see if Dad’s going to go at him. I was like, “That’s a good line.”
Gavin: And then I went back to school, went to primary school, and I went to my primary school bully named Ziggy… and if you get bullied by a guy named Ziggy, you’re fucked. That’s just bottom level. And I walk up to Ziggy and I was like, this is it. Right? And I said, “Yo Ziggy.” Full of confidence, all right? I was just like, “If you don’t shut your mouth,”… he wasn’t talking at all [inaudible 00:04:11]. And I was just like, “If you don’t shut your mouth Ziggy, I’ll turn your glasses into contact lenses.”
Gavin: Everybody was like, “This is sick. Gavin’s tough.” Put me in hospital, he was also three years younger.
Gavin: Anyway guys, thank you very much.
Morry: Good Afternoon Gav. How are you mate?
Gavin: Yeah, good. Yourself Morry?
Morry: Good, good. I’m over in Melbourne at the moment. Believe you’re over, at the moment, in Druon, in Gippsland, about to head over to the big smoke.
Gavin: Just waiting at home before I leave to the city.
Morry: Fantastic. The big smoke.
Morry: Now those that know you, Gavin Sempel… those that have met you in person at one of the many open mics or curated rooms that you’ve performed in over the last two years… know that you’re probably one of the hardest working new comedians there are. How long does it take to travel from your home in Drouin, Gippsland to Melbourne?
Gavin: So it takes 20 minutes to walk to the station and then an hour and a half on the train.
Morry: Gee. So roughly, without any delays, that’s a four hour return back home each night. That’s amazing.
Gavin: Not to say to travel from the city to other suburbs, as well.
Morry: Yeah, wow. Hundred percent committed. I think you win the award for the most committed new comedian, that is for sure. And we will talk about the recent award that you won as well in RAW Comedy.
Morry: But let’s start from the beginning because this podcast is all about learning from people like yourself who’ve done the hard yards and been very successful in a very short amount of time, I might add. Just for reference, to give an example, Dave Hughes took about four years, or over four years, of open mics before he really made a mark and you’ve certainly made a mark now, two years on. Because, as many people who listen to this podcast might know, you are now in the RAW Comedy National Grand Final.
Gavin: Yup, sure am.
Morry: Fantastic. And we will talk a little bit about that a little bit later. But let’s go back in time. Let’s go back almost two years, to the day, when we first met.
Morry : I remember you, I think you had your stereotypical shorts and your knobbly knees and you walk through the door and you were one of the first students, in fact you were in the first class of The School of Hard Knock Knocks. Set your mind back then, because you were 18 years of age, you’re walking into this room full of guys that were 10, 15, 20, 30 years older than you. What was going through your mind when you thought, “Oh, I’m gonna learn standup comedy”?
Gavin: Well, I actually thought that I would’ve been one of the weaker links in the classes. A lot of older people, especially hearing a couple of them say that they’ve done RAW before as well, and I was like, “These guys are going to be a lot more intelligent, a lot more quick-witted.” And it proved so.
Morry: And it proved so. Well, you were 18 at the time and that was two years before today’s, obviously, winning RAW Comedy Victorian Final and getting into the National Final. Now it’s interesting, you won the ticket back then, in 2016, and we had a competition going online… I think it might’ve been on Instagram of all things… and it was “Which comedian would you recommend to be the Prime Minister of Australia?”
Morry: Now, I can’t remember, who did you put forward?
Gavin: I’d put through Kyle Baron.
Morry: Carl Baron. And I think you had a funny joke about it, as well, but I can’t remember what you said at the time. So you won and you got involved in the course way back then. And your teacher was Brad Oakes.
Gavin: It was.
Morry: Brad Oakes and Ben Horowitz, of course. Now this week… so today’s Saturday, this past week is just gone by, two days ago on Thursday… you were onstage with the very two mentors, facilitators, that you had two years ago.
Gavin: Indeed. Got to share with Brad Oakes once again.
Morry: Yeah. So instead of being the grasshopper, comedian Gavin Sempel were an equal on stage with Brad Oakes.
Morry: Yeah. And go back in time to the first time you met Brad compared to today? What’s some of the different things going through your mind?
Gavin: I remember when he was teaching us back when I did the course and he sat me down and was mainly talking about nerves and delivery. And then getting to be on the stage with him on Thursday night and not have to worry about that at all. And just see him come up afterwards and he noticed the difference as well.
Morry: Yeah he did. Did he remember you by chance?
Gavin: Yeah, I’ve seen him at gigs before, like at the Comic’s Lounge. I’ve gone to watch and he’s been on. So he knew my face and then he congratulated on the set and said he was pretty happy to see how developed I’ve been.
Morry: Yeah, well it’s fantastic. And, obviously in this case, Brad and Ben Horowitz gave you a good start, but really it’s been your hard work. And what is it today? 290 something gigs that you’ve done?
Gavin: Today is 292.
Morry: 292. Wow, that’s incredible. And you did the course. You graduated on, I think it was, the 26th of March, 2016. Right now the date is the 31st of March, 2018. So that’s, give or take three or four days, that is two years. That means that you’ve been doing gigs every two or three days. That’s amazing.
Gavin: The first year, from March to the end of the year, I only did about 40 and then last year I clocked 190 gigs in a year.
Morry: Wow. Amazing. That 190 gigs in a year. So what are you? A VIP on V Line?
Gavin: I am. All the conductors know me.
Morry: Yeah, I imagine they do. Do you get freebies?
Gavin: Yeah. Sometimes, if we get on a on pack of them because of the coaches that we have to catch due to the Sky Route, they just let me just get on for free because they know that I’m going all the way home.
Morry: Yeah, righto. Super nice. Well done V Line, you’re helping a young comedian there. It’s almost like a sponsorship program. Excellent.
Morry: For those that don’t know you Gav, but obviously will start to hear of you because you’re going to be in the newspaper and you will be on TV, how would you describe your comedy? Quickly, from my perspective, you do… as a lot of comedians do… talk about your personal journey but you also talk about how tough your personal journey is.
Gavin: Yeah. So particularly with my show as well, it’s a mix of self-deprecating with storytelling, So I like to just mainly talk about all the… Like half my show is about when I was living in western Sydney in housing commission and all the struggles with that and just finding humor in what we went through on a day-to-day basis. And then the other half’s just talking about verbal, physical bullying that I’ve copped from being skinny. Just trying to find ways to turn that into laughter.
Morry: Yeah, right, right. I’m sure. Bullying is terrible, of course, but you’ve turned that weakness into a strength because you make it hilarious.
Morry: Do you do it on purpose? Do you wear those shorts so that everyone can see your knees?
Gavin: Exactly. Because there’s a bit in my festival show that requires a bit of physical comedy and then I decided it would be a lot funnier if I wear shorts during the show so they can see the legs whilst I’m doing it.
Morry: Yeah. Fantastic. Nah, it’s a winner. It’s a winner. Yeah. Look, I really enjoy the stories. Obviously it’s a very personal journey but you seem to see the silver lining around every particular negative incident that you’ve gone through which is funny. It’s tragedy but again… what did Mel Brooks say? That “Tragedy is me cutting my finger, comedy is you falling down a sewer and dying”.
Morry: Yeah. So we do enjoy listening about your falling down sewers, I guess. That’s a weird way of looking at it. Now you are at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year. This is the second year, I believe?
Gavin: Yeah. So last year I did a free comedy festival with Kieran Butler. Now, this year, I’ve decided I’m going to do a booked night, my best hour for two years.
Morry: Wow. That’s great. And that’s at the Basement Cafe over on La Trobe, is that right?
Gavin: Yep. 350 La Trobe Street.
Morry: And that’s near, for those that don’t know that specific venue, is that opposite Flagstaff Gardens or nearby?
Gavin: It’s on the same road as Flagstaff. Turn left and just walk straight down from Flagstaff and you should be there within two minutes.
Morry: Oh, fantastic. Now you’ve got four shows for five, sixth and seventh of April.
Gavin: Yep, pretty much. From the fourth to the seventh at half past seven.
Morry: Half past seven. Excellent.
Morry: And on one of those nights, the sixth of April, you’re actually doing two shows because you’re popping along to The School of Hard Knock Knocks and doing a 09:45 show underneath the State Library of Victoria.
Gavin: Yep. So I’ll just do my show, grab a kebab and then head on over to the show.
Morry: Fantastic. Now your own show, called ‘Plain and Sempel’, is an hour. And then the one that you’re doing for the SHKK, The School of Hard Knock Knocks, is only ten to fifteen minutes. So is comedian Gavin Sempel going to speak faster or are you just going to pack in the best bits?
Gavin: Just going to just rap the whole fifteen minutes. No, I think what I’ll do is just try and find about five minutes… because my show is built into three sections… so I’ll just try and find five minutes of each section to try and do.
Morry: Yep. Perfect. Perfect.
Morry: That’s a big thing. The four shows and then The School of Hard Knock Knocks. That’s amazing and good luck with that. But we do need to talk about the incredible achievement and that is you won the final for Victoria RAW Comedy with, is it Scout? Who was the lady that also won?
Gavin: Scout Boxall.
Morry: Scout Boxall. Fantastic name. And so she and you will be representing Victoria at the RAW Comedy National Grand Final on April the 15th at the Town Hall. How you feeling about that?
Gavin: I am absolutely nervous. I’ve never been nervous on stage before but TV at the Town Hall is finally hitting me.
Morry: It’s going to be packed. I mean, there’ll be thousands of people there. Will it be the biggest audience you’ve ever played to?
Gavin: Well yeah, definitely. Definitely the biggest audience I’ve ever been to.
Morry: Have you thought about what you’re going to wear? You going to get extra short shorts and rub red paint on your knees?
Gavin: Yeah. Actually what I’m doing is… because obviously you have to be careful what you wear because it’s going to be on TV… but I’ve got a shirt that I’ve made up for when I did a show back in Bunya, back at home, and I’m wearing that as well as my Bunya footy shorts.
Morry: Oh lovely. Are they really tight? Warwick Capper type shorts or…
Gavin: No, they’re baggy. They’re the baggy training shorts, but they cut off… I wore them when I did the [inaudible 00:15:35]. They fold in so the legs just shoot out.
Morry: Fantastic. It’s going to be amazing. The School of Hard Knock Knocks will be there with a big posse of supporters screaming your name and hopefully not making you any more nervous. Have you got any strategies that you’re working towards so that you can take out the crowd?
Gavin: I was speaking to [inaudible 00:15:59] who was at my prelims and he told me, before I went into the State Final, he said, “As long as you do exactly, word for word, what you did in the prelim in the State, you’ll be perfectly fine.” And I think that’s all I’ve got to do is just get on that stage and just do exactly what I did at the State and I’ll be in for a chance.
Morry: Yeah, yeah. Well, what are you now? You’re 20 years of age?
Morry: Wow. You’ve got an amazing level of confidence. Obviously you didn’t have that confidence two years ago when we first met you but you’ve developed an incredible level of confidence and you’ve got this persona on stage of someone who shouldn’t have that level of confidence. I think that’s humorous in its own right even without the stories. So it’s an amazing achievement. Well, Gav, I know you’ve got to get that train to Melbourne and you’ve actually got a show today. Is that right? David Ross has got a show that you’re coming in? Just Kidding?
Gavin: I’m one of the feature acts at his night. His show called Just Kidding.
Gavin: So I’ll be performing stories about coincidentally childhood, so it’ll be fun.
Morry: Wonderful. Well, unfortunately the people that listen to this podcast… this podcast will come out in a couple of days time, probably Monday or Tuesday, but just in time for your other gigs… they won’t get a reminder about your show tonight. But best of luck, Gav, with that. And I’ll be seeing you face to face on the 6th of April when you come and do our show. And mate, good luck. And we’ll see you on the 15th of April at the Melbourne Town Hall for the RAW Comedy National Grand Final where you represent Victoria.
Morry: Again, best of luck – Comedian Gavin Sempel!
Gavin: Thank you so much, Morry.
(Note: Gavin has since gone on to come Runner’s Up at the National Grand Final of Raw Comedy, and appear on Australia’s Got Talent).