Speaking with a Hoopy Dude:
Justin Hamilton is Circular

Posted on 17 March 2011

Justin Hamilton is a long time fixture of the Australian comedy scene. He has won the 2007 Moosehead Award and MICF Directors’ Award for Three Colours Hammo. He was nominated in 2008 for the MICF Barry Award for The Killing Joke. He has also done much to support budding comedians. He and Lehmo ran a comedy room in Adelaide. He has also taught at Jeez Louise, a program for training women interested in comedy careers.

So I can pretend we are doing this in my favourite cafe instead of by email: tell me, what are you wearing and what are you drinking?

Justin: Easy: I’m wearing a plain black t-shirt, dark blue jeans with dark blue Adidas sneakers. I’ve just knocked back an Espresso and have a water and an orange juice on the go.

You have a new show for the Melbourne Comedy Festival entitled Circular. I’m excited about your show’s concept: blending technology and standup. My last post-grad degree is in storytelling for digital media. So, I’m over the moon about this experiment. What inspired you to do something so complex?

Justin: I think the comedy scene in Australia is quite conservative at the moment and what I mean by that is if an idea is too complex the majority of Festival attendees will shut their minds to it. The thought of doing a straight stand up show bores me but I know over the years I have done my career more harm by being too different. So this year I wanted to keep myself motivated and try not to scare off the general public. So if you go and just watch the show you can walk away and have experienced a straight stand up show. If you want more though you can make the effort and discover all sorts of treats that are there waiting to be experienced. Either way of enjoying the show is completely valid. Those who follow the app and the ongoing blogs in the lead up though will walk away with a much richer experience though.

Can you tell us a little about Circular?

Justin: There are two themes to the show. One is about the advancement of technology and the way it has a distancing effect over us all. Example: we can get in touch with anyone, anywhere anytime but it is amazing how little everyone has to say. The second theme which is much subtler is about identity and how we may have a solid idea of who we are but in fact it is much more fluid, consistently changing, often without us even knowing. The show has eight stories and the final story is the most important: last year I received a message on my phone from a number I didn’t recognise, from a person who didn’t leave their name and told me that their Mother died. How I dealt with that brings everything in the show together thematically and directly.

You seem to be very interested in issues about where online interactions are pushing our culture and our relationship with artists and storytelling. Do you see these directions as positive or negative and why?

Justin: I don’t see them as either. What I do see is our relationship to these new ways of communicating and how they’re not defined yet. We have embraced these opportunities and abilities without thinking them through and therefore what their possible consequences are. With greater scrutiny comes a tendency to over think and that produces for the most part bland art. Once we learn how to master these new relationships through a better understanding of technology I think we’ll find some amazing artistic achievement.

You go much deeper than many comedians into issues about life, death, and human connection. The jokes can be light, but the overall picture you paint is one of both stark blacks and whites. In some ways you are putting more of yourself on stage than most performers. That must be an emotionally intense thing to do, at least at certain stages. What draws you to this sort of performance?

Justin: My main influences in everything I do are Woody Allen, David Bowie, Grant Morrison and Dennis Potter. There are a few comedians I watch that I adore: Louis CK at the moment, Stewart Lee, some old Eddie Izzard but for the most part when I write I look for inspiration outside of comedy. I would say the pictures that I paint are less black and white though. I am more interested in contradiction and while I play the part of trickster on stage the reality of my real life is very much protected by the fiction of my onstage persona. I know people are confused by the two, that is the lot of the comedian because we’re always meant to be telling the absolute truth but often the truths are masked by jokes and subtle story telling tricks. I would say at this point in my career I am ready for new challenges and am looking for new creative lands to conquer that are outside of the Australian stand up scene. This could be a lovely show to bow out on if the fancy takes me that way.

Your work involves a lot of self-examination. To a degree all observational humour does. But you’re mixing it up with stories that need satisfying endings. When you develop a show do you start with a free-flow of thoughts and ideas that get slowly organised to create that ending, or do you start with a framework and build around it with those same thoughts?

Justin: I have a basic idea and let it flow from there. I was quite surprised where this show finished, it was a treat. The play I wrote Goodbye Ruby Tuesday I knew exactly how that would finish before I began writing it, a girl sitting on a bench saying goodbye to someone she may never have met. Even then the balloon motif and writing of her real name came later in the process. This year I wrote a show that was about 12,000 words, not including all the extra treats found on my blog and app. I’ve edited that down to 9,500 and in the process found new links and ideas so it is constantly changing. That isn’t including the places that I leave open for improvisation that help keep you in the moment every show. And the best thing about a story is that you can give it an ending for, as you know every day life only really has one ending and that is death. Everything else is just a pause before the next moment begins.

Over the last few years you’ve been doing midlife crisis humour. People can certainly relate to that. It also brings up questions about values: is this as important as I thought it was when I was in my twenties? What do you find valuable about comedy?

Justin: Interesting. I haven’t thought of it that way. I’d say there has been more crisis in meaning than mid life crisis. When you’re in your twenties you’re just working out who you are and who you’re going to be. In your thirties you have a keener sense of your identity and so therefore if you so choose to you have more interesting ideas to explore and talk about. I would say The Killing Joke was definitely a show more about a crisis of what is the point of being a comedian; what do you aim for in this country? How do you justify who you are onstage to who you really are in the real world? Goodbye Ruby Tuesday was more about exploring the relationship between comedian and audience and is there any responsibility inherent in that? The novel I just finished writing The Comedian was originally going to be a show but instead expanded itself into something more and will finish off this unofficial trilogy and explores whether a comedian who has lost his soul can find it again especially if they’re essentially very shallow. It is dark humour at it’s best. And after that I think I have nothing to say about stand up for the immediate future.

One of the things I love about your work is that you don’t portray yourself as all sweetness and light, nor do your portray life as such; however, you still respect the need to care and be engaged with life as it is. Where does that come from for you?

Justin: I have no interest in labeling myself. I’m human. I do lovely things and I do fucked up things. I’m empathetic and completely self obsessed. I don’t trust anyone who states they are one type of person. It has probably worked against me in the scene. I know my life would have been a lot easier if everyone could have just labeled me as “that type of comedian” but as I get older I have no use for game playing and in the process have rejected it as well as I can. But I would be a liar if I stated that it doesn’t happen at all? I just do my best to avoid it. Where does this all come from? Pretty much my Mum but I find the people I look up to are the ones who lead by actions rather than words.

What piece of advice would you give up and coming comedians?

Justin: Keep writing and embrace your failures. With social media kids are out in the public well before they’re ready and therefore that leads to a very conservative outlook. Try not to worry about how you look and what you’re going to put on Facebook. Get onstage, try things and make mistakes. You will learn more from your mistakes than you will your successes. And this is the most fun part of the career. Don’t be worrying if you’re going to be on TV, just try to be funny in many different ways and over time you will discover your voice. Once that happens the rewards you crave will come your way. Most importantly just keep writing. Every day. Even if it is just a sentence or an idea.

When, where, and how can people see your show at the Melbourne Comedy Festival?

Justin: I am at Vic’s Bar at the Victoria Hotel on Little Collins Street just around the corner from the Town Hall, 9.45pm Tues-Sat, 8.45pm Sun. It really is where all the cool kids hang out especially if you want to avoid the Peter Cook bar and the Hi Fi Bar. To join in the fun of the show type in circular.justinhamilton.com.au to your phone and play with the app. There will be blogs at justinhamilton.com.au that will inform the app and the show throughout the festival and I’m launching a competition where the winner will be taken out to lunch by me at the end of the fest where they can ask me any questions ranging from how do you write a show to is so and so a complete douche. I will answer all questions as honestly as I can.

And here comes the non sequitur question. If you were a hair product, what would it be and why?

Justin: I’m wax: not as popular and trendy as the other hair products but when you go back to it you realise you have underestimated it and it really gets the job done in a most satisfactory way.

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. I look forward to participating in your show Circular. Tickets to your show can be purchased on the Melbourne International Comedy Festival site.

Justin: No worries at all. It is nice to answer interesting questions for a change.

Peace and kindness,


PS: What the heck is that circular thing behind you on your poster? Radar control? Photographic device? Circular slide rule?

You would have to contact the lads at blaster-utd.com about that one, they’re the geniuses behind that image in particular. They’re very good, they take my ideas and make them shinier.

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