In the world of stand up comedy, a special place is reserved for the ‘Comic’s Comic’. Comedians whose names you’re more likely to hear in comedy club smoking areas than office lunch rooms or late night talk shows. Those who forsake television, film and podcasts to single mindedly pursue the craft they love. Performers who’s laughs often come loudest from the back of the room, where their peers lean against walls, notebooks in hand, and ask themselves ‘why didn’t I think of that?’.
And yet, for the comedians themselves, such a label might be considered a back-handed compliment; a comics success is contingent on their audience after all, and no amount of eye rolls or whispers of ‘hack’ from bitter contemporaries can drown out the roar of a crowd in raptures. But for EJ Rovedi, there are few compliments higher than being branded a comedian’s comedian.
“One of the biggest things for me is peer respect…if these people are here everyday grinding in the trenches, failing, succeeding, like I am, and they’re paying attention to me…that’s a good compass”
EJ’s drive for peer respect is evident in the integrity of all elements of his stand up: his writing is razor sharp, every word is scrutinized, each syllable has to earn its way to the stage, with premises that are absurd, insightful, and undeniably his own. On stage, his delivery is hypnotic; it leaves you unsure if he’s in a trance or just leading you into one. Most of all, every line is presented with an unshakeable confidence; if you could watch EJ perform on mute, it would be near impossible to tell if he was killing or bombing, he holds himself with a poise that says ‘you’re welcome to think this isn’t funny…but you’d be wrong’. The end result is a comedic style defined by idiosyncrasies, one that is truly distinctive in the Sydney scene, impressively so for a comic with less than three years experience.
“My brother’s a really good skater, and I would watch skaters with him and go ‘that guy looks good’, and he’d go ‘nah, that guys a beamer’…and then I saw it, he wants everyone’s approval, whenever he lands a trick, the first thing he does is his head goes on a swivel, like ‘did everyone see that?’…I like not beaming…I don’t want to be a beamer.”
But considering EJ’s life story, it would be ignorant to expect him to be anything but unique. EJ grew up in a family of Jehova’s Witnesses, one that struggled so much with finances that for 6 months he shared a bed with his brother and father. EJ’s Dad is one of Sydney’s most successful Private Investigators, and at 18 years of age, EJ established his own, rival PI firm, losing thousands of dollars in the process. Five years after leaving school, EJ began dating his high school crush, who almost a decade earlier, he wrote a letter of unrequited love that was later passed around his school assembly and read aloud to anyone who cared to listen.
Yet EJ tells these stories with a baffling air of indifference, as if these experiences are too commonplace to ever belong on stage.
“No, I don’t want to write about [my life]…Sure that’s pretty funny about my Dad, but everyone writes about their Dad…I’ve just never thought I had anything interesting to talk about really, not about myself…I’m trying to find new land”
When EJ talks about finding ‘new land’, he means going beyond unique takes on the everyday world. He’d rather mine subject areas people had never even considered before. But in comedy, uniqueness is a double edged sword. There’s an accessibility that comes with familiarity; Netflix is filled with comedy specials of everyday guys and girls who would rather talk about dating gaffes and supermarket shopping than the gender murder gap or the evolutionary origin of squirting (two of my favourite Rovedi premises), and in stand up, points are awarded for relatability. But for EJ, pandering to an audience is the surest path to failure,
“I think if I tried to be an audience member’s comic…it would be like keeping up a lie the entire time. I think if I have any chance of being a success, it’s just being true to what I am and being a comics comic.”
Such a mindset comes at a price, I’ve heard comics theorise that the best path to success is knowing where the line of ‘hack’ is and standing just behind it. Despite what you might expect, there can be a distinction between comedy that’s good and comedy that works, and modern comedians can hardly be blamed for focusing on the latter. But in a time where the world’s most successful comedian alternates between selling out football stadiums and co-starring in films with The Rock, I am forever thankful for the comic’s comic.
You can see EJ performing at stand up nights all over Sydney, and follow him on Instagram @elliottrovedi