Rhys Nicholson explains why Australian comedians are upping their game ahead of Replay Festival

Lyrics by Niam Hegarty

Comedy Republic, Melbourne’s dedicated comedy venue, replays the most talked about shows from the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

That means winners, sold-out seasons, critics’ favorites and indie masterpieces return for one last hurray.

The all-star program features some of the biggest names in Australian comedy, alongside the best groundbreaking comedians to hit the stage. To top it all off, Comedy Republic has teamed up with Stomping Ground to bring back the Laughing Matter Pale Ale as an exclusive.

We spoke to award-winning comedian and Comedy Republic co-owner Rhys Nicholson about what to expect from the upcoming festival and the rise of Australian comedy more broadly.

Read Melbourne’s most comprehensive range of articles and interviews here.

It turns out, unsurprisingly, that Nicholson has been pretty busy. Most recently they won the 2022 Melbourne International Comedy Award for Best Show for Rhys! Rhys! Rhys! They also have a stand-up special on Netflix – Living at the Athenaeum — and Rhys recently served as a co-host on Ru Paul’s Drag Race Down.

Somehow, in the midst of their chaotic schedule, the idea arose from the Replay Festival.

“Well, one of the first ideas we had when we put on shows for Replay was that the Melbourne International Comedy Festival was ending and we couldn’t think of any other space where those shows could go,” says Rhys.

“People spend a very, very long time on these shows and after the festival is over they kind of die. And you can’t see everything, people often miss things at the festival, so Replay is, in a way, a bounce festival where some of the Melbourne Comedy Festival’s top performers can come and do their shows again.

Rhys also explains Comedy Republic to the uninitiated: “Melbourne is famous for great comedy but it’s still bar shows, Comedy Republic is a space dedicated to comedy. I just remember Judith Lucy standing in the back of a bar show and I was thinking ‘Judith Lucy doesn’t need to be standing in the back of a bar’ so we started looking for locations.

“A lot of times with comedy we have a room that has shitty seating for the audience or bad conditions for the comedians where they kind of hide in the toilet before their set. So what we’ve done with Comedy Republic is create a beautiful space for the audience and the artists. We serve good cocktails.

“Comedy is an important art form to me, and we want to get to a place where we treat it like that, as opposed to just a way for a pub to make money.”

This is the second year of the Replay Festival and kicks off with Lloyd Langford’s DILF on June 25, a new hour of stand up from the best Welsh comedian currently working in Australia.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Replay Festival is the All-Star Best In Show: Award Winners and Nominees Showcase event which will bring together the top MICF students. This show is a one night only event on July 6th.

Winners Frankie McNair, Bronwyn Kuss, Alex Hines and Charlie Lewin lead the pack, along with brilliant nominees Mish Wittrup, Sunanda Sachatrakul and Ashley Apap.

The program of the Replay Festival

Frankie McNair
Winner – Best Newcomer 2022
Bronwyn’s Kiss
Winner – Director’s Choice Award 2022, Nominee – Best Newcomer 2022
Charlie Levin
Winner – Best Newcomer 2021
Alex Hines
Winner – Golden Gibbo Award 2022
Mish Wittrup
Nominated – Best Newcomer 2022
Nominated – Best Newcomer 2022
Ashley Apap
Nominated – Golden Gibbo Award

Rhys also paid tribute to Scout Boxall and their show Buck Wild which runs on Thursday, July 7. After an acclaimed season at the MICF, Scout returns with his manic energy for an encore performance of wild male.

Directed by Michelle Brasier, wild male is an immersive hour of carefully curated cerebral mayhem with intertwined stand-ups, stories and original songs that defy genre, gender, common sense and the “diagnostic and statistical manual”.

Meanwhile, the immersive theatrical experience of Ultimate Hollywood Tours: Ben Russell and Maggie Looke is highly recommended.

Ben Russell and Maggie Looke will take you on an immersive comedy theater experience, transforming an alleyway in Melbourne’s CBD into hot and scorching LA. You will meet the stars and fallen stars of Hollywood in an intimate setting. Ultimate Hollywood Tours is small and different, just like its performers. The performance will take place in all weathers as Hollywood happens to be undercover.

Rhys also mentions that top newcomer Mish Wittrup with his show White soybean fat is a sight not to be missed. His first solo show Mish’s show White soybean fat is basically the inner ramblings of a 30-something who really should be in her 20s but has somehow lost about 10 years of her life to sex, men, bad movies, and minimum-wage office jobs.

And, of course, there is Rhys! Rhys! Rhys!, the universally acclaimed show from Rhys himself. Rhys notes that although they hadn’t performed in a few years and were somewhat nervous about taking the stage, they were completely thrilled with the accolades received.

“It’s the happiest show I’ve ever been on with a show and the last time I was on stage was filming my Netflix special in November 2019 so it’s been a while and I was really terrified to be honest.

“Due to Covid I think there’s been a lack of buzz around Comedy Festival shows lately because I think the buzz comes from other artists going to each other’s shows and getting together then and say, ‘Oh my god, did you see, so and so is the show’?”

Rhys, rather modestly given that they were a perennial favorite, says their Most Outstanding Performance win was a complete shock.

“I was at a friend’s house for dinner and we were checking Twitter thinking someone in the venue would be nominated, and then when my name came up I was, like, ‘Oh fuck’ and started to freak out. really drunk.

“I’m really happy with the jokes a minute, I really like the jokes and this is the most jokes a minute I’ve ever had on a show.”

After the whole scene has endured, it will be a relief to many to hear Rhys – as one of Melbourne’s comedy faces – say the local scene is in a great place, and the best in the country.

“People go to shows here, you don’t have to trick them into attending, people are really supportive and open,” they say.

“[The pandemic] meant that for the first time in a long time the comedy festival audience was more local-focused and it meant that all of the awards and nominations this year were for local Australian comedians.

“It was really lovely and encouraging to see the paying public really behind the acts. It means it’s pumped up a generation, everyone has had to raise their game and have improved a lot over the last couple of years.

The Replay Festival takes place at Comedy Republic from June 22 through July 22. You can view the full program here.

This article was produced in partnership with Replay Festival.

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