Who are the Aboriginal Comedy Allstars?
Text by Steph Tisdell
The count down to Edinburgh has well and truly begun! On the 29th of July, the Aboriginal Comedy Allstars will board a plane to the other side of the world. We’re coming to Scotland and we can’t wait to make you laugh.
To those of you reading this that aren’t from Australia, allow me to set the scene. Australia is a vast land where deserts are as common as rainforests, where on one end of the country we have the highest recorded temperature in an inhabited city (Cloncurry 53 degrees!), and on the other, we have snow and mountain ranges to rival the highlands. We have beaches with white sand, we even have beaches with pink, orange and black sand. Our fauna is unique and beautiful, our flora just as much so. Our sunsets are among the most beautiful in the world, casting purples, oranges and pinks across the sky, a nod to the beauty held below the horizon.
We are a nation full of unique stories and voices, a proverbial melting pot of experiences from around the world. Australia is also home to the oldest continuing culture in the world; our First Nations people, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, a proud community with a rich history. The Aboriginal Comedy Allstars represent this community and the breadth of experiences from our people. So, I suppose, it only makes sense to tell you a little about us!
My name is Steph Tisdell. I’m a proud Yidinji woman. My people are from far North QLD, just beyond Cairns. My clan, Dulguburra Yidinji, are rainforest people. We’re short, stout and love freshwater streams. I also have British ancestry, specifically from Northern England. I have been a comedian for about 5 years. I got my start in a National competition for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival called ‘Deadly Funny.’ It’s a competition aimed at finding the best Indigenous comic talent in Australia. I won the competition in 2014 and then, 5 weeks later, moved to Edinburgh. Fast forward five years, I won the ‘Pinder Prize’ for my show this year and that is the reason I’m heading to the Fringe. But if my bio doesn’t interest you, please allow me to tell you what comedy is really about for me and why I thank my lucky stars everyday that I get to share the international stage with comedy greats Andy Saunders and Kevin Kropinyeri.
Andy Saunders is one of the most intelligent men I have ever met. He is a Biripi man from Taree. The ocean is important to his mob, and if you don’t believe me, ask Andy how often he goes surfing. Having become of Australia's most popular and successful acts, his trenchant observations of human behaviour and sharp material, combined with skills in attracting and holding the attention of audiences of all ages are a powerful combination.
When I first met Andy, I knew he would become a huge part of my life. He is encouraging and inspiring. He always champions Indigenous talent, finding every opportunity he can to showcase our people in the best light possible. I had the utter pleasure to perform in his hometown, Taree, with him this year. It was an emotional experience knowing him the way I did, as a mentor and uncle figure, and then realising this is exactly how he is viewed within this whole town of people. He has the respect and admiration of a nation behind him because of his smarts, his wit, his wisdom and how he leads by example. To highlight to you, the reader, how wonderful this man is, I want to make you aware that not only has he been someone I can look up to, he has been a shoulder when times get tough, a loan when I struggled financially and a guide in making sure my jokes always land. And now we get to come together to take our message further. Andy has been a big advocate for the need to spread our brand internationally. If that wasn’t enough, he also sings, dances, beatboxes and was a model for a time. He’s annoyingly talented and so kind to boot.
Then we come to Kevin Kropinyeri. Kevin is a one-man whirlwind that will have you holding your sides laughing, as he shares tales of growing up, marriage and the particular, absurd challenges of life as an Aboriginal Australian family man. A high-energy performer, Kevin is sharp, likeable, silly and measured; mixing keen observational stand up with joyfully ridiculous physical comedy. Kevin tours Australia constantly, appearing all over the country, including some of the most remote communities, and is a bona fide star of the Indigenous performing arts. Everything he does is for the purposes of showing Australia the true talent we possess in our black communities. Kevin openly reminds me that he is literally only one generation away from a dirt floor; he grew up on a mission outside of Adelaide. His life didn’t start as a privileged one. Yet his commitment to making sure that those around him get to lead one is admirable to say the very least.
I consider Kevin my biggest inspiration and my strongest mentor. When I first started comedy, Kevin gave me opportunities that others in my position would have killed for. I felt overwhelmed at his kindness, but when I asked how I could repay the kindness, his response changed me life. Kevin said: “You owe me, and us, nothing. What we are doing is for mob. We haven’t given you anything. All we can do is leave the door open behind us. It is up to you whether you open the door and walk through. However, if you do, there’s only one thing I ask: leave the door ajar for other black artists and invite them to walk with you.”
As a result of this, I have taken on 2 new performers, offering them mentorship and opportunities. Excitingly, they have also brought other performers on board. In a landscape where racial bullying and loss of opportunities still genuinely happens, it is such an incredible thing to be a part of building a counter culture. To me, Kevin has been the biggest driving force of this. And now we get to come to you and share our stories and love. Every conversation with Andy and Kevin always starts and ends with ‘I love you.’ We are friends, but family would be more accurate. Aboriginal Comedy Allstars is the culmination of years of experience and oodles of love and respect. We carry the stories of our ancestors and the plight of our people. We want to share with you our love of culture and our love of comedy.