Greg Fleet’s show this year was to be his 21st and quite rightly he titled it “Where’s My Pony?” Fleety, as he is endearingly called, is one of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s stalwarts, returning year after year to make us laugh or otherwise. Like Fleety, I returned to the festival this year for my 10th as a box office babe and to make you laugh or otherwise. I didn’t ask where my pony was but I did exclaim “Where’s my chocolate, Susan?” Each year the festival director gives us a chocolate heart from Pink Lady as a thank you for all our hard work and having not received it by the end of the night I was a little put out.
I think at this point in my box office career it is time to allow you into our world, one that fills us with exasperation, frustration, hilarity, insanity and booze. After the first 4 or 5 years most people tend to move on from the festival having had enough of the stress and volumes of punters that haven’t got a clue. They usually go to or come from the Edinburgh Festival or Adelaide Fringe and a few transfer from live action to cinematic glory with the Melbourne International Film Festival. One can be labelled a festival whore quite quickly and that’s fine with me as at least I know I am a damn good one and you will get your money’s worth! At the end of each comedy festival a few of us say we are not coming back next year but secretly we know that we will. The festival club after work is a great place to go and unwind, get trashed, chat with comedians and celebrity spot, if that’s what you like to do. I haven’t been to the club for a few years now and actually haven’t seen any shows either except for a few grabs of whoever is on in the main hall! I’ve done my partying and had a fantastic time with many memories. My record night was getting the 7am tram home.
With over 300 shows to choose from, every night there are thousands of punters mingling, reading, studying, wondering, note taking and discussing. The queue for tickets can be an hour long and most people don’t remember from year to year to allow for that so they get cranky. By the time they get to the front of the line the show they wanted has sold out or we don’t sell the tickets. We are asked all kinds of questions from ATM locations, where are comedians staying, who’s playing football this weekend and where is Darling Towers. At a comedy festival half of these questions are stupid. Now you may be forgiven for thinking that is a little unfair as there should not be any stupid questions, but let me give you an example, “What’s on TV tonight for comedy?” My case is not at rest here, there are more examples below.
Case Study 1 – The First Timer
Peter and Amanda are in the queue, they have been waiting patiently although getting a bit anxious as one of the headline acts they have chosen is due to start in 5 minutes. They didn’t book in advance, surely they could just rock up and get tickets to one of the most famous comedians/TV celebrities in Australia. After waiting for 30 minutes they reach the counter blurting out they want to see Dave. “Excellent, which Dave? We have many comedians in this country named Dave and I don’t know which one you are referring to.” The reply is “the one on TV.”
Case Study 2 – Steve The Smart Arse and Lenny The Lazy
Smart Steve rocks up to the counter with a smirk on his face as he is about to ask me something he thinks I have never heard before “What’s funny?” To that I reply, “Nothing is funny, it’s a comedy festival!!!!!” Lazy Lenny, his mate laughs raucously at my comment and gives Steve a little punch in the arm as if to say “She got ya there mate!” The festival guide is a comprehensive tome with every piece of information you need and that is why thousands of them are printed for you to use. “I want something funny. What’s on?” To that I say, “Look at the guide or perhaps try the daily diary to help you find something. “Nah, it’s too hard. What can you recommend?”
This last question is the most hated of all questions at a festival. I can recommend 20 shows to you and you will turn around and say “no” to all of them. I have just wasted 15 minutes because you are too lazy to read the program yourself and decide what YOU think is funny. Meanwhile the 100 people behind you are shuffling their feet and mumbling obscenities at you and me for taking so long. Of course, it will be my fault when you walk away in a bad mood because you couldn’t make a decision.
Steve and Lenny will go on to ask “Who’s the next Irish comedian?” or “Who’s that guy from TV?” That guy will generally be playing at The Athenaeum next door so we tell them to get tickets there. “Where is it?” “It’s just next door.” “How do I get there?” Most people would put one foot in front of the other and move their body forwards, this is commonly known as walking! “You go out this door, turn left and walk into the next door.” Under the flashing lights and signs that will blind you with information!!!!
Case Study 3 – The "Friend" of the Comedian
“That show is sold out.” “Oh no, it can’t be, I’ve come all the way from Perth to see him!” So many punters blurt this piece of information out to us in a plea to obtain tickets. “He’ll be so disappointed I couldn’t get tickets, he’s expecting me to see the show tonight. Can you do anything?” My answer is “NO!” As I stare blankly back at them my head is saying, “Well you should have booked tickets then. You were capable enough to book your plane ticket?”
When we say a show is sold out we mean it. Asking us if there is “just 1 seat” or “scattered seats” is pointless and STUPID!!!! Thinking themselves one up on us, some people say “it doesn’t say sold out on the board.” “SO!” I may have just sold the last ticket to the person before you so saying that isn’t going to get you a ticket. Sold out means sold out, no tickets, everyone else got their tickets BEFORE you and there are NO more. We cannot magically expand the venue just for you.
Case Study 4 – The Tightarse –How Do I Get A Comp?
Case 3 leads us perfectly into Case 4 which is all about the complimentary ticket. This ticket is the bane of any box office person, whether it be for a festival, play, musical, concert or sporting event. We go to many lengths to make the process or organisation and collection of comps straight forward but inevitably there are mishaps. It’s usually the artist who has promised someone a free ticket whilst accepting a drink from the fan who is gushing over them. They forget who and how many tickets they have offered and so the recipient comes to collect their freebie and it is not there. “But he said he would leave a ticket for me at the door!”
Once you know the lingo you could rock up anywhere claiming your name should be on the door. A lot of people this year would ask about promoter’s tickets being released to sell for a sold out event. It was incredibly annoying with them hanging around loitering at the counter bothering us every 5 minutes.
Case Study 5 – The Parent
The festival is for adults but over the years kids or teenagers have been coming and of course they generally walk away disappointed as shows are not suitable or they are in licenced venues. The kids shows have become increasingly popular so now there is usually a good selection for various age groups. Many parents have abused us for the lack of childrens options (I remind you, at an adult festival) and I just want to tell them where to go.
“What can you recommend for a 17 year old?” Honestly, you know your child better than I do, which is not at all, so isn’t he old enough to look at the guide himself? Really, at 17 I don’t think he needs you deciding which show he will like.
Case Study 6 – The Regular
Some punters are so incredibly organised it is insane. Their giant diaries, laptops or colour coded spreadsheets plonk down on our desk with notes written in each day for each show, pieces of paper with more notes on them flying loose threatening to be lost and options, options, options. We love these people but we hate them. They take a lot of work which is fine but we can never trust that they have done everything right. Oh, they will tell us they have checked all the times, discounts, venues and restrictions expecting us to go right ahead and not check ourselves. Buh bow!! (wrong buzzer sound) They won’t believe us when we give them information contrary to their research so they will then check the guide and show us what they know. They are still wrong.
Case Study 7 – The Penis Whisperer
Puppetry of the Penis, La Petit Mort and Storm In a D Cup are shows that people can’t seem to say aloud. “I want to go that show with the puppets.” We might say “Postcards From Purgatory?” “Um no, Puppetry of...” “Okay, PUPPETRY OF THE PENIS?” You want to watch the boys on stage playing with themselves?
“I want to see this show (person opens the guide and points to La Petit Mort).” La Petit Mort means orgasm.
Come on people, how old are you?
And so I could go on and on and on with examples. We’ve heard it all, we’ve seen it all but there is one answer I don’t have....
“Where is Darling Towers?”