On Sunday, Michael Gerard Bauer hosted a comedy breakfast panel with Oliver Phommavanh and Barry Jonsberg.
They talked about early influences, from dads who told very bad jokes, to old sitcoms. Then Michael asked “When writing comedy, what is that magic ingredient that makes something funny?”
Barry: I like humour that wounds. For example, in one of the emails I sent to Michael prior to this, I said I was a bit worried about the name ‘chair’ being used for him. I thought maybe ‘stool’ might be work better on so many levels.”
Michael: I think one of the requirements you listed, was to get rid of me, in order to boost attendance numbers.
Barry: That wasn’t a joke…
They discussed what made things funny (they decided it was the element of surprise), then Michael asked, “Does comedy have serious side, can it do things that drama can’t?”
Oliver: It can engage kids, and it’s also a great way to talk about serious issues, because there’s always a light side to things as well as a serious side. Morris Gleitzman was very good at this. There is a thin line between comedy and tragedy. A few tweaks and it crosses that line.
Barry: As a teacher it is very useful to engage the children, but it is a thin line – a funny teacher or a teacher who thinks he’s funny… it’s a tricky one to do.
Oliver: I used to be a crazy teacher as well. I used to bring out these toys here, [he picks up a Care Bear and speaks in a high voice] “High, my name is Grumpy Bear and he’ll be teaching you art, and I’ll be doing Maths and Science.” I had a year six class and they’d be thinking “What are you doing, that’s just a teddy bear!” After months they cracked and went along with it.
Michael: If I had both of you in my grade eight English class, what would I be in for?
Oliver: I would basically send the teachers into nervous breakdown. One of my teachers was lactose intolerant, so I just wrote these really descriptive paragraphs on dairy milk and cheese products, and eventually he got a rash from it. So mission accomplished.
Barry: I’d be the quiet kid in the corner, laughing at Oliver and egging him on. I’d be writing the A-grade essays while Oliver was getting thrown out.
Michael: You would have been my favourite, Barry. And Oliver… No.
They talked about the origin of Barry’s book, My life as an alphabet from a classroom exercise, and Oliver’s book, Con-nerd from his family knowing lots of child geniuses. Funny experiences during school visits included 32 year old Oliver being mistaken for the exchange kid, and one time getting in trouble for being out of uniform. Eventually Barry ribbed Michael so much he retaliated:
Michael: Remember how I said your first book was short-listed for the CBCA award? I didn’t mention who won that year.
Barry went on to tell us how he worked out he hadn’t won because he was asked to announce the winners in Darwin: “I thought this was some kind of clue because the ceremony was down in Sydney which was where Michael was to receive the award. So I read out ‘The winner is Michael Gerard Bauer for The running man,’ and my wife who is in the audience goes ‘Yay!’ and claps. I told my mother and she said, ‘Well it did deserve to win.'”
Thus began their “friendship”…
Barry Jonsberg writes books for young adults and children. He lives in Darwin where he teaches and writes. His books include: The whole business with Kiffo and the pit bull (Shortlisted for CBCA 2005), Dreamrider, Being here, Pandora Jones, and the multi-award winning My life as an alphabet. See more at: http://www.barryjonsberg.com/
Oliver Phommavanh is based in Sydney. His books include: Thai-riffic!, Con-nerd, Thai-no-mite!, Suff happens: Ethan, and Punchlines. http://www.oliverwriter.com/
Michael Gerard Bauer lives in Brisbane. His books include The Running Man (won CBCA 2005), Don’t Call Me Ishmael!, Just a Dog, You Turkeys!, Eric Vale Epic Fail. http://michaelgerardbauer.wordpress.com