Not playing it cool

Originally published March 13, 2013 in Capital Times. 

Eamonn Marra hates being labelled, and it is impossible to say he’s one thing. Writer, musician, student, radio show DJ, zine-maker, prolific reader, relentless multimedia chronicler of life at http://www.yourjokesarealwaysbad.tumblr.com – all of the above applies. Since he moved to Wellington about a year ago, he’s added stand-up comedian to the list.

He hates competitions as much as he hates labels, but he’ll join 40 other performers to duel for the last laugh in the annual Raw Comedy Quest, beginning March 14.

The annual comedy show-down can led to as near to greatness as a comic can get in New Zealand, but Marra isn’t rubbing his hands in anticipation. Remember: he hates this, but that’s part of his shtick. He’s an accidental comedian who arrived onstage via the unlikely route of poetry slams, which he began performing a couple years ago while still living in his native Christchurch.
“The poems that would go off the best were the funny ones,” he says, explaining that he made concerted efforts to dig deeper with un-funny poetry, but the laughter seemed to indicate something else was at play. “So I dropped the poetry and started doing comedy about one year ago.”

As Marra talks, his forehead slicks with sweat and his hand visibly quakes and fidgets with a glass of Six Barrel Soda. We’ve met on a warm-for-Wellington afternoon, but his discomfort seems of a higher order. It’s also the tool of his comic trade, he says.

“I can be really nervous on stage because my material works with that. It’s just me being scared on stage and not talking to the crowd directly and looking down and it’s not an act I’m putting on. It’s just who I am.”

Marra leans on the art of how things are said as much as the content itself. Discussing his depression and anxiety, mocking the meds he’s been on since he was 19 or moments in counselling, all is made farcical by his delivery – awkward, shaky, sweaty. He’s the un-cool guy not playing it cool.

“Comedy hasn’t actually been a big interest of mine,” says the 23-year-old when asked which comedians he watches or loves. A student of English and philosophy at Victoria University, he spends more time reading (a book a week is his goal) than studying clips or comedy routines. If he takes in comedy, it’s usually live and local.

“When I started I didn’t like many comedians at all here and the more I watch them the more I appreciate what they do and laugh at what they’re doing,” he says. “My favourite comedians don’t have jokes and punch lines, but are building up situations that don’t necessarily have places in them to laugh. There’s not always a joke in there.”

Along a similar vein, Marra hopes to do something a bit different with his comedy, citing a recent Christchurch gig at which he distributed a zine he’d also created. “The ideas I talked about in the show had a different form in the zine,” he says. “If I go any further with comedy I’d go down that route, with it as a combination of things. It gets you out of being stuck or labelled.”

Labels don’t stick to what he’s up to on his blog, which is stocked with poems, short stories, daily ephemera and observations, lists of songs on his show, books on his shelf, goals achieved and otherwise, augmented with a self-affirming loop of people laughing at his jokes and self-portraits, most recently with a box of expired and, sadly, unused condoms. Tell him he’s creative and he deadpans: “I don’t feel like I’m especially creative because I spend a lot of time doing nothing.”

To which I laugh.

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