AJ Lamarque on Covid, comedy and creativity

AJ Lamarque in action. Photo: Shane Porter/supplied.

The Sentinel’s Mike Hitch interviews Sydney comedian, podcaster and writer AJ Lamarque about the evolution of his Kweens of Comedy show, and regathering his passion in the age of Covid-19.

AJ Lamarque and his ongoing Sydney comedy show Kweens of Comedy has taken a hard hit during the pandemic – much like many queer creatives who use entertainment as an outlet and a source of income.

However, despite the dramatic shift in Sydney’s grassroots entertainment industry, Lamarque has still found a way to keep spirits high. Supported by the City of Sydney’s Covid Relief Grants, Lamarque is taking a new comedic direction, launching the Kweens of Comedy virtual show.

The online version of the show – which previously had an ongoing residency at Taylor Square venue, Ginger’s – will showcase Sydney’s best up-and-coming comedians, giving a platform to performers who have lost work and career development opportunities due to Covid.

Speaking to the Sentinel, Lamarque said the three-part web-series includes new skits and sketches from more than 20 local comedians, writers, creatives and performers.

The purpose of this digital endeavour is to showcase the talent of Sydney’s underrated, underdog comedians.

“All the opportunities tend to focus on when you’ve made it bigger. There’s not many gaps for emerging comedians and very little support for opportunities,” he said.

“It’s a competitive grassroots type of industry. So, with Covid and everything, I just wanted to give some great comedians in the Sydney circuit a platform and the opportunity to showcase themselves.

“It’s not being curated by marketability. We’re not trying to reach a KPI for audience members.”

– AJ Lamarque

“Unlike other comedy shows that have come out during lockdown, me and my friend are the producers behind it, so there are no big advertisers or larger bureaucracy. It means this show has a lot more freedom for comedians to do what they want.

“In turn, it’s unique because it’s not being curated by marketability. We’re not trying to reach a KPI for audience members.”

Yet, despite talking the talk, Lamarque isn’t one to shy away from admitting ignorance.

“I don’t know what goes on behind big comedy productions, so I’m just taking a stab in the dark,” he said, stifling laughter.

As with every independent entertainer, Lamarque has had difficulty adjusting to our new, Covid-affected world. 

Despite applying for the grant application during this time, Lamarque felt dissonance with his comedic direction in a digital setting.

“I actually lost a lot of opportunities due to it all, which sucked,” he said.

“So, I had a bit of a break and I was quite down … Just wallowing on all the things that I’d lost out on.

“So I forced myself to give the grant applications a look, but I just wasn’t sure where this would go. It all felt a bit uncertain and I’d never had that in comedy.”

Lamarque says that during this time of ‘fermentation’ he decided that no matter what medium, Kweens of Comedy would stay true to its ethos of upholding diversity, inclusivity and hilarity.

“During that grieving period, I had a lot of time to … ferment on the idea of what I wanted this to be,” Lamarque said, as we giggled over his graphic choice of words.

“I wanted to provide a community space and a platform for audiences of all different backgrounds. [So] it’s not just a queer show. Any artist, no matter how hetero they are, should feel like they can approach this stage, and I wanted to bring that ethos virtually.”

It wasn’t always so.

AJ Lamarque. Photo: Monica Pronk.

“When this started I was adamant about it being a heavily queer-centric show. The way I produce now focusses on general inclusivity and community-spaces for everyone. It may sound heteronormative in the current climate, where things tend to be focussed on strong labels for communities,” he explained.

“What I’ve found about being a queer and mixed-race person-of-colour is that my whole identity sits outside of a definitive label. While I understand the homeliness of a strong community, I feel alienated by them because I don’t completely fit in. That’s why the show is a mix of people. It’s a space for all stories from all backgrounds.

“These comedians are good at their craft, and that skill means it feels welcoming to any audience,” he added.

While Lamarque has regained his passion for showcasing up-and-coming comedy, he says producing the Kweens of Comedy web-series has been: “Challenging … but in a good way!

“I’ve been running across Sydney with a video camera for a month. Doing editing, filming and drafting. It’s been busy!”

However, Lamarque believes that all the hard work is worth it to prove that good comedy isn’t synonymous with big names or big bucks.

“My end goal is to show everyone sitting around big board tables, with the big money, that they can actually put their bets on audiences watching this product that has very little funding, very little anything!” he said.

You can catch the first episode of the Kweens of Comedy web-series here at 7:30 pm on Thursday 17 September.

While the series will be streamed free, virtual tickets will be available with proceeds from sales going to support the production of future series. When times are tough, it’s always important to keep our community close, and our comedians even closer!

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