The Sentinel has a wide-ranging chat with Rodney Todd ahead of his Sydney Comedy Festival show Good Morning Kebab. By Elizabeth Usher.
According to George Saunders, humour “is what happens when we’re told the truth quicker and more directly than we’re used to”. Vegan comedian Rodney Todd has this down pat. His submission to an online petition against the ABC cancelling the Tonightly show he was working on was the succinct truth: “I need a job.”
It’s certainly a constant reality for many creatives. Todd elaborates on the precarious nature of a career in comedy: “It’s always that you know it’s not permanent; once you finish one project you’ve got to try to get yourself another one. That’s something that I find a bit hard to do all the time, because you’re always searching for the next thing, you’ve got to put yourself out there.”
His first experience in putting himself out there on the comedy stage was about fifteen years ago, when a friend suggested he try out for the Raw Comedy open mic competition. “I was making my friend laugh just by sending silly stories, my life’s stories, whatever, through emails and pictures and stuff. And she said ‘just try out for this’ and so I did.” Although Todd wryly concedes his performance in the competition “wasn’t that great”, the experience showed him, “It’s like a drug; I just wanted more, more time on stage!”
Todd was about 28-years-old at the time, and it proved to be a seminal period for him, as this was also the time when he became vegan, through a combination of reading Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation and attending the Cruelty Free Festival in Belmore Park, coincidentally an event put on by the Sydney-based organisation Animal Liberation.
He explains: “I was already vegetarian so the only thing to cut out was egg and cheese … that was pretty easy.” He chuckles as he acknowledges “some of the [vegan] cheeses back then weren’t very good … and there wasn’t as many! That was when you were excited to go to a vegan fest because you could have a vegan chocolate or a vegan ice cream. It was rare, but they’re everywhere now, there’s vegan junk food everywhere!”
As the subject turns to the dairy industry, Todd’s tone changes from jovial to being very serious as he states categorically, “I really absolutely hate dairy with a passion, it’s one of the worst industries. It’s terrible, just the whole process of it is terrible.” We touch on some other serious issues that concern him, including climate change, workers’ rights and the economy, and when I ask how he avoids just falling into a funk about it all he admits with a sigh, “I don’t know, I just try to stay positive. At least there’s more alternatives to dairy nowadays than there was before and it keeps on growing and growing.”
It can’t hurt that Todd lives “within a five minute walk of the ‘vegan mile’ of King Street” – which also happens to be his favourite part of the city from a vegan perspective. “I moved out when I was 18 from the Western Suburbs into St Peters, so I’ve been in this Newtown area longer than anywhere else.”
The Factory Theatre in Marrickville is just a few minutes away from that ‘vegan mile’ – and is the venue for Todd’s new show Good Morning Kebab, part of the Sydney Comedy Festival. “It’s one of my characters called Ahmed Zubb who originally was just a bad stand up comedian who just has one punch line which is pretty much just ‘kebab’ … In the world of Ahmed Zubb it’s a filming for a pilot for a breakfast show. So you come to that, you’ll be in the audience for the pilot and you’re going to see stops and starts and arguments with the director on where things should go and stuff like that … It’s not highbrow so it’s easy to pick up!”
Our interview covers far more ground than can fit into one article, from Todd’s experience through the year that was 2020 (including filming Inside Aaron while his then-housemate Aaron Chen was in home quarantine in the early days of the pandemic) and the way he includes vegan themes in some of his comedy (“write about what you know and I know about veganism!”) through to his concerns for the future (“I think it’s hard to have dream goals in this day and age, in a way. I don’t want to be too pessimistic … but it’s just hard to have those dreams when you’ve got other concerns … I don’t know, maybe just own a house and not rent when I’m 60-years-old, hopefully?”).
However, at the end of the interview, when I ask if there’s anything else he’d like to share before we wrap up, Todd returns to a concise and direct approach that surely would have received a tick of approval from Saunders, with the dry and droll response: “Um, come and see my show at the Sydney Comedy Festival?”
Good Morning Kebab plays The Factory Theatre, 105 Victoria Road, Marrickville, at 6.50pm Saturday, 8 May and 5.50pm Sunday, 9 May, 2021. Tickets ($15/$18 plus booking fee) and further info available at https://www.sydneycomedyfest.com.au/event/ahmed-zubb-good-morning-kebab/.
Elizabeth Usher is the Sydney Sentinel‘s vegan editor.
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