This is a Writers Bloc Interview, with comedian and writer Luke Ryan.


Luke Ryan is a comedian, writer, editor and copywriter. He writes a mean tagline, and his own tagline on promotional materials is 'man about town', a slightly disingenuous descriptor because you can find him in about a dozen towns on a good week. Dude is busy.

He's written a comic memoir 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Chemo', about having had cancer at 11 and again at 22. It's out through Affirm Press. The book is based on his 2009 Melbourne International Comedy Festival show Luke's Got Cancer. He also works with the sketch comedy outfit called The Lords of Luxury, who have a podcast series or two you should absolutely download. 

And because he manages all this with a measure of suave aplomb, or at least without fronting as a sweaty dishevelled mess, he's recently added to his workload by compiling and editing the Best Australian Comedy Writing,  a new collection that combines the best writing of 2015 with new pieces from the funniest comics working today.

Contributors include: James Colley, Annabel Crabb, Andrew Denton, Monica Dux, Roz Hammond, Andrew Hansen, Lally Katz, Lee Lin Chin and Chris Leben, Patrick Lenton, Lawrence Leung, Tony Martin, Shaun Micallef, Zoë Norton Lodge, Ben Pobjie, Jane Rawson, Liam Ryan, Fiona Scott-Norman, Sami Shah, Rebecca Shaw, Robert Skinner, Chris Taylor, David Thorne and Felicity Ward.

Here, Luke Ryan speaks to our Content Director Liam Pieper, who, in the interests of full disclosure, has a small piece in the collection. 

 

Writers Bloc

Let's get the conflict of interest out of the way. We should disclose that I've got a piece in this collection. We should also establish that mine is the best. Mine is the best, right?

 

Luke Ryan

new phone who dis 

 

Writers Bloc

Best Australian Comedy, huh? What? Why? How did you come to be captain of this good ship?

 

Luke Ryan

Because Tony Martin wasn’t available. He is a contributor in the book though, so we’ll call it a happy compromise. As to the what, it’s a book, of 264 pages in length, bound in cardboard and printed on medium gsm paper.

Why? Because Australia is experiencing a comedy revolution, but that revolution hasn’t yet extended to the written word. Because we can boast some of the most supremely funny writers in the world, but there are barely any forums within which to showcase their work. Because comedy is deeper than people give it credit for, and the art behind it deserves to be recognised. And most of all, because it seemed like a book that would sell pretty well in the lead-up to Christmas.

 

Writers Bloc

You've got some big, big guns in this collection. I mean, look, there's Shaun Micallef! He's basically handsome comedy Jesus! I'm not asking you to pick favourites, as we've already established that I'm the favourite, but if you had to choose a second, what would it be?

 

Luke Ryan

Oh man. I can’t choose between my children. It’ll give them all complexes. But as an aside, I think few writers in this country are as funny as Zoe Norton-Lodge and I’m super happy to be able to have included parts of her debut Almost Sincerely in here. I’m also just enthused to have been able to bring together such a diverse array of voices – there’s some of our most beloved veterans in here, rubbing shoulders with people who are on their first book or less. It’s a true testament to the breadth of voices and styles that comedy writing allows. 

 

Writers Bloc

Let's talk about your own comedy for a second. If I understand your career arc correctly, one day you realised, 'Oh, I have cancer. Again. HILARIOUS' and went from there. We should take this opportunity plug your book A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to Chemo. 

 

Luke Ryan

Please buy my book. If I see it in a remainders shop, I may toss myself from a bridge.

Writers Bloc

Before you do that, tell us about the book! And the accompanying show. And what's it like cracking wise about your cancer to crowds who may very well have been affected by cancer themselves? 

 

Luke Ryan

Cancer once at 11, again at 22. At 33 I plan on exploding at a party of friends and loved ones. Just to really drive the point home. (I’ve been telling that joke for almost 8 years now. Does it show?)

I’d just started doing stand-up when I was diagnosed for the second time, so with all the free time I suddenly had I decided to divert my energies towards this burgeoning career, now super-charged by the presence of an angle that pretty much nobody else could touch. And an angle that certainly beat “white, middle-class, heterosexual male in their 20s”. When I finished treatment I did a show at the Melbourne Comedy Festival called Luke’s Got Cancer – it was funnier than it sounds – and through a couple of deviations, this led to me writing A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Chemo. Also funnier than it sounds.

To be honest, people with cancer are almost my ideal audience. There’s so much commonality of experience in there, and my aim was never to mock the situation, but rather to point out the everyday absurdities and strange social experiences that come with being a cancer patient. Perhaps the most difficult audience are those that are one degree removed – family, partners, friends. The people for whom the suffering of diagnosis has perhaps been less distinct, but no less difficult. Still, I’ve had touching responses from people all over the spectrum, and only one harsh accusation of insensitivity at a Writer’s Festival, so I think it’s going pretty well.

 

Writers Bloc

Trite question: Is laughter good medicine? 

 

Luke Ryan

It’s not medicine, and it’s not a necessary prescription for enduring cancer, but for me it has always been a way of neutralising cancer’s sometimes overawing symbolic power. A way of normalising the discussion, so that people around me know what the parameters of discussion were, and knew not to approach me with mittens and wool.

 

Writers Bloc

Back to the new book—as everyone knows, comedians are the world's friendliest, most well-adjusted and reasonable people, second only to writers. Was every day of editing this compilation of comedic writing a joy?

 

Luke Ryan

It was actually both surprisingly easy and remarkably collaborative. It was my first time doing this whole editing malarkey, so I was perhaps, at times, a bit overly involved, but I think comedy writing (like all comedy) is often the better for having people other than yourself scanning it for ways of sharpening material and pulverising punchlines.

 

Writers Bloc

 Is it harder to write or edit comedy?

 

Luke Ryan

Write. Editing is the fun part, where you get to punch things up, find jokes where there were no jokes before and try and turn something good into something great.  

 

Writers Bloc

Oh, who else do you write for? Tell us about Lords of Luxury! What else? 

I write for whoever will pay me, and speak for the same (I’m currently doing the rounds of the cancer conference circuit. Who knew?). I do a lot of work for Smith Journal and also use copywriting to fund some of my less profitable creative endeavours. The Lords of Luxury are currently on hiatus, but I have been performing with a tech-oriented sketch group called Good Show recently and there’s a few audio storytelling and web video projects that I’m hoping to launch into over the next year, but formal details are yet to be locked down. 

I should probably write another book at some point too but, really, who has the time? 

BUY

To read an extract of Best Australian Comedy Writing, click here. 


 

This is a Writers Bloc Interview, part of a series of discussions with some of the most exciting writers from Australia and the world. To read more like this, click here. 

 

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