“Aww, you little fucko!” This – instead of the usual, “Hello, Sam speaking,” or even just the plain old “hello” – is how Sam Simmons answers his phone.
If you didn’t know Simmons or his work, it would catch you completely unawares. Coming from perhaps the country’s finest comic in the realm of surrealism, absurdism and the avant-garde, however, it’s just another part of his repertoire.
After a year of working out of London and Los Angeles, Simmons is back on Australian turf for a couple of months for two key reasons. The first is an upcoming run of shows at the Sydney Opera House in January, in which Simmons will perform his hour-long show, Not A People Person, for the final time. The second is a little more personal in nature – Simmons’ wife is soon to give birth to their first child. It could easily be seen as a stressful time for the Adelaide-born performer, but Simmons is surprisingly quite collected.
“It’s fine, y’know – it’s the fun stuff I’m looking forward to,” he says. “I know it’ll be a lot of hard work and late nights and stuff, but I know the fun parts of being a parent are going to make it all worth it. I’m not stressed or anything like that. It’s at that point at the moment where we’ve just been waiting around for ages for the birth to happen – we just wanna get in and out, really.”
Following the birth and the Sydney shows, Simmons and his newly expanded family will head back to foggy London town. In fact, Simmons has spent the better part of the last few years as an expatriate, returning for only brief stints at festivals before going overseas again. It may seem a curious career move to some, but for Simmons it’s a complete no-brainer.
There’s a lot more opportunity overseas for someone like me,” he says. “I’ll still come back to Australia every year, and I still love performing in Australia…” At this point, Simmons ticks over into the booming, melodramatic voice he often employs while performing. “I STILL LOVE IT!” he affirms. A beat, then back to normal: “I’m getting a lot of work in the UK, and there’s only so much you’re able to get done here. There’s only a few places in Australia, like the ABC or Stan, where you’re really able to work on comedy – and even then, it can be really hard. Right now, I’m working on two different projects – one is for BBC4 in the UK, and the other is for FX in the States. Nothing’s been green-lit yet, but we want to have something to show them.”
Prior to arriving in Sydney, Simmons performed Not A People Person extensively at several key festivals and residencies. Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide all got a look-in, as did several locations in the UK. The show, according to Simmons, takes him back to basics – without, of course, compromising on everything he has learned in his years as a stage performer and comedy writer.
“I took out a big award at the Edinburgh Fringe last year, and I was really scared to write another show,” he says. “I felt there was a lot of pressure to live up to that – and it did send me a bit mad when I returned to the festival this year. I think what made it work, though, was the fact I reverted back to just doing a stupid, silly show.
“There’s dark stuff in there – I think there always will be with my shows – but it gets really stupid, and it’s pretty awesome to do that sort of thing onstage. I feel a lot more natural onstage right now – it’s a real evolution, I think.”
True to the nature of a great Sam Simmons show, Not A People Personis filled with unexpected twists, fourth- wall-breaking and a treasure chest full of props. “I don’t think I’ll ever stop,” says Simmons of his prop comedy. “It’s just in my DNA to want to put on more of a show.”
Simmons’ logic makes sense, which is something you don’t get to say about him all that often. After all, this is the same comedian who has spent previous shows smashing cabbages together, drinking what appeared to be sunscreen and pushing Old El Paso tacos into his chest. There aren’t many other comics – Australian or otherwise – who quite fit into that Venn diagram between weirdness and whimsy.
“I get the feeling that people seem to think I’m some sort of anti-stand-up,” Simmons says. “Some people just think it’s all bread shoes and getting my cock out – just walking around with a crumpet on my head going, ‘Ner-ner!’ The reality is that I just like the more creative side of performance – I like weighing in on that element more than most. I have so much respect for the art of stand-up comedy. My favourite comedians are Bill Burr, Tom Gleeson, Judith Lucy, all just people that are naturally funny. I just approach it differently. I’ve been told that I’m too weird and too niche my entire career. Maybe they’re right, but I’m so glad I stuck to my guns.”
Sam Simmons will be performing at the Sydney Opera House from Thursday January 5 – Saturday January 14.