Team Coostin’ – Presenting profile pieces on friends of ours, interesting people doing really cool things.
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David McGavin took a while to get started. But maybe that’s because he’s only now ready to pursue his dreams. From jobs in the coal mines of Australia, to the rigs of Canada, to preparing for a PhD in a Sri Lankan jungle, the 31-year-old always knew comedy was his true passion. It just, in his own words, “took many years to get the balls to chase that dream.”
Having lived in Montreal for the past year – the Canadian city home to Just For Laughs, only the largest international comedy festival in the entire world – Dave has taken his dream on stage, learning from the best and gigging regularly. And gigging well. A native of Brisbane, Australia, Dave is preparing to take his ever-improving skills back to his home country. Take note Australia, one of the freshest comedic voices you never knew you had is coming home. Time to get to know him…
What makes a person want to be a stand-up comedian?
A couple of things. Attention, everyone’s an attention whore. Everyone wants strangers to come up and applaud you. That feels really good to have people say “that was great.” I’d never had that in thirty-one years of my life and it feels good. It’s very addictive to come off the stage to applause and laughter and people giving you compliments – genuine or not, I’ll take ‘em – and I think a lot of good comedians are probably just whores for attention. And whilst I’m not up there with the best comedians, I’m only just learning, I’m up there with the best attention whores, definitely.
The other thing is laziness. No-one wants to get up and work a 9-5. If you can make a living by talking out your arse for five to ten minutes on stage, do it. That’s the dream right there. To not have to work for something that you don’t care about. To not have to work for a company that you don’t believe in. To not be owned for the rest of your life. If you have the option to do something else for yourself, then do it.
Why do YOU want to be a stand-up?
The first day I went to work as a kid in a supermarket I finished the shift and I was like, This is work? This is what we’re supposed to do for the rest of our lives? No, someone messed up! I spent the next 10 years trying to find something I could do that was challenging and satisfying and something that I was good at. At no point in my life did I ever find a career or a job or anything that satisfied or challenged me as much as stand-up comedy does. Getting up on a stage and it’s just you and a microphone and nothing else and it’s your job to make those people laugh, and it’s hard. You don’t get the same satisfaction at other jobs, not the jobs that I’ve done, that you get from a good show. You can have shitty shows and you don’t feel the best but you’re gonna have more shitty days at your 9-5.
Stand-up comedy does seem harrowing though. “Dying on stage” and all that.
People always ask me, How do you get on stage and do a joke not knowing what the reaction will be? Isn’t that the worst thing ever if they don’t laugh? How do you have the balls to do that?
My question is why wouldn’t you try that as opposed to going to work for the rest of your life? How do you go to your 9-5 that you hate, no questions asked, but you won’t get up on a stage for five minutes with the worst potential outcome being that it’s just going to be awkward. If no-one laughs it’s not the end of the world. Someone didn’t find you funny – who cares? You’d rather not experience that, but go and work your arse off for the rest of your life. That’s my question to you, how do I get up on stage and do that? How do you work in a job that you hate, every day, and not ask yourself, Why am I doing this?
Was there a eureka moment where you decided, “I want to be a stand-up comedian”?
There was definitely a moment where I thought comedy could be a way to go. I was in the middle of a Sri Lankan jungle doing scientific research, watching primates and elephants, and my job was to document all the ecological happenings going on each and every day. I spent more time writing sitcoms about the animals I was watching than I did scientific observations. That was the point where I realised that a “serious” job was probably not an option for me. So after three months of doing that – and that was prepping for a PhD – I left. I dropped that and started travelling.
I don’t know if I ever knew I could make a living being a funny guy, but I knew I wanted to be a funny guy. The idea of earning a living from doing that, just writing comedy and making people laugh, was the dream. I’d worked a lot of jobs, from the north of Alberta in the rigs, to central Australia in the coal mines, to sitting in a jungle in the middle of Sri Lanka. It took me many years to get the balls to chase that dream and take it on stage.
You’re an Australian living in Montreal. How have you found it? What’s the scene like here?
I wanted to come to Montreal to see the big fish in the big pond. I wanted to see the level of comedy that I had to reach to be, not just good at this, but be one of the best. No-one wants to do comedy and be amateur and Montreal gives you the chance to learn from the best comedians there are and get as much time on stage in as small amount of time as possible.
There is a huge stand-up scene here and if you can’t get on stage you’re just not trying hard enough. Unlike other cities in the world, especially where I’m from in Brisbane where you might find a show once every two weeks or once a month, here in Montreal you can go out every night of the week and catch a great comedy show. Apart from the quality of the roads being like downtown Syria, it is a great place to live and do comedy.
How does your brain work in terms of comedy? How do you find material?
I’ve always been able to make witty comments, which helps, but that isn’t going to hold an audience. You need to find material. So you train your brain to watch and listen for everything. And I mean everything. If I am in a bar or at a party, I’m the quietest guy there. Observing, taking mental notes. I’m like a voyeur, basically. A professional creep. And you make slight adjustments, or tweaks, to everything you hear and see. What if he didn’t say that? What if he said it like this, or he did that? And my mind can go to some pretty disturbing places. That’s how you might get stories.
On top of that, I read. A lot. Fictional books every day to open up your mind. The news from all over the world, so if I’m interacting with someone in the crowd from a certain place, I know a little something about where they’re from. It’s a like a conversation starter with a girl at a bar – you’re not just trying to fuck them. Sometimes.
Do you have a thing? A schtick? What do you want people to associate with “Dave McGavin – Comedian.”
I guess I don’t really have a schtick. I mainly just don’t want to be a guy who jokes about smoking weed and jerking off. I know that lifestyle well and I can talk about it all day, but it’s been done. I just want people to laugh and have a good time whilst listening to some real shit. I’ve had some great sets with really dark material. Real political, social, and ethical issues in our society. And I think that is a genuine goal of mine. If I can make people laugh whilst opening their eyes to some things they may not have heard about before, then I’m happy. And if some corrupt politicians, or tax avoiding church, or billionaire gets offended, then good. Great actually. That would make my day.
What does the future hold for Dave McGavin?
What’s that old saying? 10,000 hours until you’ve mastered something? I’ll be practising my stand-up for a long time, trying to be the best at this. I’ve seduced a local French-Canadian and will be taking her back home to Australia. I’ll find a job that doesn’t involve unclogging toilets, whilst still doing stand-up. Still practice the craft. Get more stage time. I want to keep writing comedy sketches and scripts. And I will continue to whore myself out for attention every chance I get. And maybe, just maybe, if I work hard enough, I might get good enough at this to make decent living. Or prostitute myself. That’s plan B. We’ll see what happens.
Words – Zac Strevens
Photography – Ranko Bobusic
Camera, Audio, Editing, Direction – Zac Strevens