“Maybe the battle of the sexes would end,” Dave yells, bounding out on stage at his Edinburgh Fringe venue, “if women stopped being such bitches.” He locks eyes with a woman in the front row and waits for things to become very uncomfortable.
“Nah, nah,” he says. It’s all good fun.
But it’s more than that, because Dave isn’t just the worst Australian comedian you’ve never heard of. Instead he’s the creation of Zoe Coombs Marr, an Australian comedian who has been taking the international comedy circuit by storm.
For Coombs Marr, Dave is a “loveable idiot” and “endearing while being everything you hate”. She tells me the character started as a joke during tech rehearsals for her earlier stand up shows, an imitation of the worst elements of the blokey Australian comedian intended purely to make her producer laugh.
Things escalated when her producer dared her to do a full hour as Dave, which was such a terrifying prospect that she couldn’t say no. This resulted in the 2015 show Dave, a precursor to this year’s Trigger Warning, which won the 2016 Barry Award for Best Show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and was nominated for the lastminute.com Edinburgh Comedy Award, two of the top prizes in the world of comedy. Far from a private joke, Dave is now a comedy phenomenon.
On stage, Dave is desperate to be liked by his audience but refuses to give in to the ‘feminazis’ and ‘Jezebels’ he feels have destroyed his career. Because of their politically correct complaints he’s no longer allowed to do the classically offensive and in-your-face stand up material he loves so much; instead, he’s had to turn to clowning, including a stint training in Paris at an internationally-acclaimed clowning school.
For those unfamiliar, this school really exists. Emma Thompson and Sacha Baron Cohen – yes, the man better known as Borat and Ali G – have trained there, among others. As Dave remarks on how he got accepted, “You don’t have to audition, you just have to pay.”
Sexism in Comedy
When I ask Coombs Marr why she took on the idea of clowning for this show, she says she noticed that clowns were taking on some elements of the wider comedy world.
“Comedy is a reflection of society, so if there’s sexism in society that’ll be reflected in comedy,” she says. Clowning, what she sees as becoming a trend, almost a fad, among comedians, is no exception. While watching it, you can see, “this guy’s silent, but he’s still also being kind of a jerk.”
Forcing Dave to use clowning and mime was a way to stretch the character, though it should go without saying that Dave is terrible at these techniques in every conceivable way. This ranges from confused shrugging to the Amélie soundtrack to some of the least imaginative uses for a banana I’ve ever seen.
Through the use of clowning and character to comment on sexism, Coombs Marr believes the show ends up “a particularly great experience for someone just like me,” but one she hopes goes beyond in-jokes to bring these ideas to a wider audience.
From Australia to the UK
Dave is an incredibly Australian character—his “yeah, nah”s, his love of “the ladies”, his inexplicable yet irrepressible self-belief. Even his name was influenced by the proliferation of Daves in Australian comedy.
This is no joke: when Coombs Marr first performed as Dave at the Melbourne comedy festival, her show was listed on a special page (in an A to Z guide) for shows by comedians called Dave.
Coombs Marr acknowledges that Dave is in some ways specific to Australia, if only because she has more knowledge of the Australian circuit, but he does seem to translate. While Australia can seem more unapologetic and blunt, she believes that the go-to throwback punchline, “take my wife”, comes in different guises internationally.
Judging by the success of Trigger Warning, Coombs Marr seems to have been proven right about the universality of these ideas, with Dave and his incompetent clowning the perfect vehicle to drive them home.
Her upcoming work involves a few theatre projects, as at the moment she’s getting close to ‘Dave overload’. That said, she admits that if she goes too long without him she does start to miss him. Her girlfriend comments, “me too.”
Zoe Coombs Marr: Trigger Warning is showing at Soho Theatre in London from 30 August to 10 September.
Scott Limbrick - @ScottLimbrick