As iconic venues close, queer culture continues its march towards the mainstream and the Oxford St strip putters along, we hear much grumbling that things ain’t what they used to be for Sydney’s LGBTI community. Heck, the 5000-member strong Lost Gay Sydney Facebook group’s success hinges on the notion that being gay was more fun back in the day.
Those sentiments form the basis of comedian and lifelong Sydney resident Brent Thorpe’s Mardi Gras show, Too Old For TV. But the funnyman was keen to point out that his show is no maudlin moan that things were better in the ‘good old days’ – rather, it’s a vibrant celebration of Sydney’s queer history.
“I really didn’t want it to be [maudlin]. I’ve been careful to call it a combination of stand-up comedy, storytelling and dramatic monologue. It doesn’t need to be a laugh a minute, but it has to always engage the audience – and there are a lot of laughs as well. I want people to walk out with a smile on their face,” Thorpe told the Star Observer.
“When my parents took me home from hospital I lived in the house next door to the one I live in now. I sound like my mother now, because I tell my neighbours here in Marrickville who lived in all the houses back in the day. What surprises me is people are genuinely very interested in hearing about the area’s history,” he said.
Since those beginnings, the show’s scope has widened to include the thriving underground queer scene of Thorpe’s late 1970s youth.
“Underground performances, cabaret bars, the Taxi Club – crazy performers wherever you went. I wanted to create a celebration of their lives, because it really was a different time.”
Names like Joylene Hairmouth, Michael Matou and Boom Boom La Bern should strike a chord with audience members who experienced the burgeoning Sydney scene at the same time as Thorpe. As the comedian points out, so many memorable characters from those days since passed on during the dark days of the initial AIDS epidemic. It makes a show like Too Old For TV particularly valuable.
“When older people see it, it really hits them – they say they’d forgotten about so many of the places I talk about. There was just so many – between the years of ’79 and ’81, you could walk up and down Oxford St and there’d be about 30 venues. It’s easy to forget, because life goes on.
“The other thing we forget is that, through all of that, through that thriving culture, it was still against the law to be gay. Going out was almost a covert operation.”
INFO: Too Old For TV, Lybrary Bar Chippendale, Feb 15-22 • www.mardigras.org.au