Belvoir St Theatre gets a head start on Mardi Gras season this month with a double bill featuring two of Australia’s brightest queer comedians, Tom Ballard and Hannah Gadsby.

The pair will play seasons of their respective shows Is What He Is and Mrs Chuckles from February 15 — but don’t expect them to pop up in each other’s acts.

“When you’re a comedian, it’s very important that you’re in control of everything on stage and that every laugh and round of applause is just for you. That’s how fucked up we are,” Ballard told the Star Observer.

“But if Hannah asks, I’m happy to be involved — for a cut on the door.”

Ironically for a show with a title harking back to that old camp classic I Am What I Am, 22-year-old Ballard said Is What He Is deals with his alienation from some of the more traditionally camp aspects of gay culture.

“I talk about how I felt alienated from my straight friends back in Warrnambool [Victoria], but then also couldn’t really find a place for myself in gay culture. I’m not a particularly camp dude; a lot of people tell me I’m a pretty straight-acting gay guy.

“A lot of gay guys have told me after the show that they like there’s a gay comedian out there who isn’t crazy-camp and over-the-top.

“Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but if you don’t necessarily relate to it, it’s nice to also see people who don’t fit that mould.”

While he may not be a Julian Clary-style camp comedian, Ballard’s always been upfront about his sexuality — no mean feat for a country kid who was still in his teens when he first took to the stage.

While he doesn’t feel that revealing one’s sexuality is a queer comedian’s duty (“I think a comedian’s only duty is to be funny”), he does feel his trademark honesty is what sets him apart.

“If you see some other acts, say UK comedians like Russell Brand or Ricky Gervais, they put it all out there when they’re on stage. Australian audiences aren’t always as used to that.

“They want to go along and have a laugh, but don’t necessarily want to hear about the time you masturbated in maths class.”

That particular story is one of the cringeworthy highlights of Is What He Is. Does he censor such blue material when, say, Mr and Mrs Ballard are in the audience?

“No, I’m not smart enough to think on my feet like that, unfortunately. What I can do is remember my parents are in the audience and get really embarrassed. It’s fine if the routine’s going well — but telling an embarrassing story and getting no laughs is the worst.

“When you announce that you masturbated in year 10 maths class and no one laughs, that’s a pretty bad feeling.

“On the other hand, when it goes well, you think ‘at least something good came out of that experience’. So to speak.”

info: Tom Ballard and Hannah Gadsby both perform at Belvoir from February 15-27. Visit www.belvoir.com.au

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