First Degree Burns

3 May 2012 | 12:00 pm | Baz McAlister

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It was 1994 when Australia got too small for Perth's own Brendon Burns, and he headed north to the UK in search of more comedy stages. After slogging it out on the circuit for years he won the top comedy award at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2007.

“Since the Edinburgh award, it's really opened things up,” Burns says down the line from New Zealand, where he's just landed for a string of gigs. “I'm in a different country at least once a month now. It really lent itself to a very luxurious career. I work where and when I want to.”

The luxury of stability has bred Burns' latest hour-long themed show, Home Stretch Baby. “It's all about reaching middle age,” he explains. “Middle age is glorious when you're an ex-rock'n'roll comic. Most people turn 40 and they freak out, but for me it's like most of life's struggles are over. For me, it's a great big bag of 'Thank god all that bullshit's over'. [The comedian] Marc Maron puts it very well, saying middle age is just decay management.”

Burns was 19 when he started out on the comedy circuit. In his middle age, some younger comics have started to call him 'Uncle Brendon', which freaks out the veteran comedians who've known him since he began.

“Nowadays a lot of people get into comedy a lot younger,” he says. “When I started, nobody was my age. I was the baby. So a lot of my friends now can't deal with me getting 'Uncle Brendon'.”

Burns is perhaps best-known for the notorious clips on YouTube of him demolishing hecklers.

“Fans do come along specifically to heckle because they've seen the clips of me tearing somebody apart, and I'll rip into them. They'll be high-fiving afterwards going 'Yeah, he got me'. That happened in Aberdeen recently – a guy started to heckle and the wind came out of his sails. I said 'You didn't mean a word of that, did you?' and he goes 'Nah, I'm just a big fan. Just wanted to talk to you'. See, if you come and see me at a late-night gig it's anything goes – but if I write a themed show for a comedy festival, it's not really a heckling environment. 'Support act: Dickhead heckling' isn't on the poster.”

Outside the comedy rooms, Burns' career has been soaring. He, Barry Castagnola and Paul Provenza are working on a screenplay adaptation of his recent book Fear Of Hat Loss In Las Vegas, which they hope to shoot on spec soon. And Burns says he's just about to announce a show in the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal with Mick Foley, from the WWE.

“Mick started doing stand-up, and I've always been a huge wrestling fan, so our worlds were bound to collide,” Burns says. “We got on like a house on fire and we have a few things in the pipeline that I can't really talk about – but crazy, boyhood dream, surreal, this-isn't-happening kind of stuff. Since I came out as a wrestling fan, all my Facebook updates have been people sending me wrestling stuff. It's such a weird secret handshake, and I've suddenly got this secondary fanbase that want to talk to me about wrestling. It's a real subculture.” 

Brendan Burns plays Jack High Comedy Club, Mt Lawley Bowling Club Wednesday 9 May to Saturday 12 as part of Perth International Comedy Festival