“I accepted a long time ago that stand-up isn’t something you can perfect."
“If I started now, man, I’d be putting all kinds of crap on there,” Tom Gleeson laughs, looking back on his early career, well before the rise YouTube.
With social media such an influential platform and streaming services like Netflix and Stan surfacing in every direction, it’s an interesting time to be a young comic, something Gleeson is thankful he doesn’t have to endure.
“I must admit, I think it would be a nightmare because I was as confident when I started as I am now, but it was completely unfounded,” he tells. “I would have filmed my first gig, I would have loaded it up on YouTube, waiting for everyone to think I’m a genius and as a result, I would have had some very crumby stand-up online just in the ether forever.”
With those tapes locked away, the majority of footage you’ll find of Gleeson’s stand-up – including new Stan special Great – displays a comedian at the top of his game. And although he’s constantly working to improve his material, it’s still important to Gleeson that its delivery is raw and organic. “I accepted a long time ago that stand-up isn’t something you can perfect; it’s something that you can do a lot, but you can never go, ‘That was 100% perfect.’ Because there’s always something you’d change,” he explains.
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“When I see other stand-up, I never like it when people are a bit too polished, it feels like the performance would have existed whether the audience was there or not.”
That’s why his One Night Stan special – one in a series of original comedy specials that includes Wil Anderson, Judith Lucy and more – hasn’t been chopped and changed. “At the end of the show, I invite the audience to correct me or guess which bits are true,” he explains. “I left all that in. There’s a lot of heckling at my shows. I didn’t cut the show at all, it's a complete take off one live show, so when you watch it, I’d like you to think you’re in the theatre.”
Maybe that’s why he’s fonder of life on the stage rather than TV and radio, where he continues to develop a strong fan base on shows like The Weekly and Hard Quiz. “I like to think when people see me live, it’s better than they expected, and you can take that two ways - it means I’m good at stand-up or bad at TV. But the truth is, stand-up is the thing that I have been doing consistently for 30 years – that is my day job, it always has been.”
Over that time, Gleeson has noticed a shift in the Australian comedy scene; something he attributes to the rise of streaming services. “I certainly have noticed a big shift in Australia because I feel like a lot of younger comedians who are coming through are more influenced by America than the UK,” he says.
“When I started, I reckon 95% of comedians were just completely UK focused; they really liked UK comedy, whereas I feel like American stand-up has had a real resurgence due to online stuff, obviously with people like Louis CK, Bill Burr, etc.
“I’ve always had a real strong American flavour to the way I do things. The way I put a routine together is probably heavily influenced by Richard Pryor or even Jerry Seinfeld.”