Comedian Akmal Saleh remembers being obsessed with funny movies and listening to his favourite comics on vinyl as a child and it is this foundation he draws from in his own stand-up shows.
The popular statesman of the Australian comedy scene has been at it since the early 1990s, and will be the headline act at free Open Air Comedy Night at Caboolture Town Square as part of Caboolture Festival on August 22.
“I think I’d tried everything and failed and this (comedy) was the last thing. I developed it over the years … I loved watching it in films,” Saleh recalls.
“I was obsessed with it as a child. When my friends would to see Star Wars, I went to see comedy films.”
When asked to name his favourites, he recalled the first time he heard Monty Python on vinyl.
“It blew my mind. I could not believe grown men were making funny noises … there was a real sense of silliness and joy,” Saleh said.
“When I was very young, I remember Abbott and Costello marathons what went for 8-9 hours.”
So, when it came to his first paid stand-up performance, he sought comfort in material he had enjoyed on a Steven Wright record that cost him 99 cents.
Saleh said it was full of brilliant one-liners he repeated on stage during that show in 1993 at Sydney Comedy Store. He did not have the confidence to rollout his own material at that point.
“I didn’t know every comedian also knew about it. I did 10 jokes in a row and one of the comedians said to me that he could hear the scratches on those jokes (a reference to scratches on a vinyl record),” he says.
“I got that buzz from those huge laughs and I thought ‘I want that again’.”
The realisation he could earn more doing stand-up for one hour, than driving a taxi for 12 was also motivation.
It would take him another couple of years to earn the same big laughs with his own material, but he did it and has not looked back.
Since then, Saleh has featured in movies, on TV, in stand-up and talk shows, at festivals and more. He is now one of Australia’s most respected, successful and accomplished comics who has the ability to deal with hot topics in a hilarious and non-offensive way.
“I’m still not sure I’m good at it, I’m still learning. It only takes your next bad show to remind you it’s so fragile,” he says.
Saleh says his jokes are ‘old’ as soon as he walks off stage and the challenge is to come up with new material.
“It’s like anything, learning an instrument, when you learn at first it’s hard but then you get good, and then you see other people who are really good and you know you have more work to do,” he says.
A challenging 18 months, during which shows have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has made performers and audiences appreciate the chance to connect at a show.
Saleh’s shows this year have fortuitously dodged lockdowns and he has been able to perform in Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane.
“I’ve found the audience is much easier now, the choice of entertainment is limited. Melbourne was unbelievable, normally it’s hard, but not this year,” he says.
Audiences are keen for a night out and to have a good time.
“It’s an important part of being human generally. People feel more relaxed after laughing for a while. All those endorphins are released,” he says.
Saleh says he is looking forward to the Caboolture gig which will be hosted by comedian Ellen Briggs and include fellow comics Steve Allison, Ting Lim, Aaron Pratt and Jo Gowda.
“It’s that buzz of talking to a crowd for one hour or so and holding their attention and making them laugh,” he says.
“Whatever joy they get from my performance, I probably get more joy from performing it. It’s like a drug.”
He still gets nervous and it is during those moments, he sometimes questions his career choice. When he gets off stage and he has had a ‘killer night’ he is left with no doubt.
The Open Air Comedy Night will be delivered by Moreton Bay Region Industry and Tourism (MBRIT) and supported by Sit Down Comedy Club and strategic partner Moreton Bay Regional Council.
What: Open Air Comedy Night featuring Akmal Saleh, Ellen Briggs, Steve Allison, Ting Lim, Aaron Pratt and Jo Gowda. There will also be live music, food trucks and pop-up bar.
Where: Caboolture Town Square
When: August 22 from 4-8pm
Details: Visit caboolturefestival.com.au