Ro Campbell is an Australian comedian and all-around madman, living out of a suitcase as he blazes his way across the globe slinging jokes for a living. He’s the consummate “road dog,” delivering the laughs in clubs, bars, and smoky back rooms of over 40 countries so far. He now can add The Land of Morning Calm to that list.
I recently sat down with Ro over soju and barbecue to pick his brain about his life and his work. Let’s just say that it wasn’t too hard getting him to open up. His mouth runs at a manic pace, spinning story after story, punctuated with ridiculous twists and punchlines that had me spitting up my samgyeopsal. What follows are just a few highlights of our conversation.
CT: What got you into comedy?
RC: Years of reckless decision making and lack of direction led me to this ridiculous way of life that eventually paid off, so I’m glad I didn’t listen to any of the sensible people in my life I guess. Before comedy I spent eight years working behind the scenes in entertainment doing technical stuff, mainly with live music (listen to this week’s episode of Nothing is Really Real Podcast for some of my rock’n’roll stories) but in 2003, I ended up in the UK working on stand-up comedy shows at Edinburgh festival which sparked both my interest and my desire to try it myself. It looked a lot easier than rigging lights and loading trucks. About that I was wrong, but it’s definitely more fun and better for the spine.
CT: You’ve performed in over 40 countries, which is astounding. Now you’re here in Korea. What expectations about Korea did you have before you arrived here? How does it compare to SE Asia, where you gig a lot?
RC: I expected a country that might allow you to buy a single piece of fruit once in a while but no it turns out the minimum purchase is nine bucks worth of bananas which is awesome if you’re a chimpanzee.
I’d say it’s fairly different to SE Asia. Like in SE Asia, you can buy however many bananas you require because down there the customer is always right. In Korea, the customer is a pain in the ass.
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CT: I see you’ve done a lot of shows in Scotland, which is a country with a rather rough reputation. Stand up comedy is terrifying enough as it is. What’s it like performing in a place like Glasgow?
RC: Performing is usually fine. Usually. Posh English people dread it and for good reason it’s a tough working class town so that’s a harder sell but I know the place well, I have all the parochial references and accents in my back pocket. It’s fish in a barrel for me. Actually, it’s easily one of my favorite places to play. One of the perks of the job is being able to say “I killed in Glasgow” and not be wanted by the law.
CT: Who are your comedy heroes?
RC: All the unknown comics who died in the trenches without ever knowing the glory of the victory parade.
I’m too afraid to mention my actual heroes in case they’re revealed to be rapists before the weekend.
CT: I recently learned that you were a child actor in Australia who did actual films and TV. Did you manage to emerge unscathed?
RC: Given that I spend my days alone and my nights seeking approval and love from rooms full of strangers, I would say the answer to that is a resounding “no”.
CT: You’re on the road pretty much year-round. While it sounds like a lot of fun, it’s gotta wear you down. What do you do to stay sane?
RC: There are things you can do to stay sane??? Too late my friend!! See you in crazy town!!
CT: Tell us about your best and worst gig.
RC: Best gig stories are kinda boring and there are so many to choose from (ho ho). Quatsch Comedy Club in Berlin was pretty special though, a club purpose built by the communists (you know the guys who ACTUALLY won the war) in East Berlin and its got a wicked vibe. Also, a gig I did for a billionaire Arab prince in his pleasure palace to him and 50 prostitutes was pretty insane. That’s actually like best gig/worst gig. Amazing location, great money, seriously bad consequences if you failed. I’m still alive, so it was ok I guess.
Worst gig. Again many to choose from. Let’s go with the time I performed in an outback mining camp in the desert and while the headliner was onstage (an outdoor stage) a fierce wind blew a raging bushfire through the area and we were evacuated and spent a long sleepless night at a muster facility where they forced us to do a second show at 2 am to keep up morale. By the end of it many wished they’d just been consumed by the flames first time around. (There’s a video on my YouTube of this.)
CT: You seem to me to be deeply, quintessentially Australian, yet on social media, I see you regularly criticize your country. How do you reconcile the two? Are you proud to be an Aussie?
RC: I’m not ashamed. I still love lots of the people, the land itself, the indigenous heritage, the great music, films, literature, art and comedy we’ve produced (tip of hat to Jim Jeffries, Steve Hughes and Hannah Gadsby on that front). I just don’t like what our government does to win votes from ignorant fuckwits… but I’m sure I don’t need to explain that to an American.