INTERVIEW: Cam James, comedy, and cereal for dinner

Cam James is your classic ‘local boy done good’. Having grown up in Newcastle, Cam is now taking on the world of comedy, one sell-out show at a time…

Cam is one half of comedy duo Jekyll x James whose latest show, ‘Cactus Blastus’ saw a sell-out season at Perth Fringeworld and received rave reviews during its recent run at Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Cactus Blastus’ is now headed a bit closer to home for a string of shows at The Enmore Theatre in Sydney from 12-16 May. We got the chance to pick Cam’s brains about Jekyll x James, and the insanity of a life in comedy – sordid Royal Family affairs and all…


Many people strive for it, most people think they are, and majority of those are definitely not. Tell us, Cam… What’s it like to be funny?

Brittany, excellent question. Well, being funny is the hardest and most important job in the world. Much harder than being a Doctor, and much more important than negotiating international peace treaties. In answer to your question; I dunno. Heaps of people are funny. My friends are funny. My chemist is funny. I’ve met you, you’re funny. But not everyone attempts to be funny for a living, and I think that is the key difference; insanity. I am an idiot. I’m just realising how stupid what I’m doing is.


Having dabbled in many different areas of performing in your time, how did you find your calling as a comedian? Was it always something you had in mind as a potential career or was it something you fell into?

I wanted to be musician. I wanted to be a Ramone. Or Iggy Pop. Most of my teenage years and early twenties was spent playing in several Newcastle bands, and hoping I was good enough to become well known enough to tour, and put albums out, and get a following. Spoiler alert, I wasn’t good enough. Or maybe, I didn’t have the right attitude. Or maybe, the music industry is something of a cultural wasteland now, and the only original acts worth listening to are playing outside the major infrastructure and doing things their way.

Whatever it was, I didn’t have what it takes to be a successful muso. I’d always been a fan of certain comedians, so one night I tried doing it. I probably sucked, but not bad enough to quit. I kept coming back.


Growing up in Newcastle, did you find there was much of a local comedy scene to get involved in?

The comedy scene I grew up in was the streets of Dudley. 2290 for life. The funniest person was the one who could do the best prank phone call to a local business. My friend Mossy and I used to call Angus and Coote Jewellers at Charlestown Square and ask if they had certain books in store, because it had a similar name to the book shop Angus and Robertson in the same centre. It’s kinda a lame prank. But we did it every day. For months and months. It was the repetition of the same gag, word for word that made it funny for us. They knew our voices in the end, and would just hang up.

I never got involved in the actual stand up scene here until I’d already moved to Sydney. I went and watched at The Oriental a few times, and saw some great comedians get heckled. It looked too brutal, and I never would have dared get up. But, now I love it there. Soame who runs Newcastle Comedy is a legend, and puts on a great show. I’ll recommend that comedy night to anyone.


As well as performing stand-up shows across Australia, you’ve been the comedic brains behind a number of projects, including ABC2’s The Roast and working with Triple J. How did you get your foot in the door?

I’m definitely not “the brains” behind that stuff, I’ve just done a bit of work here and there. I wrote a bit for The Roast, which was cool, and I’ve done a few comedy things with Triple J I’m really proud of; I wrote/did voices for a bunch of characters on Tom Ballard’s fake call-in show “Chatback”, and I’ve done Matt and Alex’s “Weather Rap” a few times with Jared [Jekyll].

I’ve got another couple of things coming up for the rest of the year too. My friend Gen Fricker (comedian and Triple J presenter) and I are working on a new radio thing for later in the year that’s a bit of a secret.

Usually, anything like that just comes from performing a lot. People see you around, like your stuff, and ask you to do things. Eventually, you can maybe put your name forward for things, or pitch. I’m no hotshot, I’m pretty much just working with friends.


You’ve been named as the “Next Big Thing” in comedy by Timeout Sydney – that must feel like an amazing achievement. What’s been the highlight of your comedy career so far?

Definitely the time I hooked up with The Queen of England. She said “I heard that a local magazine said you’re funny, wanna go out sometime?”. I was like “Come over now, girl”. She came round, we did mostly hand stuff, it was pretty chill.

Apart from that, probably this most recent season at Melbourne International Comedy Festival. It was a great month of shows, good reviews, and a bunch of people kept coming to see us.


Your new show ‘Cactus Blastus’ has seen a number of sell-out performances and some excellent reviews during it’s recent run in Melbourne. Give us a bit of a rundown on what it’s all about… 

Cactus Blastus is a live-action peyote trip, with a punk rock and hip-hop soundtrack. We take the audience on an idiotic, stream of consciousness journey through the Wild West. There’s a robbery, there’s a brothel, there’s an endless slew of insane characters, blood is shed often, and nobody is safe.

Our style of music, characters and stupidity has been compared to The Mighty Boosh, which I think is flattering – to them.

We use an RC505 loop pedal, Jared’s beatbox skills, and my noisey guitar to make live psychedelic music that really adds to the feeling of a trip. Apparently. I’ve never done drugs. I’ve just read about them in books.


The show is headed to Sydney this May, are you excited to bring the show back to your own stomping ground?

I’m excited to play at the Enmore Theatre. I’ve seen so many insane bands there in my life. I saw Arcade Fire on the Neon Bible tour there, before they were too big for rooms like that. I just saw #1 Dads there. Pretty sure Ryan Adams is playing there later in the year. I might try to hide backstage until his show, then sabotage it like Phantom of the Opera. Drop sandbags, fuck with the lights and stuff. Just to see him have one of his famous tantrums.


You’ve been performing with your other half, Jared Jekyll for the past few years – How did you guys team up?

Yeah, we do these shows together, but we also do our own things as well. We met cause we were fans of each other’s solo stand up stuff, and wanted to collaborate on something. Early on we used to do stunts; I’d be doing a set, then I’d get an emergency call on-stage, and I’d ask my “understudy”, Jared, to come out and finish my set with a script. Or, he’d be onstage, I’d heckle from the audience, and it’d end up becoming a romantic duet. We used to think that stuff was hilarious. Audiences were usually just confused.


What’s the easiest and the hardest things about working in a comedy duo?

The easiest part is having someone to suffer through a shitty gig with. If it’s a weird night, or a quiet crowd, you can at least try to entertain each other. The hard part is on the good nights when we have to divvy up the groupies.


How do people respond to your style of comedy? Have you ever had any disgruntled audience members come up to you after your shows? Or any crazy fans trying to give you locks of their hair yet?

Our idiocy is pretty infectious; people love it. Well, most people. 9 out of 10 people love it. We had a handful of people who were a bit weirded out by it. I kicked a group of drunk dudes out in Perth because they audibly weren’t getting it. At at least one lady was loudly confused in Melbourne. I think it’s important to not be for everyone; if you’re for everyone, you’re probably boring.


Best way to deal with a heckler?

Hecklers aren’t funny, and people don’t laugh at the dumb shit they yell out. Usually just letting them sit in the silence that follows their outburst is enough. They get embarrassed, and they shut up. Then I follow them home, hold them and their family hostage, and make him perform a comedy show while his wife and kids heckle him. It’s brutal, but fair.


Three words to describe working in comedy?

Cereal for dinner.


Do yourself a favour and check out ‘Cactus Blastus’ during its run at The Enmore Theatre, Sydney from Tue 12 – Sat 16 May 2015.

Tickets available here: