Conan the Barbarian

Well, it seems the path to success in the United States for Australian comedians is clear: get your arse onto Conan O’Brien’s talk show:

“YOU’RE a very strange fellow,” said Conan O’Brien after watching Aussie comedian Sam Simmons perform a stand-up routine on his talk show on Tuesday.

The five minute set was an opportunity of a lifetime for the 35-year-old funny man from Adelaide who now has a real chance at cracking the lucrative US market.

The former Triple J radio presenter only moved to Los Angeles in June and was invited onto the popular late night show after Conan’s talent scouts saw him perform in Montreal.

“I got picked up in a limo which was weird,” Simmons told

“I had to get my content approved but they (the producers) were amazingly supportive, like I’d never be able to do this stuff on TV in Australia. I sent them an initial script and they said to me, ‘yeah it’s good but why don’t you do your weird stuff?’ And I was like ‘really?’ They just told me to go hard and represent myself.”

Simmons impressed many and confused others as he joked about Vikings riding sheep and used an audience member as a prop.

“It was so fun and the energy was amazing,” Simmons said.

“Conan said he’d love to have me back. He was just so supportive of having something different on the show.”

First Rebel Wilson, now Sam Simmons – don’t nobody let Conan know about Hughsie or we’ll have a comedy drought on our hands over here.

Of course, on slightly closer examination we discover that the only source to date for Conan’ love of Simmons is Simmons himself. But why would he lie? After all, he did appear on the show and Conan did seem to enjoy his work and it’s not like talk show hosts spend their days pretending to like things they don’t really like.

Put another way, after Rebel Wilson spent years talking herself up at every possible opportunity and eventually managed to get herself a television series out of it, why wouldn’t you do exactly the same thing? After all, clearly his “talking shit about how Australians don’t ‘get’ me” approach didn’t really pay off in Australia:

I was just over in Edinburgh and was widely embraced but I think in this country, it’s Hughesy or nothing – but I can understand it because he is a funny bastard. I suppose I am the only one who does (this type of comedy) in Australia. I guess that’s a good thing. I am, at least in this country, a bit of an innovator when it comes to doing the absurd whereas over in the UK it’s quite commonplace to do this sort of stuff [2009]

The first episode [of Problems] is really f—ing out there,” he says. ”It’s anarchic, subversive and dark. Lazy journalists are going to say, ‘It’s like The Mighty Boosh,’ but it’s nothing like the f—ing Mighty Boosh. That’s what they’ll write, though, because we can’t get our head around absurdism in this country.” [2012]

In Australia, I’m a weirdo,” he adds. “In the UK, I’m a colonist ‘trying’ to be absurd and emulate the Brits, but in the States I am just me. I know that sounds kinda negative, but they don’t have a cultural cringe or a sporting rivalry – they just enjoy who you are.” [August 2013]

Yeah, we never really did embrace Simmons in this country, did we? Sure, he had that regular segment on jTV and then he had that 12 part, five minute per episode series The Urban Monkey and then he had his own half-hour prime time sketch show Problems plus regular gigs on Triple J plus that live stand-up DVD and a whole bunch of panel show appearances, but yeah, we never really got our heads around his act*, did we? He was just an obscure weirdo. With a prime time sketch show.

The strange thing is that while all these offbeat Aussie comedians (Jason Gann, Jim Jeffries, Rebel Wilson) are currently making it big-ish over in the USA, it’s not exactly like American pop culture is known for its wall-to-wall embrace of the offbeat. Sure, there’s loads of small corners where lots of strange stuff is happening, but Simmons isn’t talking about getting an Adult Swim series while Wilson is off making indie arthouse films: these are comedians whose acts are supposedly about them being edgy and different but who are being embraced by Conan O’Brien, former Tonight Show host.

[yes, we know that he was the “edgy” Tonight Show host who got shafted for Jay Leno. We also know his career since then has not been on an upward swing.]

Perhaps the thing to pay attention to here is the way that O’Brien managed (briefly) to juggle being seen as something of an edgy comedian while getting to host The Tonight Show. Perhaps the real story here is that he’s a television producer who can – or maybe just thinks he can – package offbeat material to the mainstream in a way that just might click.

Wilson’s sitcom Super Fun Night (which O’Brien produces) seems to be doing a pretty good job of sanding off whatever rough edges Wilson may have once had while not exactly shitting the bed ratings-wise just yet; who’s to say a Sam Simmons’ sitcom wouldn’t be a smash hit lighthearted romp about a nutty zookeeper and a bunch of lovable kids?

Fuck knows he’d never be able to do that stuff on TV in Australia.




*Actually, considering his live act does seem to occasionally involve him being a bit of a dick towards the audience perhaps all those interview quotes were just an extension of his act – delivered “in character”, as it were. But to prove that we’d require some examples where he broke character, and looking through the correspondence we’ve had with him over the years we couldn’t find anything like that.

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  • urinal cake says:

    The Conan as producer link is interesting. The other interesting thing is that on it’s front page news but there’s nothing about it on Fairfax (from a quick search).

    Since it’s supposed to be a ‘reality show’ I think it’ll be ‘Crocodile Hunter meets Eddie Izzard!’.

  • Circus Taximus says:

    “…I think in this country, it’s Hughesy or nothing…”

    Hughsie is a comedian? Who knew?
    Based on his sizzling work on ‘The Glasshouse’ back in the day, I’d always assumed that he was on some sort of work for the dole program or something.

  • Billy C says:

    Simmons constant complaining to the press about people not getting him is pretty tired. As you’ve pointed out he’s been consistently propped up by the tax payer for years with Triple J and the ABC giving him work and providing him with the profile to support his live work.
    Apart from that Chaser show on 7 I don’t think he’s ever been on a commercial network.
    I don’t have a problem with that, quite a lot of people seem to like him, he’s a polarising because he has a particular style but this “people don’t get me stuff” is boring. We get it Sam we just don’t like it. That Murray Foote thing he did was very poor. He won’t have the papers to stay in the U.S very long. He’ll be back here pretty quick while he waits to see if his pilot gets picked up.
    I’m still waiting for that Baby Cow show he was going to make to come out ……

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    We’re seriously starting to think all his complaining must be part of his act. It’s just hard to believe he could seriously still be moaning that no-one gets him in this country when he’s had two solo television series.

  • urinal cake says:

    I don’t know. ‘Problems’ only ran for 4 episodes late last year. It’s not really a vote of confidence by the ABC. Also in the last episode he had Ronny Chieng (not in character) beseech the audience/ABC for another series during the credits. I do think he is in part pissed off at his lack of success- it’s not an either/or situation.

    In any case it seems he isn’t happy just as a stand-up comedian.

  • Billy C says:

    Well one was only an interstitial series and the other was a 4 episode filler that was commissioned and aired very quickly after it was shot.
    It’s first ep rated 403,000. I think the next eps were all outside the top 20 that the figures aren’t reported anywhere. It should have been on ABC2. You may enjoy listening to him storming out of the Triple J studios:

    After he announced for a joke that he’d be hosting breakfast and drive he copped so much abuse that he left. Something about reaping and sowing is appropriate.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Simmons may not have had a Shaun Micallef-style TV career, but he’s done a lot better than many relatively big names in Australian comedy. Tony Martin’s had one solo show; Dave Hughes has had none.

  • UnSubject says:

    Simmon’s comedy is that of angry manchild (or sometimes idiot manchild) and I don’t think he gets that that persona really irritates a lot of people. Or if he gets that he’s irritating, he doesn’t understand why people can’t just laugh at it instead of telling him what they think about him. He needs a sympathetic audience because his act doesn’t work well with a neutral or even hostile audience.

    So I wouldn’t be surprised if his whole, “People just don’t understand me” comes from a genuine belief of his that he’s underappreciated.

    There does seem to be a larger acceptance in the US of angry manchild comedy, looking at the early career of Adam Sandler and how popular comedy roasts are in certain sections. So perhaps he’ll be able to carve out a niche as a weird Australian there.

  • pete hill says:

    Reminds me a bit of Julia Morris after she lost a heap of weight in the late 1990s and for a short while became a glamour-puss celebrity turning up at every opening of an envelope. Not long afterwards, she haughtily announced she was moving to the UK, saying she felt stifled in Australia and that her home-land wasn’t allowing her to make full use of her amazing talent. Of course, she most likely did score some gigs in Britain but lets face it, that’s like The Four Kinsmen bragging about their gigs in Las Vegas (at least they did right through the concert I had the misfortune to sit through about 12 years ago). I mean in a town with 122 casinos, I’d figure even the magician who pulls rabbits out of a top hat could find a gig somewhere.
    Of course, Australians talking up their reputation and success overseas has been going on ever since 1900 when painter Arthur Streeton managed to sell one or two paintings in a Royal Academy exhibit in London and swaggered back to Aussie, announcing himself as an international art star.

  • Bean Is A Carrot says:

    Julia Morris did pretty well in the UK. In her first year (2000) she managed to get in to some documentary about newcomers to Edinburgh and what their hopes/dreams were. This article mistakenly describes her as a chat show host but gives some flavour of what the doco was like. She did lots of stand-up and also turned up in at least one episode of QI, and giving “special comments” at Eurovision one year. She always seemed on the cusp of hitting it big in the UK, but never quite managed it. Adam Hills had roughly the same level of success in the UK until he got The Last Leg.