If the members of the Australian sketch comedy group Aunty Donna work this hard to entertain one reporter on the telephone, imagine what they’ll do to entertain an entire audience at Overture Center's Promenade Hall on Saturday.
An “interview” (and I use the term loosely) with the three most visible members of the six-member group — Mark Samual Bonanno, Broden Kelly and Zachary Ruane — is a half-hour of digressions, improvised scenarios and off-the-wall pop culture references.
Over the course of the interview, Aunty Donna claimed to have psychic powers that they used to solve murders, sang a verse from a Tom Petty song and speculated on the sexual lives of bucks. They also kept a running joke going on whether various answers were on or off the record, including “Everything we’ve said is on the record, except for me saying now that everything is on the record. That’s off the record.”
Aunty Donna is making their first appearance in Madison with its “Big Boys” show but have already cultivated an American fan base through their viral YouTube videos, such as “Bikie Wars,” which has over two million views. The group’s high-energy live shows seem more akin to arena rock shows than sketch comedy, where the performers are on stage constantly rather than taking defined breaks between sketches.
The Cap Times asked exactly one serious question of Aunty Donna, and the following is a small sample of what ensued:
What can you tell me about the ‘Big Boys’ show versus any of your other shows?
Mark Samual Bonanno: That’s really something that we felt was very important when we named the show. We’re going to name it ‘Big Boys,’ and we’re going to get three big boys on stage. So it definitely features that.
Broden Kelly: It features us three. That’s on the record. It features some of our best sketches and songs.
Zachary Ruane: And some of our worst as well. We wanted to make sure that for every good sketch that was in there that would make people laugh, there was something divisive.
Mark: Not to upset people. Just to make something really unfunny.
Broden: We don’t like shows to be too good. So you’ll see a sketch that will be one of the funniest sketches that you’ve ever seen in your life, and the next sketch will be “Why did I waste my money on this?”
Zach: “I feel sick.”
Mark: And you’re not going to get that from any other show. You’ll go to another show and think "That was great" or "That wasn’t for me." Here, within a span of five minutes, you’re going to go from "Oh my god, I can’t imagine comedy ever being funnier that this, I’ve never laughed so hard in my life," to "I wish I was dead. I can’t possibly sit in this theater a second longer," back to “How could I ever doubt myself? This is clearly the most . . .” And before you even finish that thought, you’re back to “Oh my God, I’d rather be helping my grandmother go to the bathroom than endure this for one more second.”
But at least you feel something.
Zach: Yes. By the way, just so you know, to engage with a Madison audience, I’ve looked up a list of Madison celebrities. But unfortunately I’ve looked up a list not of celebrities from Madison, but people named Madison. I don’t know if that’s of any value to you. Madison Beer? She was discovered by Justin Bieber.
Broden: We are unlike anything the people of Madison have ever seen before. We’re the only people in the world who are doing sketch comedy in this particular way. We didn’t come out of Second City or UCB or the British Footlights Theatre. We’re a weird Australian group that will make you guffaw.
Zach: Much like Mark Ruffalo, a great Wisconsin export, we love to bring joy to people. We’re not great actors like Willem Dafoe, another great Wisconsin actor, but we’ll give it our all. And sure, we’re not as strong as Tony Shalhoub, and we’re not as funny as Chris Farley, or Gene Wilder, or Bob . . . Oo-wecker? He’s a baseball player? (Editor’s note: he means Bob Uecker).
Wow, you guys really connect with the local audiences in the places where you visit.
Broden: But the best one of course is Al Molinaro, the owner of Arnold’s on “Happy Days.”
And you know where “Happy Days" was set, of course.
Broden: Yeah. But you say it first.
Broden: Yeah. I am a buck by the way. I’ve never been to Milwaukee, but I’m a buck. I’ve almost been hit by seven cars.
Have you ever been strapped to the hood of a car?
Broden: Yeah, but that was in college.
Zach: You were a young buck.
Broden: Yeah, I was a young buck, but now I’m a 29-year-old buck. That’s one thing people should know about the show, is that it’s two human performers and one buck. Do you have much edible grains there?