Laura Imbruglia’s Not So Amateurish ‘Amateur Hour’

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Words By Carody Culver
September 23, 2015
Calling all creatives and pop culture buffs: variety entertainment has a new home. Brought to you by musician and self-described music nerd Laura Imbruglia, Amateur Hour is a quirky new arts and culture web series featuring interviews, curios, sketches, live music and more from a laudable line-up of Australian bands, comedians, visual artists, performers and loveable eccentrics. Inspired by the old-school charm of legendary Australian shows like Countdown and Recovery, Amateur Hour’s inventive format and diverse guests (including singer-songwriter Laura Jean, artist and illustrator Celeste Potter and writer Clementine Ford) give the concept of variety entertainment a fresh and fun new spin. Carody Culver caught up with Laura to find out more about how she makes the magic happen.

SPOOK: Amateur Hour is a mix of music, comedy, creativity and fun—there’s even some cooking thrown in for good measure. How did you come up with the concept?

Laura Imbruglia: I had been complaining for a few years that Australia’s lack of televisual promo opportunities for arty types/variety entertainment was embarrassing. You always see clips being shared online of bands and comedian interviews on Ellen, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel—Australia has nothing like that. When a comedian or band tours Australia, if they want to promote their tour or album, they pretty much only have morning TV available to them. Getting a coveted spot on morning TV is extremely hard and if you’re ‘lucky’ enough to get one, it’s still a disappointing experience for the artist and the fan. The band is mixed poorly, hurried through the studio and the people interviewing them are soulless robots asking boring questions (I should know—I’ve been there). I wanted to make a show I’d like to see, inspired by Wayne’s World, Recovery, Liquid TV and SNL. I approached certain friends to create particular segments, and other things just came together or landed in my lap along the way. I also like being silly, and this was a chance for me to do something comedic while still nourishing my love of music.

You got Amateur Hour off the ground in the face of ever-shrinking federal support for the arts. How did you do it?

I did a callout firstly to my friends, and then secondly on my Facebook music page. From the get-go, I was clear that it was a budget-less production, but I tried to make it sound as fun as possible. I made a lot of sandwiches on shoot days and purchased a few hard drives and flights. I would say I invested about $500‒600 on the whole season. You don’t wanna know how many hours I personally invested this year, let alone how many the crew and editors have. It’s a labour of love. People really believe in the concept and want to see Australia have a show like this. I just co-ordinate the volunteers (i.e. harass them) and creatively direct the show. I work three days a week in an admin job and the rest of my waking hours are spent largely on the show.

You’re a woman of many talents—web series mastermind, singer‒songwriter and ‘self-described nerd’. Tell us about your background and creative influences.

 I grew up on the Central Coast of NSW. I was a weird kid and the coast is a pretty xenophobic place. I moved to Sydney straight out of school and worked for seven years in a heavy metal record shop (with Ray from The Hard-Ons as my mentor—he would later go on to star in my web show!). I also started my music career around this time, although I had also been interested in an acting career, I wasn’t getting any of the jobs I went for and dropped this to focus on music. I moved to Melbourne in 2010 and have been here since, still playing music, hosting music trivia for extra cash and making friends along the way.

“I think the average viewer enjoys a mix of interviews, music, comedy, absurdity … keeps ‘em on their toes and doesn’t allow them to get bored.”

The first season of Amateur Hour is six half-hour episodes that air fortnightly on your YouTube channel. Did you always intend the show to be a web series?

Only out of necessity. Seeing as it’s a pretty fringe humour show made by a bunch of amateurs, the chances of any TV studios even taking a meeting with us before proving our worth would be slim. I also like that hosting the show ourselves gives us a chance to present it exactly as we imagined it. Most people watch TV on the internet, so I figured YouTube is not that far a stretch. That’s where Broad City started and look at them now.

You’ve got stellar guests lined up in season one, from musicians like the Gin Club to writers like Clementine Ford and illustrators like Celeste Potter. How did you go about finding your guests, and how do you curate the content of each show?

 I had the help of our ‘Music Producer’ Lara Soulio, who works as a sound engineer at Old Bar (which means she gets to see and make friends with a lot of great bands), and another helper, Ad Hoc (artist), who set up and conducted two of the feature interviews. The rest of the people involved were predominantly friends or acquaintances (although they weren’t chosen because they’re my friends, they were chosen because they’re awesome). I’ve been playing music since I was 18 and I’m now 32, so I’ve met lots of talented people along the way, and most of those I asked were nice enough to agree to be involved. As for curating each show, I just select things I like and try to sequence them in an order that’s pleasing to me. Being a music nerd, it’s not that dissimilar to making a mix CD for someone you’re trying to impress. The comedy and music are quite different from show to show and I’m mining my record store experience to try and match the music to the comedy for each episode. You can see all the guests coming up on the ‘guests’ tab on amateurhour.tv—Batpiss, Teeth & Tongue, Sarah Blasko, Julia Deville, and Clementine Ford are just a small sample of what’s to come.

I really enjoy the comedy sketches you’ve got in Amateur Hour, like Cindy Salmon the deranged motivational speaker and your awkward encounter with the Nova cinema guy that opens episode one. What’s your favourite kind of comedy, and how would you define the relationship between music and comedy when it comes to variety entertainment?

Thanks! I love awkward comedy, mockumentary stuff and borderline offensive things too. The Office, Best in Show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Inside Amy Schumer, Arrested Development, Strangers with Candy and Seinfeld are a few of my faves. I also love Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and I used to be quite dangerously obsessed with Ellen DeGeneres in high school (her sitcom, I mean—it hasn’t aged very well though). I think music and comedy are quite complementary to one another. They help give a show flow. Too much music is good for music nerds like me, but I think the average viewer enjoys a mix of interviews, music, comedy, absurdity … keeps ‘em on their toes and doesn’t allow them to get bored.

Tell us more about the regular spots have in the show, like Memories of Ray, Cats and your feature animators. Do you have plans for more regulars as the show progresses?

 The cooking segment ‘LJ’s Lazy Guide to Health’ was incorporated because Laura (Jean) had talked to me about her dreams of having a foodie radio show and nothing had happened with the idea. I also know she’s very funny and incredibly likeable and endearing (i.e. good TV), so I asked if she wanted to pitch some ideas, and she did and they were good, so we shot it! It breaks up the show nicely and gives it space to breathe. It also teaches the viewer something new! I pitched the idea for ‘Memories with Ray’ to Ray Ahn (it seemed like a golden idea in my head) and he agreed. My buddy Ben Salter told me he wanted to be on the show and gave me a list of things his segment could be about. I think it was cricket, video games, cats. Out of those options, I went straight for cats and told him I wanted him to interview cats. Ben tours a lot, and filming himself patting a cat on the street is probably the most I could get him to reliably commit to. As for feature animations, I guess I just wanted some more things to break up the show, and I missed the mini animations that used to appear on SBS a lot when I was in school. As for more regular features, we will soon be introducing ‘The Brunswick Bunch’, a mini segment where we visit some of the iconic businesses of Sydney Rd. Sounds boring, but it isn’t.

All images by Carbie Warbie. Check out more of Amateur Hour at the website: http://www.amateurhour.tv and/or follow the team on twitter or facebook.

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