• Sean Choolburra, the host of Express Yourself (NITV)Source: NITV
Critically acclaimed stand-up comedian, dancer, singer, and didgeridoo player, Sean Choolburra is the hilarious and charismatic host of NITV’s comedy show Express Yourself.
By
Rowena Potts

7 Jun 2016 - 2:03 PM  UPDATED 7 Jun 2016 - 2:03 PM

Informed at the age of ten by a childhood friend in his hometown of Townsville that he should be a stand-up comic, Sean ultimately established himself as a professional dancer with the Bangarra Dance Company and his own Ngaru Dance Company before acting on his friend’s advice. Above all, however, he considers himself a storyteller, something he encourages other emerging comedians to remember.

Sean spoke to NITV about his journey into stand-up, the people who have inspired him in his craft, and why Express Yourself  is such an important platform for emerging comedians.

“I always tell people ‘We are the oldest storytellers in the world.’ And that's pretty much what stand up comedy is. It’s storytelling.

Essentially, it is sitting around a campfire. And you have to have the gift. I may not be the funniest person, I may not be a lot of things, but one thing I have is the gift of storytelling."

Beginnings

“At ten years old I was told by my friend to do stand-up comedy, which kind of planted a little seed in the back of my head.

Growing up, there were a lot of British comedy shows on TV. We had The Goodies, which was three British comics, and Dave Allen, who was an Irish comic. Then you had the Paul Hogan Show. That was the kind of comedy that we’d be watching.

All of a sudden things changed when they brought on this African American comedy show called Good Times. Good Times was something that I think we could all relate to. We saw people of the same colour, people telling jokes about family or their mum.

And even though everyone else was doing these same kinds of jokes - there was a cultural element with Good Times that we could connect with. Especially seeing people who looked a bit similar, people of colour. I think I was about ten years old when Eddie Murphy first came out. We had all of these vinyl records - of Eddie Murphy, Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor.

After school I tried various jobs here and there. I tried to be a DJ, I tried to work in a radio station, I tried to join the local city council, I tried to get a job on the highway. But there weren’t many employment opportunities in Townsville.

And then someone sent me an application to join a dance college in Sydney (NAISDA). I took the application and joined. I moved into the dancing hostel. We used to travel to and from the hostel to the dance school.

Across the road was a Sydney comedy store, and it reminded me of what my friend had told me that I should do at ten years old. I thought - and I could hear it in my head - ‘One day I’m going to go in there and do stand up comedy.’

I decided in 2002 to finally try stand up, and I walked into the comedy store. By then, I was already used to the stage from dancing. It was open mic night. I watched all these comedians and I thought, ‘Wow. I can actually do that.’”

Where do we fit?

When I first started on the comedy scene, guys (comedians) were still telling Aboriginal jokes. I think when I came in on the circuit, they thought, ‘Well, maybe we can't tell these jokes anymore. We might have to edit those jokes out of our routines.’ I still remember one old Auntie saying, ‘You've got to beat them at their own game. You gotta get your ammunition ready, and you've got to spar back.’

I used to always get introduced on stage and the MC would say, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, our next comedian is an Aboriginal comic.’ And I would say, ‘Thank you very much, white MC.’ You know? You have to have a bit of wit, because it does throw off the audience.

I wanted to find out, where do we fit? Where does Aboriginal comedy fit in Australia? Because in Australia, there is Aussie Larrikin style comedy. There’s not so much Aboriginal style comedy.

I started watching this documentary about a Native American, First Nations comedian named Charlie Hill. When I watched him, it kind of turned on a light in my head to say - well this is where our similarities stand. Because Charlie Hill, being First Nations American, his jokes were all about Native Title, land rights, Native issues and things like that. And here I was growing up listening to Eddie Murphy jokes.

But when I heard Charlie Hill telling his jokes, he had a political angle. He jokes about things like Christopher Columbus and Columbus Day. From there, I kind of realised that that’s the kind of jokes we do. With a lot of sarcasm, as a style of comedy.

Express Yourself

For Sean, the opportunity to host Season 1 of Express Yourself was on his bucket list in terms of comedy accomplishments. He couldn’t be happier returning to host Season 2, and loves the thought that it might inspire emerging comedians across the country.

“When all the comics come on, they fuel you. They sort of inject or reignite your passion and your energy because they have an excitement to them, you know? It also makes you step up to the plate, because you think, "These guys could be hosting this show!

At the end of the day, it's about us as a collective and a community and our humour and getting that across and allowing the younger generation to look at us and go "Wow, these guys have a TV show!"

It's about creating positive role models that shows that these guys are doing TV, and that they're doing comedy.

If any Indigenous person does want to get into stand up comedy, I don't think that he or she should fear how many mainstream or white comics there are. They should always remind themselves that they come from the oldest tradition of storytelling in the world, older than the Irish, older than the Scots, older than anywhere.”

 

Watch Express Yourself Season 2 from 9 June @ 9pm on NITV.