“People won’t know who I am”
Satirist Mark Humphries has spent years poking fun at the powerful and the political. Now he’s looking for his next big laugh
Despite his self-proclaimed obscurity, SBS comedy writer Mark Humphries is rising in prominence – and sealing his status as one of Australia’s best satirists.
Just once, Mark Humphries would like to attend the Logie Awards rather than watch it from the couch at home. And while he admits he would love to be nominated one day, the comedy writer’s ultimate dream is to host the awards, despite acknowledging that the gig is widely considered a “poisoned chalice”. “I’m saying right now, I am prepared to do it,” Humphries tells Stellar. “I totally accept that I am likely to crash and burn, but I think that the risktaking is what the Logies miss. It’s a very safe show now. It’s still entertaining, but generally you go back to when Shaun Micallef or Andrew Denton did it – I don’t put myself in the same category as either of them – and it was anarchic and creative and just really funny. Maybe if I am able to build up a profile over time, that is something I’d love to be considered for.” Building a public profile is exactly what Humphries, 32, has been doing for the past few years on SBS Viceland’s news show The Feed, even though he still considers himself and his comedy writing partner, Evan Williams, a “little nothing thing in the corner”. The pair is responsible for more than 200 videos on The Feed, making Humphries, who also stars in many of the show’s two-and-a-half-minute sketches, a well-known face to those who enjoy a combination of politics and irreverent comedy. As for the rest of Australia…
“Most people reading this are going to go ‘Who?’” Humphries insists. “Most of Australia doesn’t know who I am.”
That is likely to change soon. Humphries’s recent work as Barabbas Loins, a character who happens to enjoy an eerily similar life trajectory to Barnaby Joyce, has risen to particular prominence, sealing Humphries’s status as one of the best satirists in Australia.
There is, however, at least one person who is not a fan of his output, with former politician Mark Latham dismissing the comedian as “Mr Unfunny” after being lampooned by him last year.
“I don’t really have a problem with Mark; he’s amusing to a point. I think he’s obviously an intelligent man and it’s a shame he uses that intelligence to belittle people and make mountains out of molehills,” Humphries says, adding that the two have never met. “My general experience, though, is people who have those sorts of reputations are actually really nice in person. So I imagine he would be a little more civil than he is online [if we were to meet face-to-face].”
Humphries himself is exceedingly polite in person, constantly asking, “Was that OK?” and “Are you sure that is all right?” With his trademark blue button-down shirt – “My dream is to have a full-time stylist. This is why I miss school, because you knew what you had to wear every day” – he could be any one of the characters he plays onscreen. But the real Mark Humphries is very different to the public figures and politicians that he portrays.
“The real me loves musicals, that’s my big thing. I have been known to frequent
karaoke bars, specifically karaoke booths with a small group of friends. I’m very fond of Eurovision and I’ve been waiting for SBS to make the call [to represent Australia], I’ve been sitting by the phone,” he says. “I saw The Phantom Of The Opera when I was eight years old and it was a real eye-opener. When you’re in the audience, the chandelier flies over your head, and I later found out that Australia had some of the most lax occupational health and safety rules in the world, so we had the fastest chandelier in the world. So I think that whoosh was a real… ‘this is theatre, this is dangerous’.”
Humphries is also more politically neutral than his comedy would suggest. “I think I am perceived as a progressive because of the network I’m on. And because, absolutely, more often than not we do target the conservative side. But I really would stress that the conservative side is in government, and so they are a bigger target naturally,” he explains.
“People might disagree with this but my feeling is that presently there are more characters on that side who lend themselves to caricature and ridicule than there are on the left. That is open to interpretation. I would actually love to do more stuff lampooning the left, but I think Labor and the Greens either don’t have as many characters or are a little more careful with how they present themselves. I should also state that my grandfather represented the Liberal Party in State Parliament, by the way.”
After high school, Humphries attained a degree in advertising but found himself “in the wilderness” for a few years, working in a video store and then in a warehouse, and slowly losing hope that his dream of becoming a comedy writer would ever eventuate.
“It was a pretty dark period where I was like, ‘I am never going to leave this warehouse.’ No disrespect to people who work in warehouses,” Humphries hastens to add. “It just wasn’t something I wanted to do. But I was eventually fortunate enough to get an internship with [TV shows] The Hungry Beast and then The Roast. I was very lucky. I had always wanted to do [comedy writing] but for most of my life was too ashamed to tell anyone.” He grins. “Some people would say I should still be ashamed.”
It was Humphries’s father Alan, a weatherman on the ABC, who first sparked his taste for the “glamour” of television. Humphries acknowledges that the nuts and bolts of TV are not as glitzy as he imagined they would be when he visited his father on set as a young boy, but he still gets a thrill out of seeing his work on screens across the nation. And so do his now-retired parents. Initially they wanted their only child, an academically gifted student, to use his brains for “something more worthwhile”, and were understandably concerned about the at times tough reality of trying to crack the TV industry. But they are happy for him now that they can see it’s what he’s committed to.
His wife, Yulia, is equally supportive. The pair met in Bordeaux, France, and have an 18-month-old son, Ted, whom Humphries is still very much in “gush- mode” over. “He’s got a great smile. Ted was my grandfather’s nickname, the one who was in state politics.”
As for what the future might hold, Humphries reveals to Stellar that his SBS contract – and that of writing partner Williams – will finish at the end of this month.
“I would love to do more things with SBS in some capacity because it is – I know it’s a cliché – but it’s a great place to work, and the people are wonderful. I feel privileged to work there. Having said that, I love sitcoms and I would like to just go away and think of something that I could bring to the table. Maybe there is no appetite for that, but I feel that it’s time to at least explore that avenue.”
Just don’t expect to see Humphries in politics anytime soon.
“I do get asked that a lot, but seeing how merciless I’ve been to people… I don’t envy anyone in politics. I think it takes great courage or possibly naïveté. I do think we need strong people in politics though,” he says.
With that, he takes a deep breath. “It just feels time to see what’s out there.”
The Feed airs 7.30pm, Monday to Thursday, on SBS VICELAND.
FUNNY (clockwise BUSINESS from right) Mark Humphries, here with his co-writer Evan Williams, makes a satirical plea for a Logie in a sketch for SBS Viceland’s The Feed; as the disgraced MP and “Minister for Lamb Cutlets” Barabbas Loins; (left and opposite) as photographed for Stellar.