Though many may consider writing a dream gig, it pales into insignificance when compared to my days as a backpacker spent selling ice cream from a beach buggy in Port Douglas in Queensland’s Far North. One day an American tourist stopped me at the quiet end of Four Mile Beach to ask if it was safe to swim in the water, and specifically about the potential presence of sharks. “Well, it is Australia,” I told him, rather unreassuringly, and directed him to the more populated part of the sandy stretch that was patrolled by lifeguards and equipped with nets. The following day the lifeguards closed the beach. But not because of sharks. Crocodiles had been sighted just offshore.
So, it was with a huge grin and a sense of nostalgia that I watched the spoof Queensland tourism video by Australia-based Kiwi comedian Chris Drabble that went viral late last year for its hilarious depiction of the dangers of living in the tropical state and the locals’ laid-back attitude towards such hazards (on Aussies calling saltwater crocodiles, ‘salties’: “They’ve taken the term saltwater crocodiles, dispensed with the more integral part of term, you know ‘crocodiles’, to leave a vague colloquialism that could be used to describe literally any marine animal!”). I ask the clip’s creator when he first realised that the sketch had hit the big time.
“I posted the video and then for the first hour or two did some admin and shared it to try and get the ball rolling,” Chris says, over the phone from Sydney. “Then my mate got in touch. He’d been sitting there on the couch watching the TV and my Queensland video appeared on the news, so he recorded it and sent it through. It was nuts! Then I checked out the view count and it was up to around a million. So, it was a pretty cool way to discover that I’d gone viral.”
It must have been quite overwhelming?
“Yeah, it’s fun, but it is a bit scary as well. The exposure comes heavy and fast, but, you know, it’s fleeting. I had producers messaging me from the likes of Sunrise on Channel Seven. They were saying that they need to get me on asap, checking that I was not doing other TV interviews first. It was cool, but it was also exhausting for the four or five days that it lasted.”
Most importantly for the comic, it also greatly boosted his number of social media followers and subscribers. Chris cut his teeth as a comedy travel vlogger, expanding his repertoire to stand-up gigs and insightful skits concerning the human psyche (his barbecue video about masculinity is well worth a look).
“When I started writing the Queensland video, it was intended to be a stand-up set,” recalls Chris. “But I ran out of time. I hadn’t organised anything and just came up with the idea of doing the tourism video almost as an afterthought. I certainly didn’t expect it to be beamed around Australia on Channel Nine News and all that sort of thing.”
Did you have feeling that the video might strike a chord?
“Sometimes you can have an idea, but I try not to have expectations. There have been others that I thought might catch on, but then they get a thousand views and disappear. You can spend two weeks making a two-minute video, then the algorithm might not catch on for YouTube or Facebook and it gets swept under the rug. Other times you might make a video in a couple of days and it gets three or four million views, plus the revenue and exposure that comes with them. You just have to take the good with the bad.”
Chris, who hails from Havelock North, has a degree in filmmaking, studying “a whole bunch of different things, including Italian neo-realism—which certainly wasn’t social media, right!”. About 10 years ago, the comedian spent his life savings on a camcorder and realised he needed to figure out a way to justify such a splurge. That’s how the travel vlogging, originally in the States, came about: “I just didn’t want to have a normal job.”
Many of your shorts are clever social commentaries. Are you constantly compiling a list of things that annoy and amuse you?
“Yes, and the list is ever-growing! But as a comedian that’s kind of your job, and to approach those things from a different angle. I do try to not get too cynical, I don’t consider myself a controversial or contentious comedian, but I do like to create things that stoke discussions.”
Were you a funny kid?
“I was never the class clown. My dad wrote for newspapers and does public speaking, and my grandma used to crack me up whenever I visited. I’d come up with the odd witty remark here and there, but it was when I left school and bought that video camera when I was 19 or 20 I discovered that I had a thing for comedy.”
Though still a work in progress, Chris has promised to make a mock Kiwi tourism video to counter his Queensland skit. “It’s a good excuse to have a road trip back home,” says the comedian. “I’m pretty keen to not be one-sided, so it’s only right I do one for New Zealand!”