Time Out talks to Mark Trevorrow about the making of a gay comedy icon
Bob Downe has been flashing his pearly whites and glitzy polyester around the Australian comedy cabaret scene for decades – from debuting as the fictional host of fictional TV show Good Morning Murwillumbah to his current profile.
The hyper-camp creation of performance veteran Mark Trevorrow, Downe is hitting the Athenaeum Theatre for the 2014 Melbourne International Comedy Festival with a new show, Bob, Sweat & Tears which plays out like a TV variety hour: a live band, celebrity walk-ons and, of course, the instantly recognisable hair (“I just put it on like a little performing dog!” he says). And lest we forget, the polyester: “I’ve got some lovely new outfits that I found in San Fran,” says the comedian. “Go to Haight Street in San Francisco, that’s the epicentre of retro. It all ends up there – it’s like the North Pacific Gyre.”
The show takes its name from the late-’60s and early-’70s music of Trevorrow’s youth, which he wants to bring to life onstage — think funk bands like Blood, Sweat and Tears and Chicago. It’s also a fitting nod to the three decades he has been playing with parodies of “old world” showbiz camp on Australian stages – from lip-syncing with his musical-comedy-cabaret group the Globos in the ’80s to going solo with Bob Downe.
“Bob’s the character that I’ve been doing since I was a kid to make everybody laugh,” says Trevorrow. “He’s based on the high camp TV performers that we grew up with in Melbourne when TV was all local. Early television was full of people that had started off in vaudeville and burlesque and the old Tivoli Circus; closeted gay performers, people like Graham Kennedy who sort of hinted at it, but all the time went for the ladies.”
While Trevorrow dials up the kitsch and ‘60s-sanitised’ elements in his shows, he says the act still has an edge. “The recognisable tropes are the surface of the act, but underneath all that there’s a lot of topical observational humour,” he says. “I’m always peeping over the top of the parapet and letting people know that that’s not really how I am at all. That’s one of the fun things about the character. It stays fresh just by being in the world.
“It’s also great having a conservative, anti-gay Prime Minister,” he adds. “Conservative governments are great for comedy!”