Melbourne’s first openly gay stand-up comedian has made a career out of shocking audiences into laughter
Adam Richard has always pushed boundaries.
Nothing is sacred when he has an audience, from squirm-inducing rants on bodily fluids to life lessons on the importance of butt plugs.
So where did Richard’s career on stage, radio and TV begin? In the most unlikely of places – a nativity play at the Salvation Army’s Brunswick HQ.
“It was one of my strongest childhood memories,” says Richard, 42. “I was six years old and the lovely Salvo people would come to our house in Brunswick and take me and my sister to Sunday school because my parents were incapable of getting out of bed on Sunday mornings. It took me years to figure out my mum and dad were extremely hungover.
“The Salvos were often around… our family was living under the poverty line. I still don’t remember any of their religious instruction, but I will never forget the exhilaration of being on stage. My sister and I played king and queen in the Christmas play… I know, incestuous royal siblings, we were Game of Thrones four decades early.”
Richard can’t resist sneaking in a gag, not that it was remotely funny growing up with an alcoholic father who gambled away every cent. His remembers his family living without electricity or gas for months at a time because of unpaid bills at their home in East Brunswick.
“Everyone was poor in Brunswick,” he says. “There were no hipsters or million-dollar renos back then. It was a slum. In the ’70s, we were living in Malcolm Fraser’s multicultural Australia. As a very camp young man with blonde hair and blue eyes, I was definitely in the minority. Most kids at my school were Greek or Italian, but there were also Maltese, Turkish, Lebanese and Vietnamese. There was even a pair of Indian boys, complete with turbans, and an Indigenous family.
“Brunswick Primary doesn’t even exist any more. Like so many parts of Brunswick, it’s now low-density housing. It’s hard to imagine, but back then more than 1000 kids were jammed into classes of 30 or more, showing every colour of the Jolie rainbow.”
Richard knew from a young age that he didn’t fit the mould. As a boy, his favourite album was by Liza Minelli and he preferred Barbie dolls to kicking the footy. Not that he doesn’t like watching a good game of footy. He just can’t play.
“One time, my dad took me to footy training at the local club in Brunswick to try out. I spent the whole training session skipping around the ground and shrieking, covering my face whenever the footy came in my direction. Dad never returned to that club… he was too embarrassed.”
Richard made up for any lack of sporting prowess by embracing his inner show-off. “Even in primary school, I would write and perform plays. One of them toured to East Brunswick primary school, all the way down near Nicholson and Albion. Yep. I toured in my own play when I was nine. I also wrote stories, and read loads of Doctor Who books. Sci-fi is still my thing.”
Born in Carlton as Adam Richard Dellamarta, he dropped the surname as a teenager, partly because it sounded better and partly because of the troubled relationship he had with his dad, who died of alcoholism in 2006. He officially changed his name when his mum died in 1996.
Before comedy, Richard worked as a State Bank teller, a fast-food seller and a cleaner. A writing course at RMIT led him to his first stand-up gig in 1996 at the Elbow Grease – a comedy haven at Nicholson's Hotel in North Carlton (also now medium density housing).
“I was harangued into doing it by my mates, and I only intended just to do one gig, just to say I’d done it, but laughter is the most insidious of addictive substances. I’m still chasing that high.”
Within months of that first performance, Richard was in the Raw Comedy national final. Then he was awarded a coveted Moosehead Award, a grant to create a show for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, followed by a trip to Edinburgh Festival with Foxtel's Comedy Channel. Richard has gone on to perform all over Australia, Britain and the USA.
His stand-up routine about celebrity gossip at the 1999 comedy festival led to more than a decade of success on radio, starting as Triple J's Mister Bitch before transforming into The Fabulous Adam Richard on Fox FM’s Matt and Jo Show Show, where he remains a cheeky stalwart on the popular breakfast shift.
“Working with Matt Tilley, Jo Stanley and Troy Ellis on air at The Fox every single weekday is a perpetual highlight,” Richard says. “We have so much fun. It is a joy and privilege to share giggles with them. But one gig will always stand out as my all-time favourite. I was lucky enough to do stand-up on Hey Hey It’s Saturday in ’99. Here I was, talking quite openly about my sexuality, in people’s lounge rooms all over Australia, just after 6.30pm. To this day, I don’t think people realise what a watershed Hey Hey was for acceptance of homosexuality in Australia. Molly (Meldrum) was one of the gang, and there was never any secret made of his sexuality.”
Richard went on to make regular appearances on The Glass House, Spicks & Specks and Rove, along with a couple of “ever so slightly embarrassing” cracks at reality TV (Celebrity Dog School, Hole in the Wall and Celebrity Splash). His biggest (and proudest) TV project was writing and starring in Outland, ABC TV’s comedy series about gay science-fiction nerds.
“Outland was outrageous fun and the whole thing was unmistakably Melbourne,” Richards recalls. “When you think about it, a group like that, a gay science fiction club, could only exist in Melbourne.
“I really love this city. I went to the theatre a couple of Fridays ago, and was so thrilled at how exciting the city has become on a Friday night. There were people everywhere. I was off to a sold out performance of Gypsy by the Production Company at the State Theatre, but there was also a huge throng attending a Lord of the Rings concert at Hamer Hall. Then there were Pies fans traipsing off to the G to watch Collingwood smash the Crows. A friend of mine was a few blocks away watching a burlesque cabaret show, while about 10,000 housewives dumped their kids with hubby and were all heading off to see Pink at Rod Laver.
"All of this going on and no particular event or festival is in place. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as well. The casino was no doubt buzzing with activity, cinemas doing a brisk trade, bars heaving with Friday knock-off drinks. This is just a Friday in July in Melbourne. There’s always something going on.”
Richard lives in Reservoir and performs stand-up every week (go to his website for his gig listings), despite starting work before dawn for his breakfast radio job. A great way to see Richard in his riotous, anything-goes state is at The Shelf, a seasonal event at the Toff where he joins forces with fellow comedian Justin Hamilton hosting a rotating list of special guests like Wil Anderson, Rove McManus, Cal Wilson and Anthony “Lehmo” Lehmann. The audience never really knows who’ll turn up on the night, which is why it’s so much fun.
“One night during the comedy festival last year, I was on stage at the Toff with Justin, Rove and Wil all at the same time. We were talking absolute bollocks and it was hilarious. I’ll never stop doing stand-up. It’s too addictive.”
1980 Wrote and starred in his first play about a king with a pie full of ants. Toured to East Brunswick Primary
1997 Raw Comedy national finalist
1998 First solo comedy show, Moosehead Award Recipient Tragedy
1998 Tours to Sydney and Edinburgh supporting Carl Barron
1999 Stand up performance on Hey Hey It’s Saturday
2001 Question writer, Cranium Board Game Australian Edition
2002 Triple J Drive with Charlie Pickering, Nicole Fossati & Mel Bampton
2003 Fox FM Breakfast (Matt & Jo Show)
2006 9am with David and Kim (Ten)
2007 Celebrity Dog School (Ten)
2010 Outland (wrote and starred ABC TV/Princess Pictures)
2011 The Shelf live comedy events and podcast with Justin Hamilton
2013 Celebrity Splash (Seven)