What would you expect to find on the rider of two young performers currently cruising a wave of success? Probably not a single bag of red jelly snakes, that's for sure. But a humble bag of Allen's treats has carried Matt Kelly and Richard Higgins of kids comedy duo The List Operators through sold-out crowds at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and a best show nomination at the Melbourne Comedy Festival. This month the sugary goods will assist the pair in performing their side-splitting show, More Fun Than a Wii, at the Sydney Opera House.
The duo approached their latest venture with a simple formula: they wrote a list of all the things you shouldn’t do in a kid’s show, and then decided to do them. “Within reason,” says Higgins. “We don’t murder anyone.” “It’s like a One Direction concert,” adds Kelly. “But with more vomit.”
Kelly and Higgins met while performing kids theatre at the age of 21, and while they have the near-impossible skill of holding a child’s attention down to an art, their shows haven’t always been about farts and vomit gags. “We always had the most fun when we were performing together,” says Higgins. “Then we started doing comedy for adults for about a year, and all the while we kept mucking around with ideas for kid’s shows, so we just ran with it.”
While they joke that the best part of performing for children is the fact that the show is over by 3pm, the pair are proud to be entertaining the next generation of theatregoers. “Kids are a great audience because they are willing to volunteer, and are just so excited to be in the theatre,” says Kelly. “The largest group we have performed to was at Sydney Festival at the Seymour Centre. There were 500 to 600 kids per day. It was so rock‘n’roll, I felt like Prince.”
Having performed separately for children all over Australia, at Perth’s Circus Soup, Adelaide’s Kids Comedy Gala at the Spiegeltent and Questacon in Canberra, the Listies agree that their most vital skill is a sense of humour (and the ability to use a fart machine). A large amount of improvisation goes into More Fun Than a Wii; each child in the audience is given a stuffed toy, which they are encouraged to throw when they aren’t happy with the direction the show has taken. “Kids will scream things out, and put their hands up to ask questions. Often they will need toilet breaks too, and we just run with it,” says Higgins. “Often the funniest things said in the show don’t come from us," agrees Kelly. "They come from the kids.”
One thing the Listies don’t agree on is their favourite part of the show. Instead, when prompted by Time Out, they drowned each other out with their growing shortlists. “The alien attack, where there is a fight between us and the audience, or the ninja nans,” says Kelly. “Scrap that, it has to be the farting dad bit. It’s genius!” For Higgins, it’s a choice between having a child from the audience operate the sound effects... or spewing in Kelly’s face.
With plans in the works for a spoken word album, car tape, kids' book, a television series and more theatre shows, it appears the pair may have picked up a bad habit from their audiences: the inability to sit still.