Parent-teacher interviews are rarely a barrel of laughs, but comedian Ben Knight sees the funny side of the sometimes tense, often awkward situation parents and teachers find themselves in a couple of times a year.
Knight grew up in Wurtulla and moved to Melbourne three years ago to pursue a career as a comedian, writer and actor and has quickly found success, appearing in Offspring and Upper Middle Bogan and winning a lead role in the new ABC TV series, The Warriors.
Earlier this year, his musical comedy show The Parent/Teacher Interview sold out at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and now he’s bringing the show home to the Coast. He says the show is a brutally honest musical/standup fusion with a hilarious take on what teachers really think about parents, kids and the education system.
The future looks bright for the charismatic Knight, who cites Tim Minchin, Flight of the Conchords, Ricky Gervais and Louis CK as some of the comedians who inspire him. He has the kind of down-to-earth, quick-witted humour Aussies love, a character trait he shares with his family, who love a bit of banter.
“I went to Caloundra High School and I won ‘class clown’ in Grade 12,” he laughs. “Mum and Dad were very proud of me – but I think it had more to do with me looking like a clown than being funny.”
“I was terrified the first time I did standup comedy. The first one I ever did, a heap of mates came to the Sit Down Comedy Club in Brisbane. I forgot the words and froze for 10 seconds, then one of my mates started cracking up laughing and I ended up getting through to the finals.
“It’s pretty full-on, standing on stage baring your soul. Playing music is fine; someone will clap even if your song is pretty shit. Comedy is so beautiful, you instantly know if you’re good or not. The thing about comedy is you have to be grounded and have a good understanding of who you are. One night you can destroy it and go absolutely awesome. You walk home thinking, I’ve clocked comedy, I’m the best, why aren’t I on TV? The next night you could be like, I’m giving up, I’m crap, I’m going back to teaching.”
I loved teaching but I hated all the hoops you have to jump through.
Knight gave up his career as a primary school teacher to pursue a career in performance, not because he didn’t enjoy teaching kids, but because he was fed up with the bureaucracy. After teaching at Meridan State College and in an Aboriginal community, he spent time teaching kids in Guatemala and Peru, where he discovered a talent for creating funny versions of songs he knew on guitar to get a laugh out of the kids. Three months immersed in the creative atmosphere of New York sealed the deal and he moved to Melbourne as soon as he returned to Australia.
“I loved teaching but I hated all the hoops you have to jump through,” he says. “You have to fill out a risk assessment form for a kid to use a pair of scissors. My big thing was, I really believe in teaching kids as whole students. There’s emotional and intellectual intelligence. You go to school for the academic intelligence, but I always felt my strengths were teaching kids emotional intelligence as well.”
After eight years as a primary school teacher, Knight had plenty of material to draw on for his show, in which he divides parents into three categories: hippies, bogans and helicopter parents.
“They’re the main ones I go after,” he says. “There are a lot of hippies on the Sunshine Coast; or hippie/bogans. You find ‘em everywhere. You’ve got to have a laugh at them. Then there’s the helicopter parents who want to tell you how to do your job. I was pretty good at letting a lot of parent comments go through to the keeper and choosing my moments.”
Knight says his show is definitely not for kids, but is a fun night for adults who aren’t offended by a bit of bad language. He encourages both parents and teachers to let go of their inhibitions and have a good laugh at themselves.
While his success in the comedy scene has enabled him to quit the call centre job he took on as a way to pay the bills when he first landed in Melbourne, Knight says he’s just getting started.
“Comedy has been a gateway to acting and writing, that’s really what I’m interested in,” he says. “I just finished filming The Warriors and it was incredible, it was one of the best experiences of my life. Working with Lisa McCune, Vince Colosimo and John Howard, I had to pinch myself a lot of the time standing next to those people. I learnt a lot, not just from them, but the whole crew.”
He’s now writing his own TV series called The Substitute, about the trials and tribulations of a substitute teacher and preparing to play to his home crowd, which he says is more daunting than fronting up to a packed house in Melbourne.
“I always feel like there’s going to be more pressure because there’s more people I know in the crowd,” he says. “There’s more expectation… make us laugh, funny boy!”
The Parent/Teacher Interview is on at Mooloolaba State School on July 8. For tickets visit trybooking.com and search for The Parent/Teacher Interview.