When did you first realise you had a talent for making people laugh?
The first day of Grade 6 when I was 10. I Iived in Nepal until Year 5 and I spent my first year in Australia feeling like the odd one out. That all changed when I discovered I was really good at making fun of the teacher behind her back to the raucous laughter of my classmates who suddenly decided I was really cool. It’s such a cliche, but yes, I really was the class clown. Then I was the clown in lots of crappy jobs I had. Then one day I decided to grow a set of balls and try and make a living from it. I've taken comedy pretty seriously ever since.
What’s the first gig you remember doing and how did it go down?
It was at the open mic night at one of the best comedy clubs in the UK, The Stand in Edinburgh. I was somewhat older than most of the others. I started comedy in my late 20's. I had been studying stand up for about a year before I got the confidence to do it. They called me out of the blue because someone cancelled so I wasn't expecting to perform that night, but it went very well. I was very lucky; I didn't have to do years of unpaid gigs like some people. I started to be paid very shortly after that. If it had gone badly I might never have continued.
You have toured extensively around the world. Where has been your toughest audience to break?
I have performed in 34 countries so far. In many countries we are performing to international audiences, but in others we are performing to local people who speak English. That can be tough because you have to slow down and think about your references. It usually goes pretty well, though. But I had a tough gig in India once where I was bombing and a very well spoken Indian man yelled out "take a break buddy" and that remains one of my worst heckles for the sheer matter-of-factness about it.
I also did a private show for a billionaire in his private pleasure palace on an island. It was just him and around 30 call girls. That was tough mainly because there was an underlying sense that he would have us killed if he didn't like us.
As a British-based Australian you seem to have a love affair with Scotland — especially the Edinburgh fringe — why is this?
I've always been slightly obsessed with Scotland. I have a very Scottish name and my nanna used to always give me books about Scotland even though my family has been in Australia for a long time. Then I went to a Scottish presbyterian college in Adelaide, so that probably fed the obsession. It was like a theme school with kilts and bagpipe bands and stuff. Then I met a Scottish girl and ended up there and started comedy there - gradually I have come to think of myself as equal parts Scottish and Aussie. I recently did my family history and found out my ancestors were Scottish convicts sent to Australia in the 1840s for trivial crimes. Obviously I was delighted about this! Scotland is beautiful country with amazing people and it has a rich comedic heritage from Chic Murray and Billy Connolly through to Frankie Boyle and Kevin Bridges, they are a people who know how to laugh to themselves and are rarely offended. That can't be said of all people.
And the Edinburgh Fringe... Well that is almost another planet. It is our international comedy trade fair and its the reason I decided to become a comedian. It's the greatest alcoholic gathering of creative minds and lunatics on earth and I haven't missed it for 10 years now. I don't plan to anytime soon. It is a crazy energising month that has changed many lives.
As an observer of comedy who inspires you in your own stand up?
I'm inspired by all the comics who give their life to it really. I'm not massively influenced by any one comic but I do have my favourites. I also have a lot of respect for comics who give themselves to the road and work on the frontiers of the stand up world. International comics like Glenn Wool, Tom Rhodes, Craig Campbell who have tirelessly travelled the globe doing festivals and gigs in all sorts of weird places and amassing a following the hard way rather than just getting on TV at 23. In terms of who I like to watch and listen too, well US comic Bill Burr is the top guy for me right now and his podcast is always hilarious, and I have gotten drunk with him and he's just as funny offstage.
Are there any themes that are off limits to you that other comedians are more comfortable with?
Not at all. If I can think of something funny about it its in. Funny is funny, I don't care what the subject is. Obviously the audience has to agree. Otherwise its out pretty damn fast! Oh and I don't do stuff about my girlfriend or my kids because I don't have any!
What is your personal favourite joke that you have heard on your travels?
Why didn't Hitler drink? 'Cos it made him mean. - Willie Nelson
I hear lots of jokes; that’s the funniest I can think of right now that is publishable.
You have been criticised in certain quarters for playing prison gigs. How would you respond?
I've played to more murderers and rapists on a Friday night in Liverpool. At least in prison they were locked up!
This is your third visit to Vietnam. What makes these gigs special? What are your thoughts about Vietnam?
Only my second actually. I barely got a feel for it last time. This time I have spent a week in the north around Ninh Binh, and have been hanging out with and talking to locals. It is an incredible country that has obviously been through a lot and is changing pretty fast. I've been to some places I would rank as the most beautiful I have ever seen in 20 years of travelling and I hope they don't get messed up by development.
How much does your ‘Australianess’ define your humour?
Well your 'voice' has a lot to do with how people perceive you and your comedy. So from that point of view probably quite a bit. Despite 10 years in the UK I still sound like a boy from the back blocks of Oz and in a lot of ways I think like one too. Except that I am ashamed of our current government and cannot be proud of my country while it continues to exhibit such terrible intolerance and racism to refugees and immigrants. Tony Abbott is an embarrassment and I hope in the future Australian people will realise they made a huge mistake electing him.
Ro Campbell will be performing at Apocalaughs Now on Wednesday Oct. 15 at Cargo Bar, 7 Nguyen Tat Thanh, Q4, HCMC. Entrance surcharge is VND250,000 and doors are at 8pm. The show is presented by Magners Irish Cider.
For more information visit http://www.wordvietnam.com/whatson/ho-chi-minh-city/apocalaughs-now-oct14