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“Austen Tayshus : Merchant of Menace”

2 June 2014 494 views No Comment

“Austen Tayshus : Merchant of Menace” by Prof Ross Fitzgerald. An address for Melbourne’s first Jewish Writer’s Festival, the Beth Weizmann Community Centre, 306 Hawthorn Rd, South Caulfield. 4.30pm Sunday June 1, 2014

LAST YEAR` marked the 30th anniversary of the launch of Australia’s best-selling single ever, ‘Australiana’.

Performed by Sandy Gutman (aka Austen Tayshus), this subversive spoken-word piece is filled with an array of Australian puns, including ‘How much can a Koala bear?’, ‘Do you want to go Anna?’ and ‘Tryin’ to Platypus!’

Born in New York on St Patrick’s Day 1954, Austen Tayshus , a combination of “ostentatious and “Austin, Texas , first gained wide public recognition when ‘Australiana’ was released. Indeed this comic masterpiece is still in huge demand whenever and wherever Australia’s most dangerous and subversive comedian appears.

Alone, unprotected and often at the mercy of drunken mobs, Austen Tayshus has been working as a stand-up comic for three decades. An observant son of Judaism who is obsessed with the Holocaust – his father having been a Holocaust survivor – Sandy’s comedic heroes are Jerry Lewis, Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce and our own Barry Humphries. Because he pushes audiences to the limit, many critics maintain that Austen Tayshus is psychologically disturbed. Others, perhaps more discerning, argue that he needs to constantly perform as an on-the-edge stand-up comic in order to keep destructive forces within himself at bay.

These days, Austen Tayshus appears in some of the toughest venues in Australia and his act often consists of outright provocation. Even though he is a celibate teetotaller who eschews all drugs – including alcohol – booze is almost always the fuel of the audience, and often he is the target of their rage.

It’s an understatement to say that his comedy is not to everyone’s taste. Some people find it too scary; many others take offence.

Australians, Austen Tayshus believes, live far too predictable lives, and hence expect predictable comedy. In contrast, his aim is to deeply unsettle everyone he meets and to play with almost everything he hears and sees.

You want to see alcohol abuse? Come on tour with him out on the margins. The truth is that Austen Tayshus has been vomited on, glassed, kicked, confronted with a variety of weapons, punched, and even knocked unconscious on stage in far north Queensland by a Hells Angel who was supposed to be his protector!

Back home in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, Austen Tayshus, who for years has had nothing in his blood but blood, calls these the good nights. Often he’d have to flee a venue via the back door and sneak out of town in the darkness. People yell and scream, drop their pants or spit on stage. “Austen, I think you pushed them too hard tonight, a hotel manager said. “You drove them f … ing crazy.

As a comedian, Austen Tayshus savagely attacks our prejudices. Australians can laugh at themselves … up to a point. But to really get under their skins, he needs to dig deep. Whether it’s the inner-city urban elite or the outback red-necked working classes, everyone, he thinks, deserves to be provoked. Sometimes his best audiences are Aborigines listening to his satirical song ‘Highway Corroboree’; sometimes they are the well-educated and the hip who understand the nuances and his preferred position as provocateur.

When he started in the comedy game, he rarely deviated from prepared material. The Austen Tayshus persona of dark glasses and black Armani suit worked as a mask, a place to hide. Now his act is virtually all improvisation. Audiences know when things are fresh, when the gags are plucked from the moment and seemingly conjured out of thin air.

Older if not wiser, at his best Austen Tayshus can be the greatest stand-up comedian Australia has ever seen. At his worst, and most provocative, he still remains a mother’s (and an agent’s) worst nightmare!

In my opinion, Austen Tayshus and Barry Humphries are Australia’s two greatest living comedians. I hope that listeners here this afternoon will come to understand what a dangerously anarchistic and subversive performer he is, and why he is indeed the Merchant of Menace.
Let me close with an iconic Austen Tayshus story.

Stupidly, P & O hired him as the lead performer on a Pacific cruise. Having been instructed not to swear or poke fun at captain, on his opening night Austen Tayshus was 25 minutes late. “SORRY I’M LATE”, he announced, “I’VE JUST BEEN FUCKING THE CAPTAIN UP THE ARSE!”

Sandy was immediately arrested, locked in the brig and, at the ships’ first stop dropped off in Suva and flown back to Australia – business class!

Thank’s for having me.

AUSTEN TAYSHUS:MERCHANT OF MENACE by Ross Fitzgerald & Rick Murphy is now available as an e-Book.

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