Talking to 23-year-old comedian Rowan Thambar, you get the unsurprising impression that, above all else, he’s down for a laugh. Accidentally falling into comedy after his Year 9 drama teacher persuaded him to enter Melbourne’s comedy festival, it seems there is little Rowan fears having a crack at. As a self-confessed optimist who doesn’t take life too seriously, it is easy to see how Thambar has truly found his feet in the world of comedy, and has secured himself a slot among the comedic talent featuring at Sydney Fringe Comedy in 2018. A world where, as Rowan puts it himself, “the first and foremost thing is making someone laugh.”
There is something refreshing about Thambar’s authenticity – he does not pretend that there is some greater aspiration, like bringing an end to racism, subverting sexism, or rallying against climate change in his comedy work. For Thambar, it is quite simply about making people laugh. Making people think is merely an “added benefit”, as he puts it himself. Despite recalling how his early comedy inspiration came from watching the likes of the Chaser on TV and thinking “that’s cool”, Thambar certainly never expected to end up in comedy himself.
“It was never something I thought I would do,” Thambar confessed, “I thought I would go more along the lines of music and maybe acting, but with comedy I just fell into it I guess”.
Not that music and comedy are entirely separate pursuits. Thambar’s passion for music and talent for comedy drew on not only the likes of the Chaser’s Andrew Hansen but also Australian musical comedian Tim Minchin. Reminiscing on his attendance at one of Minchin’s shows when he was younger, Thambar recalled his affinity for Minchin’s blending of hilarious wordplay with melodic lyricism.
Ultimately though, it is the ability to connect with people through one of his hilariously relatable experiences, that created Thambar’s love for comedy. Thambar described, “Another great thing about comedy is that you try to kind of find pieces of truth and hopefully present them in a relatable way that makes people go, ‘Yeah, I get that.’” However, Thambar was quick to remind me when asking him about the capacity for comedy to create change, that the humour is what he values most. “People are paying to laugh,” he said.
While certainly agreeing with the idea that comedy is powerful in prompting people to think about different issues, Thambar was is not one to say that awareness is equivalent to real social change. “I talk about race in my shows but I’m never going to solve racism,” Thambar described, “I might make them less predisposed to thinking like that but it won’t solve the problem”. Policy reform is the job of someone “much more intelligent” than himself, Thambar asserted. Nevertheless, one of comedy’s great appeals for Rowan is inspiring people to think about some of the issues he raises in his shows.
“If I can give someone something to talk about at dinner afterwards and make them go, ‘Oh man, what he said there was super interesting’, then for me that would be really cool,” Thambar reflected.
Thambar’s current show Hope You’re not Disappointed – which revolves around the tension between hope and disappointment is inspired by his own tendency for excessive hopefulness and the disappointment which this optimism all too frequently incites.
“My show is just about being frustrated with how you have to have hope because it’s the only way forward,” Thambar described, “and how sometimes you just want to stay disappointed but there comes a time when you have to keep going.”
In sourcing the material for the show, Thambar drew on his own experiences of growing up brown, and the difficulties of relationships with parents.
“I talk about how being brown is disappointing, the fact that it’s so close to being black but isn’t, and how growing up being black was cool but brown wasn’t”, Thambar described, before half-laughing as he concluded to say, “which is obviously problematic for a whole number of reasons.”
He may not intend to change the world through his comedy, but it is undeniable that Rowan’s wit is imbued with a social consciousness that makes his work all the more hilarious for an empathising audience. Believing that “our hope is often where we place our identity”, Thambar fittingly hopes that in his current show, people will be entertained by the kinds of things we put our identity in and around. It is this very effortless incorporation of big issues like hope, disappointment and identity, that gives Thambar’s work the refreshing authenticity which people crave.
For further information and to buy tickets to the last two sessions of Hope You’re not Disappointed, visit http://fringecomedy.com.au/single-event?show_id=260