SCOTT LIMBRICK is a writer and comedian based in Melbourne. He has written and presented for Comedy Central UK and his work has been shortlisted for the Fair Australia Prize for fiction and appeared in Junkee, VICE, Meanjin, MTV, Voiceworks, and others. Recently he co-hosted Channel 31/RMITV’s The Leak with Rose Bishop and Lena Moon, and with Elyce Phillips he co-produces and hosts the character comedy night ‘Great Speeches in History’. In 2019 he completed a Master of Screenwriting at the VCA.
Our Associate Editor Panda Wong interviews Scott Limbrick about his fiction piece ‘Brass’ for #17 THEFT.
Your story ‘Brass’ responds to the theme THEFT in several ways – from physical theft, to structural theft to theft of one’s own agency. What sparked the idea for ‘Brass’?
‘Brass’ came from the relentless trend – not necessarily a new one! – of narcissists rising through and leading institutions while accountability mechanisms repeatedly fail, turning a lack of shame into a professional virtue. I was interested in what could be achieved if you literally couldn’t feel shame, and theft and corruption seemed like the next steps after satisfying extreme personal ambition.
I originally started writing a short film with a similar premise – a pill that suppresses people’s sense of shame – but couldn’t get it to work. When I shifted to narrative fiction and changed the protagonist, it was much more fun to write and the theme ‘THEFT’ unlocked other elements of the story – especially building in moments of classic physical theft and the idea of a large-scale grift.
I think of your story ‘Brass’ as a wild political goose chase in a dystopian (but believable and relevant) setting. It was truly so funny – days later, I still can’t get over the description of the PM as ‘thumb-shaped’. What role do you think humour has in unpacking ugly or bleak topics?
I’m glad ‘thumb’ stuck with you! I have a category of people in public life I describe as thumbs and one of my worst fears is that I’ll become one.
I feel sometimes the role of humour in revealing truth can be overstated, or at least the version of that argument that pops up once a week in every comedy scene Facebook group which sees the comedian’s primary responsibility as unleashing harsh facts, rather than a responsibility to be funny, experimental, interesting, playful or anything else.
But comedy is also my default mode, and I find it particularly great when dealing with the grotesque – we live in unsubtle times, and humour can get away with being incredibly direct. For me, some of the wackier jokes on a show like 30 Rock can hit on topics like power or capitalism very effectively. Something like Succession also works so well because of its comedic sensibility, where others might be reluctant to shift so far into the cringeworthy or the bizarre. In writing, thinking of stories by authors from Julie Koh to George Saunders, an element of humour or the surreal can create an absurd world that reflects or comments on specific parts of our reality. I love that humour can help us examine these things so closely in a new, or at least different, light.
As a comedian and a writer, in what ways do you think these inform and overlap with each other? How do the written and performative elements feed into both?
I generally perform sketch and character comedy, so there’s already a little more focus on generating different voices and fictional narratives than there might be for something like stand up. I think the live nature of performance has helped in developing shortcuts to get to points of view or emotional arcs, which can be useful when finding direction for a story or character on the page. It’s also made me pay attention to decisions about form – the upside of this is sometimes an idea I have to scrap in one medium can still be used somewhere else, even if it ends up a very small snippet.
Rhythm seems to make the biggest difference when I’m writing for either performance or the page, and is sometimes the only way I can latch on to something or feel whether it’s working. It’s nice to adjust how words flow with some awareness of each type of writing – but it’s still always a learning process for both.
Having said all of this, please keep in mind that a sample outcome of what I’m talking about is a Rambo parody who comes on stage swearing wildly and then goes on an extended rant about the technical functions of Microsoft Excel. Feel free to ignore!