Austen Tayshus can’t quite leave well enough alone. Like shock jock Howard Stern, or his professional mentors, politically oriented stand-ups Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl and the more obscure Bill Hicks, the Australian Jewish comedian often crosses the boundary from humor into insult, observation into offensiveness.
But the bearded, towering Tayshus (1.98 m.), who always appears in a trademark black suit and black sunglasses, can’t help using his sharp tongue like a skewer, even when it’s not appropriate. Those indiscretions, which have helped him receive a lifetime ban from one of Australia’s top TV channels, may have cost the comic a more lucrative, mainstream career, but the 56-year-old Sydney native born Alexander ‘Sandy’ Gutman has no regrets.
“I’m still banned from Channel 31, thank goodness,” Tayshus told The Jerusalem Post
this week, a day after interrupting a Pessah vacation with his family in Israel to perform at the Off the Wall Comedy Basement in Jerusalem.
“I made some comments about John Howard who was a very conservative prime minister. He took the country 50 years backwards, but he’s gone, thank goodness. Now they have another imbecile in there. “That’s my style of humor, I’m into that provocation type of comedy, upsetting the goyim as much as I can. I’m sure my impulsiveness has damaged my career,” added Tayshus.
That career shot out like a cannon in 1983 when the young comedian recorded the spoken-word single “Australiana,” written by fellow Aussie Billy Birmingham. The innuendo-laden song cleverly employed Australian terms that conjured up different words built on extensive sets of equivocations, such as “my mate Boomer rang,” and, “….how much can a koala bear?” It became the nation’s biggest selling single of the year and made Tayshus a star.
‘I certainly was not ready for success. I was just a shmendrik
, and overnight it went crazy,” said Tayshus. “I was a household name in Australia in the early 1980s and I could have had a safe career, but I pushed it more toward the provocative end of things, and I moved toward political humor. My subsequent 20 albums all focused on social issues – from Aboriginal reconciliation to Catholicism to human rights,” said Tayshus.
In one routine, he demands that the Aboriginal population “apologize for turning the white people in this Country onto alcohol and destroying their lives.”
“It interests me more, I find it more artistic, and I’m an artist.
“Mainly what I talk about is being a Jew in a foreign world – Australia; although Australia has been pretty good to the Jews, except when they didn’t let them in during the Holocaust.”
THE HOLOCAUST and Tayshus’s Jewish background also make up a large part of the material he writes. His father was a Holocaust survivor and Tayshus was raised Orthodox. At 14, he won the Australian Bible quiz and went on to compete in the finals in Israel.
“My father was constantly telling me everything about his experiences – from the time I was two years old – and I remember him waking up at night screaming. It was very much a part of my childhood, and it plays an important role in my humor,” said Tayshus.
“The Holocaust has continued to inform a lot of my work. I mostly appear before goyim in Australia, but when I do a Jewish show, I talk a lot about the Catholic church – I call the Pope John Paul George and Ringo. And I go into current things and talk about the current Papal child abuse case and how Catholics turned away from the Holocaust.”
His special interest in Holocaust themes led Tayshus to write and star in the 1997 film Intolerance, which won awards in Australia and later developed into a stage routine.
“It’s about me getting into a taxi with a driver who’s an ex-Nazi, and I pretend to be a Nazi sympathizer, until I reveal myself as a Mossad agent,” he said.
While he attempted to go international in the early 1990s by moving to Los Angeles and trying for parts in films, the stage has remained home base for Tayshus, who performs several times a week in his home country. Over the years, he’s developed a confrontational reputation at his live shows, whether with the audience, venue staff or fellow comics. However, his show in Jerusalem on Saturday night was all laughs.
“I like to mix it up a lot. I do many things like this in Australia, not must performing in big places,” he said. “But it’s always a pleasure to do an intimate show, especially for the misphocha
. It was packed, and there was lots of media there from Australia.” One routine the audience didn’t hear, however, was “Australiana,” which has passed into Australian folklore.
“I didn’t do it in Jerusalem because of the religious crowd, and the
club requesting no innuendo,” said Tayshus. In other settings, though,
he still enjoys performing the war horse.
“It still resonates 30 years later. People recite it and pass it on to their children. I don’t mind doing it, I really don’t.”
the Jerusalem show, Tayshus also toned down his language, which is
usually slathered with profanity. “In Australia, I use earthy language
because that’s the way Australians talk – I don’t do it for any other
reason. My show there is satirizing Australian culture,” he said.
However, MKs be warned: Tayshus, who has family throughout Israel, said he hopes to make aliya in the future.