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16 December 2020
By DEAN LAWSON
You must be able to laugh to make other people laugh!
It’s a simple philosophy, but that’s how Sam Lingham, 31, originally from Rupanyup, sums up his role as a writer for cult Australian comedy troupe Aunty Donna.
“If something is already funny you can learn to make it funnier. But that core funniness is quite an innate thing. You must be able to laugh at things yourself before encouraging others to do the same,” he said.
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The heady international world of performing arts and comedy seems far removed from the Wimmera. But experiences growing up in the region has provided Lingham with a generous portion of his inspiration.
Lingham grew up in the farming-dominated east Wimmera community. He is a son of food scientists Rod and Christa and attended Murtoa College before pursuing a career in the world of entertainment.
He is now an integral part of Melbourne-based Aunty Donna, a team of friends and collaborators that had its foundations at University of Ballarat Arts Academy.
With material based on spontaneous absurdity reflective of everyday life experiences, the team has found its way into the consciousness of a growing fan base.
Performing since before 2012, when nominated for Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s Golden Gibbo award, Aunty Donna has taken the act around the world while probing the entertainment industry with live tours, skits and pilots.
In November it had 380,000 subscribers on its YouTube channel with 68-million total views.
The team also had a profound rise to prominence last month with a debut six-part Netflix television series Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun.
Produced by American comedy big-hitter Ed Helms and featuring cameos from Helms, Weird Al Yankovic, Tawny Newsome and Kirsten Schaal, the series ranked in Netflix’s top-10 series in Australia for more than a week and is fast becoming a global hit.
While performers Mark Samual Bonnan, Broden Kelly and Zachary Ruane are the public face of the madcap crew, Lingham does his work behind the scenes, along with composer Tom Armstrong and film-maker Max Miller.
He was keen on acting after finishing secondary school and pursued a love of television, movies and comedy with studies in Ballarat.
“I discovered I more enjoyed the storytelling side of things than performing and it went from there,” he said.
“I caught up with most of the guys who were doing the same course at uni and when we finished we thought ‘what now?’
“One of the guys said we should do a comedy show and we spent about a year working it all out.”
Lingham said Aunty Donna pursued a variety of media avenues and gained particular traction on YouTube as team members shared their creative skills to develop a trademark.
“We kind of just knuckled down, did heaps of web things and some television and toured when we had the opportunity,” he said.
“Teamwork just doesn’t magically happen. Like any skill you have to work on it. It’s about people with similar interests all trying to do the same thing at same time and sharing a creative vision. When it works it is phenomenal.
“We’ve managed to build up a large core group of fans that love what we do and we love to regularly engage with them.”
Lingham said the breakthrough Netflix series, filmed in the United States of America before the COVID-19 pandemic, was the result of more a ‘slow burn’ than a sudden revelation.
“About six or seven years ago we got an email from a very polite guy in the USA offering us his representation as a manager and inviting us to come over and meet producers,” he said.
“Of course we asked, ‘who are, you, what is this, what’s going on?’.
“We chatted for about a year and thought it was time to meet some people so all six of us flew over.”
Lingham said the team had various meetings with organisations, including with Ed Helms’ Pacific Electric Picture Company.
“We had a really good crack in 2018 and just pitched to Netflix and other online streamers and Netflix was interested,” he said.
“It was all pretty amazing. We had made pilots for the ABC and Stan and they weren’t picked up and to hurdle that and get picked up by Netflix was really cool.
“We went to Los Angeles for six months and wrote in spits and spurts during 2019.
“When we had finished writing, shooting and editing, COVID-19 hit and we thought we had better go home.
“We were really fortunate that we could do the sound mix and colour grading by email.”
Lingham said despite finishing production, a sense of uncertainty about the show going to air remained.
“It’s a strange thing with television – part of you has to know it’s not real until it comes out. A show can get pulled at any time,” he said.
“It came out on my birthday, which was cool, and despite having no plans to watch what I had seen so many times, I put it on.
“It was nice to say, ‘that’s real and that’s there’. I just let it play and ended up watching the whole thing.
“While we’re not pretending for a moment to be the ‘Big Bang Theory’ or anything else, being in the top 10 for over a week was wonderful.
“Obviously what we do is not for everyone and the reality is that we’re not trying to capture a broad audience.
“We’re trying to appeal the small percentage of people, but in a lot of different places, who enjoy weird comedy.”
Lingham encouraged Wimmera people to pursue their dreams, regardless of who they were or where they lived.
“In the arts or anything really – if you want to do something, go and do it,” he said.
The entire December 16, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!