This was Damian’s first foray into biographical comedy and he leapt in the deep end. After being granted his second Moosehead Award to develop Spaznuts, Damian went on to take out the prestigious Piece Of Wood Award [Comedians Choice] at the 2006 Melbourne Comedy Festival.
Despite the personal nature of the show, Spaznuts features all of the hallmarks of his previous work with real and imagined characters featuring alongside the real Damian. From the moment the audience is invited to enter the waiting room of the sperm delivery suite by a matronly Callinan handing out sample jars, they are exposed to his eventful journey through infertility.
Attending his first session in a male infertility support group led by the boastfully fecund ex-catholic priest Gerald, Damian hears the thoughts of the other members of the group. Eric, a downtrodden veteran of the IVF rollercoaster: Brian, a recently divorced man’s man who seems reasonably certain that he has a massive cock and Douglas, an infertile gay chap who’s about to pay top dollar for an internet, surrogate child deal.
Damian is then invited to tell his story. After seeking permission to use a flashback, we find him arriving at the hospital to deliver yet another sperm sample. Procrastinating over ‘doing the deed’ he begins to unravel his journey from a 6 year old having his ‘nuts’ mauled by a couple of overly zealous district nurses through his years acting as a foster parent to state ward kids and ultimately to the news at 31 that his ‘floompytoomps had a low yargo factor.’
But the audience in the waiting room soon discover that the journey doesn’t end there. Soon after finding out about his infertility, his marriage ended and in the tumult that followed, he never got to the bottom of what was actually wrong with him. Thus he climbs back on the medical trundle wheel so he can once and for all stop describing his condition with made up words like ‘floomyptoomps.’ In the process he learns not only what’s wrong with him, but some feint hope of fatherhood emerges. Thus he goes for one last trip to the sperm suite to give another sample using some less than orthodox marital aids.
Damian’s stories of cold-handed IVF specialists ignite the passions of the rest of the support group whose cameos punctuate his revelatory monologue. Finally Damian, who after 10 years has grown comfortable with being infertile, has to decide whether he’s going to go through with the tests.
2006 – Melbourne International Comedy Festival – Melbourne Town Hall
2006 – Melbourne Fringe Festival – North Melbourne Arts House Hub
2008 – Edinburgh Fringe Festival – Gilded Balloon
2009 – Dunedin Season – Fortune Theatre
2009 – Regional Arts Victoria Tour [over 30 venues Vic & Tas]
Note – Damian has also performed an abridged version of the show with great success at Fertility Conferences and health industry events.
SPAZNUTS REVIEW 1
THOM DIBDIN – STAGE.UK
Published online on Wednesday 10 September 2008
In a seamless hour of comedy that succeeds because it takes an underwhelming approach to an overwhelming subject, Damian Callinan takes a biographical trip into the story of his infertility.
It’s all set in a male infertility support group, where our Damian is making his first visit. Which allows him to exercise both his ability for multi-character comedy and, as he takes his own turn, to talk candidly and without any iota of self-pity about his experiences.
It is a beautifully paced and constructed piece. The characters of the support group provide a route for instant comic release, with the massively appendaged (by his own account) Eric and camp Douglas, who is in the process of a purchasing a surrogate birth off the internet, particularly memorable.
It is in the first person narrative that this really excels, however. Told in flashback from a “delivery cubicle” at an infertility clinic, Callinan riffs off into anecdotes about Australian Rules footie, small-town Australia, the various dank hands which have fondled his very small testicles, and some truly brilliant observational comedy about being a house-parent in a home with intellectually disabled kids. While winding in a few comments on the Scottish weather just to keep it topical. Very good indeed.
SPAZNUT’S REVIEW 2
STEVE BENNETT – [UK] CHORTLE.COM.
Sometimes it seems just about every medical condition known to science has been exploited for a comedy show, but here Damian Callinan bravely tackles one of the most taboo: infertility. And in the testosterone-driven Australian culture that – if you’ll excuse the expression – takes balls.
But you can tell from the very title of the show, Spaznuts, that there’s going to be very little moping self-pity in this account. In fact, it’s done with such matter-of-fact good humour that you almost forget this is his genuine problem, not just a collection of rather splendid dick jokes.
The show starts outside the venue, where Callinan, a star of TV sketch show Skithouse, poses as a formidable fertility clinic nurse, threatening to collect samples from the men queuing to get in. Inside, he employs his talent for characterisation by setting up his account in the context of a support group, sharing his experiences with the camp Douglass and boastful Brian – each of whom represent different male responses to the potentially devastating news that they’re firing blanks.
So, in flashback, Callinan details his often humiliating treatment at the cold, cold hands of the medical profession, including such bizarre experiences as the orchodometer, a collection of little plastic pebbles for measuring plum size. Callinan cheerfully confesses that his are way down the scale.
This might seem like he’s sharing too much information, as he tries to elicit an uncomfortable shock reaction from the embarrassing processes he underwent, but it’s not. The whole account is pitched perfectly at a frank, mature, but still witty level, extracting the jokes from the bizarre situations he encountered without the comedy ever feeling gratuitous or ikky. He is, as he’d need to be, a master of euphemism to avoid matters getting too graphic. His talents for getting the level right even manifest themselves in his impression of a mentally challenged relative, which manages to be affectionate rather than offensive.
Callinan’s infertilty was a factor in the breakdown of his marriage, and it’s a stark realisation to come to that you will never have children. But he’s clearly accepted fate’s hand, making his tale almost inspiring. Primarily, though, it’s just damn funny.
SPAZNUTS REVIEW 3
TIM HUNTER – THE AGE
With a title that includes “Spaznuts”, you’d expect this one-man show from skitHOUSE regular Damian Callinan to be childish, but it’s not. It’s a trip into the dark and forbidden places of virility and male vulnerability.
The comedy starts before the show, with Callinan, dressed as a nurse, handing out specimen jars to male members of the audience, and quizzing them about their recent ejaculatory history. Once we are in the “cloak room”, “Gerald”, welcomes us to a male infertility counselling group with some soothing Enya, where we hear Callinan’s own story about infertility and his spaznuts.
It’s a well-structured, funny show that talks openly about traditionally taboo topics, such as testicles and self-gratification, without becoming smutty and puerile. Other characters include Brian, who is infertile, but has a “massive c–k”, and Douglass, who is going through a donor program with his partner Kevin so they can have children.
And while laughing at male foibles and insecurities about their genitals, Callinan also manages to get a little poignant without becoming awkward, or at the comedy’s expense. Laughs, and something to think about – now that’s not a bad deal.
SPAZNUTS REVIEW 4
PAUL DAFFEY – www.australianrules.com
AT the 2001 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, I cacked myself at Damian Callinan’s piss-take on country footy. His treatment of such a ripe subject for comedy was both affectionate and acerbic. The most telling observations surrounded the pre-match brawl that became known throughout the Victorian media as “the Hepburn brawl”. Besides four quarters of laughs, I liked the complexity of emotions Callinan evoked. I suspect he feels for footy what many half-intelligent blokes feel: footy is patently ridiculous, but what the heck, it’s in our souls.
It was with no particular expectation that I asked Damian, whom I knew briefly through friends at Mercy Teachers College when we were both in our youthful pomp, to perform a footy skit at the launch of my book on local footy, which was called Local Rites. Damian complied. He also refused to accept any money.
The skit almost brought down the house, which was the community pavilion next to the old grandstand at the Brunswick Street Oval. Many people who were at the launch still comment to me about “that bloke Callinan” and his evocation of a local footy club’s jaunt through the cultural regions of Europe. “I never thought I’d hear about a footy trip along the Mozart trail,” remains a common reaction.
At a subsequent comedy festival, I saw Damian delve into his teenage love of dancing, especially in the new romantic era, which featured such musical drawbacks as Duran Duran and Flock of Seagulls. The show made much of the limitations of his Catholic suburban upbringing, of which I, too, had vast experience. I laughed, especially at the show’s more physical moments, when he danced liked a cross between Michael Flatley and Mr Squiggle, but I thought it was time to delve beyond his own background. Maybe he should get a little political; start commenting on the wider world.
Callinan has continued to mine his personal experiences but, to his credit, he’s done so to the extent that he’s drilled through to the core of his being. His show at this year’s comedy festival is called Damian Callinan Has Spaznuts. It’s about his infertility and its effect in shaping his life. Few men, perhaps few women, could share such intimate and heartbreaking experiences with an audience. Certainly, few could do it without being mawkish. Spaznuts succeeds because it’s funny – from the moment Callinan, dressed as Nurse Ratchett, hands out specimen jars in the corridor before the show – and because of the warmth and honesty of the man telling the story.
Anything to do with dicks and balls can be funny, but this show also uses infertility as a springboard – so to speak – to look at a range of emotions, such as anger, pain and acceptance. The show has a rare depth for a comedy show. Sometimes it’s confronting. In between the gag treatment, Damian shares asides that put the audience in touch with the effect of such a moment in his life. Then, when you’re about to start squirming under your chair, he throws in a gag and there’s a sense of an audience valve being released.
The show’s funniest moments include recollections of a time when he and his wife were responsible for the care of four wards of the state. The retelling of three of those youngsters recording a swearing competition over one of Callinan’s prized mixed tapes is priceless, as is the story of taking the boys to the Balwyn cinema to see Hook. The cinema was full of disabled people, few of whom sat in their chairs or remained silent. It’s an experience that very few people could retell and manage to carry off without appearing like an opportunistic git. Callinan casts everyone in that cinema in an affectionate light.
The moments when he contemplates his infertility are hilarious and heart-rending. Damian Callinan Has Spaznuts succeeds for these reasons. It’s not about footy, but it’s got plenty of guts and determination. It’s on at the Melbourne Town Hall until May 6. I recommend you see it.