Funny man Frank Woodley on a lifetime of making people laugh
Let’s be Frank: Talking life, laughter and live comedy with comedian Frank Woodley.
I’m the youngest of seven children. I think my parents called me by my own name about eight times in my entire childhood. That teaches you humility although, as the baby, I was equal parts mollycoddled and bullied. I couldn’t compete with my older siblings – I was the loser in every undertaking. That helped me make being a loser my niche. My comedy persona is very much about my failures and struggles.
I learned early in life to keep my eye out for ‘Dairy Queen’ friends. My parents owned a milk bar in Glen Waverley and at the end of the day at primary school kids would suddenly be my best friend ’cos if they walked home with me, they’d score a free ice-cream from our milk bar.
When you laugh, there’s a feeling of abandonment and you bond with people around you. One of my first memories of being funny publicly was at a grade two sports event. I was number four in the relay and had the baton but there was no way I’d get a place so I skipped down the track playing the baton like a flute.
I can’t do anything other than comedy, really. I’ve only had a couple of part-time jobs because I started doing comedy professionally at 18. I also worked in an Indian takeaway and a sandwich bar and did attendant care for people with physical disabilities.
My early reviews were not good. In 1986, I went to the Adelaide Fringe Festival with a group of friends and we stayed in a caravan and put on a sketch comedy show called Gad. The review headline was: ‘Ye Gad – it’s awful’.
Lano & Woodley was like a romance that clicked. Colin Lane and I were together for 20 years. But we got to a point where we felt that if we wrote another show, we wouldn’t be able to feel excited about it. Imagine backpacking around Europe with your best friend for 20 years? There’s a point where you think, ‘I’d prefer not to look at you every day for a while’. But we did a reunion show, Fly, recently and laughed our heads off.
I am now a solo comedian and it is so much harder. In an ensemble you can lose yourself in the relationship with the other person on stage, but in solo standup you calibrate what you are doing based on the audience’s response every few seconds. It’s incredibly intense. After a show I feel relief that I didn’t absolutely ruin everybody’s night.
Colin Lane and I were together for 20 years. But we got to a point where we felt that if we wrote another show, we wouldn’t be able to feel excited about it.
I like to fix things. It’s calming for me. A couple of years ago I did the Sydney Comedy Festival and I was a bit stressed. A fellow comedian had a toilet as a prop and the cistern broke so I spent an hour fixing it with drumsticks and gaffer tape. It got me into a better mental state.
I also enjoy singing. My advice to my younger self would be to spend time learning to sing. I always thought singing was a gift you had or didn’t have but it’s like learning to whistle. I sing in the car – although I get shut down by my two kids. I also sing – loudly – when I ride my bike.
I love Melbourne because I think it’s a safe and friendly place. But I don’t like the traffic. I ride my bike because I don’t like traffic or looking for a car park. Sometimes I hire a car and it makes me angry when I can’t work out how to link my phone to the Bluetooth. Noises are made…
My daughter is 12 and we play a staring game where the first one to laugh loses. She obliterates me every time because she does this little thing where she slightly flares her nostrils and that always makes me laugh.
I’ve been with my wife since I was 21. I met her through Colin Lane. We were good friends for a year and when we made a trip to Kennett River, I made a move on the beach. It didn’t work out. I waited, hopefully, for another six months and then kissed her again, and there was a moment when I realised there was some lingering happening with that kiss. My wife and I are still good friends.
My parents always told me ‘it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game’. There’s incredible wisdom in that. You don’t get the nectar of life unless you try, but the secret is not to be attached to the outcome.
Technically I’m still a teenager. I was born on 29 February 1968, so I had my 13th birthday this year. That loophole allows me to run around like a child for the rest of my life!”
Keep on laughing
Frank Woodley isn’t the only Aussie comic with staying power. Here are some of the enduring jokers who have been making us laugh for decades.
Doug Anthony All Stars
Tim Ferguson, Paul McDermott and Richard Fidler went from charming audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to getting laughs across Australia. The group began in the 1980s and is still going strong. Bizarre claims to fame include being banned in Germany and Japan.
Shane’s comedy career took off in the 1980s with a role on the Aussie version of British sitcom, Are You Being Served? He appeared on Hey Hey It’s Saturday, hosted Blankety Blanks and had roles in Prisoner, The Flying Doctors, Blue Heelers and City Homicide. Recently he co-hosted Dancing with the Stars. And who could forget his comedy antics as the presenter of Thank God You're Here.
In 2001, Fiona (pictured above, right) won the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s Best Newcomer Award. She’s taken her brand of comedy to LA, Hong Kong, Edinburgh, Montreal and the UK. In 2018, Fiona won the Queen of the Jungle title on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.
Wendy (pictured above, middle) was one of the first women to enter the standup comedy domain in Australia. She was on the board of the first Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 1987, had early TV appearances in The Gillies Report and The Big Gig, and her live shows included comedy pals like Gina Riley and Magda Szubanski.