Delivered in a laconic style with a disarming laugh, Sam Gebreselassie’s comedy is topical, personal, and sometimes challenging, delving into dark truths.

    Born in a Sudanese refugee camp to an Ethiopian family, Sam escaped civil war when he was seven, first migrating to New Zealand, and then eventually settling in Sunshine.

    An incredibly hard-working comedian, he co-founded the Footscray Comedy Club where he performs regularly as well as comedy venues around the country, including at this year’s Melbourne Comedy Festival, all while holding a full- time job as a physio in Caroline Springs.

    He’s won the coveted Comedy Out West Open Mic Competition twice (2017, 2019).

    The Westsider took the opportunity to talk to Sam in the lead up to the Melbourne Comedy Festival.

    How did your childhood shape your comedy?

    I remember my first seven years as very happy even though we were living in a Sudanese refugee camp, but I can imagine it would have been difficult for my parents. I was a child and the camp felt like a big village. Being part of a big community is important in Ethiopian culture. There wasn’t a lot of entertainment, but people would gather for the Ethiopian coffee ceremony, share stories, and laugh about daily events. They were great storytellers and knew how to extract the most tension or comedy from stories about small things. After moving to New Zealand, we lived in housing commission flats in ethnically diverse Newtown. I think these experiences influence my comedy in the way I structure my jokes and challenge society’s stereotypes.

    What inspired you to do stand-up?

    I used to tell my Mum stories and she would reprimand me. But I knew she was trying not to laugh. Then later, at Uni in New Zealand, my friends would tell me how funny I was and that I should write down my ideas.

    The first stand-up session went very badly, and I didn’t do another one for a year while I finished my studies. But when I started up again, I loved it and haven’t stopped since. It is easier to do comedy in Australia because the comedy scene is bigger. I have a few relatives in Melbourne as well.

    Do you feel a responsibility to represent the African community?

    I can’t represent a whole continent of people. I can only talk about my own experiences and my own upbringing. But I can help provide opportunities for people of African heritage to do stand-up or to come to an event. The Footscray Comedy Club, established with my friend Jameel Rehman, has been a great way to see a broad representation of the local community. The ‘Comedy at Jambo’ sessions are held at Jambo Bar & Café and are popular with the local Ethiopian community. Our Footscray shows didn’t start with many people of African background in the audience. But once they saw themselves represented, they started coming back and enjoying all the comedians regardless of cultural background. We want to have diverse performers and diverse audiences as a genuine reflection of the population.

    Sadly, our mainstream media propagates misconceptions about Africa and African people.

    I don’t blame people for being uninformed, but I like to use comedy to challenge assumed thinking. Sometimes we are told something so often by mainstream media, such as the problem of African gangs in Melbourne’s west, that even my aunts and uncles overseas start to think it must be true. Negative connotations about Ethiopia come from civil war, drought, and the refugee crisis. Listen again to the lyrics of ‘Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?’ – the words are awful. While acknowledging they were doing their best at the time, it seemed most non-Africans imagined the whole continent of Africa as a desert wasteland ‘where nothing every grows, no rain nor rivers flow’. In my work as a physio, I am often met with some challenging views. If it seems appropriate, I might present an alternative viewpoint, but I don’t take it personally and make my priority delivering good health care.

    What do you hope audiences get from your gigs?

    I’m still working on this, but my job as comedian is to find relatable content for everybody. I hope the audiences recognise that regardless of ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation we can laugh about our shared experiences.

    Although my material is sometimes challenging, I’m hoping the audiences go away remembering the underlying messages.

    What do you enjoy most about stand up?

    I love talking about the craft of writing jokes and analysing comedy. No joke is perfect when you first perform it. In a YouTube series called ‘Joke Evolution’ I tell a joke about Daniel Andrews and then show it being honed over many deliveries. I share tips about why it did or didn’t work. Sometimes it’s the lighting, or people moving around. Once I told the punchline and forgot to tell most of the set up. Regular shows are important to keep performing and refining your jokes. Once you have people laughing, it is a bit addictive. I enjoy making people laugh, and the more they laugh, the more I want to continue making them laugh.


    You can see Sam performing at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, as well as venues around the west.

    Coming in 2023, you can follow him around the country with the – the first ever national tour featuring comedians of African descent. He aims to make this a yearly event, encouraging and mentoring new comedians in the world of stand-up comedy.


    Comedy Zone

    Comedy Zone is turning 23 years young and it’s time for us to play our comedy wild cards – expect a stack of laughs from the next generation of comedy superstars. Through to April 23 Trades Hall, Melbourne


    Comedy at Jambo

    Comedy at Jambo is live stand-up comedy featuring Melbourne’s freshest and funniest comedians, with a focus on diversity and community! Fortnightly on Tuesdays Jambo Bar & Cafe, Footscray

    Afro Comedy Jam

    All African Comedy Show touring Australia 2023

    Sam Gebreselassie ‘Evolution of a joke’

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