In 2006, the Australian trio The Axis Of Awesome – Jordan Raskopoulos, Lee Naimo and Benny Davis – burst onto the scene. Well, maybe not so much burst as kind of trickled in. But anyway, they made their reputation being musically funny guys – or vice versa – and they’ve been going on from strength to strength. Their biggest hit by far has to be 4 Chords – ironically, a song written with the premise that they never had a hit. And now, they’re heading back this way for gigs at TAB on May 18 (8pm) and 19 (5pm and 8pm). Tickets are priced at S$68. We spoke to two-thirds of the group – Lee and Benny – while they were driving back from a radio interview and heading to their soundcheck. I could even hear the traffic in the background.
This isn’t your first time to Singapore, is it?
LEE: We’ve been to Singapore before. We did the Flipside festival in 2010.
BENNY: That was fun
So how different will this show be from the last show?
LEE: We’ve written a couple of newer songs since we were there, which we will probably be doing. So yeah, some classic tracks, some brand new stuff, and explosions and dinosaurs, and dancing girls…
Are you pressured to be funnier each time?
BENNY: I think we have the expectation to keep the quality of work and always be funnier and funnier. Our fans like what we do, so if we just keep doing what we do, then the audiences will continue to like us, which is nice.
LEE: Like we’re writing a new show now for Edinburgh (Comedy Festival) and we want to make it as good as possible, so sometimes, it’s not always about people putting the pressure on us, sometimes we put the pressure on ourselves, which I think can be a good thing.
Are you tired of playing 4 Chords?
BENNY: Definitely not! We will always play the song as long as people want to hear it. We’re happy to.
So how long did it take you to write that song?
BENNY: Everybody always asks this. Let’s say it took as long for me to hear all those songs. I started getting this idea when I was in high school back in 2000, I think that was the year that Missy Higgins came out with the song, Scar. And I remember watching it on TV and thinking, ‘That’s only four chords as well’. And then after that, once I decided to put all those songs together, it was just a matter of looking up all the songs I remembered. And I think I did that within a day. Or rather, anything within a day and 12 years.
Which one of you has the final say?
LEE: We write all our material very collaboratively, so we’ll sit around and work on lyrics. The music is usually done by Benny, so we’ll send him away, lock him up in a cupboard, with nothing but a kazoo and a triangle, and he has to write the music.
BENNY: The guys think it’s punishment but I really appreciate the sound I get bouncing off the walls of the cupboard.
LEE: But we do write together a lot. Benny is the main music guy. But one of our strengths is that we all contribute and do things that we think is funny. And if we’ve got two out of three ideas that we think works or is good – then we’ll run with it. If the audience thinks it’s not funny the first night, and still not funny the next night, then we’ll probably throw it away and never do it again.
What songs have you trashed recently then?
BENNY: In recent years, just the one song, which was mine. We’re never playing it again. I’ll keep the music though and write a new one.
LEE: With what we do, it can be quite a long process from the idea to what we play onstage. We have to write it, arrange the music to make sure it works, learn, get it up to performance standard, and then perform the song. And if it doesn’t work, we kind of say, let’s give it another go. But if it really doesn’t work, you know, you can’t hold on to it just because you worked hard on it. And sometimes, a song that takes 30 minutes to write can stick with you and be the biggest one. You never know.
What’s your most memorable show?
LEE: We did some gigs for the troops in the Sinai desert.
BENNY: The biggest gig we did was for 7,500 people in LA, which was one of my favourites.
LEE: And Edinburgh, we’ve been for five years in a row now. Last year, we performed in a 400-seat theatre, every night for a month, and it was sold out. So it’s really great to know that we’ve got that following and they’re paying money to see us! And we get some of that money!
BENNY: Just the other night, we tried out a new song, and we’ve not tried out anything new for a while, so it’s nice to remember the feeling you get, not knowing whether the audience is going to laugh or not. That was quite nice.
Which show would you rather forget?
LEE: We forgot them already!
BENNY: We had a lot more of them early in our career rather than lately. We’re lucky enough now that we’ve got a following. People come to the show because they want to see us. Whereas when you start off, you just play any gig you can get, sometimes with other comedians whom the audience would prefer to watch instead of you.
What’s the best thing about being in The Axis Of Awesome?
LEE: We can commit crimes and the police turn a blind eye! Can’t say what crimes though.
BENNY: Let’s just say we can get away with murder.
Is there a worst thing?
LEE: You still work just as hard, but in a different way. Instead of standing on a street handing out flyers, you spend hours online creating Facebook events or doing administration or making posters online.
BENNY: Like you want to get on magazines and on radio and sometimes it’s can get too much to handle. You know, you’ve just done a radio interview, you’re driving back to your venue to soundcheck, while you’re on speakerphone trying to avoid traffic, whilst talking to someone from Singapore!
LEE: You work with whatever comes your way.
What advice would you give someone just starting out in comedy?
LEE: I would say be fearless and try stuff out. And try to get lots of stage time. Write 10 minutes of material and try to get it onstage as much as possible. It can be difficult in places where there’s not a big comedy scene, but I think in Singapore the comedy scene is getting better and better all the time. The thing is to get onstage in front of humans and get their responses.
BENNY: It’s quite a thrill to have something that you think is funny and having a whole bunch of people in the room think it’s funny as well. It’s a huge difference doing it in front of a mirror and in front of people. It’s something intangible.