Community Creative: Ben McKenzie

Ben McKenzie is a Melbourne-based performer, writer, game designer and nerd for all seasons. He’s written and performed stand-up, sketch comedy, theatre and late-night museum tours.

Ben co-created the time travel comedy Night Terrace, now playing on BBC radio, and co-hosts the monthly Terry Pratchett book club podcast Pratchat. His games include the hit live bank heist adventure Small Time Criminals, and the just-released Table of Tales: The Crooked Crown on PlayStation VR. His favourite dinosaur is Stegosaurus.

Ben will be hosting our Nillumbik Shire Council Comic Con event. So (naturally) we wanted to know what makes him tick!

How did you get involved in the arts?
I’ve been a performer from a young age, when I did a lot of speech training and entered many eisteddfods and competitions. Narration and voice acting were a natural fit, though it wasn’t until podcasts took off that there seemed a likely avenue for those skills in Australia. I always thought of myself primarily as an actor until I got into comedy through a sketch revue at university.

What are you working on at the moment?
Pratchat is an ongoing project, a podcast in which my co-host Elizabeth Flux and I are reading and discussing every Terry Pratchett book, one a month. He was very prolific, so even though we’ve been going for 18 months we won’t finish this one for another five or so years! We’re also making On the Terrace, a companion podcast discussing Night Terrace – a sort of after-show format, like those TV shows where the actors and writers talk about how they made the show.

Oh, and also a new independent podcasting festival, indiepodfest (coming in July), a third series of audio comedy Night Terrace, and a tabletop roleplaying game called Amateur Hour Apocalypse. (…I can never have just one project!)

Do you have a studio or work space?
Most of my work involves writing, editing audio or production admin, so my primary workspace is my laptop at my desk. I recently invested in a cable so I could connect my laptop to my old iMac and use it as a second monitor, and that’s working great! I also set up on the kitchen table when recording podcasts.

What has influenced your practice?
Loads of things! In terms of my writing, Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett are big influences. When it comes to game design I’m very inspired by the work of Grant Howitt and Chris Taylor at Rowan, Rook & Decard. Comedy-wise Bill Bailey, Lawrence Leung, Josie Long and other nerdy, enthusiastic leftie comedians have been big influences.

I try to watch, read, play and listen to a variety of things though!

What does a typical day involve for you?
Usually there’s lots of admin! I’m the producer on most my projects, so there’s a lot of organising to do, mostly through emails. When writing I often concentrate it into blocks of a few hours, but I take frequent breaks. Not all of that writing time involves actually typing words – there’s a lot of researching stuff on the Internet as well!

I try to get out of the house and go for a walk, or have lunch in a café, and sometimes I just go to a café or library to work for a change of scenery. When I can I organise to work with someone else for a while too – working at home by yourself can get very lonely.

What would be your dream project?
I would love to write and perform more science fiction, especially for television! And I’d love to write another videogame.

How do you define success in the arts? How do you celebrate your successes?
I’ve been through many versions of this over the years. I’ve ended up thinking the best measure of success is making something you know is good: getting to a point where you don’t want to pick it apart and make it better! Night Terrace is that for me. I try to celebrate by sharing the work with others, or by taking some time off if possible.

Where would we find you on a typical Sunday afternoon?
Until very recently, recording a Star Trek podcast! Now that’s done…probably unwinding with a book, or a videogame, or a television show. Sunday afternoons are a no-work time for me whenever possible.

What energises you?
Performing fills me with energy, behind a microphone or especially in front of an audience. I also find working around other people – artists, or even my partner who also has a busy job – quite energising even when they’re working on other things. And I also enjoy downtime with friends – talking, connecting, playing games. I am hoping to find more time for those things!

What advice would you give to an aspiring artist?
Try different things, both in terms of what you make, and what you listen to, watch, read and play. Broader influences help you much more than narrow ones.

What are you looking forward to?
As I write this, I’m looking forward to the response from new listeners to Night Terrace, who will hear it for the first time on the BBC! I’m also really excited about my first proper holiday in years; I’m going to Japan for the first time!

Do you have favourite book? A favourite author?
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy remains my favourite book, but my favourite author is probably Terry Pratchett. I’m looking to branch out and find some new favourites though!

What do you love about libraries?
Oddly enough I spend more time in the State Library and others far from my home than my local one in Brunswick! (They have such a great comic book collection)…

I love that libraries have retained all the things I loved about them as a kid – so many books! – but also that now they do so much more. They’re the one of the last community spaces you can visit without having to pay to do so, and I love them so much.

Facebook: BenMcKenzieComedian
Instagram: @notongotham
Twitter: @McKenzie_Ben

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