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David Quirk on astronauts and revealing the strangeness of the everyday

“I would just as happily not do comedy anymore if it was just about light entertainment"

Photograph: Graham Denholm

There’s a bit in David Quirk’s new show, Cowboy Mouth, where the Melbourne comedian and actor talks about the Overview Effect. It’s a term that refers to a common experience for astronauts who have seen Earth in its entirety from space. “They have this spiritual, overwhelming experience and some of them have to turn to religion or science to come to terms with the beauty of this thing that they understand, but that we down here don’t understand.”

The idea for the show came when four different women wrote to him in a short space of time, telling him that they’d each had a bizarre dream about him. Naturally, Quirk began wondering whether there was any truth in the dreams (“In one I’m a giant man baby breastfeeding in a flannelette shirt”) – and wondering what he could learn about the way he is perceived from the outside.

“Believe it or not, it’s a comedy show!” he says, laughing. “The show feels like it’s about perception… how we live our lives, how we tell ourselves lies. I feel that nobody knows what’s going on under any circumstances. It feels like there’s a slightly philosophical angle to this show, but it’s also got really stupid stories about the way I exist.”

Blending philosophy with the everyday is classic Quirk. In past shows, he has skilfully woven and unravelled tales from working in retail, relationships, mundane conversations and observations, taking audience members to strange (and hilarious) corners of the absurd. “In my last show, there was a bit I was meant to use – a quote from a book – and it said ‘the function of the imagination is not to make strange things settled, so much as to make settled things strange. In my mind I’m always trying not to take an easy approach and do something original.”

In presenting the strangeness of the everyday, Quirk has ventured into some bleak places; early on in his decade-plus career, he included material about suicide (“because I cared about it”); and he continues to challenge himself with making meaningful (and still sometimes, dark) themes funny.

“I see comedy as like any other performative art… but in comedy you are supposed to make them laugh. But beyond that, I’ve always wondered what else you can do.”

See Cowboy Mouth (Mar 30-Apr 23) at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

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