Interview: Reuben Kaye – Caustic and Fantastic!

Reuben Kaye is here to unpack recent events in a show guaranteed to deliver laughs, music, and tantalising insight into his world! FUSE spoke with Reuben about his latest theatrical offering, butt plugs, comedy and the art of intimidation.
David Blanco  |  Art & Culture

Audiences should brace themselves for a night of take-no-prisoners comedy cabaret when the enfant terrible of the Australian Comedy scene, Reuben Kaye makes his stage debut with his new show, ‘Live and Intimidating’.

Following a headline-making first half of 2023, Kaye is here to unpack recent events in a show guaranteed to deliver laughs, music, and tantalising insight into his world. ‘Live and Intimidating’ is Reuben Kaye at his acerbic best.

David Blanco from the FUSE team spoke with Kaye about his latest theatrical offering, butt plugs, comedy and the art of intimidation.

FUSE: Hi Reuben, can you tell FUSE readers about your new show, ‘Live and Intimidating’, and what audiences can expect?

REUBEN KAYE: ‘Live and intimidating’ is an interesting beast because it’s more intimate than my larger-scale shows. In this show I let the audience into my emotional landscape, which is an interesting ride. Lots of things have happened to me this year aside from the fallout I faced after my appearance on ‘The Project,’. ‘Live and Intimidating’ unpacks some of this.

I hope audiences come away from the show feeling joyful, with a renewed sense of pride. Even though in 2023 there is much to weep over and poke fun at, I hope audiences are inspired by the shows’ message of community. I’m not going to say more because I don’t want to give the show away!

Do you think your stage persona is intimidating?

Hopefully to the right people! I want my stage persona to be somewhat intimidating, scary, and inaccessible, whichever way you want to describe it. However, I also hope that this persona is human and relatable. I want people to look at me and see a little bit of Reuben in them. And if they don't, they soon will!

Reuben, you describe yourself as the product of what happens when you tell your children they can be anything. Whilst this statement is tongue-in-cheek, was this the case for you?

My parents recognised early on that they had a monster on their hands! I’m incredibly lucky that instead of running for the door or sending me off to the priesthood, they strapped themselves in and rode the rollercoaster! You can't project your expectations onto a child. Parents should give their kids as may opportunities as they can and let the children steer.

Unfortunately, we're living through a period where many LGBTIQ+ people face daily harassment, particularly online, for simply being who they are. In times like these, what is the role of Queer comedians?

At present, queer comedians, or in fact anyone who’s visibly queer, are both beacons and targets. Right now, the role of queer comedians and queer artists is to keep working and make sure they can keep doing so, no matter what. This may involve compromises like adding extra security as I’ve had to do. At the end of the day, I’m here to make you think and laugh and I’ll keep doing this, no matter what.

In many articles written about you, you’re compared to big-name performers from Liza Minelli to Jim Carrey. These sorts of comparisons are made as reference points to give people an idea of your performance style. Who are the performers that have influenced you as an artist?

I believe that if, as an artist, you have no more than one or two references, your work will become derivative. But if you have 100 or 150 references, you can’t help but create work that will be individual. If you want the list, I’ve been hugely influenced by the Marx Brothers and the speed of their routines. In fact, the first film I ever saw was ‘A Night of The Opera.’

Also, the post-war Jewish humour of comedians like Jackie Mason is another major influence. Who else? Early Bette Midler, Jim Carrey, and Joan Rivers. I’m also a fan of Maria Bamford, the absurdist smiling-assassin of Jewish- American comedy.

Musically, I’m drawn to angry powerful female singers with those distinctive and unforgettable raspy voices like Marianne Faithful, Michelle Shocked, Amanda Lear and Edith Piaf. Oh, and of course Liza during her coke period! What all these performers have in common is an anger and sense of rebellion that gives their comedy and music a subversive quality.

You’ve been quoted as saying that your favourite type of comedy is progressive. In what way are your shows progressive?

I think it’s because I’m a genius and also very humble! I truly believe that every single person out there can laugh at themselves and we can all laugh at each other without the need for cruelty or to punch down. I hope my comedy highlights our humanity and creates a sense of community. I strive to keep moving forward with humour, positivity and glamour, in a world that’s increasingly blinkered and dark. Most of all, I want to make sure that the next generation is as good as it can be.

Reuben, you definitely bring the glamour in spades. There’s no doubt about that!

There’s a bulldog clip at the back of my neck holding it all in.

Ha! Your first solo show was back in 2016. Was it difficult to transition from hosting cabaret and burlesque shows to your own full-length act?

It was part of my natural progression as a performer. But it was a forced progression! At the time, the owner of the Butterfly Club in Melbourne told me it was my time to do a solo show and he was giving me a room at the club to stage it in. No questions asked. I had to do it and I had a deadline, and I do love a deadline!

In a way, hosting a burlesque or variety show is like interval training, with the resistance notched up or down depending on what the crowd needs. Doing a solo show is different, it’s a bloody marathon. It’s just me running around on stage in spiked heels and I love every second of it!

The bane of any comedian’s existence is the annoying heckler. How does Reuben Kaye deal with these annoying interruptions?

 I'm pretty lucky. I don't tend to get heckled. And this isn't an invitation for your readers to try it! In fact, I tend to get supportive, amazing people who want to be part of the show. And you know what? I Let them! Because it means I don't have to write more material! I have had the occasional protester sneak into my shows. Recently I had an audience member pull out a sign telling me I to apologise to God.

How do you do that? How do you apologise to God?

Well, I haven't really. I haven't even apologised to my parents or therapist either. Seriously though, I believe in free speech and in anyone’s right to protest. So, if you want to stand in the corner with your sign, that’s fine.

Drag is becoming increasingly mainstream; do you feel this has taken away its edginess? Or is this greater visibility a positive thing?

I think ultimately, it’s a positive thing. In the same way that in the same way a jukebox musical is different from a vibrant, gritty piece of theatre, ‘mainstream’ drag is an entry point. And yes, the more commercialised something becomes, its edges will be sanded off to make it widely appealing. That doesn’t mean that the edginess of drag in the clubs is diminished. Mainstream drag and envelope-pushing punk or garage-style drag can coexist.

I see drag as a ‘frame’. It’s a conduit for whatever material you want to present. It’s not a genre, it’s an artform that combines different ingredients the performers use to express themselves. The same way an artist can sculpt, paint, or make films, a drag artist can use their drag however they want. We need to make a space for audiences to develop their ‘drag literacy’.

This gives them the key to unlock the myriad of drag performance styles. If people are surprised our shocked by drag, that’s good. It’s a beautiful thing to challenge the audience’s view of the world and a wonderful way for us to move forward.

Watching clips from some of your past performances, I’m amazed by your rapid-fire delivery. In one routine, you summarise how Australia should improve in about 30 seconds. How do you do it without getting tongue-tied?

The answer to this kind of stuff is tedious because it is just rehearsal. It’s me pacing back and forth in a room, chanting until the lines become a physical response, so that I no longer have to use my brain to engage my body to do it. With this sort of delivery, I want to bombard the audience with as much information as I can in a brief period. It’s like a real-life TikTok that they can’t scroll away from!

One last thing Reuben, I love your shimmery microphone cords. Where can I get one?

I actually make them myself. I got the idea for them from a butt plug with a horse tail I saw in a fetish shop in London. I picked it up and started singing into it. The lady working in the store got a bit flustered and told me my behaviour was inappropriate. So, I turned to her and said, ‘You sell butt plugs, don’t tell me what’s appropriate!’ After that, I went straight home and made one!

Rueben Kaye Live and Intimidating

Canberra Theatre
The Playhouse  
28 June 2023


Reuben Kaye | 2023 Opening Night Comedy Allstars Supershow

Reuben Kaye | 2023 Opening Night Comedy Allstars Supershow

More Coverage

Come From Away, A musical not to be missed

A Heart-warming message of home and kindness, this musical will take you to a place you never want to leave!

Come from Away – Review : Feel good musical theatre

★★★★ An uplifting testament to the power of human kindness, ‘Come From Away’ is must-see musical theatre at its finest.

© All rights reserved FUSE Magazine. Website designed by Lithium.

Back to Top