The Fence Comedy Debate – the story of an idea so absurd, it might just (in fact it did) work

‘What if we had a comedy debate … to discuss asylum seeker issues?’

The idea seemed so absurd, it might just work.

Dana Affleck, Road To Refuge’s founder, came to me with the beginnings of The Fence Comedy Debate in mid-2014 after we worked on a web promo together earlier that year. I was keen to direct the event and so away we went…

WHAT WE WANTED

The main game with holding The Fence was to engage an audience that would otherwise remain disengaged. Comedy’s accessibility made it an effective way of doing that. By dispelling the stigma surrounding the issue through light hearted satire, we hoped to comically illuminate the ridiculousness of how we deal with asylum seekers and educate the audience as to why the policies are inherently flawed.

That’s why we came up with the far-fetched debate topic of ‘Should we build a fence around the sea borders of Australia?’ – an asylum seeker policy so ridiculous and so unbelievably counter-productive, you might just believe it was being proposed by the Government.

The Fence Comedy Debate - Julian Burnside

HANG ON, ARE YOU STILL SURE ABOUT MIXING COMEDY AND ASYLUM SEEKERS?

I was always aware of the very real human cost at the core of the asylum seeker debate. This meant the comedic tone of the event had to be inch-perfect. The Fence was an evening to lampoon the lamentable state of affairs and draw humour from where there is very little. But the last thing we wanted was to make light of the issue.

Hence the parameters were set early. We made it absolutely clear from the start that The Fence’s debaters had to be unambiguously comedic. That left it up to the audience to use the energy from the night to begin talking and learning more about asylum seekers once they left the venue.

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DID WE PULL IT OFF?

Hell yeah we did. The night was a huge success. We had an extremely talented cast of comedians (the who’s who of the Australian Comedy business) and advocates who performed including Julian Burnside, Cal Wilson, Judith Lucy, Lehmo, First Dog on the Moon, Jessie Taylor and Akmal Saleh. Without their expertise and professionalism, the evening wouldn’t have been nearly as successful.

We had a sold out audience of 700 and the energy in the jam-packed RMIT Storey Hall helped to counter my (and maybe some of my co-organisers) nerves on the night.

The Fence Comedy Debate Audience

AND today for the first time ever, you get to see just how much of a success it was because just below this sentence is the full video of The Fence which we’ve just launched on Road to Refuge’s YouTube Channel!

I’m excited and you should be too.

THANK YOU NOTES

  • The event’s producer – Carolina Fonseca – who assembled the talent
  • Arthur Penn and The Funky Ten, who were recruited late in the piece to open the show and crashed through any nervous energy that was lingering in the audience and set the night off to the best of starts
  • Our art director, Roxanne Haley who whipped up an amazing set on very little notice including Judith Lucy’s throne which was a huge talking point on the night
  • And to you guys for coming on the night if you did and/or re-living The Fence with me by reading my blog post
The Fence Comedy Debate – the story of an idea so absurd, it might just (in fact it did) work