John Pinder and his Last Laugh Theatre Restaurant & Zoo
John Pinder and his Last Laugh Theatre Restaurant & Zoo
Film by Sue Thomson, Libertarian Productions
Melbourne International Comedy Festival
Sue Thomson, Libertarian Productions
The brainchild of John Pinder, Melbourne's Last Laugh Theatre Restaurant and Zoo opened in 1977.
The Last Laugh Theatre Restaurant and Zoo quickly became Melbourne's most popular comedy venue for over ten years from 1977, renown for the anarchic antics of its waiting staff and wildly diverse theatrical shows.
The Last Laugh helped produce many of the talented and successful comedians still seen and heard regularly on television, film and radio today. John sold the business to Rick McKenna and Mary Tobin in 1987 and the business closed in 1997.
JOHN PINDER: We wanted shows, we wanted dinner and shows. And I had-- we stole it from an old musical hall in Melbourne called Tikki and John's, who were the original dinner and show outfit in Melbourne. And they did a musical, an old fashioned musical show in those days. And that was the format that we were working on, but we were coming from a very different, more contemporary position in terms of the sorts of entertainment we were interested in.
TORY MCBRIDE: When he got on his hobby horse, which was Melbourne and comedy, he was irresistible. You know, he's so smart, and so good at picking the next thing.
SHANE MALONEY: John became Melbourne's impresario. He looked around Melbourne, and he saw those elements that were comedic in Melbourne. Some of them had to do with the inherent absurdity of the place, and some of them had to do with its theatrical, experimental traditions in the Pram Factory. And of course he put on Circus Oz.
And so he saw this kind of creative energy coming out of Melbourne. But also being part of it, that he knew that there were lots and lots of people who embraced this, because he been running a saloon that they came to.
STEVE KEARNEY: I can't really remember when I first met John, but I remember the first thing he said about us was, Rock and Roll will never work upstairs. He had that knack of saying things as if it was gospel truth. You know, the Earth will die in 10 billion b.c.
SHANE MALONEY: What Roger Evans had taught him, which he didn't understand before, was that a bank is a shop that sells money. And through Roger's ability to go into a bank and buy some money, they were able to finance the Last Laugh. Which was clearly a substantial financial investment at the time.
And so the relationship then really was that Roger handled the business, and John handled "the business".
TORY MCBRIDE: Right from the moment you walked into the-- in the front door, with those old airplanes swinging over head, and this absolutely nutty decorations all over the place. And all kinds of, this is a complete mess of different stuff.
John's first qualification was as a stage set designer. And you walked into the Last Laugh, and you were immediately transported into a world that existed nowhere else. And it was immensely liberating. It meant that people-- and it was fun.
-And there was this presiding force behind it. This kind of large man who stood in the back of the room and laughed too loudly and--
-You had this mad looking woman in the-- behind the counter who was taking your money. Just-- she looked like a witch or some sort of scary. You know, the kind of thing that you never see. And certainly never actually stand in front of and speak to.
All sorts of things like that, and then these strange young men dressed as women. And-- or dressed as ballet dancers, or dressed as animals. And people just did anything, and then there was a stage show as well. It was just all absolutely phantasmagorical.
-The Last Laugh was kind of a university of entertainment, and he was the professor.
He learned to love Los Trios, and pretty soon he became their manager, and we were doing lots and lots of shows at the Last Laugh and then downstairs.
And then it was John who set us up in '83 to go to Edinburgh, which I'd never heard of. And John said, OK, what we're going to do is we'll build these suitcases that fit into the into the taxis in the UK. And then we can tour around London and do gigs. And I'm like, OK, and that worked.
-And he just came back from Edinburgh, and he did this big rave about everything that had happened there, and how marvelous it all was, and how comedy was, everything in life that was important. And the Last Laugh was the centre of the comedy universe. And all the staff were a fundamental part of this comedy universe.
-What interested John about those festivals in Europe, were that they were the idea of the Day of the Fool. You know, that they could put on a cardboard mache bum and turn it in the direction of the Archbishop. And this was-- these were real living things in Europe, and John had seen these. You know, the running of the tomatoes, or whatever they might have happened to have been. And he thought, we should have one of these in Melbourne. We should have this opportunity for broad cheek giving.
STEVE KEARNEY: It was just a barrel of energy, and ideas, and opinions. He had, kind of, an innate sense of what was worth pursuing. And really, it's those kind of people that artists need. You know, that's why people jumped on him like glue. You know, it's like, please promote me, please exploit me.
And it was kind of like having a, you know, a lover that was really gorgeous, and everybody wanted. Because, you know, John would leave you for the next lover, and the next big thing.
SHANE MALONEY: He had moved to that point where, you know, the world was his stage. And it was getting-- it was getting bigger and bigger. And we were all going along for the ride. You know, you would follow John to the ends of the earth, if only to see what strange and abhorrent thing he would do on the way.
TORY MCBRIDE: He did what he called, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival at the Last Laugh. And it was the Young Ones, and Busby Berkeleys, and I think, the Brass Band. This whole bunch of people who were cutting edge wacky, mad, people doing all sorts of interesting things all over the world.
I know he changed people's lives, because I am the living, breathing proof. I love him.