Damian Callinan, Wine Bluff and War Buff

Like many of the comedy veterans who flock to Adelaide for Fringe, Damian Callinan is in the midst of a busy season, with a nightly roster of The Wine Bluffs and a one-off performance of The Lost WW1 Diary.

The majority of Callinan’s time in Adelaide will be taken up performing his latest touring show, The Wine Bluffs, a satirical stir of wine snobbery alongside Paul Calleja. Callinan says the show “started as a one-off,” but like any good wine, has gotten better with time.

“Paul Calleja and I got asked to do a spot during the Yarra Valley Grape Grazing Festival,” he says. “It was only going to be three times, 20 minute [shows] during the day. Paul wanted a drinking buddy basically.”

Evidently, the show played well on the public’s palate, as Callinan and Calleja continued to develop The Wine Bluffs into a longer format, “tinkering with it for about a year.”

“It’s turned into a bit of a masterclass now,” Callinan explains, “but a masterclass teaching people how to bluff their way through wine so they can feel comfortable in a cellar door.

“We play ourselves, but we have faux-illusions to being consultants on every level of the Australian wine industry and posit ourselves as being quite controversial and having pissed in a few fermenters along the way.”

It’s a good time for The Wine Bluffs to tour with wine’s popularity growing across Australia and some reports showing the per-litre consumption of the drop now equals that of beer. Callinan says his show attracts a diverse audience, from novices to self-described connoisseurs.

“The show genuinely does attract wine wankers,” laughs Callinan. “We have a bit in the middle of the show where we try to identify who the biggest wine wanker in the room is and the most surprising thing is the number of people who desperately try to win it. It’s a process of elimination where we get people standing and ask them things to get them to sit down, like ‘Sit down if you have cask wine at home.’ By the end it turns into a bit of an auction as people show off how much stuff they’ve got.”

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While he might not be a ‘wine wanker’ himself, Callinan certainly appreciates the grape, having grown up in a wine-wise household.

“My brothers and my dad in particular were always into wine,” he says. “As a kid, that was our school holidays – going to Rutherglen or the Barossa. I didn’t know we had a coastline until I was fourteen. I’m not obsessed by it but I’ve inherited that knowledge and I love going to cellar doors, just because I’m so used to it.”

Callinan and Calleja are performing The Wine Bluffs both in town at the Royal Croquet Club, but also at the brand new Stirling Fringe, where Callinan will do some stand-up and perform a one-off of his most recent theatrical show, The Lost WW1 Diary.

Having toured The Lost WW1 Diary extensively in recent years, Callinan is pleased to bring the show back for the Fringe, saying that Adelaide’s showgoers “really appreciate something that straddles the comedy and theatre divide.”

“It’s a hard one to sell, you know, a comedy about WW1. It’s amazing how often people ask, ‘how do you make war funny?’ But if you look back through the annals you have things like M*A*S*H and Dad’s Army. It’s not unsual to use comedy and tragedy so close together.”

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The Lost WW1 Diary follows the lives of six Australian soldiers, all from different backgrounds, and their experiences in the Great War. While the accounts and character are fictional, Callinan has based this story on his own reading of old war diaries.

“I read about a dozen personal diaries,” he says. “They tended to be either telling funny stories, or talking about just the most mundane things, like what was in their Red Cross kit. Then there would be a three week gap and they’d return and write, ‘Macca died.’”

Finding a balance between that sort of blunt tragedy and the comedy needed to give a show like this heart was a challenge for Callinan, who remarks that “the more you look into it, the more depressed it makes you.”

Likewise, finding the right ebb and flow between comedy and tragedy in a show about war is crucial, says Callinan.

“You can go from comedy to pathos in a heartbeat but coming back the other way you’ve got to be more delicate,” he says “You hit the audience between the eyes with something and you’ve got to tiptoe back to the comedy. That was probably the trickiest part of the writing.”

The Wine Bluffs
Until Saturday, March 4 at the Stirling Fringe and Royal Croquet Club

The Lost WW1 Diary
Thursday, March 2 at the Stirling Fringe

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