Duo hit purple patch

The West Australian | Shannon Harvey | 2 May 2012

Lovable Australian comedian Sam “Sammy J” McMillan - the human half of the popular man-and-puppet duo Sammy J and Randy - is genuinely baffled by their success.

"We have no idea why people would want to spend a night with two dudes who look like they’re out of a reject 1990s kids’ cartoon show," McMillan chuckles from the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, where he and his purple puppet pal Randy (aka comedian Heath McIvor) are performing their new show, The Inheritance.

Perhaps it’s because the boyish 28-year-old, with his blond hair, blue eyes and rakish frame, won best newcomer at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2006. Or that he and McIvor won the top gong - the prestigious Barry Award - at the same festival in 2010. Either way, the odd-couple comedy act has quickly become one of Australia’s most popular, touring nationally and internationally and appearing on the likes of Spicks and Specks and Good News Week.

After wowing the Wild West Comedy Festival in Perth last year, Sammy J and Randy will bring The Inheritance to the inaugural Perth International Comedy Festival later this month . A cheery McMillan says while the duo usually keep changing shows, this year they will only perform The Inheritance, where greed leads to some surprising twists and turns in their friendship.

"Touring the one show all year is quite delightful because it means we can stay in that show’s world all year and make it stronger and stronger," McMillan explains. "And The Inheritance is our most ambitious show yet. We wrote the script without any consideration for budget or achievability and just hoped it would take off!"

Given the double act plays on the odd-couple buddy routine, McMillan says the idea of adding money to the friendship allowed plenty of comic opportunity.

"Sammy is usually the bad guy, but this time it’s Randy who gets a bit greedy and goes off the rails. So there’s a bit of role-reversal here, which is pretty new. It moves along pretty quickly and there’s a lot of stuff going on. Whether people love it or hate it, they won’t be bored by it."

As fans know, Sammy J and Randy is no kids’ puppet show, with some good-natured adult content often deployed in their live act. Even then, McMillan says The Inheritance is more risque than usual.

"The first song has the F-word in it 27 times. But we get away with it because when Randy swears it’s funny because it’s a puppet swearing. But here Randy goes even further and becomes a genuine a……. The crowd is quite shocked by that, but that’s where we want to take them before we resolve everything."

Having always wanted to be a comedian, the Melbourne- based McMillan appeared shirtless on Hey Hey it’s Saturday, singing about life as a nerd. He ditched his law degree after two years when he realised he was able to make enough money from comedy. He met McIver five years ago when they performed separately at a gig in Melbourne and agreed to pair up.

"Commercially, we’re more successful as Sammy J and Randy because we can achieve more together comedically and theatrically," McMillan says. "But it’s important to keep it fresh and create things on our own, so we still do solo shows now and then."

Having won the Barry Award, McMillan says he and McIver are in “a privileged and relaxed position because we’re not too worried about success”. Married with his first child on the way, he’s still wary of audiences growing tired of the man-and-puppet routine.

"I have no doubt they will, but you always want to stay one step ahead of the audience. We do that in The Inheritance, for instance, with Randy turning nasty and Heath playing a third character, which makes for some surprising moments.

"We’d like to do this all our lives, and luckily, the crowds in Melbourne have been much bigger than we’ve ever experienced. So it’s going strong. We’ve only been around for five years and it still feels new and fresh."

With gigs in Perth and Edinburgh on the way and a TV show in the works, life is rosy for the purple puppet and his master.

The Inheritance, Astor Theatre on May 18 and 19. Book [here].