An Evening with Dilruk Jayasinha
We caught up with Dilruk Jayasinha, the host of the 2018 IS Gala Awards. The Sri-Lankan born Melbourne based stand-up comedian and Utopia star recently came back from touring Singapore, Hong Kong, London and Edinburgh. Dilruk won the 2018 Outstanding Newcomer Logie Award for his roles in series 3 of ABC’s Utopia and Channel Tens’ CRAM! Inspired by Ricky Gervais’ The Office, Dilruk began his working career as an accountant before taking the plunge into full-time comedy.
What does sustainability mean to you?
Not to throw Sri Lanka under the bus, but there certainly wasn’t a big focus on sustainability growing up – I lived there during the civil war. When I came to Australia as a 19-year-old, recycling was a fairly new concept. I’m a sheep when it comes to changing behaviours – I trust the experts. You guys tell me to use a keep cup, I’ll use one. We’re not using straws now? Cool! Plastic bags, ditched. You keep the rules coming, I’ll keep following them. I guess we take it for granted that someone else is looking out for us.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself; your background, your transition to comedy?
I came from Sri Lanka to Melbourne University to study accountancy, which was pretty tough, but I was quite studious and hardworking.
My first job out of Uni was as a corporate tax consultant. I spent most of my time with my head in Australian tax legislation books, reading small print, and having little human interaction. That’s just not me though, I love people.
In hindsight, it was lucky that they let me go after 6 months. Maybe I wasn’t performing to the optimum level. I was just doing it for the money anyway.
I thought to myself, ‘What would I do if money wasn’t my motivation’, and the answer was simple. Comedy.
I remember my first gig. I was so bad. It was a five-minute set at an open mic night in Melbourne, at a venue with a capacity of 400. Only 20 people turned up in the audience. I pretty much choked on stage. It was embarrassing. However, I really enjoyed the whole process.
After that I just immersed myself fully in stand-up comedy. I knew that I was going to be in this for the long run, I was happy to see success in 15-20 years. I went to the comedy show every night, hung around with the other comedians. It took me a long time. My peers were funnier and were better writers, but I had conviction.
I draw parallels with learning a new language – I was in and around comedians day in day out, so I just eventually learned to speak ‘funny’ better. The gigs went from 5 to 10 mins, to 20, to half an hour and then headlining for an hour. I started to get a name for myself at the comedy festival.
My first TV role was in an ABC Comedy with Sammy J and Randy, I was a recurring minor character.
Two years later I was invited to be on the panel for ‘Have You Been Paying Attention’. That was awesome. It’s great to be on TV and being able to be yourself, not acting. It really grew my following too. HYBPA is produced by Working Dog, who also produce Utopia, so that’s how I made the transition there.
They asked me if I wanted to go on Utopia, and I tried not to squeal when accepting. I’m such a fanboy.
In order to prepare for Utopia, did the cast receive any ‘work experience’ in the infrastructure industry?
Absolutely Zero – All the research about infrastructure and all the gags around it were written by the producers. We may take a lot of the credit, but they’re the real funny guys. They trust us to play the characters that they’ve created.
The humour is driven by the human element. It’s the macro and minor frustrations associated with office life. New office initiatives, difficult people, egos in the hierarchy.
I drew on my years as an accountant, there were always new regulation being introduced. There was one scene where my character was asked to introduce an online tax app and got so bugged down with irrelevant minor details. The over explanation frustrates everyone in the room as well as the audience at home, and that’s Utopia.
What were your highlights from the Utopia series?
As I said, I’m a total fanboy of the show. I first met Kitty Flanagan as Kitty, my colleague on set. But then she went away and got her hair and makeup done, and came back as Rhonda, I got a bit star struck – I’m not watching this from home anymore – I’m starring in this too! Oh god what are my lines? It’s awesome to live in the world you enjoy consuming from afar.
Another distinct memory was of a talent show scene where I played a crap magician. There was a dance group who set off the fire alarm, and we had to evacuate the building and have the fire brigade come. The scene lasted minutes on the screen, but it was such a long, meticulously planned, fantastic day. There were so many people involved, so much planning, and so much effort.
Could you tell us a bit about your Logie award?
The Logie award was linked to Utopia and CRAM! as best new talent – I was genuinely so excited to be nominated. TV Award ceremonies are so far removed from the stand-up world set in grungy pubs. This was national TV at its best, with a room full of stars.
It was nice to be nominated, but I never thought I was going to win. As time got closer to the awards, my betting friends kept telling me that my odds were improving – and then eventually the bookies had me as a favourite. It was at that point that it became apparent that I might actually win. I wasn’t even going to bother writing a speech because I didn’t think it would see the light of day.
It was so nice to win. Lots of people and small associations I’d been involved with in the past rallied behind me – small charities, Sri Lankan social media pages - all posted such kind congratulatory messages. I always thought social media was a place for trolls – it was great to see the outpour of positivity.
My family back home in Sri Lanka somehow managed to live stream the awards. It was a special moment for me and my family. You never know how long any of this will last, so it’s important to enjoy it whilst you have it.
What are your plans for the near future; what’s in the pipeline?
Stand up is my first and number one love, and where I’m focusing my attention. I’m putting together next year’s tour – Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Edinburgh and London.
To be a successful stand-up you need to write lots of material. The creative process is a long one. I did my last show 72 times, and it was slightly different each time. You evolve as you go – you learn which jokes are better received, and how you can slightly tweak the delivery of other material in order to get a better reception. I just try to make sure people will want to come back next year.
Here’s Dilruk live in action – language warning!
There are still tickets remaining for the IS Gala Awards.