Meet: Liam Callen, then catch him at Hell Gig Simulator / by Newcastle Discovered

Labour Day will be a big day of firsts for Newcastle. Not only will it see Not Just for Laughs, Newcastle’s very first comedy festival take place, but it will also be the first time that a pay what you can approach to ticketing will be used by a local festival.

Cooks Hill comic Liam Callen will be hosting Hell Gig Simulator, one of the event’s flagship shows and the culmination of years of gigging locally.

liam callen

What is Hell Gig Simulator?
Hell Gig Simulator is a stand up show where the real act isn’t happening on stage, it’s in the audience. Improvisers are strategically placed within the crowd in order to create a highly interactive simulation of a worst gig scenario. There is a line up of four comedians. Each comedian gets their own scenario, which is revealed to them moments before they are brought to the stage. The aim of the show is to see how well they can handle themselves in an unwinnable situation.


Why did you make this show?

I made the show to right a wrong. Earlier this year a group of us travelled interstate to perform in Adelaide Fringe. Seven other local comics and I crammed into a mini bus and drove there from Newcastle in the span of just two days. At the halfway mark we had organised a gig in a town called Griffith to offset our fuel costs. First we set up camp (there was no money in our tight budget for even a motel) and, somewhat drained from the long nine-hour drive, made our way to the venue. Soon after arriving we discovered that the gig we had booked was in roughest pub in the roughest part of town. It was an onslaught. The audience was drunk and combative from the jump. None of tried and tested material was landing. It was a night you couldn’t win. All you could do was concede to the audience. Now I’ve had worse gigs, but they’ve all been close to home. This time I was a stranger in a strange land, and the natives weren’t too happy to have me. The experience changed me. I mean, performing one of the most harrowing sets in your life and having to sleep on a hard dirt floor in a two man tent afterwards really puts things into perspective. Hell Gig is the anti-venom to gigs like the one Griffith. The show gives comics a diluted version of a worse gig scenario to build up their resistance to the real thing when it jumps up and bites them unexpectedly. 


How do you feel about the pay what you can ticketing model?

I think it’s a great model. Art that exists on the fringes is hard for the average punter to put an exact dollar value on. Audiences, in general, are reluctant to pay for something they haven’t seen before.

However, if people come to see a “free fringe” show and afterwards think to themselves, “That was worth ‘x’ amount of money”, they’ll most likely turn around and pay that amount of money having seen it. It works the same way as supermarket free samples. The offer of free encourages you to try something new, and if you like it you’ll buy it. Audiences have nothing to lose and everything to gain with Not Just For Laughs.


What is your proudest moment in comedy?

The moment in comedy I look back at it with most pride is an impromptu set I did at busy bus top. The best gig I have ever had, and I wasn’t even booked for it. Another local comedian, James Connors, had been hired by TiNA to do street corner warm up gigs for the people queuing outside participating venues. I thought it was a terrible idea that could only go badly. So like any good friend I came to watch him crash and burn. I came in a suit, and brought myself a fold out chair so I could watch the carnage in relative comfort. Turned out the joke was on me. It was so much fun. People on the street really responded to it. Eventually, James got me up to do a set. It was amazing. I was the most present in my performance I have ever been. I had to be. I was keeping in time with the buses, which was hard as Newcastle buses are rarely on time.


What could go wrong?

Everything. Everything could go wrong. Everything will go wrong. The show is designed for that very purpose. The real question is whether it will be the funny kind of wrong or the uncomfortable kind of wrong. The show aims for the former, but who knows what’ll actually happen on the night. Nothing is certain. Such is the nature of improv.



Hell Gig Simulator
8:30pm @ The Crown & Anchor Hotel (upstairs)
Shows run all day from 12pm
Full schedule available at