Artist Profile: CJ Fortuna

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Sitting at Nineteen Squares on Blessington St with comedian and actor CJ Fortuna, I wonder how this interview will go. Will it be an impromptu stand-up performance by him? Or maybe the light-to-start, rich-to-finish information-gathering session that normally defines the artist interview?

It turned out to be more awkward than that: he didn’t know what to expect either. He asks me: “What do you want?” I say: “Dunno, what do you want to tell me?” We circle around each other for a while, like a couple of nervous debutantes at a school formal who want to dance but are too nervous to ask. Eventually, I just stop writing and say: “How ‘bout we just have a yarn and work the interview stuff out later?” He visibly relaxes. Now CJ Fortuna is in his element. And he’s really funny.

Growing up Warrnambool, CJ always wanted to be an actor. He was heavily involved in the Warrnambool Theatre Company through his teens, and, at 17, went to see a theatre sports gig at the Lady Bay Hotel. Among the theatre sports champions present were Wendy Harmer, Tim Smith, Andy Goodwin, Greg Fleet and Simon Rogers. This ‘discipline crossover’ sparked an interest in CJ to do stand-up comedy.

He moved to St Kilda at 23 and shared a flat with his mate Dave Hughes. His first gig was at the Star & Garter Hotel in South Melbourne. Ex-pat British comedian Matt King saw him there and said: “You’ve got potential, kid, why don’t you try the open-mike try-outs at the Espy on Sundays?” On his first set, he was recommended as a support act for the official Comedy Night the following Tuesday. I asked if he was pretty pleased with himself about this. “I was stoked!” He replies. “I charged into the next Tuesday, full of confidence, choked when I saw four hundred people looking at me, and got booed off the stage.” It was six months before he did his next gig.

He’s come a long way since those early days. “It took me about 5 years to find my voice,” says CJ, “to be comfortable with my own stage presence.”  And that presence is as much about the theatrics of comedy, as it is about telling jokes. Shane Bourne, an icon of the Australian comedy scene, once remarked: “Not only do you tell them the joke, you show them the joke.” CJ gets right into the voice, acting and movement of the characters in his routines, which is no surprise considering his theatrical background.

Stand up comedy is not CJ’s only talent. He is also a good actor, and has appeared in Neighbours, Stingers, Blue Heelers, Hamish & Andy specials, and a dozen TV commercials. He’s won the Comedy Channel Short Film Festival with his film, “Jonathan Livingston – CEO”, a short film about seagull-esque, suited, corporate types, mooching hot chips from him while he sits on a bench at the beach. He also has a part in the new Working Dog film, “Any Questions For Ben?”, which is out now at the movies. In addition, he sings in an award-winning band called “Emotional People”.

While stand-up and acting are huge passions for him, there is also a more serious side to CJ. It is a fact that men outnumber women when it comes to social problems such as gambling, drug addiction, violent death and suicide. CJ decided he would like to use his artistic skill to try to do something about this.

He went back to school, got a diploma in Youth Work and then wrote a show that he performs in schools for year 9 boys. Yes, it’s funny, but its foremost aim is to give practical guidance. “The good thing about humour,” he says, “is that you can use it to talk about difficult subjects.”

Called B.A.L.L.S., (Boys And Life Lessons Seminar), this show deals with topics that are critical in the life of an adolescent boy: things like body image, self-esteem, bullying, alcohol and the Australian male stereotype. It tries to empower these boys by showing then that they don’t have to conform to any preconceived image of masculinity. It tries to instil in them the idea that the most important thing for them to do is to be themselves and act with personal integrity. He is currently performing this show at schools and it has been extremely well received.

The benefit of writing and performing B.A.L.L.S., other than the obvious, is that it has given a new dimension to his stand-up routine. His new show, “Well-Hung Ego Maniacs”, which is part of the upcoming Melbourne Comedy Festival and which he is performing with Andy Goodwin, one of the players in the theatre sports show that inspired CJ to pursue stand-up as a career (elegant full circle, no?), is a parody of the Australian male stereotype. “Despite the name of the show,” says CJ, wryly, “I don’t want to give anyone the wrong impression about me. I’m probably more medium-to-well.

Tres drole, CJ.

Living in St Kilda for 17 years now, he loves the healthy community atmosphere here. He tried living on the North side once, but couldn’t do it. “It just doesn’t have the x-factor that exists here, and now that I’m used to it, I can’t not have it around.” Having been involved in the St Kilda Laugh Festival, doing shows at Amigos, the Vineyard, and other local venues, only reinforces his attachment to the area. He loves the feeling of walking down Acland St and seeing familiar faces everyday, as well as a few new ones that were at a show the previous night.

“St Kilda’s great because you never know who you’re going to bump into. The other day I saw Danni Minogue in the flesh. Granted, I was watching TV naked at the time.”

So, a stand-up comic, actor, film-maker, vocalist, social crusader and sometimes naked TV watcher. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mr CJ Fortuna.

“Well-hung Ego Maniacs”, is playing at the Tuxedo Cat from the 29th of March to the 10th of April (no show on Wednesdays) as part of the Melbourne Comedy Festival. The most recent address listed is: Basement, 335 Flinders Lane, but The Tuxedo has changed venues quite a bit recently, so make sure of the address before you go. Tickets are $20.00 Full, or $16.00 Concession and on “Tightarse Tuesdays”, and can be purchased through Ticketmaster on 1300 660 013, www.comedyfestival.com.au or on the door.

By Aaron Webb

1 Comment

  1. Paul Conroy

    16/03/2012 at 1:52 PM

    CJ is a local treasure, and as soon as I get out of prison and back to StKIlda, i’m gonna let him join my gang.

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