By Callum Florance
Peppermint is a Peppercorn series where we interview and learn more about ANU law students and beyond
Harvard University has The Harvard Lampoon... Cambridge University has The Footlights... ANU has the ANU Law Revue (affectionately known as The Sullivans for the Law School’s location near Sullivans Creek). Founded in 1972, the ANU Law Revue has been skewering the on-campus, and future Australian, political establishment for generations. Many BNOCs and the children of the Canberra’s political elite have either been featured in, or roasted by, the ANU Law Revue over the last half century.
So much has changed during The Sullivans’ tenure - over eleven Australian Prime Ministers have come and gone, and ANU’s weathered and mouldy concrete (but endearing) Union Court transformed into the inflammably plastic and blindingly white Kambri Precinct. Throughout all of this, the ANU Law Revue has had a steady stream of comedic kindling to keep us warm when it’s cold in Canberra. For this edition of Peppermint, we interview and learn about the ANU Law Revue.
The joy of the show
Since universities have a steady stream of young adults, any on-campus comedy needs to be fresh. Fergus Wall, Co-Director of the ANU Law Revue, notes “[t]he joy of the show is in creating something that is totally new, that would not exist if not for the cast writing it. For this reason, we write a new show every year.”
This sounds like a difficult clean slating process, but “[w]e don’t ignore previous years’ performances,” Fergus says. “On the contrary, we have many sketches from previous years on hand (both those that did and didn’t make the cut in previous shows)... Our aim is to connect each year’s cast with institutional sketch writing know-how (through alumni workshops and critiquing previous sketches), so that we have as much technical knowledge at our disposal as possible to express fresh comedic ideas.”
50th Anniversary Special
In 2022, the ANU Law Revue turned 50 and celebrated with a 50th Anniversary Special. “[L]ast year’s 50th Anniversary Special... was done after the conventional 2022 show,” Fergus explains, which “included most of the 2022 cast plus a collection of ANU Law Revue alumni (including Stephen Bottomley, former ANU College of Law Dean, and Stephen Parker, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Canberra) and featured sketches from the inception in 1972 to 2022.”
Layla Brady, Co-Director, notes “a lot of research and an historical deep dive into all our past shows” was undertaken for the 50th Anniversary. “[F]eaturing alumni and past sketches and songs... we managed to find content from at least every decade since our inception! As for whether the sketches and songs survive the test of time, I think every cast has iconic ones that are close to their heart which, unfortunately, would get... lost as the years progress.”
Celebrating its history was a blessing, Layla explains, as “many of us now have a huge bank of past Law Revue sketches and songs up our sleeves.” Noting some good ones, Layla says “[my] personal favourite is a love song about Yarra Kebabs set to the tune of Hallelujah”. Fergus added, “Bona Fide Purchaser for Value Without Notice is a classic Mary Poppins spoof song that got a reprise” for the Anniversary Special.
Canberra Comedy Festival
Across 24-25 March 2023, the ANU Law Revue stepped up to the plate and delivered back-to-back shows for the Canberra Comedy Festival. Hannah Bachelard, Assistant Producer, has some views about how ANU Law Revue managed the change of venue. “The Canberra Comedy Festival,” Hannah says, “is obviously an audience that isn’t necessarily law students and isn’t even necessarily students, so it’s a bit of a change”.
Being on the national comedy scene is not so daunting for the ANU Law Revue, as the group “always tries to have... accessible sketches, and sketches that are funny even if you don’t have specific legal knowledge,” Hannah explains. “Our Comedy Festival show was about picking the best of those sketches from our 2022 show, the ones that we knew the audience loved, and putting them on display... So there weren’t any rewrites so much as crafty content selection.”
Nothing and no one is safe!
At first glance the ANU Law Revue might sound like a law-only group (the hint is in the name), but the scope is much broader than it appears. “We like to... have something for everyone,” Layla says, “because there’s such a wide range of styles of comedy and subject matter.” The Sullivans, ANU Law Revue’s secret name, probably suits it better for its ANU-wide skewering. Layla summarises it perfectly: “Nothing and no one is safe!”
Layla provides a good summary of their new sketches: “Fan favourites include a sketch about a barbershop quartet who accidentally kill someone on their first day on the job as barbers, a Mr Blue Sky parody about LJE, a sketch about Freud’s mum discovering what her son has been up to, a plane passenger coming out of a suitcase, and the show stopping ten-minute epic about queerbaiting in cop shows.” Layla adds, “[w]e also have an all new sketch... which pokes fun at misogynistic male comedians.”
In such a collaborative environment, there is no such thing as self-credit. “Since Law Revue writing is such a collaborative process,” Layla says, “authorship gets a bit murky, so we just credit everything as being written by all of us!”
A sketchy past
Tracing the history of the ANU Law Revue might be tricky, but here is Hannah’s take on how it has changed since it started in the 1970s: “The form of Law Revue has changed a lot over the years, when it first began it was a sort of comedic mock trial, and for a while there, a duo of law lecturers would do a musical duet in the show every year. Some of our knowledge about how Law Revue has run in the past is a bit sketchy (pun intended) because not all years have kept accessible records or photos, so we don’t have 100% knowledge of what’s come before us. That sometimes makes it fun, like looking through the boxes and boxes of props and costumes we’ve acquired over the years and wondering why there are two full sets of Teletubby costumes.”
Despite this sketchy past, The Sullivans are never afraid of breaking and re-breaking the mould, as Hannah explains: “So basically, the production value, and how the show is performed, has shifted with time, sometimes in ways we don’t remember or have record of. For the last few years we’ve done our show at the Canberra Rep Theatre, which is a great venue with lots to work with and has served us well. Last year was the first time we... performed at the Playhouse for the [50th] Anniversary, and this year was the first time we’ve been at the [Canberra] Comedy Festival. So there’s a lot of moving and shifting with the opportunities that arise.”
With so many ANU clubs and societies rising and falling as fads come and go, it might seem like a miracle that an intensive group like The Sullivans can last for so long. From what you have heard of its members, that is actually its greatest characteristic: university satire and comedy is at its peak because there is a steady flow of new generations coming in with different views, voices, and senses of humour.
Many current and former ANU students might have missed out on the 50th Anniversary show, but the catalogue of comedy gold is slowly being digitised for the ages. As Layla notes, that you can find “many of our more recent past shows... [on] YouTube.”
To conclude this edition of Peppermint, here is a final outro from our ANU Law Revue (The Sullivans) fam: “Writing a revue is a traditionally long process, we cast the show in March and then spend all year writing many many many many sketches, until finally a select few are chosen, rehearsed and performed in September. Because it’s such a long process, the cast gets super close and we end up working together and collaborating amazingly. So every year the show is hugely different depending on who’s in the cast and their own unique brand of humour. We have such a wonderful cast this year and we would love it if everyone came in September to see just what we’ve cooked up!”