Former refugee and natural-born storyteller Oliver Twist found his voice through stand-up comedy.
Former refugee and natural-born storyteller Oliver Twist found his voice through stand-up comedy. Supplied

Rising comedy star delivers laughs in lockdown

Writing in self-isolation has been a strange but productive process for Oliver Twist.

The Rwandan-born, Sydney-based comedian is one of nearly two dozen Aussie stand-up comics who have been commissioned to perform in streaming service Stan's new four-part Australian Lockdown Comedy Festival.

It's a rare gig at a time when the live performance industry has been crippled by the coronavirus pandemic.

"I'm incubating a lot of ideas right now," Twist, 23, says.

"I do love thinking about ideas fully to their ends … but generating ideas and performing them are two different things. What I usually do is write then perform. That process of filtering (what works and what doesn't) happens outside with people; people tell you if it's funny. The feedback is what I'm really missing. It's challenging to be the audience and the performer. I have to just generate ideas until I can perform again."

Rwandan-born comedian Oliver Twist, whose family settled in Ipswich nearly six years ago, will feature in Stan's Australian Lockdown Comedy Festival starting Saturday May 9.
Rwandan-born comedian Oliver Twist, whose family settled in Ipswich nearly six years ago, will feature in Stan's Australian Lockdown Comedy Festival starting Saturday May 9. Lisa Tomasetti

He'll get feedback, retrospectively at least, when his three-minute segment in the premiere episode of the Lockdown Comedy Festival, hosted by Dave Hughes, goes to air tonight.

"It was a real learning curve performing to the camera," he says. "You're hitting the punch lines and leaving space for people to laugh, assuming they will laugh. When you're in a club you naturally expect them to laugh, then they laugh. You take that space for granted - comedians have fragile egos."

Growing up in a refugee camp in Malawi after his family fled the Rwandan Civil War, Twist feels lucky to be riding out the pandemic in the relative comfort of his three-bedroom apartment.

"In the introduction to my comedy routine I talk about how it's not that terrible for me. Five years ago I was living in Malawi in a refugee camp," he says.

"In other countries it's much, much worse. To have a government that supports you, is giving you grants - I've got a really nice rent reduction - that would never happen where I grew up.

"If you come to see me live when this is all over you better believe I will be talking about it a lot more."

Oliver Twist will feature in the first episode of Stan's new Australian Lockdown Comedy Festival.
Oliver Twist will feature in the first episode of Stan's new Australian Lockdown Comedy Festival. Lisa Tomasetti

While he never considered stand-up comedy to be a career option until he moved to Australia - his family settled in Ipswich in 2014 where his mother still lives - Twist reflects that he did grow up telling funny stories.

"There's an oral tradition in Africa of telling stories and passing it on to the next generation, and I grew up around that," he says.

"When I was 17 I saw a comedy special of Trevor Noah, a South African comedian who now hosts The Daily Show, and when I saw his way of storytelling and sharing of stories on stage I thought 'I can do that'. But it never even crossed my mind that it was something I could do in the camp in Malawi.

"Coming to Australia was very abrupt. I got here and I was like 'I guess I have complete freedom to do whatever I want', but it was very overwhelming.

"I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do from going to TAFE to joining the Mormons (laughs); it was a weird period of time. I was trying to figure out how I could express the big experience I'd just been through."

His first gig was at The Sit Down Comedy Club in the New Market Hotel just outside of the Brisbane CBD. Representing Queensland in the national final of the RAW Comedy competition in 2017 gave him the confidence to quit his studies at the University of Queensland and move to Sydney to pursue comedy.

"I had to take a leap of faith," he says.

"Those first few years of getting into comedy were blurry and quite surreal."

He hopes to use comedy to bring some perspective to the coronavirus pandemic without trivialising it.

"It's a tough time. I'm 23 and I haven't figured out anything yet but what I know for sure is there are much bigger problems and situations," he says.

"The fact we can retreat and watch the whole pandemic being treated from a distance is amazing. The fact that we can be safe while this thing is happening outside is an incredible privilege. I hope Aussies embrace that and enjoy the content you're getting from all the creatives. They're working harder than ever. Just do your part without stressing too much."

The Australian Lockdown Comedy Festival premieres on Stan today at 7pm.


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