14 March 2023

Comedian Nick Schuller homes in on personal tale for cathartic new show about Black Summer bushfires

| James Day
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Fire-damaged property

Comedian Nick Schuller’s family home in Batemans Bay was destroyed in the 2019 bushfires. Photo: Nick Schuller.

Fire Brand is the name of Nick Schuller’s new hour of stand-up comedy, which he is performing next Friday, 17 March, at 8 pm. As the title suggests, it follows Schuller’s 2019-2020 New Year’s Eve in Batemans Bay when his family home burned down. With the comedian’s typically dry and deadpan humour, it makes a sensitive topic cathartic for those who experienced the tragedy.

“A woman in one of the Adelaide crowds came up for a hug after the show,” said Schuller, as she’d been one of many like him who had lost something during the fires.

Schuller said he had been working on his debut hour for the past year.

“It was quite emotional writing, despite the house burning down three years ago. I see it as a good thing. If I’m feeling it, the crowd will.”

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When the fires were approaching Schuller’s childhood home in Batemans Bay, it was New Year’s Eve. He, his parents and his spouse were woken up at 6 am by the NSW Rural Fire Service telling them to flee to a nearby evacuation centre.

On arrival at the centre, and unaware of how serious the situation was, Schuller and his wife decided to go back to Canberra as they’d originally planned. They drove the whole way back listening to The Wombats, with the fires following closely.

“We went by Kangaroo Valley to see from the lookout what the scale and speed of the fires were behind us,” he said.

“At that point we did not know the home had burnt down until we’d gotten back to Canberra when my aunt called to say the whole block had burnt down.”

When Schuller put down the phone, he turned on the TV and saw a reporter walking down the street in Batemans Bay with the destroyed house in full view. It wasn’t until the end of January 2020, when the fires were still going, that he returned to the property.

“It looked like a war zone: the sky was red, fires were still going on, the place was eerie, and it was intensely emotional,” Schuller said.

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For such a sombre topic, Schuller said “it’s definitely been challenging” to get the balance with his style, “which isn’t a great fit for the raw emotion of the story”. However, playing off the juxtaposition has served him well following the four first shows he recently did at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, where he received high praise.

“I’m keen to see how the Canberra audience responds. I think more people will resonate with the show there,” he said.


Schuller began work on Fire Brand a year ago, performing it for the first time in full at this year’s Adelaide Fringe Festival. Photo: Nick Robertson.

Schuller now lives in Melbourne, moving from Canberra to expand on his career in comedy. He is looking forward to coming back for the festival so he can perform alongside and support his old friends such as local legends Chris Marlton and Emma Holland.

His family are still in New South Wales and have said to him that they only want a cut of the show money, “otherwise they’re fully supportive”.

Fire Brand is at 8 pm on Friday, 17 March, at the Courtyard Studio within the Canberra Theatre Centre. The Canberra Comedy Festival is running from 16 to 26 March at venues throughout the capital, with both domestic and international talent performing.

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