Seriously funny: From Class Clowns to China Tonight

By Chanele Mao

For Melbourne-based stand-up comedian, marriage celebrant and writer Annie Louey growing up, comedy was an escape outlet.

“I started comedy when I was a teenager,” said Louey.

“I watched a lot of stand-up DVDs. My favourite ones to watch were the Australian comedians like Will Anderson and Judith Lucy. Jason Byrne was the first comedian I saw live. I had never seen anything like that before. I remember going home and buzzing off that for two days. Comedy just did something for me and excited me a lot.”

Louey’s first foray into comedy was entering the Class Clowns contest as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival as a teenager and making the final. It got her hooked with doing live comedy.

“People can pick-up bull…. these days. If you’re not being true to yourself and speaking from your [own] specific experience and your voice, people are not going to buy it.”

As a burns survivor, Louey found that doing comedy was also a means for survival. There is a therapeutic aspect of doing comedy, even though it can feel as though you are baring your soul to the audience.

“I like the therapy aspect of comedy. The more you repeat things and you say it in a certain way, you process it. Some of the painful memories get converted into something positive so it doesn’t have the same effect anymore.”

So how did Louey move from stand-up comedy to being a co-host and presenter with Samuel Yang on the hit ABC show, China Tonight, a news and a current affair program which only recently added a comedy budget to the show?

“It came through word of mouth,” she said. “It was through Jennifer Wong [a comedian and writer] who did another ABC show and iView program, Chopsticks or Fork. I actually interviewed her as a journalism student and she remembered me.”

Presenter and comedian Annie Louey. Photos: Nick Walters (left)/Emma Holland (right)

Wong had recommended Annie to the ABC and they sent an enquiry through Annie’s website. They told her to “think about it seriously for a weekend but they didn’t tell me why”.

“I think it was because of what it means to be representing the Chinese diaspora,” said Louey.

Although there was an initial period of uncertainty and anxiety about what it might mean to be on a show that boils down the issues in China, fortunately Annie found that there were lots of topics that were talking points and not off-limits such as a story about pets, which featured her cousin in China and “nothing bad came of it”.

The original format of China Tonight was very much a hard-hitting news program anchored by the veteran Stan Grant and Yvonne Yong who presented the show. With the addition of Louey and a shift to add in a comedy segment after Grant left the show, it seems that the audience are responding positively to the new format.

I was keen to find out more about what a typical day of work looks like for Louey at the ABC. Annie took me through the run sheet of a typical shoot day, which takes place on a Friday but the preparations begin the night before.

“On a Thursday, everyone is furiously working away scripting the overall program, they clock off about six o’clock and hand the script to me, so that I can look at it and can pick up items that can have gags in them,” she said.

“Sam [Yang] will do the hard news. I will do the trending items.”

As part of the preparations, Louey will ask herself “Are there any props we need? Are there any jokes I want to make? What camera angles would we use for that?” to find the best way to present the story.

“On Friday morning I’ll have a chat with the supervising producer about which gags are best and sometimes he’ll say, we can’t say this …”

Then it’s off to Hair and Make-up and shooting starts at 11 am.

“It takes two to three hours to shoot everything including the live interviews, which are over Zoom. It all gets chopped and turned around and combined with the pre-filmed packages in the afternoon. By 4.30 pm we have something to watch, the first cut.

“It usually looks pretty amazing. We just look for typos or anything that doesn’t make sense and we will go edit that. The program airs at 8pm. So it all gets locked in by 6pm. It’s put out as live so people will think it’s put out as live, but it is recorded a few hours before then.”

The pre-filmed “packages” are the longer stories that Annie and the presenters on the show work on in between the in-studio shoots. She will research the story, find people to interview and get the footage to go with her story. It can take two to three days to shoot and edit what is seen for five minutes on the show.

Finally, I ask her if she has any final comments or advice for someone who wants to move into the industry?

“Just give it a go, eliminate all your options,” said Louey. “I’ve done every single random job and this is what I found out works. It might be combining lots of different passions you have.”

Featured image: Annie Louey (right) with China Tonight co-host and presenter Samuel Yang. Photo: ABC News

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