AJ Lamarque tends to laugh at his jokes. Admittedly, he has his finger on the pulse, tackles sharp topics gently, and knows his way around a relatable anecdote. But Lamarque is also positively bubbling with, well, positivity.
He wears many hats: actor, MC, producer, mentor, creative and communicator. Sometimes these hats are sequined; sometimes they are paired with sparkly earrings. But at his monthly Comedy Kweens show at the Oxford Hotel in Darlinghurst, her most stylish accessory is her smile: wide and easily bursting into laughter. That smile — “My mouth was the first thing to grow, then my head was still small and childish, so I had this kind of weird entrance to Luna Park” — serves as an immediate icebreaker for the audience.
“I like to think there’s a bit of interconnectedness, in comedy in general – and I think that’s a benefit of comedy as an art form – but also particularly in Kween: that sense of engagement and connectedness with the audience and the performers, and all that vibe creates a sense of community,” he says. “Even though people can’t directly identify with me, I like to think people feel like they’re in on the joke.”
The community is his goal. Lamarque launched the ensemble stand-up show in 2019, to create a more inclusive and less segregated space in the Sydney comedy scene. Line-ups have included Cassie Workman, Ruby Teys, Harry Jun and The Noodle Girls. Basically, says Lamarque Kween concerns our common humanity.
“Every show varies across a lot of demographics, and I feel like if I did the whole thing, ‘Woo if you identify with these folks, ‘you’d keep hearing courtesies for hours,’ he says. “Which is really exciting because it means what I was trying to do with the piece is working.”
Growing up in a mixed-race family (his mother is Anglo-British, his father is Chinese-Jamaican-Indian-South African) in London, and as a gay man, Lamarque knows what it means to navigate between different identities. He moved from diverse inner city London to a predominantly white suburban area outside the city in his early teens; years of navigating with others treating him as “the odd one out” only heightened his sense of self.
“Either you go with the things that are directed at you or you completely rebel, and I think I did the rebellion,” he laughs. “I never looked at myself thinking, ‘Oh, I’m bad’. I was like, ‘Oh, I’m awesome and everyone’s jealous’, so maybe I was destined to be an artist .
These experiences helped him develop “a bit more of a desire for people to feel welcome,” he says. “That experience and how I navigated it and the space I found myself in afterward are certainly the underlying principles of not just how I see comedy, but also how which I see in other aspects of my life… It comes out in the things I do and the way I see situations.