Jordon Raskopoulos: If I Could Turn Back Time
Hi. I’m Maeve Marsden and welcome to Queerstories – the podcast for the LGBTQI+ storytelling night I host and programme. Queerstories events happen regularly in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, and I’m also now hosting them in regional towns. If you enjoy these stories, please rate, review and subscribe to the podcast, and consider buying a copy of the Queerstories book: A collection of 26 of the stories edited by me and published by Hachette. I’m really proud of this collection and I hope you enjoy it too.
Next up – Jordan Raskopoulos is a writer, comedian and singer. She’s been on tele, she’s toured the world with her band The Axis of Awesome, she’s had a few viral hits, and then had a supporting role in a telemovie about Julian Assange. Since coming out and transitioning, she’s also taken on a lot of speaking and advocacy work, hosting the ABC podcast This is About, and creating content around issues such as Australia Day and Marriage Equality. She’s a repeat offender at Queerstories. Jordan Raskopoulos.
I enjoyed my time at university. Not for the classes, or the tutorials, or the babes. I loved university for the opportunities it gave me to explore my creativity. I was an executive member of the Sydney University Dramatic Society, I played Macbeth. The production had a cyberpunk kung-fu aesthetic, and was somewhat inspired by the Wachowskis’ The Matrix.
I wrote and directed a stage adaptation of The Princess Bride to rave reviews from Honi Soit, the campus newspaper. I ran in the student union election, not seriously. It was an opportunity to prance around campus in a costume and publicise a ridiculous pun. “Transform your union!” boomed from the faceplate of my home made Optimus Prime regalia, forged from the finest beer boxes, paper plates and spray painted-rugby safety gear. I loved being a campus clown. I did stand up comedy shows, theatre sports and loved performing sketch comedy in the annual Arts Faculty Revue.
In 2004, I was in my fifth year of a three-year arts degree.
The cast of the art revue were informed that a producer was scouting the show. That he was watching all the campus revues at many of the universities around Sydney and that he was putting together some kind of gestalt revue, buying up sketches from the various shows and giving opportunities for the best performers from those shows to join a new sketch comedy troupe to perform at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. So, I auditioned for that troupe and I got in; been in the Opera House too.
We performed our show in Melbourne and then the show got picked up for a development deal by Channel Ten. This was during a time when people actually watched Channel Ten… or television. So, I promptly abandoned my honours thesis in performance studies – Principles of Masked Performance: A comparative study of the techniques of 16th Century Italian Commedia dell’arte with the performance styles of modern day professional wrestlers. I am sorry that the world never received my academic gift.
So then we did a development for a sketch comedy show for a few months; writing sketches and creating characters, and then the show got picked up and commissioned for 13 episodes. So I went from being a student, comparing the Arlecchino tumbling acts of Tristano Martinelli with the People’s Elbow from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and started work on a show called The Ronnie Johns Goodtimes Campfire Jamboree Half Hour Show Now on Television. The Ronnie Johns Half Hour.
It was the start of my career as an entertainer. And looking back on it now I can see what an incredible and unique opportunity it was. At the time, we kind of took it in stride but we were given the opportunity to do whatever we wanted on TV. The show ran for two seasons and is remembered for being a rude, puerile, undergraduate, cult, blokey horror show, which is a shame because it wasn’t that. Well, it wasn’t exclusively that. Yes, there was a frequently recurring sketch about a man who would ruin beverages by dunking his testicles into them, Henry Lipton’s teabag, and, yes, it was the birthplace of Heath Franklin’s Chopper, and yes we did create a perfume for socioeconomically disadvantaged homosexual men called Poofta Bogan. Now, there’s something to be said for the satirical exploration of the intersections between class and sexuality, but I’m not sure Poofta Bogan quite hit the mark.
All that said, there was a lot in that show that I was proud of and continue to be proud of, and I am still proud of a Russian competitive Rubix Cube champion attempting to do product endorsements for KFC, but only being able to pronounce it as, “Kentuckin’ Fuckin’ Chicken.”
I played JRR Tolkien giving a 21st birthday speech. I was part of a tag team wrestling duo who were both Truman Capote, and a professor demonstrating a time machine that would travel forwards in time at a rate of 60 seconds per minute.
It was just me in tweed on an exercise bike for a full minute. A minute of dead television: My proudest achievement.
We got nominated for a Logie… and so I went to the Logies, and I did cocaine at the Logies… with a certain neighbours star who shall remain… Toadfish Rebekki.
*Audience laughs and claps*
Sadly, the network overlooked the stuff I enjoyed making, instead focusing all promotional efforts on getting the character who said fuck a lot featured in Zoo magazine, which was fine but it was just a shame that the network never marketed the show to the audience who might’ve enjoyed the things I was most proud of.
The show was cancelled after its second season. We weren’t getting the numbers, although we were clocking in half a million viewers per ep’, which is obscenely good by today’s standards. I felt cheated though.
“How did you expect us to find our audience if you didn’t back us properly? I’m just saying, more people would have been watching if you’d just promoted Don’t Tell The Boss The New Guy Is A Giant Eyeball.”
When the show ended, I didn’t really know what to do. I liked working in TV but making Ronnie Johns was insular. We were writing, performing and shooting the whole thing ourselves, so there was never time or opportunity to build connections with other people in the industry, or to take advantage of opportunities that were popping up while we were on tele. And whilst there was opportunity to capitalise on the fan base that we’d built, I didn’t really want to perform to that kind of audience. I wanted to create delightful silly things, and that wasn’t really going to fly with an audience that would invariably insist that I “Do more Poofta Bogan.”
So I started doing absurd stand up around Sydney. I wore a giant crab claw on my right arm and performed as a character called The Man with the Dominant Claw. I also started a musical comedy act called The Axis of Awesome with some friends, while I worked during the day folding blankets at my family’s industrial laundry business.
It was during this time, around 2007, that I met a man named Asif. Asif was a television producer from the UK. He’d worked with a number of UK comics. He’d helped Sacha Baron Cohen get discovered as Ali G and he’d recently moved to Australia. He was getting to know people in the Australian comedy scene, hoping to do similar work and to try and capitalise on the whole videos on the internet thing that seemed to be happening at the time. He was a nice guy. He helped Axis of Awesome film our first few music videos, and he even took me to yum cha one time.
*Audience member whoops*
Oooh. Yum. Yum…
*Audience laughs louder*
That was off the top of the dome – improv.
One day, I got a call from Asif. He said that he’d recently taken a job as an executive at Channel Nine, and that he had pushed to have me on as a guest on one of their new shows.
“Jordan, you’re familiar with the Internet, aren’t you?”
“Very familiar,” I replied.
“Have you seen a video from Japan called Human Tetris?”
“Yes, I am quite familiar with it, though I believe it is known as Nokabe or Brain Wall, in Japan.”
“Well, Channel Nine have licensed the format and we’re doing a celebrity version. Would you like to be on it?”
And, being a fan of most things Japanese and all things Internet I replied, “Hai, onegaishimasu.”
So for those unfamiliar with the original Japanese show, it was quite simple: A contestant would stand on a line in front of a swimming pool. A giant pink wall would be revealed about 15 metres in front of them, and the wall would have a hole cut out of it. The wall would then slowly move towards the contestant. The contestant would have to manipulate their body to fit through the hole. If they succeeded, they won. If they failed, they were pushed into the pool where they, presumably, drowned.
The Australian version wasn’t too different. It was called Hole in the Wall, but instead of having a single contestant, it would have two teams of celebrities. TV versus Radio, Reality Stars versus Actors, Beauty versus Brains; that sort of thing.
The day came to do the show. A limousine came to pick me up from my apartment and took me to the airport, where I flew business class to Melbourne. Took another limousine to the studio, and I was ushered into the green room to meet my teammates. I was joined by portly radio host, Jon “Jonno” Coleman, and rotund homosexual, Adam Richard.
I was then introduced to the other team: World Champion Swimmer Matt Walsh, AFL Brownlow Medalist Shane Crawford, and Ludi Tourky, Olympic Diving medalist. Oh.
And then I spotted the team names on a run sheet: The Sports Stars versus The Couch Potatoes. Adam, Jonno and I looked at one another with the same look in our eyes. It was a stitch up.
They brought us our costumes: Figure-hugging, silver Lycra catsuits.They didn’t have a lot of length in the torso, so the three of us all suffered from what I believe the fashion industry calls Camel Tail. Thankfully, not an issue anymore.
*Audience whoops and applauds*
Then we got to the show. The two teams would each face different walls. The sports stars deftly manoeuvred through their simple geometric shapes while we were offered puzzles that were impossible: Tiny lollipop shapes, a spiral. We were set up to fail.
To our credit, though, we owned it. The impossible walls came towards us, we smashed through them, bellowing Flintstone’s catchphrases and doing faux karate moves – thank God for all my fight training during the Matrix Macbeth.
We dove into the pool, spat water at one another and had huge smiles on our faces. Despite the fact that the network wanted to sandbag us and make us look foolish, we owned the situation, made sure to put on a good show and have a good time. I was proud; proud enough to tell my family and friends to watch. But, of course, when it comes to these sorts of programs, the story is made in the edit. And it seemed that despite our efforts to turn it around and have a good time, the network was set on making us look like a bunch of chubby arseholes.
They added a commentator. Who said things like:
“Oh! Jordan’s bending down to get through that wall, but the only time they’ve bent down is to get chips off the floor.”
“These guys aren’t used to sudden movements.”
“They’re like three sumo wrestlers who’ve eaten all the ice creams.”
“Oh, God! They’re so fa! Fat-fatity-fat-fat-fat! What a bunch of fat cunts.”
I’m paraphrasing on that last one.
But it sucked. It was mean and rude, and it sucked that they thought this circus of cruelty would be more entertaining than the talents of the professionals they’d hired to be on the show. I am very entertaining. Adam Richard is very entertaining. Jono Coleman is… Jono Coleman has been around for such a long time.
Looking at the past isn’t a fun or helpful thing for me to do. It isn’t great for me to focus on regrets, especially as a transgender woman who only found the courage to come out in her 30s. I can’t turn back time, and if I sit here thinking about regrets, I’d probably lose myself. I can’t change the past, and wishing I’d lived my life differently is fruitless.
Nevertheless, I really wish that when I was in that green room, and I saw the people there, and I saw the title of the episode, and everything that was going to happen… I wish I’d just flipped the catering table, pocketed some Mars Bars, and told them to all go and get fucked.
*Audience whoops and applauds*
But, I didn’t do that. And if I had, who knows what might have happened? All I can do is look at the past and ask myself what lessons I’ve learned, and, in this instance, I learned not to be so trusting of TV people, and I learned that sometimes, despite the opportunity or the money that’s on offer, I need to say, “No.” And I need to put my personal well being and my principles first. And I do.
I quit mid-season on a hidden camera show because the pranks they wanted me to do were cruel. I cancelled a gig at a university because the teachers union were striking, and I don’t believe in crossing picket lines.
*Audience whoops and applauds*
Last year, I turned down an opportunity to be on a high-profile panel show because they wanted me to debate the existence of male privilege against a Men’s Rights Activists.
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I’m currently in my third month of saying no to everything because I’m very anxious and depressed. Oh, no. I’m sorry. I’m into my third month of saying no to everything because… I’m writing.
I want to create delightful things, I want to share stories of joy and talk with people who are informed, open minded and curious. I am thankful. I am thankful for my experience on Channel Nine’s Hole in the Wall because it opened my eyes to the media’s circus of adversary, and cruelty, and also, I got to ride in several limousines!