Imagine going to a comedy show featuring a performer who is considered one of the funniest comedians in all of Australia. The room goes dark, the spotlights come on and the artist appears on stage, revealing himself as — a puppet? No, he is not some sort of rip-off of “The Muppets”; he is Randy Feltface, Australia’s favorite foul-mouthed, purple-felt funny man.
A beloved character with a hilarious reputation, Randy was originally created in 2003, the brainchild of comedian and puppeteer Heath McIvor. Although the wisecracking puppet was first conceived for a presentation on workplace bullying, McIvor soon decided that Randy was too good a character to waste and began to build an ongoing comedy routine around him.
McIvor first won major recognition with Randy in 2008, after collaborating with the musical comedian Sammy J. in the award-winning show “Sammy J. in the Forest of Dreams.” The two would go on to regularly perform with one another as a musical comedy duo, their latest project being the TV sitcom “Sammy J. & Randy in Ricketts Lane,” which first debuted on ABC Australia in 2015.
As Randy’s popularity grew, McIvor began to create a backstory for the little purple puppet. At the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2009, the critically-acclaimed “Randy’s Postcards from Purgatory” was added to Randy’s oeuvre.
Randy explains in the show that he is 38, running a children’s entertainment agency and currently experiencing marital troubles. In a surprisingly dark twist, Randy relates in stories from “a life mislead and a puppet unstitched” that he is “broke, separated from his wife, with his business going down the gurgler.”
Randy Feltface also mentions he is an alcoholic as well as a heavy smoker; he admits both problem behaviors are coping mechanisms he uses to deal with the difficulties he has been going through. While McIvor manages to put a humorous spin on his puppet’s many personal issues, there are a few instances in “Postcards,” as well as future shows, where Randy goes into more serious reflection, offering deeper insights into life’s many challenges than most lighthearted comedy routines would usually allow.
Thanks to Randy’s status as a puppet, McIvor is usually able to get away with going into darker, less savory territory. As the great comedian once observed, “I found when I started doing stand-up with Randy I could say pretty much anything I wanted to: you’d still get the groans or horrible reactions, but with Randy, he can just throw a cute puppet look and everyone would like him again.”
Moreover, Randy’s personal life began to brighten up as the shows went on. In the 2011 show “Randy is Sober,” Randy proudly announces he has managed to stay sober for 23 months, now able to laugh about the days he suffered from hangovers while on airline flights. He also tells of how he simultaneously quit smoking and decided to become vegan — all on the same day his girlfriend told him she wanted to move in with him, much to his chagrin.
In the 2015 show “Randy Writes a Novel,” Randy has taken up writing, authoring a new book titled “Walking to Skye,” about a young man who retraces his grandfather’s footsteps through Scotland up to the Isle of Skye. Despite having apparently achieved something very impressive, Randy expresses his fear throughout the show that the book might not be very good.
“I’m concerned it might be like an ugly baby that I’m looking at through the eyes of a loving mother,” he humorously relates.
A running gag throughout the show has Randy attempting to read the first chapter of the book to his audience, only to suddenly shift to a completely different topic. Perhaps the most notable instance of this is where he abruptly begins to tell the story of the time he ordered a bookshelf on Gumtree, an incident which began innocuously enough but turned unexpectedly and hilariously chaotic.
Randy often connects stories from his own life with broader observations on the many absurd realities life has to offer. After complaining about how his nephew cannot eat blue foods for some inane reason, he goes on a long, uproarious rant about how this makes no sense since blue is a color which occurs only very rarely in nature.
“Blueberries are f***ing purple!” he defiantly screams at his audience.
Perhaps more pertinently, Randy frequently relates his humorous observations back to his own struggles. After giving an overview of the many accomplishments and hysterically terrible mistakes Ernest Hemingway made in his lifetime, Randy wonders aloud whether it would be better to live the tumultuous life of an artistic genius or instead accept his own admittedly unremarkable existence.
“The truth is, I’m not an exceptional person,” he confesses to his audience. “Nothing interesting really ever happens to me, I’m massively flawed and I think I’m quite forgettable if I’m being 100% honest.”
He considers the idea that if he were to write a great work of fiction like Hemingway, the name Randy Feltface might be remembered for generations on the merit of his creation.
“But must we leave a legacy?” he ponders. “Must we make an impact? Do we have to leave a footprint? Is it okay to just settle? Seek safety? Nest, you know?”
Ultimately, Randy concludes that our lives are terribly minuscule and brief and that we can only ever walk down “[t]he exact same [path] that every human has trod before us and will ever after.”
“And when reduced to that level of crisp simplicity, fear cannot exist,” he concludes.
While Randy is more than able to make a few sly remarks or witty observations, at his very best, Australia’s favorite puppet is much like what George Carlin was said to be in his heyday: a philosopher who uses comedy as a means to get people to re-think how they see the world.
With any luck, McIvor will have managed to create a legacy in Randy Feltface that will last far beyond his own lifetime.