EVERY night that Cameron James has performed his latest stand-up show, Electric Dreams, he's found himself blushing with embarrassment.
That's not because the routine is horrible and nobody's laughed. Far from it. Electric Dreams is actually generating the best response of the Newcastle-raised comedian's career.
He has a nomination for the 2022 Melbourne International Comedy Festival's Most Outstanding Show to prove it. That award was won by fellow Novocastrian Rhys Nicholson for his show Rhys! Rhys! Rhys!
The reason for James' embarrassment is because the content of Electric Dreams is excruciatingly close to the bone.
As a teenager the former St Francis Xavier student dreamt of becoming a rock star. He even enjoyed some success singing and playing guitar in mid-2000s indie bands Montana Fire and Love Potion No.69, which regularly gigged around Newcastle and did a national tour supporting British India.
During COVID lockdown James uncovered demos of songs he'd written during his high school years. Following the theory that the funniest material comes from an honest place, James decided to perform the earnest teen angst songs on stage and tell the stories behind them in a stand-up routine.
"When I was younger I took singing and music so seriously, so now when I do it I'm clearly making fun of it and it's a very weird feeling," James says.
"It's honestly the most naked and vulnerable I've ever felt on stage when I'm singing a song I wrote when I was a teenager that I genuinely thought was amazing.
"I've blushed in every single show that I've done for this one and I've gotten so embarrassed every single time and I love it. It feels amazing. It's the first time I've ever felt really exposed on stage."
The show has related with punters so much that he's had fans submit their own songs or poems they wrote as a teenager.
However, James says performing the old songs on stage in Melbourne is one thing. Performing them in Newcastle, in front of people he actually went to school with, is another thing entirely.
James gets that opportunity when he returns home for the upcoming fourth edition of the Newcastle Comedy Festival.
"I'm not going to lie, I've been a little bit dreading this Newcastle show because a few people I went through high school with have told me they're going to come and watch and a couple of guys I played in bands with as well.
"A couple of girls are coming who I used to have crushes on around that time, some might even be the subject of some of these songs. I'm a bit nervous about it to be honest, but it might be the one thing I need. It might give me closure," he laughs.
James' career has continued to grow during COVID, despite the lack of stand-up shows. He launched a successful podcast with Becky Lucas, The Becky and Cam Hotline, where they provide "untrained" life coaching and he's written for ABC TV shows Gruen and At Home Alone Together.
But returning home to support the Newcastle Comedy Festival, which was created by James' old high school buddy Andrew Milos, has always been important. James even appeared at Milos' very first Big Dog Comedy night in 2017.
"It started in a bookshop and now he's selling out shows at the Civic Theatre and I'm getting to perform at City Hall in probably the biggest room I've ever performed at in Newcastle for a solo show," James says.
"It's been amazing watching it, and even better being a part of it."
The 2022 Newcastle Comedy Festival runs over four weekends, from May 20 to June 17. It begins with the Gala at the Civic Theatre, featuring Newcastle's Rhys Nicholson, as well as Nick Cody, Bec Charlwood, Cam Knight, Dilruk Jayasinha, Gen Fricker, Lizzy Hoo, Elouise Eftos, Sarah Gaul, Heath Franklin's Chopper and Nikki Britton.
James will perform a solo show on May 27 in the Newcastle City Hall's Hunter Room. Other comedians booked for solo shows include Sarah Gaul, Nick Cody, Michelle Brasier, Luke Heggie and Cam Knight.
For the first time, the majority of shows are scheduled in the Newcastle Cultural Precinct around the Civic Theatre. Milos says the use of the Civic Theatre, Plalyhouse and City Hall will ensure the festival delivers its most professional production yet.
"We're using that area as a hub, so if you go there on the weekend there's comedy," Milos says. "There will be the full set up. All the things I've wanted to do such as proper lighting and sound technicians."
The Newcastle Comedy Festival runs from May 20 to June 17. Visit https://newycomedyfest.com for full details and tickets.
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