Resident Spinoff float master Don Rowe gets deep with Billy T James award winning comedian David Correos in the first installment of Tank Talk, a partnership with Float Culture.
David Correos waved as he ran across the courtyard, a towel draped over his shoulders. “Don,” he said, stepping into my girlfriend’s Ford Laser. “Mate. Do I need a towel? I’ll bring one anyway.”
It was the first time we’d met, drawn to one another through a strange and mysterious set of circumstances that would soon see us floating together in nothingness, me attempting to communicate telepathically, he attempting to relax. At first, neither of us succeeded.
I first floated in 2014, detailing my experiences in a feature for 1972 magazine. Suspend weightless in total darkness, I had a series of reasonably profound insights and truly psychedelic experiences, communing with the avatar of some greater force and just generally getting deep. The tank is a unique environment, unparalleled in the known universe, where all sensory input ceases and the brain is left with nothing to look at but itself. I believe the state attained by floating is akin to that of deep meditation, and my initial experiences converted me into a float nut.
Since then, I’ve spent considerable time suspended in the ether, journeying through the various realms between my ears and getting my chakras in order. I’ve also learned a lot about the various psychological and physiological benefits of regular floatation, contributing my findings to the Float Culture blog and chewing the ear off anyone who will listen.
David Correos is an award winning New Zealand comedian who has never floated. Master of the absurd, Correos is a borderline performance artist who blends the lines between theatre, comedy and just straight up insanity with no regard for the rules. Self-admittedly adverse to silence he nevertheless agreed to float before I could explain what it was. “It’s amazing what you get to do if you just say yes,” he said later. “Usually, anyway.”
In person, David Correos knows where you’re taking the conversation. His eyebrows raise and his head starts bobbing up and down as you reach the point. He’s a good listener. He’s a better talker.
David Correos forgot to turn the light off the first time he got in a float tank and spent an hour watching his feet bob up and down under a blue light before eventually falling asleep. The next time he turned off the light, and had the time of his life.
I met David at the door, took him home, fed him a beef curry and attempted to sift the contents of his recently dredged subconscious like some psychic prospector of old.
So, what do you think?
Man. The whole vibe of it is so funny, I got in there and halfway through I was like “I can’t believe something like this has this much care and level of service for me to sit in a pod for an hour.” On the wall was this giant lake, plus the shower is coming straight from the roof, that was great. I was naked on my own which is great. Really enjoyed that. Listened to some Pink Floyd before I got in there, because I don’t like silence normally, it irks me.
I thought I heard a snippet of the guitar solo from ‘Comfortably Numb’. What were your initial reactions once you got inside the tank?
Pretty much ‘what the fuck’. I felt that for the most part.
Once I put the earplugs in I didn’t feel a part of things anymore. You can’t hear anything, all the low noises start to come through… AND THEN I DIDN’T TURN OFF THE LIGHT and the whole thing WAS JUST THAT. Just me in a pond for an hour, just looking at the two hydraulic things thinking “I hope these disappear soon because this is really grounding me in reality.”
Actually, I did eventually start falling asleep, and that’s when shit got really cool. Your brain starts asking all the questions that you’ve been avoiding and you’re like “Hmm, ok, this is a thing, better sort that out, better work on this when I get out of here, who am I disappointing at the moment in my life? I’m disappointing this person, that person, but how can I make them feel good again?”
I had a lot of thoughts about my day really... it’s such a good moment to reflect on your life. I was like “Jesus, I’m such an idiot, why do you never stop? Why do you always need to entertain everyone?”
You know how into it I was? Normally I’m the sort of person that if they said “Don’t eat the salt”, I’d eat the salt. But I was just so relaxed, and I was like “I don’t need to eat the salt”. And then you realise you’re naked in a pod, and that there are five other people in this building right now, floating naked in a pod! What am I doing here?!”
And how did your second float differ from the first?
Fucking hell. Holy shit. That did it. From the beginning it was just way better. I vass’d up, went in, turned off the light and instantly went “Wow.”
After the music stopped, I was still getting distracted by my own thoughts, but every time I’d reach that point of pure relaxation, it was something special. Because you don’t know where you are! I had my eyes open, and I thought I was looking at my feet, then this huge tunnel light sort of appeared, and these walls came up on the side, it was crazy! It was brilliant.
I was seeing the outlines of this lion, and you know it’s not there, so your brain is just trying to make images out of nothing, and so I sat up, but even when you slip out of that relaxation I was still fucked. There were these crazy beams of light, and they were just staying there. And then I tasted the water at one point, and that was lame. That was next level bad, man. Bleugh.
I was talking to Anton, the owner of Float Culture, and he was so right. He said “Boredom is just a reason for you to say, ‘Why am I here?'” And I noticed myself doing it, and I’d tense up then I’d think “No, you’re in a tank tripping shit and it’s great, you’re not doing anything, so who cares. You can touch yourself, and it all feels nice and almost silky, and even the salt is just healing me.”
Anton summed up various moments perfectly. I didn’t even realise until he told me, but at one point all I was thinking about was all the appointments I have to keep over the next month. I thought to myself, “well, you’re really busy, but you’re also really lazy, so you’re not doing anything right.”
All of a sudden I could see everyone I had an appointment with, and how I needed to sort this out. I had a moment of clarity where it was clear what I needed to do, you know, call this guy first, then do this, then sort that. The reason I started thinking that was because I was stressed, and I started feeling like I didn’t want to be there, so the questions started. Then I realised “I’m half asleep, and I’m tripping balls right now.”
Anything that I didn’t try to rationalise, I had freedom with. Total freedom.
Middle of the day, naked in a pod. This leads me to believe you don’t have a day job, and that comedy is a full-time gig. Are you basically living the dream?
Yeah man, fuck yeah. I’ve surpassed the dream and now I’m in new territory. That’s scary. Now I’m starting to realise, shit, I’m at a stage now where it’s no longer trying to be the best in New Zealand, it’s time to really try and take on the world and shit.
When did you decide to go for it?
2013. That was the year when I went “comedy is probably going to be a career now.”
How do you get from doing an open mic to doing this for a job? It’s not exactly advertised at career counselling.
I did two years at the Hagley Theatre Company, and during that time there was no standup in Christchurch, nobody was doing an open mic. Then, just after the earthquakes happened, my mate started up a variety night because a lot of the buskers and so on had nowhere to perform.
There was Mullet Man and Sports Suzy and the Rubber Band Boy. These guys did crazy shit on the street. This dude swallowed swords right? And then, to up it, he would pull out a carving knife, an electric one that goes up and down, and he would swallow a carving knife and go up and down, up and down, with it turned on. You’re watching this shit and you’re like “Fuck, man!” So there was some cool shit happening, and I decided to try out comedy.
I did a tutorial on how to be a unicorn. I covered myself in a silver unitard, and I found an old carrot that had started browning, taped it around my head, then I had two lights, a red light and a blue light, and I made a tail out of belts, like 20 belts hanging off my side, a bondage unicorn kind of thing, and I said “You can rave as well, you can turn on the lights and have your own party” then Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe’ started playing and I ran into the crowd and started going “Neiighghhghuehuhg”
Did you bring a performance art style through from your theatre background?
I think I come up with, the reason I like to call it performance art is because it’s a license to do much pretty much anything you want, and just go “This is it. It’s about the process, and how I’ve got here”. I like that rule, that works perfect, you’re free.
What are all the things that this one idea is trying to get across? Then you take out all the logical shit and add a bunch of weird shit, and it all kind of blends and turns into this fucked up thing.
I’m too young in my head to have a real opinion on anything. You feel like all these people around us are all of a sudden getting this big opinion, like they’re an adult, and I’m still trying to figure out what pushes me. So far my work pushes me. This is where I can shine. But as a comedian, everyone has to have a voice and you’re like “well, now that I’m at the point where I can talk about my past, moving forward what do I want to talk about? How do I express that?”
It’s weird when you see a lot of good comics like Alice Brine, Rose Matafeo doing really strong themes with really strong ideas. It’s like, “I can see where you’re coming from, you’re a good person.”
There’s a merit to laughter itself, right? It doesn’t all have to be some sort of messianic Russell Brand style, right?
When you look at who you look up to in the past, everything they were always saying was always really profound, and that’s the shit that sticks. The shit that was a moment in human history when everyone started going “Ohhh, that’s a different way to think, we should all think like that,” like George Carlin, Louis CK, Ricky Gervais, Bill Hicks. The reason people think they’re great is because they broke new ground. If you want to be a groundbreaking comedian and change the world, you’ve gotta step into new territory and nobody knows what that is. Maybe it’ll be silly comedy? Robin Williams was an amazing comedian because he could make anything funny, and you could tell it was all made up on the spot.
Why are comedians placed so well to make profound statements?
I don’t think we do it on purpose. I don’t think anyone sits down and says “I’ve gotta come up with a great purpose,” it’s more that the moment catches you off guard. You go “Oh shit,” and you laugh in your own head – that’s a good sign that you should follow up on it. If I have that reaction to an idea, maybe other people will too. When you do that, you’re not thinking “This is going to change the world” but if the thing you’re saying is so obvious to everyone, but they’ve never noticed it until you say it, then that’s going to stick. People will be like “Whoa, remember when that comedian pointed out that?”
You’re just pointing out what’s in front of them, and that’s why it’s funny. But I’m not a smart… a lot of people always go on about “We laugh at the politicians and listen to the comedians, what’s happened to the world?” But it’s like “Fuck, don’t listen to every comedian, there are stupid ones as well.”
I’m not a Jon Oliver type, just laugh at my shit. Don’t listen to what I’m saying on stage, just enjoy the moment. It’s starting to get a bit dangerous when there are comedians out there who think “We’re the smart ones, we’re the ones with the power” when really it’s like “Na, you’re not, you just know how to make people laugh really well. What you’re saying is the same as everyone else.” But they get very righteous.
Not living on the streets or starving to death as a comedian is cool though, right?
Oh yea, that’s cool. I’m very thankful for that every day. I think “Wow! I get to do this?” And there are a lot of people I see where I think, “you probably deserve this more than me,” but here I am.
What did you do differently?
I took my time. I took my time. And I listened to a lot of the professional comedians I know. The best advice I’ve ever got was to make sure I had a job when I first moved to Auckland. Someone in Christchurch said to me “Find a part time job, find out how much you need to earn to survive in Auckland and match that, then do comedy part time until the comedy starts to match your job. Don’t even think about leaving the job until comedy is paying more.”
It takes everyone a different amount of time. I was very lucky, it took me about 8 or 9 months to get to that point, keeping my head down.
Was it depressing to hear that at first?
Nah it wasn’t, because I know what grinding is. I know that in life you have to grind through some shit parts to get to the good parts, and you know that it will feel way better after that because you’ve improved yourself, and you can have faith that if you can do this, if you can put up with a shit job to chase the dream, you can do whatever you want.
What was the shit job?
I was a debt collector. I was one of the guys behind the phone, ringing guys going “Hey man, you owe $10,000.” and they’re like “Oh, really?” and it’s like “Yeeeeeeeeep. Whaaaaaat are you going to do about that?” And they all go “I have a kid, I have no money, you’re taking the food out of my kids mouth.”
I thought it would help me build a thick skin, but you get home and you’ve just put with seven hours of being berated over a telephone and you’re just buggered. Even the people you see around you at work look at you weird like “who’s this guy that thinks he’s funny, thinks he’s going to be better than all this?”
How do you stay motivated in a job like that?
By trying to get better at comedy. By trying to nail every gig and make every gig worth it, because you need to impress the right people because it’s like “I need to do this, I need to do this now, look at me work, I’m trying to be better”
Did you take a shit job on purpose to add that pressure?
I did. Because I knew from the start that if you have a comfy job you fall into the trap of falling for the other job. Right now comedy is what I want to do.
Were you advised to do that sort of thing? It’s a mature viewpoint.
It’s also a way to justify what I went through. It all worked out, the management was great, the dude I worked for in Auckland was the coolest manager and let me take time off for gigs and if I fell behind he’d tap me on the shoulder and just say ‘hey, sort this’. Really supportive in that way, but the job itself was just so taxing.
The first day I was there I rang a guy up and said “Hey, you owe this much” and he just blew up. “Who the FUCK do you think you are, hiding behind this fucking phone like a PUSSY, with your fucking PEN AND PAPER.” And I said “Sir I’m on a computer, we don’t use pens and paper, it’s 2015 mate.” and he goes “Don’t you be a fucking smart ass, I’ll fucken’ find you!”
One time a guy did find out where I worked and he came to my desk and said “Hey are you David” and I said “Yep” and he said “Well, I’m so and so,” and I was like “Nooooooooo”. Luckily he was nice and just wanted to properly sort the situation out.
The manager would try and calm me down, telling me all these more intense stories like that would help. “One time mate I had an axe fly straight past me, hit a guy right in the shoulder! So don’t worry, I’m with ya.”
I did that in Auckland for eight months.
Are you the sort of person who dives in the deep end?
I take calculated risks. If the pros outweigh the cons, I’ll go for it. Failing sucks, but you need it. A lot of the people that I see around, the ones that kept on achieving, are the ones who have failed, and learned from it. The ones who had everything come easy never learn to work.
The moment you learn that you’re eating shit, right now, is the moment you can start to get better.
What happens when you know that you’re eating shit?
That’s soul crushing. I once did that in Whangarei. It was in The Butter Factory in Whangarei, everyone was like 50 years old, and the majority were from the volunteer fireman association, so they’re all like blokey dudes. I came on stage with a hillbilly accent like “I’m from Christchurch, I’m fat, look at me dayyynce.” and they were all like “nooo”. I ate shit. I figured it out a minute in. And I had 20 minutes to go. There was nowhere to go, so I got completely naked and just did some weird shit. Just fucken’ danced for them. It was definitely a “let’s bomb hard” sort of thing.
I didn’t get booked by [Brendhan] Lovegrove for a while after that. He likes to put on up-and-comers, because he believes that small town gigs is the real barometer of how good you are. You go in the city to fight, but you go sharpen your sword and get strong in the forest of the provinces. It never goes as well in the provinces as it does in the city.
The hard part is that there’s no path in front of you. Nobody else has done it the same way, so it’s unique to you. I find it really encouraging talking to older comics, and asking them you know, what should I do next? And they all say “We’re just winging it” that makes me think all the stress I feel is normal. I’m not stupid, this is all normal.
Ultimately I’d just love to hear Bill Gates say “Fuck it, I’ve just been winging it all along.” Imagine hearing him say “Some days when I wake up, I feel like I’m a complete fake and that people are definitely going to find out.”
That’d be the best.
This interview was brought to you by the zen lords at Float Culture, Auckland’s first and premier floatation centre.