Austen Tayshus

Comedian Austen Tayshus.

Comedian Austen Tayshus. Photo: Getty Images

It has been 30 years since Australiana took Australia by storm. The pun-filled, spoken-word comedy single, with lines such as ''my mate Boomer rang'' - was performed by comedian Sandy Gutman using his stage name Austen Tayshus.

It topped the charts for eight weeks in 1983 and became the first spoken-word record to reach No.1 on the charts, the first spoken-word recording to receive a high-rotation airplay on FM radio and the highest-grossing Australian single ever.

Gutman is on an anniversary tour, during which, over two years, he will perform 300 shows around the country, including, of course, Australiana.

''Billy Birmingham and I developed Australiana together over two or three years,'' he says.

Birmingham wrote it, Gutman contributed bits, and sometimes elements were added during performance in what Gutman calls an ''organic'' process.

He was performing the routine at a comedy show in 1982 when a record-company representative heard it and the single was released the following year.

Gutman says he had no idea it would be so successful.

''No way. How could you have?'' he says.

''It was a wild ride. It put me up there and established me as a brand.''

He was 29 when Australiana came out and has no regrets about doing it. He appreciates the opportunities it gave him. He became, literally, a rock-star comedian, opening for musicians such as John Farnham, Peter Garrett and Mental As Anything.

But Australiana, even the uncensored, slightly more risque version, is not typical of Gutman's material. He is much edgier in his approach and consciously less mainstream in appeal, although he has performed more than 10,000 shows.

''I'm a comedian in search of an audience. I'm looking for a much more sophisticated audience,'' he says.

''I'm a provocateur, a satirist. I'm looking at all aspects of Australian culture and giving it a serve.''

He criticises conservative values and the subjects he raises - including boat people, Aboriginals and gay marriage - are intentionally controversial. He discussed the last papal visit to Australia, ''taking the piss out of the contradictions in his teaching'', and loves taking on politics and politicians.

If that doesn't appeal to everyone, so be it. ''I prefer to get people who are thinking,'' he says.

He likes pushing boundaries and attacking complacency and he is not afraid to engage directly with members of the audience. Hecklers, be warned.

Gutman was born in the United States, but moved to Sydney with his family as an infant. He studied at the Australian Film Television and Radio School with the aim of becoming a director or a cameraman, but ''I didn't have the patience for either at that time''.

He worked as a camera assistant on rock videos - one was Cold Chisel's Cheap Wine - and buoyed by the fact that he always seemed able to make people laugh, moved into comedy, performing as Austen Tayshus.

But, he says, there is a difference between being naturally funny and someone who constructs a comic persona. ''If you construct a comic mask, you are not yourself a funny man.''

Despite the stage name, he sees himself firmly in the former category. He has worked as a comedian for 33 years and loves it, liking nothing more than going up on stage and ''mucking around''.

But his comedy has a serious underpinning. As a Jew, he has experienced prejudice and is against the conservatism and hostility often seen in Australia towards ''the other, something different''.

He believes the various waves of immigration to Australia after World War II - from Europe, Asia and the Middle East - all contributed in their various ways to making Australia better, but the underlying prejudices are still there.

He has performed many times in Canberra and says, ''It's getting better and better'', particularly as a venue for comedy.

''You've got a lot of young talent there.''

Gutman is ''not a fan'' of Prime Minister Tony Abbott - ''He's not a statesman'' - but he is a fan of former prime minister Paul Keating, admiring his self-education.

Gutman has been directly involved politically, not just talking about it. In August 2010, he ran against Abbott, representing the Australian Sex Party, and in 2011, he ran in NSW as a member of the Outdoor Recreation Party in Barry O'Farrell's seat. While, obviously, he lost both times, he enjoyed shaking things up a bit.

As for the future, Gutman has co-written and will star in a feature film, Asylum Psychos.

It is not his first foray into film. In 1997, he wrote and starred in Intolerance, which won best film and best actor awards at Tropfest, and he has appeared in several others, both in Australia and in the US. He is also busy developing some projects for television.

His peak of mainstream fame might have occurred three decades ago, but there is plenty of life in him yet.

Austen Tayshus. March 28, 7.30pm. National Film and Sound Archive Theatrette. Suitable for adults only. Tickets $40, bookings 6248 2000.