Damian Callinan talks about The Merger and his comedy career so far

Ready at bat: prolific comedian Damian Callinan had a lot of adapting to do to turn his comedy show ‘The Merger’ into a film.

THE MERGER **1/2 (103 minutes) M

A small struggling rural town is brought back from the brink via cricket as a forward-thinking local man, Troy Carrington (Damian Callinan) rebuilds the local team by recruiting multi-cultural members through the local refugee centre.

Naturally, the small-town setting gives rise to small-minded thinking as stalwart locals, such as Bull Barlow (John Howard), rally opposition to the new team, seeing it as an affront to their Aussie sense of identity.

Even the team has its bigots, with Carpet Burn (Angus McLaren) enthusiastically knocking heads with some of his foreigner team mates.

There’s no question the film, directed with careful attention not to offend by Mark Grentell (Backyard Ashes), has its heart in the right place as the film bounces around the idea of accepting people of other lands into the community.

If only the film was funnier. There is a stilted feel to the pace and too much caution in its messaging, proving that nothing dilutes fun quicker than preaching.

Adapted from the one-man play by Melbourne comedian Damian Callinan (who wrote the screenplay, stars and produces) the film proved a big hit when it played as the centrepiece at the Melbourne International Film Festival, building expectations for its cinema run.

Now on its last legs after four weeks of theatrical release, The Merger can’t be said to have done all that well, with a local box office take of around $400,000. Hope remains that once it hits the stream the film will connect with the audience it struggled to find via the cinemas.

With a relentless work ethic, Damian Callinan has been a fixture on the Melbourne comedy scene for two decades. A universally respected live act, he tours relentlessly.

A specialist in creating hit one-man shows – The Lost WW1 Diary; Swing Man; Spaznuts; Sportsman’s Night; Proxy Heroes – he has been nominated three times for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s Barry Award.

Callinan created The Merger as a stage work after being commissioned by Regional Arts Victoria and Vic Health, the brief being to address the problem regional towns were encountering with xenophobia and racism.

The piece proved extremely popular once he began performing the one-man show in 2010, a common response to the play being that it would make a great film.

Adapting the play into a film proved a tough task, though Callinan says it has whetted his appetite to do more screenplays.

A week after the release of The Merger, Callinan was kind enough to carve some time out of his busy schedule to sit down and talk about the making of The Merger, and other things.

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