After a year of cancellations and lockdowns, comedians are absolutely itching to get stuck back into gigging, according to Merrick Watts.
It's one of the reasons why he had little trouble securing a line-up of seven comedy acts for next Saturday's Grapes of Mirth.
"Comedians are incredibly enthusiastic to be performing at the moment in a way I haven't seen before in my career. Comedians are really desperate to get back on the tours and perform for people," Watts said.
"(I'm) very excited. I love Orange. It's got a very, very good audience. All the feedback I've had from comedians has been, 'man, that's an awesome crowd'. So it's always a highlight for me," Watts said.
"Comedians actually ask us to get on the bill (for Grapes of Mirth). The idea of selling Orange and Grapes of Mirth to comedians is not a hard task."
He added that there was never much concern that the event wouldn't be able to go ahead because of COVID-19. The only reason it was moved from its usual location at Nashdale Lane winery to the Orange Showgrounds was because the former option would require the audience needing to be bussed in by organisers.
"We were always very optimistic... We just needed to make sure it was done the right way. It wasn't about whether or not it could be done, it was about whether it could be done the right way. It's not like it's a very high risk... Covid itself isn't a high-risk in NSW, certainly not in that area (the Central West)," Watts said.
He further added that since comedy had started again, things had been very much "business as usual".
"I don't think (covid) will change anything. People just want to watch comedy. It's not that complicated at all and I don't think covid has had any affect on comedy other than the fact that comedians now make jokes about covid which is, strangely, quite good because it's given us all new material," Watts said.
The self-described "wine warrior" who has been the face of the travelling comedy event since its creation three years ago, has more recently come to be known as a participant on SAS Australia.
Watts was one of just three to make it to the gruelling final of the TV program which saw Aussie celebrities being put through physical and psychological ordeals by ex-Special Forces soldiers.
During one particularly brutal torture test when Watts was denied sleep and forced to stand blind-folded for six hours, he came up with a coping strategy that was a real testament to his love of wine.
"The interrogation is supposed to be the hardest part of the selection course - it's their last opportunity to break you mentally," he explained.
"There were periods and cycles there where I thought about the wines I like from all over the country. Literally, I did. Every half-an-hour during the cycles of punishment I would just take my brain to a happy place and think about the wine.
"Because if you're in that moment and you're thinking about the situation you're in, you will break.
"It's freezing cold, you are in actual pain and you are discombobulated from the pressure they put on you. So I'd just go away and think about wines that I enjoyed and I found that incredibly successful."
Unsurprisingly, Watts has written quite a few jokes about the experience which he'll be bringing to Orange.
"I've been trialling them in Sydney and I think whether you watched the show or not, the jokes are pretty relatable, and that's the great thing too - for me, I've had a lot of experiences this year that have allowed me to produce new material," Watts said.
"But that's the same with all the comedians. All the comedians have got new material and fresh material... It's a really, really good time to be seeing comedy."
According to fellow organiser of the event, Jason Nikolas, ticket sales were "steady" for next Saturday's gig.
"We will most probably land at a similar number to previous years. Saying that who knows, as peoples' buying habits have changed, and last-minute ticket sales next week could surprise us," he said.
"Either way, we're super appreciative that people are supporting us and supporting the event. Those that come along are in for a real treat, we will make sure of that."
Joining Watts at Grapes of Mirth at the Orange Showgrounds on December 5 will be fellow comedians Nazeem Hussain, Dilruk Jayasinha, Chris Ryan, Justin Hamilton, Cameron James, Bec Charlwood and DJ Pedro Moshman.
Tickets can be purchased online at: https://grapesofmirth.com.au/events/orange-2020/
DO YOU WANT MORE ORANGE NEWS?
- Receive our free newsletters delivered to your inbox, as well as breaking news alerts. Sign up below ...